The Prairie Homestead Homesteading | Self Sufficient Living | Living off the Land Tue, 27 Sep 2016 02:57:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Homestead Homeschooling: First Grade Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:08:44 +0000 And so it begins… We are officially in our second year of homeschooling, although I have to admit it almost feels like our first ‘real’ year. Last year was Kindergarten in the midst of a massive home remodel, so we had to keep things fairly flexible for sanity’s sake. This year we have our books and […]

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first grade homeschool curriculum for homesteaders

And so it begins…

We are officially in our second year of homeschooling, although I have to admit it almost feels like our first ‘real’ year. Last year was Kindergarten in the midst of a massive home remodel, so we had to keep things fairly flexible for sanity’s sake.

This year we have our books and learning aids organized in a special cabinet (instead of cardboard storage boxes) and unlike last year, there’s actually a real table to sit around as we do our lessons. Oh yeah man, we’re pretty legit.

As I ruminated over last year and planned for this upcoming year, I found my reasons for choosing homeschool a second time mirroring our reasons last year— we want to have our kids home so they can partake of our, um, ‘unique‘ lifestyle and so they can be free to learn and explore their passions outside of societal boundaries and expectations.

(And before anybody even goes there, no, I don’t think homeschool is for everyone. Truly, I don’t. Therefore, the intention of this post is not to judge or condemn anyone who chooses public schooling. Heck, who knows? Our kids could end up there sometime in the future. As much as I love it, homeschooling is not my sacred cow.)


The Shift

As a second-generation homeschooler myself, I love the overall shift I’ve seen in the cultural perspective of homeschooling. As a homeschooled kid growing up in the nineties, I was often prodded and harassed about  not attending public school. When it came to the idea of home education, most people were at the least, quite skeptical, and at the most, pretty hostile. As a result, I became very comfortable answering awkward, and often inappropriate, questions from acquaintances and random strangers about my spelling ability and level of socialization.

(Side note: I do think that’s part of the reason I’ve always been so comfortable being a freak… Which led me to choose homesteading, and milk cows, and blogging as a career, and well, you know the rest of the story… But I ain’t complaining.)

Anyway, it’s been encouraging to see people’s acceptance of homeschool change for the positive, overall. Oh sure, I’ve still had a person or two flare their nostrils and say through clenched teeth, “Oh really…” when I’ve told them we’re homeschooling the Prairie Kids this year, but those people are much fewer and far between than they used to be. (And when they do that, I have to fight to urge to say, “Seriously honey… that reaction is SO 1995…“)

Of course, homeschooling can be done poorly. But so can public schooling. And so can just plain parenting for that matter. But when done right? Homeschool is a beautiful thing.

tracing tray for preschool
Tracing letters in salt.

Hybrid Homeschooling…

As we go into our second year, I have to say my schooling-style is somewhere in the middle between full-on unschooling and a more rigid, classical-style education. I like being in the middle.

I’m not your typical homeschool mom with a giant planning binder and every teeny detail mapped out, and we don’t have a schoolroom that mimics a traditional classroom. Not that there is anything wrong with those things in the slightest– it’s just not who I am.

That being said, I’ve found keeping a loose structure to our school IS vital to my sanity. There are too many moving pieces of my life to not have some semblance of routine in our homeschool activities. We’re definitely not rigid, but I do make a point to have the kids dressed, fed, and with their chores done so we can start by 8am. Trying to cram other tasks or projects in before we start school generally ends in disaster.

Our First Grade Curriculum

I went back and forth and back and forth over curriculum this year. At first, I thought I wanted an all-in-one type curriculum, but after looking through many, many options, I decided to piece together my own curriculum once again this year. I just couldn’t find something that really fit Prairie Girl’s specific strengths and weaknesses, and many of the packaged curriculum sets I looked at seemed like they had a lot of fluff in them. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s fluffy. Give me solid, proven basics, please– I can’t stand busywork.

