Orange Butterscotch Dandelion Jelly

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I found this recipe in one of those little stapled paper cookbooks in a museum.  It is filled with delicious and fun pioneer recipes.  I use the leaves and roots of the dandelions in my herbal medicines so I don’t ever kill dandelions and the flowers are so pretty, it seemed like a wonderful idea to turn them into something too.  This tastes a bit like honey.  It will also take on whatever extract you put in it.  This time I chose orange and butterscotch.

Orange Butterscotch Dandelion Jelly

Collect a quart jar of dandelion flowers.  Pour into a strainer and let sit for awhile to let any tag alongs escape.

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Put dandelion flowers into a soup pot and pour 2 quarts of water over.  Bring to boil and boil for about 4-5 minutes.

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Strain through a cheesecloth and reserve 3 cups of dandelion water.

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Bring that 3 cups of dandelion water to boil and add 1 package of pectin stirring constantly.  Gradually stir in 5 1/2 cups of sugar (I like organic, raw sugar) and boil 5 minutes more.

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Add in 1 Tablespoon of orange extract and 1 Tablespoon of butterscotch extract and boil one more minute.

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Pour into 4 ounce jars leaving a half inch head space.  Make sure lid rim is clean and replace lid.  Boil in water bath for 5 minutes.  Add one minute per 1000 feet altitude.  I live at 6500 or so feet above sea level, so I round up and boil the jars for 12 minutes.

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Let rest on towel when you pull them out.  Listen for the lovely tell tale popping to let you know the lids are sealing.  It may take a few days for jelly to set.  Enjoy with homemade bread.

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Recipe based off of one in “Old Pioneer Recipes” from Bear Wallow Books.

Seed Catalogue Woes (and the local nursery)

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Well, I fell prey.  I suppose that is what Farmgirl School is all about.  Learning!  I see why these gloriously colored catalogues come in the depths of cold and winter.  Their shiny paper and brightly hued pages.  Pages and pages of rainbow colored cauliflower and watermelons that look like solar systems.  Why, I just have to have them all!  But, I was particularly taken this year.  The catalogue I chose to get my seeds from looked like an old fashioned catalogue.  It looked like Laura Ingalls probably ordered from it.  It had a nice man on the front who looked like he was from the 1800’s.  I was smitten.  $400 later….I waited for my seeds!

Most of the seeds came immediately.  That gives me time to sit and play on the dining room table with seed packets.  It is hard to tell what to buy.  In seed catalogues the seed count is hard to envision.  I surely needed 1000 beet seeds, right?  And 50 seeds of cabbage ought to be enough.  They are so small though, the 50 dissipated real quick once out in the garden bed.  I’ll have beet seeds for five years.  I probably should have ordered more carrot seeds.

Here is Colorado, one thing we can grow well is potatoes.  Which is a darn good thing because our genetics in this family demand potatoes.  Many, many potatoes.  Every bug that loves potatoes knows where to head.  They are migrating to Colorado to get them some potatoes.  Heck, one of the most fierce adversaries of potatoes is named after us.  The Colorado Potato Beetle.  But, we have learned to outsmart these monsters.  Plant early.  They aren’t out yet.  April 1st-April 15th, get those potatoes in the ground!  They will be virtually bug free.  On the flip side of that, one could plant late, say the end of May, and outsmart them that way too.  However, our garden season is fleeting and the potatoes may not have enough time to get big enough to store.

The folks at R.H. Shumway were oblivious to this matter, apparently.  I called last week to find out where my potatoes and onion sets were.  “Ma’am, according to your zone we will be sending them the first week of May.”  Say what?  I explained how that will never do.  She said she would see if they could ship them out earlier.

Yesterday, I received a box in the mail from the folks at the brilliant marketing catalogue place.  Potatoes?  Nay.  Tomatoes!  Tomatoes?  What the frick, it’s the end of April, I cannot plant tomatoes until the 15th!  I also was wooed into believing that I was paying for established plants.  Lazy?  Perhaps.  But, I couldn’t decide between varieties, and they had a heck of a package deal.  So, I have 32 of the saddest looking seedlings in my kitchen window right now.  I pray they make it.

