It's Easy Being Green

A hot spot to discuss living life while going green


Wagon Full of Tomatoes

Posted by Nate On November - 10 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

The dance with freezing temperatures has started here at the Half-Acre Homestead as the calendar pushes ever closer to winter. Most in the TriState put their gardens to bed a long time ago but we always try to eek out as much late season produce as we can possibly gather.

In years past, boxes of green tomatoes have ripened in the garage and lasted us well into February, leaving us with just a 3 or 4 month gap before those red ripe orbs grace our countertops again. While we don’t adhere to a strict diet of eating in season, we do a pretty good job of fitting within the confines of availability or work with whatever we might have preserved.

There is the occasional “treat” but more often than not we’re faced with disappointment when we break down and buy that store-bought tomato in the dead of winter…unless it’s a hella expensive UglyRipe but that’s a different story.

This year we maxed out at 12 tomato plants in the garden. Most were random volunteers that sprouted from the bunny poo we spread around the beds to fertilize. I think only about 3 plants were planted intentionally by seed in the window of our den and then transfered out very late into the season. This summer’s extreme heat and drought left us with little to harvest. Once we made way into August though, the tables began to turn.

Buckets of cherry and volunteer paste tomatoes could be had about once a week. A nice slicer or two would ripen around the same time. Because of the heat crippled growing season, most of the plants produced new fruit toward the end of the summer and that has left us with plants overloaded with green tomatoes.

Wagon of Tomatoes

Our little red wagon has seen better days but it still works for hauling in the huge tomato harvest each fall.

Just like our yearly tradition, we’ve rolled out our battered little red wagon, climbed into tomato trellises and done the dirty task of picking the plants bare. Even our 3 year old Darling Daughter gets in on the action, picking armloads of tomatoes to put up in the house. They really do keep and ripen well!

I wrote about how to store and ripen tomatoes well into the winter here. I’ve made an instructional video on canning your own tomato sauce or you can try out a recipe for pickled green tomatoes. They will make a perfect hostess gift for your next holiday gathering!

Chiefly Cheers

Posted by Nate On September - 3 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

I got excited earlier this summer when First Lady Michelle Obama released her new book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America
. In an interview with NPR, the First Lady revealed they were brewing beer at the White House using honey harvested from their garden hives.

Thrilled about the prospects of a President interested in homebrew and a First Family enjoying the fruits of the garden, I was hoping they would some day reveal their brew recipes. No, there’s no “POTUS Porter” (that ought to be the next named recipe though) but they did release the recipe for their White House Honey Ale and White House Honey Porter.

I’ve posted the recipes below along with the video featuring Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and Tafari Campbell, White House Sous Chef as they brew up a fresh batch of beer in the Presidential kitchen. It’s also great to see their homebrew setup is no more complicated than mine. Now I just wish everybody could settle down and have a gentlemanly discussion over a cold one and toast Ales to the Chief!

Download a printable PDF of both recipes.



  • 2 (3.3 lb) cans light unhopped malt extract
  • 3/4 lb Munich Malt (cracked)
  • 1 lb crystal 20 malt (cracked)
  • 6 oz black malt (cracked)
  • 3 oz chocolate malt (cracked)
  • 1 lb White House Honey
  • 10 HBUs bittering hops
  • 1/2 oz Hallertaur Aroma hops
  • 1 pkg Nottingham dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for bottling


  1. In a 6 qt pot, add grains to 2.25 qts of 168˚ water. Mix well to bring temp down to 155˚. Steep on stovetop at 155˚ for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 2 gallons of water to 165˚ in a 12 qt pot. Place strainer over, then pour and spoon all the grains and liquid in. Rinse with 2 gallons of 165˚ water. Let liquid drain through. Discard the grains and bring the liquid to a boil. Set aside.
  2. Add the 2 cans of malt extract and honey into the pot. Stir well.
  3. Boil for an hour. Add half of the bittering hops at the 15 minute mark, the other half at 30 minute mark, then the aroma hops at the 60 minute mark.
  4. Set aside and let stand for 15 minutes.
  5. Place 2 gallons of chilled water into the primary fermenter and add the hot wort into it. Top with more water to total 5 gallons if necessary. Place into an ice bath to cool down to 70-80˚.
  6. Activate dry yeast in 1 cup of sterilized water at 75-90˚ for fifteen minutes. Pitch yeast into the fermenter. Fill airlock halfway with water. Ferment at room temp (64-68˚) for 3-4 days.
  7. Siphon over to a secondary glass fermenter for another 4-7 days.
  8. To bottle, make a priming syrup on the stove with 1 cup sterile water and 3/4 cup priming sugar, bring to a boil for five minutes. Pour the mixture into an empty bottling bucket. Siphon the beer from the fermenter over it. Distribute priming sugar evenly. Siphon into bottles and cap. Let sit for 1-2 weeks at 75˚.