(This post contains affiliate links)

reading curriculum for homeschool first grade


We worked through a good portion of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons last year, and Prairie Girl did well with it. She knows all her letter sounds, and is fairly comfortable sounding out 3-5 letter words. But while she can technically “read,” her level of mastery isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, so I decided to take from a different angle and try The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. The initial lessons are pretty remedial, but I already see her confidence being built back up after the summer off. And bonus– Prairie Boy (almost four years old) sits at the table with us during reading and has been picking up on his letters and sounds at the same time.

math curriculum for homeschool first grade


Language arts have always been my strength, but Prairie Girl seems to gravitate towards math… We went with Singapore Math this year, which I really like so far. There are three books for each grade/level– a teacher’s guide, a textbook, and a workbook. The teacher’s guide explains the nuances behind the concepts and shows how to introduce them with blocks, cards, or other aids. The workbook and textbook correspond  to drive home each concept. We’ve been using our set of Unifix cubes quite a bit too, which works well as Prairie Boy can practice counting or patterns with the blocks while Prairie Girl is working on her problems from the textbook.

first grade homeschool curriculum for homesteaders


We are using Handwriting Without Tears. It’s fairly basic, but the lessons are inviting and easy to understand. I think we did have tears one day, but that’s just a six year-old girl for ya….


This is one area of our curriculum where I’m really taking the unschooling approach– because our life is one great big science experiment, y’all. I do have The Curious Kid’s Science Book and several human body books we’ll do projects from occasionally, but the Prairie Kids get a hefty dose of science in our everyday life. This week we did an experiment from the Curious Kid’s book about floating and sinking… And I promptly realized they were rather bored with the “experiment” because they spent a large portion of the summer dunking stuff in the stock tank to see what would float… So yeah…


A few other science examples from our homestead life:

  • The kids were front and center when we pulled a giant grub (bot fly larvae) out of what we *thought* was an abscess on the barn kitten a couple weeks back. I was grossed out, but they thought it was awesome. And that jump-started multiple conversations about the life cycles of insects. (And no, you didn’t see that on my Facebook page, because I was too scared to post it… haha)
  • Last month we bred our cattle via artificial insemination–a little tricky to explain to a 6 year-old, but still…
  • Last year Prairie Girl and I hid in the grass and watched Oakley the milk cow have her calf. Afterwards, she helped me clean off the afterbirth, which prompted further discussion about placenta, colostrum, meconium, and so on.
  • We pick fresh herbs for supper most nights, which is the perfect time for plant identification lessons. Prairie Boy can easily identify most of the herbs in the garden by both sight and smell. And they get to taste-test as they go, of course, which is extra learning incentive…
  • Prairie Husband always has some sort of project happening– right now he’s working on building a new shop. The kids are constantly out in the middle of his projects and pick up on a surprising amount of information. Last week Prairie Girl told me a nut had fallen off her bike. I told her I’d go out and fix it for her in a bit, to which she replied, “It’s OK mom, I already fixed it with a wrench.” Sure enough, when I went out to check later and she had dug through the tool box until she found the proper-sized wrench to re-attach the wayward nut properly to her bike.

first grade homeschool curriculum for homesteaders


I heard glowing review after glowing review about The Story of the World, so decided to give it a try this year. So far, it’s a hit! Some days we sit on the couch and read chapters aloud, and other days we work on corresponding craft projects or map work. Our Lego pyramid and Nile River was pretty sweet, if I do say so myself. At first I just purchased the textbook, but ended up grabbing the corresponding activity book after the fact. Because my brain doesn’t have capacity to come up with ultra-creative crafts on its own.

We’re not perfect…

…but I’m really enjoying homeschool on the homestead this year. And just so you don’t get the wrong idea from the idyllic-looking photos above, we definitely have days that look more like this—>

But we persevere. Because isn’t that one of life’s biggest lessons anyway? Just keep going and don’t quit on a bad day.

homeschooling on the homestead-- first grade

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Homemade Mouthwash Recipe Wed, 14 Sep 2016 20:57:56 +0000 I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Eric Zielinski to the blog today– you might recognize him from the Essential Oil Revolution Summit, as well as many of the amazing articles he writes and shares on his blog. He’s an expert when it comes to natural remedies (and especially essential oils!) and is sharing his recipe for homemade mouthwash […]

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homemade mouthwash recipe

I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Eric Zielinski to the blog today– you might recognize him from the Essential Oil Revolution Summit, as well as many of the amazing articles he writes and shares on his blog. He’s an expert when it comes to natural remedies (and especially essential oils!) and is sharing his recipe for homemade mouthwash today. 