Meanwhile, down at my local garden center (Holly Acres), which is owned by my children’s friend’s mom, that is a mere few miles from my house, is brimming with onions and potato sets.  Should I head to the next town, every organic, and fabulous seed packet possible is set up to please the eye of the gardener.  A garden center (Tagawa Gardens) that is owned by a family and that gives back generously to the community.  Am I not the one that constantly harps on folks to buy local?  Buy from small ma and pop’s?  If I had followed my own advice (ha! famous last words) I would have potatoes and onions coming up already, no bugs in sight.  I would have tomatoes of a healthy size.  I would have the right amount of seeds for my goals.  I would have supported my local community and I would not have fallen for a catalogue that was clearly beautified for marketing to farm wives in the midst of winter.

Next year I will go to my local plant nurseries.  In the meantime, I will wait for the potatoes to arrive.

Scenes From Our Farm

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Tank takes a “selfie”.

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Henry Higgins impressing the ladies.

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Buttercup enjoying the sun.

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Watermelons starting to dream of summer.

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Isabelle wanting more sweet feed.

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Signs of the season.

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Priya and Elsa playing together.

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Irene, Nellie, Sylvia, and Cleo taking a break from standing in their water.

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Six week old Priya playing among the sticks.

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Today the bees are in a swarm around the queen.  Hopefully they can get established!

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Garlic coming up beautifully!

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St. Francis keeping watch over the farm.

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The Java ladies enjoying their new digs in the bathtub away from the ducks.  They were tired of being drenched!  Latte, Mocha, Macchiato, Espresso, and Decaf are so pretty!

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Lettuce starts peeking through the soil.  Hopefully they will be ready for market!

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Twila having a snack in between causing mischief.

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Welcome to the farm!  Come by and visit!

 

 

Chronicles of a Nervous New Beekeeper (with a top bar hive)

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I happened to be sifting through Facebook when I noted that my friend, Luis, who I went to the bee keeping class with was excitedly announcing that he was picking up his bees that morning.  …What?  I checked my email, but did not have an email telling me to do the same thing.  Others were talking about their soon to be filled hives as well and I began to panic.  I called the bee company and sure enough, mine were in a parking lot an hour away.  I had until noon to retrieve them.  Doug had just woken up and I was in a manic scurry.  What do we do??  The bees are coming!!

Despite the books and the class and badgering my poor mentor, Brett, with questions, I felt completely unready.  It did not feel like bringing home baby ducks.  A bit more could go wrong with 10,000 new bees.  I called Brett.  What do we do??  The bees are coming!!

Brett is the epitome of calm and collected.  He is a handsome, shy, eighteen year old who knows everything about bees.  He would come over after he installed his three hives.  I acted as if I were preparing for a baby to come home.  What do I need?  I pulled our bee jackets and veils from the packages and laid them out on the table.  My bee keeping book useless to me at the moment since nothing I could find helped me figure out a top bar hive.

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Do I need the smoker?  Brett would see how the bees were, but probably not.  (Too bad in hindsight, I still have no idea how to use it and I will have to go out and check on their sugar water!)

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I made the sugar water as he instructed.  50/50 water and sugar until dissolved.  Don’t burn it!

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I filled a five gallon bucket with water near their hive and floated wine corks for balance.

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I put the sugar water in a Tupperware container with lots of rocks and twigs so we don’t drown on our first day at the new digs.

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The bees arrived in the back of the Volvo.  Doug went by himself in case we had a few escapees and the baby in the back seat together.  None did and they were pretty preoccupied with freeing the queen.  Bees are ever so medieval.  I rather love that.

Finally our knight in shining armors arrived.  An unknowing neighbor looking on would suspect a fencing match or a trip to the moon with five of us wandering about in our bee suits.  Brett and his father, Lance, got right to work with photographer brother, Brandon, helping and taking pictures at the same time.  We were really much more in the way, so Doug took pictures as well and I stood nearby in the cacophony of bees taking in that mesmerizing sound.  I was not scared in the least in my bee suit.  They were not interested in me and I have never heard that many bees.  It was really quite magical.