  • 2 (3.3 lb) cans light malt extract
  • 1 lb light dried malt extract
  • 12 oz crushed amber crystal malt
  • 8 oz Biscuit Malt
  • 1 lb White House Honey
  • 1 1/2 oz Kent Goldings Hop Pellets
  • 1 1/2 oz Fuggles Hop pellets
  • 2 tsp gypsum
  • 1 pkg Windsor dry ale yeast
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming


  1. In an 12 qt pot, steep the grains in a hop bag in 1 1/2 gallons of sterile water at 155 degrees for half an hour. Remove the grains.
  2. Add the 2 cans of the malt extract and the dried extract and bring to a boil.
  3. For the first flavoring, add the 1 1/2 oz Kent Goldings and 2 tsp of gypsum. Boil for 45 minutes.
  4. For the second flavoring, add the 1/2 oz Fuggles hop pellets at the last minute of the boil.
  5. Add the honey and boil for 5 more minutes.
  6. Add 2 gallons chilled sterile water into the primary fermenter and add the hot wort into it. Top with more water to total 5 gallons. There is no need to strain.
  7. Pitch yeast when wort temperature is between 70-80˚. Fill airlock halfway with water.
  8. Ferment at 68-72˚ for about seven days.
  9. Rack to a secondary fermenter after five days and ferment for 14 more days.
  10. To bottle, dissolve the corn sugar into 2 pints of boiling water for 15 minutes. Pour the mixture into an empty bottling bucket. Siphon the beer from the fermenter over it. Distribute priming sugar evenly. Siphon into bottles and cap. Let sit for 2 to 3 weeks at 75˚.

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Chicks Dig Watermelon

Posted by Nate On August - 8 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

Here in southwestern Indiana, we’re still grappling with triple digit heat swings and a dryness that belongs out in the desert somewhere. Our garden has required almost non-stop hand-watering this summer due to the lack of rainfall.

The rain gauge here at the Half-Acre Homestead has only picked up about 1.5″ since I put it up in early May. To give you some sort of perspective, that’s what we usually get in one storm around here and now we’re about a foot behind on rainfall for the year. Nearby corn crops, undoubtedly GMO, are withering and some farmers have already tossed in the towel and started cutting their corn crops to chop into silage.

At least with our homegrown food pursuits, we can supplement Mother Nature’s lack of cooperation with our garden hose. An occasional shower of 1/4″ to 1/2″ of rain completely refilled our long-ago tapped out rainwater barrel. Plants are still struggling and producing little in the way of stuff to harvest this year.

Our animals are also struggling in the heat. Chickens are spending most of their day hiding out beneath the bushes and egg laying is few and far between. We’ve had to supplement with store-bought eggs over the last few weeks which is rather unheard of here at the Half-Acre Homestead.

We’ve been helping both the rabbits and chickens keeping cool by filling empty butter and yogurt containers with the cast-offs from the veggie drawer in the fridge. Top the container up with water and stick it in the freezer overnight. By the heat of the next day, you’ll have a fun ice block treat for your animals to gnaw on and lay next to. Our chickens also thoroughly enjoy cold watermelon tossed out into the lawn for their gut-cooling, gastronomic pleasures.

Since we’re talking watermelon, one of the mainstays of summer, how about making a watermelon treat for you to enjoy too? I ran across this recipe for Strawberry Melon Gazpacho and thought it sounded refreshingly tasty. Gazpacho is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes but this twist makes a refreshing change that would be great served for a brunch or as a light, summer dessert soup.

Strawberry Melon Gazpacho


2 cups (1-inch cubes) cantaloupe
2 cups (1-inch cubes) seedless watermelon
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 pound organic strawberries, hulled, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Take cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, half of strawberries and lime juice and put into blender. Blend until smooth. Chop remaining strawberries and stir into soup. Chill until serving.

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Wordless Wednesday: First Winter Squash

Posted by Nate On June - 27 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

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Wordless Wednesday: Summer’s Arrival

Posted by Nate On June - 20 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

As a gardener, you know summer has truly arrived when you step into your garden and are greeted by the first ripe tomato of the season. Sometimes it seems like the first sign you get that the past several months of hard work nurturing, coaxing and tending is going to pay off.

What makes these tomatoes even more special is they are from rogue tomato sprouts that came from our rabbit manure. We ended up with about 10 free tomato plants that way. These happen to look like sauce tomatoes. There are some large ribbed varieties and also what looks like a brandywine that sprouted too. I guess it’s nature’s way of passing on the hardiest of seeds!

First Ripe Tomato of 2012

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Easy DIY Cloches

Posted by Nate On April - 14 - 20122 COMMENTS

It’s been a wild spring around the Half-Acre Homestead. The weather has been nothing but weird with our lack of winter and early warm-up. Following the tornadoes we had to dodge in March, we’ve been struck by two hail storms recently. The hail pelted our plants that emerged from their winter slumber early but luckily didn’t leave too much damage behind.

Panic set in again at the Half-Acre Homestead this week as we got a late season Frost Warning issued for southwestern Indiana. Just a week before, our normally conservative agricultural extension agent had given the all-clear signal that people could go ahead and plant their precious seedlings and begin the gardening season.

