Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Free Tomato Plants

Not only can you propagate herbs from cuttings, you can also do it with tomatoes! Tomatoes are well-known for rooting very easily, so they're actually one of the easiest plants to propagate this way. I currently have two tomato "mamas" growing in front of my kitchen patio door, and can't wait to plant cuttings from them in the spring.
I actually started them sort of by accident - I was tying up my tomato plants in the garden in July, and accidentally broke off two side branches. Instead of just throwing them in the compost pile, I decided to try growing them as cuttings to see if they would take hold. I didn't use any rooting hormone, I simply sunk the stems in well-moistened soil and kept them watered. I had them outdoors in pots until our first frost in September, and before I brought them in they each had tiny tomatoes starting to grow on them (we ate them in October - boy, was it good to have fresh, home-grown tomatoes while the snow was flying outside!)

They haven't flowered since (decreased light? lower temperature? the dog's tail constantly knocking off small branches?), but since I'm not counting on them for fruit over the winter, just vegetation for cuttings in the spring, I don't mind.

I'm very excited about this experiment because it means not only will I have a head start on spring planting (cuttings get going much faster than seeds) but, since each cutting is an exact copy of the parent plant, I don't have to worry about cross-polination. Since I grow more than one type of tomato (I usually have at least one cherry, one brandywine, and a bunch of roma-type for sauce) I usually end up with "mutts" when I save seed. This can be a fun little experiment, but it's a little less amusing when I meant to plant a bunch of meaty romas for the winter's supply of spaghetti sauce and end up with a bunch of cherry tomatoes instead!

But if I save a couple "mamas" from each type of plant in the fall, I should be able to start as many new cuttings as I'd like in the early spring, sure that they'll turn out to be the kind of plant I want (I'd save more than one plant of each kind, just in case - one of the plants I saved this summer got knocked over by an over-excited dog, and is barely hanging on).

I can't wait to see what other plants I can grow this way (although I may need my husband to build me a sunroom for all of these plants to overwinter in!)

Free Herb Plants for Next Spring

I am so excited about this little experiment of mine - I took cuttings from most of my herb plants in the fall (peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme), rooted them in small pots (adorable little tea tins, actually), and they're growing into strong plants for putting out in the garden next spring (not to mention cuttings for adding to recipes all winter).

It's so simple, I wish I'd tried it years ago (instead of buying new potted herb plants from the local garden center every spring). Here's what I did:

1. Cut off a 2-3 inch piece from the growing tips of your plant.
2. Trim off all but the upper few leaves.
3. (optional) Dip the bare stem in water, then in rooting hormone:
4. Gently sink the stem into your pot of soil and water well.

And that's it! Keep the soil very moist until you see new growth (did you know you can toothpick test soil, like you do to see if a cake is done? If the soil sticks to the toothpick, it's moist; if it comes away clean, your soil is dry) then water as you would your other houseplants. Obviously, a sunny windowsill is the best place for them, but anywhere they will get good light should be fine. You can expect these baby plants to be more tall and spindly than their outdoor-grown parents because of the restricted light conditions (a lamp might help, but isn't strictly necessary if your window is sunny enough), but they should "beef up" just fine once you plant them out in the spring (but be careful to harden them off a little at a time before you set them out permanently).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: The Weekend Homesteader

The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency by Anna Hess

As a fan of Anna and Mark Hess's blog, The Walden Effect, I knew this book would be full of interesting projects and useful information. When she wrote that she was offering free copies to bloggers who would write a review, of course I signed up right away!

I was giddy when the book arrived in the mail in October (happy birthday to me!) The publisher asked that we try to time the review to coincide with the book's release in mid-November, and since the book didn't look too thick (about 400 pages) I figured I'd be done in plenty of time.

Obviously not!

Although October and November were very busy for our family, the real reason I couldn't get through this book as quickly as I'd thought was because I wanted to try all of the projects! The book is set up with a chapter for every weekend through a whole year (for example, the project for the first week of August is "Seed Saving"). Each project lists its goal ("Save seeds from the easiest vegetables in your garden"), cost ("$0 to $10), time ("1 hour to 4 hours"), difficulty ("Easy to medium"), and kid-friendly rating (generally yes, no, or maybe). After a short section on the reasons each project is worth trying, she dives right into the meaty how-to.

This book is great for the raw beginner, eager to get her hands dirty but not sure where to start, as well as for a homesteader who's been working at it for a few years (we all have something to learn!) I know I, for one, get excited reading about ideas in books or online, but balk at actually starting projects because I'm not sure exactly how to get going. This book lays everything out so clearly I feel like I could just jump up and get started as soon as I finish the chapter (although some of my bookmarked projects, like "Growing edible mushrooms" will require a little more waiting - I have to order the spawn plugs, after all . . .)

So, you ask, what were the projects I was so excited about? The first one that really caught my interest (only because the previous three chapters (Find room to homestead, Survey your site, and Plan your summer garden) were projects I had already done) was the chapter entitled "Kill Mulch", which included a section on Hugelkultur - creating raised beds by burying rotting wood and compost (I actually just tried this in my garden this week!)

The book isn't just gardening ideas, either. She includes projects like making your own seasonings, soups, and breads, storing vegetables on the shelf, canning, drying, and other kitchen-related tasks, as well as more abstract assignments like figuring your real hourly wage, budgeting, thinking about voluntary simplicity, and realistic goal setting. There's a chapter on building a chicken coop or tractor and one on staying warm without electricity. Really, they're as varied as a homestead life can often be!

I love that this book is obviously made up of projects the author has personally done, featuring her own experiences and research. She knows these things work because she's done them herself, and she tells you about the problems and pitfalls along the way. It's like standing alongside your neighbor, listening to her tell you what she's tried and seen, and encouraging you to try it for yourself.

Note: I was not payed to review this book (other than the free review copy), I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

This post is part of Simple Living Wednesday at Our Simple Farm and the Homemaking Link-Up at Raising Homemakers.