When I met my wife 10 years ago, I fell head-over-heals in love with her almost instantly. We had one of those whirlwind romances. We met in June 2006, got engaged three months later and were married December the same year.

Like most guys during the courting stage, I would have done virtually anything to win her heart. I was even so mesmerized by her beauty that I broke a commitment I made to myself a few years before we met to never use toxic body care items, and went to the local drugstore to purchase some mouthwash.

At all costs I wanted to impress my new-found-love, and I will never forget how I felt after I first rinsed my mouth out that Listerine.

What’s Wrong with Mouthwash?

I can already hear what you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal, Doc? What’s wrong with freshening up your breath to make snuggling up with your honey is a little more pleasant?”

Well…a lot.

There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t use 99% of the store-bought mouthwashes out there, and the worst part of it all was that I knew what I was doing was bad. I just didn’t think I had an alternative.

First off, most mouthwash products contain harmful chemicals like chlorhexidine and triclosan – a registered pesticide since 1969 and a dangerous preservative that the FDA just recently banned from a number of body care products.

Secondly, conventional mouthwash destroys the microfloral balance in your mouth, and can literally dampen your immune function. It’s shocking how powerful this stuff is, and how harmful it can be when you look at the research.

homemade mouthwash recipe

The Reason Oral Health is so Important

I recently spoke at a holistic oral health summit, and I was shocked to learn that up to 90% of all diseases people suffer from can be linked to poor oral health. Believe it or not, your mouth is literally the window to your health. If this sounds like an exaggeration, it’s only because I’m the first person to tell you!

To put it into practical terms, have you ever heard it recommended that you should put a drop of frankincense essential oil under your tongue as a natural solution for a variety of health conditions? It’s actually a pretty popular recommendation in the blogosphere. Well, there’s a good reason why people recommend it. Because it works!

Traditional aromatherapy teaches that this technique is one of the most effective ways of getting the therapeutic constituents of essential oils into your blood stream. Now, what do you think this looks like when the coin is flipped?

Just consider the potentially harmful toxins that swish around in your mouth when you eat processed, fast foods, drink beverages filled with neon color and artificial colorings, and ingest toxic beauty products. And, yes, ladies, you ingest literally dozens of chemicals by licking your lips throughout the day if you wear lipstick!

The reason I’m telling you all of this is not to freak you and get you all paranoid about using makeup, but to emphasize what I mentioned above: your oral health is a window, providing a clear view of how healthy your body is. If your oral health is poor, chances are you’ll develop one or more chronic diseases. If your oral health is strong, the likelihood of you staying healthy is in your favor.

The key takeaway message is this: you do not need to use store bought mouthwash to have a healthy, clean mouth. In fact, you will want to stay away from these products and do-it-yourself!

Essential Oils: The Oral Health Solution

Going back to my story of how I met my wife, I will never forget how I felt after I swished around Listerine around in my mouth for a few seconds. Instantly, I felt a little nauseous – a telltale sign that I just did something my body wasn’t too happy about. Then, after the burning stopped (it was so painful it made my eyes water), the inside of my mouth felt like the skin of a kiwi fruit – all fuzzy and somewhat raw. Note, this was only discernible to me after the sensation of touch returned because the mouthwash made my mouth numb for a few minutes!

If only I knew about essential oils back then…

Today, if I want fresh breathe to make snuggling up with my honey a little more pleasant I go the DIY route and do something like this homemade mouthwash recipe below. It doesn’t hurt, is wonderfully effective and I can rest assured afterward that I did my body good.

Hope you enjoy it!

homemade mouthwash recipe

Homemade Mouthwash Recipe


  • 1 cup of water (filtered is best)
  • 1 Tbsp alcohol-free witch hazel (where to buy)
  • 1 Tbsp tsp fractionated coconut oil (where to buy)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 12 drops of essential oils*
  • Mason jar for storage


  • In a medium glass bowl, whisk together essential oils, baking soda, carrier oil and witch hazel.
  • Put mixture into a mason jar and fill container with water.
  • Tighten lid and shake vigorously for 15-30 seconds.
  • The mouthwash is ready for use.
  • Swish in your mouth for 10-15 seconds and rinse.
  • Store remaining mouthwash in mason jar.