Mother Nature had a different idea though when she ushered in some colder air from our good friends up north. We literally had just replanted a wave of rogue tomato seedlings and some rogue pumpkins that have sprouted up around the yard. To make it even worse, we planted them on the hillside out by our little pond which gets a considerable amount of frost compared to the protected confines of our square foot garden.

Luckily, with a 7 month old in the house, we have a stockpile of baby food jars in the garage. We never know when these might come in handy so we always keep a basket or two of them around. We were able to turn a basket full of baby food jars into an easy, DIY cloche that would protect our seedlings from two nights of frosty temps.

An army of our easy DIY cloches

If an early season frost sneaks up on newly planted seedlings, turn a baby food jar into an easy DIY cloche to protect them.

After two nights of frost, we were able to lift the jars on Friday and found all the seedlings had survived. Safely tucked away in their jar, warmth and condensation helped them through the night. Well, most of them. Our Darling Daughter Everly thought the already dead raspberry cane out by the pond needed some extra help so she loaded it up with baby food jars.

While it wasn’t useful in protecting the long-departed raspberry cane, it made for a nice rustic art installation on the Half-Acre Homestead. We shall call it “Bottle Bush”. In the meantime, try to track down a friend, neighbor or relative who has a little one and get your hands on a basket of your own, easy, do-it-yourself garden cloches. Enjoy!

Bottle Bush Art

Everly's art installation out by the pond was created using a dead raspberry cane and several baby food jars. I think the effect is rather rustic, almost primitive.

2012 Seed Order

Posted by Nate On April - 11 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

With some gentle prodding from Homestead Hottie, I finally ordered our seeds for the 2012 gardening season. Yes, it does seem a tad late to be ordering seeds but technically our average last frost date here in southwestern Indiana doesn’t hit until mid April. This year I’m pretty sure the last frost was back in early March!

The 2012 Baker Creek Heirloom Catalog

Image courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Replacement seeds and of course some fun new ones were ordered through Baker Creek Heirlooms this year. We love all the wild new offerings that appear in the Burpee catalog and the others that stuff our mailbox each year. However, we really want to try and keep as many open-pollinated varieties as possible so we can save seed from year to year. We also want to avoid seed that is genetically modified or tainted with GMO genes. Luckily Baker Creek can fit both those requirements and host one of the largest collections of heirlooms from around the world.

Here is what we ordered for the spring and summer growing seasons (yes, there will be another order in the fall):

Tom Thumb Lettuce
Mignonette Bronze Lettuce
Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
Merveille des Quatre Saisons Lettuce

Marvel of 4 Seasons LEttuce

Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce. Image courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seed

You can never be too sure what variety of lettuce you’re going to end up liking best so I always think its better to buy more than less in lettuce seed. The flavors and textures are so wide ranging so its better to try several different varieties at the same time. I’m really excited about the Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce. Dating back to the mid 1800’s, this French heirloom lettuce is a good grower in every season except freezing weather. I can’t wait to try the buttery leaves in our first homegrown salad of the year.

Di Firenze Fennel
Purple Podded Pole Bean
Red-Seeded Asparagus Bean
Garden Huckleberry

Purple Podded Pole Bean

Purple Podded Pole Bean. Image courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

We have never grown fennel before so we’ll try our green thumbs with this licorice-scented bulb that is a favorite amongst Italian cooks. I can smell it already! The Purple Podded pole bean will replace a pole bean that didn’t do much around the Half-Acre Homestead last year while providing a pop of edible color that will not only look beautiful in the garden but provide some fun on our dinner plates too. While it’s not hard to get Everly to eat her green beans, purple pods should prove to be even more enticing.

Red-Seeded Asparagus Bean is an Asian “yard long” bean that is said to be both highly productive and beautiful. The very long pods grow to a freakish 24″ long but are said to be stringless and have small seeds. They’re said to be very resistant to heat, humidity and insects all while producing a bumper crop of tender and tasty pods. We can never have enough berries around the Half-Acre Homestead so we’re going to try our hand at Huckleberries.

Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop
Bennings Green Tint Scallop Squash
Bowling Red Okra
Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach
Polish Linguisa
Basil – Lime
Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn

Scalloped Squash

Bennings Green Tint Scalloped Squash. Image courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

We like pattypan or scallop type squash so we’ll finally add a green and yellow version to our garden this year. Bowling Red Okra will replace our current outage of red okra seeds. The burgundy colored stems, okra pods and tinted flowers are stunning in the vegetable garden or flower bed. We are continuously struggling with spinach from year to year. Perhaps its the variety of seeds we have but they never seem to grow right and are often sloooooowwww growing. Bloomsdale Long Standing is supposed to be heat resistant and a large leaf spinach. It sounds better so hopefully it will turn out that way. Polish Linguisa will round out our tomato collection as a sauce tomato. Lime basil just sounds flavorful enough to through on some chicken this summer and Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn will be our protest against GMO corn this year.

Of course we have a whole box filled with seed still but I won’t bore you with all that. Undoubtedly you’ll get to see the results of that over the course of the summer. I was able to keep this seed order around $33, down from a first tally of $69. I slashed and burned my list because if I could spend $500 on a yearly seed order, I really would. Now its time to start saving my own seed and slash the seed bill even more.