First they took off the can glued into the top that holds sugar syrup for the ride over the mountains.  A few bees got out but gravitated towards the box.  They did not want to leave the queen.  A few got crushed when the cardboard came down and covered the hole.

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The queen was dangling in a box anxious to see her new kingdom.  It was held onto the carton of bees by a piece of metal.  Brett deftly (in large leather gloves even) took the box and stapled it to one of the top bars with a staple gun.  This was after he took out the cork and replaced it with a tiny marshmallow that the workers can eat through.

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One wouldn’t release the queen immediately as the kingdom may not be pleased and promptly kill her.  It takes awhile for her scent and the bees to all get to know each other and realize that they are family.  By the time the marshmallow is gone, it will be like they were never apart.

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Now at this point we were taught to bang the box down so all the bees fall to the bottom then dump it upside down into their new apartment complex.  Brett finds it easier to cut the screens with a sharp knife rather than try to fit everyone through the hole on top.

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Then they are turned upside down and literally poured into the hive.  If you could envision the sound of a “pfoomph”.  And the bees were in.  Now they are everywhere and Brett and Lance carefully replaced the top bars.

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Immediately the bees went to work.  Some had their backsides in the air calling the bees home that had run off.  Some were cleaning the dead bees out of the hive that didn’t make it.  The clamor of bees making a home was fascinating.  They had no interest in us whatsoever.  Just in making their new pink house a home.

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Lessons From a Child (as taught by our granddaughter)

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Sometimes you have to stop and jump in a puddle…for no reason at all.

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And take a break to sit in the sun…

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Spend lots of time with friends….

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Don’t sweat the small stuff…

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See everything as if it were the first time.

Wishing you all a sense of wonder, enchantment, a prosperous spring, and an amazing farming season!

 

 

Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

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Our group of close friends has began giving each other more homemade gifts for holidays.  It is really fun to see what crafts, homemade items, and creativity we can come up with.  At Christmas we sat around my living room opening presents.  I opened the wrapping revealing a canning jar with a garnet colored liquid with something gelatinous floating within.  I excitedly yelped, as I knew precisely what it was.  A mother.

To start vinegar, as in many other cases, one must have a mother.  Rodney started his many months prior with an apple cider vinegar mother simply taken from a bottle of organic apple cider that says the mother is included.  Bragg’s makes one.  Seclude the gelatinous being floating about the jar (boy, this is getting more and more appetizing as we write, but stay with me now, good things are coming…) and place in a large glass container.  For me, I got part of the red wine mother that was floating in Rodney’s vinegar after several months of brewing.

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I placed the pint jar of old wine that became vinegar with the mother in a large glass container, added 1 cup of water, and the remaining wine in the bottle of red that had just started to turn.  I covered it with cheesecloth to keep fruit flies out (Lord, those guys like to drink) and any cat hair floating through the air.

I am the sole wine drinker here at the farm unless I have friends or students over so I always have that last cup of wine lurking at the bottom of the bottle by the fourth day.  It is not quite vinegar, not quite drinkable.  And that last bit of precious wine does not go down the drain any longer but into the vat of vinegar on the counter.  Oh, it is a lovely sight.  I am not wasting wine, and I am making a product to give to friends, use myself in my farm kitchen, and sell at the farmer’s markets.  In two months that first seven cups of wine, water, and mother have become the most delicious red wine vinegar.  Just keep adding wine to the mixture.

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White wine makes white wine vinegar, champagne makes champagne vinegar, beer makes malt vinegar, etc.  It is superior to the stuff in the store and a lot cheaper than the fine vinegars at the market.  I have made lovely salads for two days now with this vinegar that went something like this;

Tear up fresh butter lettuce, sprinkle on blue cheese, add slivered almonds, sliced strawberries.  In a bowl mix 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar, a dollop of grainy mustard, a large dollop of jam (I used raspberry jalapeno), and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla salt.  Mix well and drizzle over salad.  A perfect combination of sweet, sour, savory, salt, and spice.  Serve with Pinot Grigio. 