Best Essential Oils for Homemade Mouthwash

  • Lime, lemon, grapefruit
  • Clove, orange, peppermint
  • Cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary, and orange
  • Frankincense and myrrh

diy homemade mouthwash recipe14333694_10206665829593631_7042814670058284100_n

Founder of and Biblical Health Academy, Dr. Eric L. Zielinski is a sought-after public health researcher, Biblical health educator and speaker. Dr. Z’s mission is to provide the world with simple, evidenced-based tools that they need to experience the Abundant Life. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and children.

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Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer Review Thu, 08 Sep 2016 18:37:38 +0000 It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s the world’s tiniest washing machine… Nah, it’s actually a home freeze dryer. Although I’m pretty sure the friends and family who’ve walked past the robin egg blue machine in our basement the past few months have silently wondered, “What the heck are these strange people up to now??” […]

The post Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer Review appeared first on The Prairie Homestead.

harvest right home freeze dryer review

It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s the world’s tiniest washing machine…

Nah, it’s actually a home freeze dryer. Although I’m pretty sure the friends and family who’ve walked past the robin egg blue machine in our basement the past few months have silently wondered, “What the heck are these strange people up to now??”

You see, it started out with an email from a company called Harvest Right… that I almost deleted.

I get pitched a lot of different things from a lot of different companies, and I turn down 99% of them. (Like the email I got the other day from a company asking me to promote their real human hair wigs… Um, NO.) So when the email from Harvest Right came asking me if I wanted to try one of their home freeze dryers, I wasn’t interested at first.

harvest right home freeze dryer review

(This post contains affiliate links)

I’m no stranger to food preservation. I already water bath can, pressure can, freeze stuff, dehydrate stuff, and ferment stuff. It almost seemed a tad redundant to have another way to preserve food. But after a quick phone call with their Operations Manager, I decided to give it a try. The main aspects of the Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer that piqued my interest were:

  • It is the ONLY freeze dryer on the market designed for home use. All other units are for commercial use, are ginormous, and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Freeze dried food tastes better and lasts MUCH longer than canned, frozen, or dehydrated food.
  • You can easily freeze dry small quantities or portions– even things like leftover meals can be preserved, which has the potential to reduce a lot of food waste.
  • If freeze-dried food is a part of your emergency preparedness plan, in the long run you’ll save a whole bunch by doing it yourself, versus buying freeze-fried food.

So here it came… In a big ol’ box, delivered by a big ol’ truck. And to be honest? I used it a couple times and wasn’t super impressed. But then I kept using it, and fell in love. I’ll tell you what changed my mind, but first, some specifics:

harvest right home freeze dryer review

The Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer

How It Works:

First off, let me clarify– this is NOT a dehydrator. It is a different machine entirely. It works by first freezing the food (to at least -40 degrees Fahrenheit) and then creating a powerful vacuum seal which vaporizes the ice crystals entirely and leaves you with a thoroughly dry, extremely shelf-stable food. Freeze-dried food keeps much, much more of its texture, nutrition, and taste than canned, dehydrated, or frozen food. Freeze-dried food can be eaten as-is, rehydrated, or saved for later. (Like 25 years later!)

How Big is the Home Freeze Dryer?

It’s smaller than a dishwasher, but larger than a microwave. It’s dimensions are 30″ tall, 20″ wide, 25″ deep, and it weighs in at slightly over 100 lbs. It has a detachable vacuum pump that sits to the side of the machine and the pump weighs about 30 lbs.

How Long Does it Take to Freeze Dry a Batch of Food?

It depends on the foods, but usually anywhere from 20-40 hours. However, that period is entirely hands-off– you don’t have to do anything or babysit it. We also found keeping our freeze dryer in a cooler place (our basement) slightly shortened the time, as compared to having it outside in our hot shop during the summer.

What Can You Freeze Dry?

