It's Easy Being Green

A hot spot to discuss living life while going green


Under the Grow Light

Posted by Nathan Ryder On January - 24 - 20132 COMMENTS

We always get into trouble when we take a trip to our local Rural King farm store. I don’t know if it’s the free bag of fresh-popped popcorn that is slapped into your hands when you walk in the door or the bottomless cup of coffee that aids in filling our cart and running up the tab. I think it’s probably more to the point it is just a fun store in all of its quirky ways. If you’ve ever been in one, you know there is nothing modern or glamorous about it.

Our Darling Daughters love pushing through the aisles while they happily munch (and spill) their bags of popcorn from one department to the next. Spring is always a hit when the baby chicks start arriving in their giant tubs. The sights and sounds of all those cheeping chicks is enough to quickly warm up what could be an otherwise cold and drab early spring day in southern Indiana. There aren’t any chicks yet but there were some baby rabbits which elicited lots of oohs and aahs from the girls.

A new grow light practically jumped into our cart!

While we always find something we don’t really need, we happened to score a great find this weekend. The Rural King was selling a Hydrofarm 4-Foot Jump Start Grow Light System
for right around 60-bucks. Other grow light kits like this will easily cost upward of $100 or more. I’ve also considered building my own in the past but have never really been able to convince Homestead Hottie of the need or where the darned thing would end up living most of the year.

We love to get a jump start on the gardening season but always have problems with seedlings getting too long and leggy before it is safe for them to move outside. Our sunroom/den has three skylights and three westward facing windows but the light isn’t always so direct. We’re hoping our new grow light will help correct that problem and get this year’s seeds off to a good start.

While our friends back in Phoenix are already enjoying their “spring” gardening season, it is hard to believe it’s time for us to begin starting seeds. I was able to plug in our zip code and get a handy little chart on what seeds should be started when based on our climate zone. Click here to head over to All Things Plants so you can punch in your own zip code and get your own list for free! It’s one of the few free customized seed starting calendars I’ve been able to find on the net and it happens to be sponsored by one of my favorite seed companies: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Happy seed starting!

If you liked that post, then try these...

Rural King Chick Days by Nathan Ryder on February 24th, 2014
Now that spring is officially just around the corner, free entertainment for the kiddos has once again arrived at the local Rural King farm store.

Kashi frozen dinners by Nathan Ryder on April 7th, 2009
If you're like me, your ears perk up anytime you hear that a company is offering you to try their product for free.

Oh My It's May! by Nathan Ryder on May 13th, 2010
Literally oh my! I can't believe it's almost mid-May, making it nearly a month since I've written last.

Sustainable City Debut by Nathan Ryder on February 9th, 2008
I was over cruising through one of my favorite blogs, Inhabitat, and read this interesting piece on the .

Wordless Wednesday: A Pachyderm Pooped This Paper by Nathan Ryder on December 14th, 2011
I'm so enamored with a Christmas card we just received in our office at work today.

Wagon Full of Tomatoes

Posted by Nathan Ryder 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 Nathan Ryder 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˚.

If you liked that post, then try these...

Homemade Cold Relief by Nathan Ryder on January 5th, 2009
Here's another timely set of home remedies I pulled from the Reader's Digest book Homemade.

Watermelon Lemonade Recipe by Nathan Ryder on May 14th, 2013

Homemade Cheese by Nathan Ryder on August 22nd, 2012
As a home brewer, I think there are some fairly natural progressions into other homemade commodities: wine, mead, fermented foods and cheese.

Homemade Tomato Sauce by Nathan Ryder on January 2nd, 2011

Healthy Smooth Foods by Nathan Ryder on July 9th, 2012
If a food is smooth it probably tends to pack a punch of saturated fat and calories.

Chicks Dig Watermelon

Posted by Nathan Ryder 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.

If you liked that post, then try these...

Wagon Full of Tomatoes by Nathan Ryder on November 10th, 2012

Moving and Avoiding the Waste of Food by Nathan Ryder on August 10th, 2008
So I haven't really announced to my readers yet that I'm getting ready to make a cross-country trek to a new home.

A weekend of green by Nathan Ryder on April 28th, 2008
Saturday was Arbor Day in case you missed it.

Homemade Tomato Sauce by Nathan Ryder on January 2nd, 2011

Garden Fresh Edamame by Nathan Ryder on August 21st, 2013
Edamame: Fresh Green Soybeans  .

Wordless Wednesday: First Winter Squash

Posted by Nathan Ryder On June - 27 - 2012ADD COMMENTS

Our first major winter squash of 2012 is sprinting toward the finish line and I do hope it will make it. The plant seems to be infected with squash vine borers but this beauty is growing at a rapid rate. I think it knows it’s got something good and wants to at least finish it before the plant is done!

If you liked that post, then try these...

Buy Local and Other Random Musings by Nathan Ryder on April 15th, 2011
Yesterday, my girlfriend took her .

Being green about my greens by Nathan Ryder on April 16th, 2010
I've been without a lawn mower going on two years now and in the land of green grass, that's proving to be a bit of a challenge.

Avoiding Genetically Modified Produce by Nathan Ryder on February 1st, 2008
We've been hearing a lot about genetically modified produce these days.

Greening Up Your Household Cleaners by Nathan Ryder on March 8th, 2011

Back in the Blog by Nathan Ryder on October 20th, 2008
As many of you know, I've been offline for the better part of two months now.

Wordless Wednesday: Summer’s Arrival

Posted by Nathan Ryder 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

If you liked that post, then try these...

Happy Earth Day! by Nathan Ryder on April 22nd, 2008
Here are the last four easy green tips as we celebrate Earth Day: 17.

$100 Oil Prices and The White House by Nathan Ryder on January 3rd, 2008
Is anyone else even a little dismayed by the current administration in The White House? In case you missed it yesterday, oil prices hit the long-awaited $100 per barrel mark.

Back in the blogosphere again, new baby in tow by Nathan Ryder on July 12th, 2009
After several weeks I'm trying to climb back in the saddle when it comes to the blog bandwagon.

The Fun of Weekend Car Repair by Nathan Ryder on February 17th, 2008
This week our car decided it wasn't going to start on a very random basis.

New Additions by Nathan Ryder on March 17th, 2011

Easy DIY Cloches

Posted by Nathan Ryder 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.