Oh man– everything! Fruits and vegetables are the primary things I’ve been freeze-drying, but you can also dry meats (raw and cooked), dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc), whole meals (to be rehydrated later). The biggest things you can’t really freeze-dry are straight fats (like butter or coconut oil– although you CAN freeze foods that contain butter or other fats) and bread. Well, you *can* freeze-dry bread, but it doesn’t work to rehydrate it with water, because it just gets soggy and gross.

How Do You Store Freeze Dried Food?

For short term shortage, I’ve been putting mine in tightly sealed mason jars (because it looks pretty). However, to make the food last for years, you’ll want to keep it in something like a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. When exposed to air, the dry food will soak up moisture and won’t last as long.

How Long Will Freeze-Dried Food Last?

No, the real question is: how long can you stave off your family from eating it all? If you can master that skill (I had to threaten my children with severe punishment just in order to have enough yogurt drops left for these photos!) properly contained freeze-dried food can last as long as 25 years.

harvest right home freeze dryer review

How to Freeze-Dry Food

It’s so easy it almost doesn’t need a tutorial. But I’ll walk you through the process anyway.

  • First off, chop/shred/etc your food in semi-uniform pieces. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want it to dry evenly.
  • Arrange the food on the trays.
  • Place the trays in the machine and place the black circle pad thing (that’s the technical term) over the opening.
  • Push start, make sure the drain valve is closed, and let ‘er rip.
  • Once it’s done, the machine will chirp at you to check it. If it needs more dry time (you can check this by breaking a piece of food in half and seeing if there are still any icy/frozen bits in the middle. If there are, add more hours to the dry cycle.
  • Once the food is completely dry, remove from the machine, allow the machine to defrost, and package your food in jars or bags. (Or just set it out on the counter and the children will make short work of it…)

It’s amazing how little the freeze dried food changes. Check out these freeze-dried mushrooms– they look like they are fresh:

harvest right home freeze dryer review

What I’ve Freeze-Dried So Far:

  • Bananas (a definite favorite)
  • Strawberries
  • Raw steak chunks
  • Cantaloupe
  • Green beans
  • Peaches
  • Yogurt drops
  • Shredded cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados
  • Raspberries
  • Chicken broth

harvest right home freeze dryer review

One of the coolest things I freeze dried was homemade chicken broth. As crazy as it sounds, I simply poured liquid broth on the trays, and let the machine do its thing. It came out looking like a cross between cotton candy and fiberglass insulation (super appetizing description, eh?). But it tasted and smelled just like broth should– I crushed it up and have been reconstituting it in water or adding it to recipes for extra flavor.

What I’m Freeze-Drying Next:

  • Applesauce drops (for Prairie Baby)
  • Watermelon
  • Whole meals (excited to play around with this)
  • Cooked meats to add to stews/soups later
  • Lots more fruits/veggies, especially since everything is in season right now.
  • Homemade ice cream (Yes, really. Not that I need to preserve ice cream, but more because it makes a fun treat.)

What I DON’T Love About the Home Freeze Dryer:

It’s Big

This isn’t something you’re going to keep on your kitchen counter… It’ll need to go in a separate room or in your garage. Another option is to keep it on a small cart and wheel it around when you plan to use it.

It’s Noisy

Not like jackhammer-loud, but it’s louder than a dishwasher for sure– especially when it’s on the drying cycle and the vacuum pump is running. We are keeping ours in our storage room in the basement, and I can still hear it humming when I’m upstairs.

It Takes a While

As amazing as the machine is, it’s not instantaneous. It takes 20-40 hours to freeze dry a batch of food (depending on the food…) Thankfully, you don’t have to sit there and babysit it the whole time.

There’s a Learning Curve

When we first pulled the freeze dryer from the box, it was pretty intimidating… It took me a good couple cycles before I figured out my sweet spot with the machine, and the vacuum pump does require a bit of maintenance (simple oil changes). However, no part of it is difficult– just expect to take a little time learning about the machine. Come to think of it, most food preservation requires a bit of a learning period, so I suppose this is not too much different in that aspect than canning or fermenting.

harvest right home freeze dryer review

What I LOVE About the Home Freeze Dryer:

The Food is Much More Nutritious

Unlike canning or dehydrating, the home freeze dryer does not use high temperatures. This enables up to 97% of the nutrients in the food to be preserved. And you might be surprised to hear me say this, but as much as I love canning, if I had to choose between canning a batch of food and freeze-drying a batch of food, I’d pick freeze-drying. Not only because I like the end result better, but also because it’s easier and I don’t end up with a hot, sticky kitchen.

Freeze-Dried Food Lasts Forever

If you properly package and store your freeze dried foods, you can expect 20-25 years of shelf life from them– that’s pretty darn impressive if you ask me… Plus it’s easier to move around/store freeze-dried foods, as compared to jars of heavy canned foods.

It Reduces Waste

One of the ways I’m finding I’m using my machine the most is to take care of random leftovers. If we have a serving of this or that lying around, I throw it in the freeze dryer, whereas before, it likely would have been forgotten about and accidentally left to spoil. The pigs (our homestead garbage disposals) aren’t super happy about this, but they’ll get over it.

freeze dried yogurt drops
The freeze dried yogurt drops were the kid-favorite

The Food Tastes Awesome!

Whenever I pull a new batch of food out of the freeze dryer, I have hoard of hungry vulture-children circling the trays waiting to sample the latest creation. The freeze-dried fruits and veggies make excellent snacks– they are flavorful and crunchy, with no junk added.

It’s Easy to Get Help/Education

I’ve found Harvest Right to be excellent to work with– they are extremely fast and professional, and have been willing to help me with any questions I had. Their website is also full of recipes and tutorials, and you can even download their full Home Freeze Drying Guide for free here. (Scroll down that page a bit, and then enter your email for instant access.)

freeze dried food at home

The Cost

If you’ve researched home freeze dryers in the past, you know they aren’t cheap.

When I first saw the price tag ($2995) I cringed a bit. However after seriously evaluting this machine for four months now, while I believe it’s NOT for everyone, I am confident in saying if you are serious about preparedness or food preservation, this is a good investment.

First off, if you are currently purchasing freeze-dried food for emergency preparedness (which is smart because it lasts so much longer than anything else), there is a hefty chunk of money to be saved on that end. Take peaches for example.

The approximate cost of a #10 can of commercially prepared freeze-dried peaches is around $43.

If you freeze-dry your own peaches, you would pay approximated $6.93 for the fresh fruit, $1.80 for the electricity to run the freeze-dryer, and $0.75 for the mylar bag and oxygen absorber. That comes to $9.48 total– a savings of $33.52– just for one can of peaches. You can imagine how fast that adds up if you’re frequently purchasing commercial freeze-dried food.

Also, the machine is a workhorse. If you are using it steadily, you can squirrel away a LOT of food. As I was chatting with Harvest Right, they shared this:

“It’s not uncommon for customers to preserve 1,500 lbs of food in a year with their freeze dryer. This amounts to roughly 350 #10 cans of food which would easily cost $10,000.”

To sum it up? If you’re a fan of food preservation, a prepper, or just a homestead geek like me, I think you’ll REALLY enjoy this machine, and I believe it is absolutely worth the investment. And even if you’re just curious, or need more info about home freeze drying in general, you’ll really enjoy the Harvest Right Website— I spent several hours looking around there.

Click here to learn more about the Harvest Right Home Freeze Dryer 

Do any of you have a home freeze dryer? What’s your favorite thing to freeze-dry?

(Disclosure: Harvest Right sent me a freeze dryer to try (but not to keep) so I could share my thoughts and experience with you here. All opinions are purely my own. The links shared in this post are affiliate links. This means if you decided to purchase a freeze dryer after reading this post and clicking on one of these links, I will get a small commission that helps to support this blog. So, thanks!)

harvest right home freeze dryer review

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I Think I Poisoned My Garden Tue, 30 Aug 2016 20:08:36 +0000 I sure didn’t want to be writing this post… But part of being a blogger is allowing you, my wonderful readers, a glimpse into my life– and that includes both the good and the bad. I’ve alluded several times in my newsletter, and here on the blog, that I’ve had a rather bizarre, and quite unproductive […]

The post I Think I Poisoned My Garden appeared first on The Prairie Homestead.

aminopyralid damaged tomato plants

I sure didn’t want to be writing this post…

But part of being a blogger is allowing you, my wonderful readers, a glimpse into my life– and that includes both the good and the bad.

I’ve alluded several times in my newsletter, and here on the blog, that I’ve had a rather bizarre, and quite unproductive gardening year.

At first I just thought it was coincidence and that I simply lost the gamble this year… (Because we all know that homesteading, and especially gardening, is a bit of a gamble. Or maybe a game of Russian Roulette rather…)

But as I started to do more research and dig deeper into my strange garden problems, my heart sunk.

I think I poisoned my garden.

I’ll get to WHY I think that in a minute, but first, allow me to share how I came to this conclusion.

My Garden Detective Work…

The year started out super promising… More promising than normal, actually.


I started my heirloom seeds in February, and they were happy and thriving. I was especially excited because, since our home remodel is complete, we finally had seed-starting space in the basement for the first time.

Mid-May, I hauled my trays of seedlings out of the basement, and started hardening them off and preparing them for transplanting.

Everything looked fine when I first put them in the garden. I planted my tomatoes (Amish Paste) in a new spot this year– normally they are along my fence, but this year, I had more plants so I stuck them in the area I usually plant my onions. I mulched them and watered them, and sat back to watch them grow.

As I tended to them, I felt they were growing a little slower than I thought they should… But sometimes it’s hard to tell. But then I noticed the tomato leaves began to look strange. Very, very strange.

curled tomato leaves

They were curling… But not like curling from being too dry or too wet… They were twisting in the strangest of ways.

The plants were NOT dying or yellowing either. They were maintaining their color and were most definitely still alive. However, they weren’t getting larger or putting on fruit.

What the heck was going on? I started to do some research and these are some of the possible suspects I came across:

Why Are My Tomato Leaves Curling?

Too Much Moisture/Not Enough Moisture:

This was the first one I ruled out. I am well-acquainted to the appearance of plant leaves when they are either drowning or drying out. My tomato leaves were not rolling in a manner consistent with a dehydrated plant, plus I could tell my soil was sufficiently moist, but definitely NOT soggy.

Tomato Viruses:

There are a number of tomato viruses which may cause rolled leaves– tomato mosaic virus or cucumber mosaic virus are two of the most notable ones. Initially, I was almost sure this was my issue. However, I quickly ruled this one out when I realized none of my tomato leaves showed any mottling, spotting, or mosaic patterns. These sorts of discoloration are one of the primary symptoms of a tomato virus.

curled tomato leaves
No mosaic patterns or spots on my leaves


Plants infested with broad mites will often be stunted and curled. However, I found no evidence of eggs or insects on my plants. Plus, the pictures of broad mite damage was very different than the bizarre curling and twisting of my tomatoes. Nope, not this one.

Too Much Salt:

This was an interesting possibility that came up when I started talking with my local gardening neighbor. Animal manures can be high in salts, which can cause issues when compost with high-levels of salt is added to a vegetable garden. However, I ruled out salt in my compost for these reasons:

  • It seems as though manure or compost from feedlots or concentrated animal feeding operations are generally the culprits when it comes to high-salt content.
  • I use 90% aged or composted horse manure in my garden, and horse manure has lower salt content than cattle manure. I also have never used commercial, bagged compost in my garden (which is often the manure with the higher salt content).
  • The manure I used is composted, or aged outside for 6-12 months at the very least. My compost pile is exposed to the elements, and is frequently rained on, which would help excess salt (if there were any) to leach out.
  • The pictures of salt-damaged plants I saw included yellowed leaves that fall off the plant. This doesn’t look like mine at all.

Herbicide Residue/Contamination.

*ding ding ding* We have a winner folks… Or least this is the direction I’m currently leaning. And of all the options, I most certainly did NOT WANT IT TO BE THIS ONE.

In the years I’ve been advocating for the deep mulch method of gardening, I’ve had a couple people ask if I’ve ever had problems using non-organic hay. We get our hay from a variety of sources, and looking back, I’m almost certain some of it had to be sprayed at some point. However, as I always had thriving gardens by using our compost and hay mulch, I figured people who were concerned about non-organic hay or non-organic animal manure were worrying unnecessarily. I was wrong.

I was playing that game of Russian Roulette, and I didn’t even know it.

A couple of readers sent me links to articles about contaminated compost, and I read them with fascination. Upon closer inspection, I realized my tomato leaves looked identical to the photos I found of aminopyralid poisoning.

aminopyralid herbicide damaged tomato plants

Aminopyralids are a classification of herbicides which kill broadleaf plants, while leave grasses unaffected. Therefore they are a wonderful option if you are growing hay and do not want weeds in your hay crop. The problem? Aminopyralids can go through an animal’s digestive tract, sit in the compost pile, and still affect your crop for several years after they are sprayed. They will eventually break down when exposed to soil organisms, but it takes a while.

Why I think Herbicide/Aminopyralid Contamination is likely my issue:

  • The type of curling and twisting I’m seeing in my tomato plants is identical to the pictures I’ve studied in aminopyralid-damaged crops.
  • Tomatoes are some of the most aminopyralid-sensitive veggies, and often one of the first plants to exhibit symptoms. Bingo.
  • I had a super hard time getting other things to grow in my garden as well. After replanting my bean, kolhrabi, and beet seeds multiple times, I finally gave up because they just wouldn’t take off or even sprout. I know my seeds were good, although it’s a possibility that a critter was eating them down, too. But the fact I had such a hard time with them makes me wonder if it is somehow related.

aminopyralid herbicide damaged tomato plants

Other Interesting Little Tidbits

  • I planted four of the same tomato plants in a new garden I have up by my house. I only added a small amount of composted manure to the soil there (no hay mulch). They seem to be doing fine.
  • The garlic, onions, cabbage, brussel sprouts, peppers, and potatoes in the garden seem to be doing OK– they show no signs of leaf rolling or curling, although none of my yields are spectacular (other than the garlic). But that might not be connected.

What I’m Doing Next:

  • I need more proof before I can draw a conclusion, so I’m going to conduct a bioassay test here at home to attempt to pinpoint the issue– is it my compost or the hay?
  • I would like to send soil/compost/hay samples to a laboratory, but I’m not sure if such a thing even exists. Working on finding out.
  • I want to figure out WHY this issue started almost four years into me using loads of hay and compost. Did the herbicide residue finally build up enough? Did I get hay with a different sort of herbicide sprayed on it? Why didn’t I see these issues showing up sooner?
  • I will NOT be adding any more compost or hay to my garden, which quite honestly makes me want to cry, as I can think of nothing better to build soil and organic matter. I do not know what I will use instead at this point.
  • We were planning on building raised beds anyway this next year, which will be an absolute necessity now, since my soil is likely contaminated for at least the next several years until the residue breaks down.
  • I will be ripping out all my tomato plants and burning them… I do not want to add them to my compost pile or till them back into the garden.

deep mulch garden method

If You’ve Been Using Deep Mulch…

As much as it pains me to say this, I would NOT use any more hay on your garden until you can absolutely, 100% verify the hay or field it came from has not been sprayed with any sort of herbicide.

Although I’m not entirely certain the hay is my problem (I’m leaning towards the compost…), I am going to be extremely cautious until I know for sure.

If you are currently deep-mulching and having great results, you don’t really have anything to worry about, although I wouldn’t recommend adding any more hay to your garden until you are sure of its history. I have people emailing me CONSTANTLY with glowing reports of their deep hay mulch, and I’ve had beautiful results as well, so I don’t think *all* hay is a problem, and if you can verify your hay/straw is clean, I would absolutely still use it.

(I have updated all of my old deep mulch posts with these new warnings.)

Going Forward…

Stayed tuned for more posts on this topic— I will be keeping y’all updated on this as I gain findings and more concrete conclusions.

To be honest, this whole issue bothers me very, very deeply. Composted manure is cheap, it’s natural (most of the time), and is readily available. If we can no longer use it on our gardens, what then? The same goes for hay mulch… I can hardly stand the thought of being stripped of these options due to herbicides. I’m still ruminating on these thoughts… I’ll share more in an upcoming post.

Interesting Reading in the Mean Time:

If you have experience with aminopyralid contamination, or have any other ideas as to what could be damaging my tomatoes, PLEASE SHARE!

aminopyralid herbicide damaged tomato plants

The post I Think I Poisoned My Garden appeared first on The Prairie Homestead.

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