Walking The Plank

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The water was still and unmoved.  No life or death disturbed its surface.  I had ordered them all to walk the plank yesterday after setting up buckets with a few inches of water and a plank.  Doug threw in a little sweet feed for enticement.  I peered over the edge sadistically, with trepidation, and found that no one had taken the bait.

Our friend at the feed store had told us about this method of mice extermination.  Her friend simply sets up a bucket in the chicken coop with a plank and everyone falls in and drowns.  The vision of piles of dead mice in their watery grave did not sound enticing.  But neither does poison.  Or traps.  I will inevitably poison the neighborhood cat and snap my toe.  Guaranteed.

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And I never thought myself a worrisome person, but I have found that I do indeed worry about the moral implications of mass genocide on another living creature.  I do not want them to suffer, by means of drowning, decapitation, or poison.  Do I even have a right to decide?  If I look through a different lens, I can see that the mice playing gleefully in the front yard, dancing on the porch, and raiding the chicken coop could be deemed, by Disney or Beatrix Potter standards as, dare I say, cute.  However, on closer inspection of reality, I see them and hear them racing in the garage.  Hundreds of them.  They are not even scared of us anymore.  They run across my feet as we milk.  They burrow into the photographs I treasure, the Christmas boxes of memories, and Andrew’s things that he will take when Megan becomes his bride.  Hopefully they will not all be destroyed.  But that is what hundreds of mice do.  They infiltrate and destroy.

They are graciously not in the house, which is surprising since they are under the porch and swarming the outbuildings.  The occasional straggler makes it in.  Yesterday, Eliza brought us a deceased mouse which she had no moral dilemma with, and left it for me in the bathroom.  Thanks.  However, if they were to get into the walls and decide to storm the castle, eight indoor cats would have little effect.  We have experienced this before in prior houses.  Cleanliness has nothing to do with it.  Mice are persistent little buggers.  I had read in our last house to put out cotton balls doused in peppermint essential oil.  I did so, and I kid you not, I found a nest made of the cotton balls.  It was lovely and aromatic and the mouse practically flipped me off.  I am so done with mice.

So, I set up watery graves and ordered them in Captain Hook style to kindly walk the plank and be done with it.  They have refused.  I lean on you, my farming and fighting friends out there, how, pray, does one rid the farm of mice?

 

Farmer’s Markets (behind the scenes)

Farmer’s markets have increasingly grown in popularity over the past several years.  It is hip to go to the farmer’s market and to support local farms.  But most folks have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.

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Here’s a look at the problems with markets but also why it is even more important for you to support them!

Problem #1- Overall, the success of the farmer is not the first goal of the market.  Farmer’s markets are set up to make money for the person organizing it.  Oftentimes, this is not a farm.  It is expensive to get into farmer’s markets.  Application fees, daily fees, plus taxes take a large chunk from a farmer’s income.  One can only sell so many carrots!  Farm run markets are often less expensive for the vendors and some markets really do care about the vendors.  Customers are often surprised that we pay so much to be involved in farmer’s markets.

Problem #2- Folks think the products should be cheaper.  I respond when people ask if I will cut a deal, “What?  I am already working for 50 cents an hour.  You think I should make less?”  They laugh and hand over the full amount.  The whole $4.25, people.  I stood out there tilling, amending, I spend money on seeds, I planted, I tended, I prayed, I weeded, I watered, I harvested, I made pretty, I am selling it for $2 a pound.  I have six pounds.  Now, next time y’all go to the farmer’s market, kindly refrain from trying to give the farmer any less than what they ask.  Believe me, no one is trying to get rich.  It is hard enough to keep afloat as a farmer.

Problem #3- Because folks want cheap, quick, and lots of vegetables at all times of the year, almost all farms around, from Pueblo to Boulder, ship in produce.  This turns a lot of people off.  But, if a farmer were to bring only what was growing, customers would be turned off by the sight of only greens and radishes until the end of June!  They want corn, dang it!  Red peppers and glowing aisles of richly colored vegetables like in Europe.  The prairie gives us bountiful vegetables, but not until late June.  Be patient, eat seasonally, and if you really want corn and tomatoes, don’t scoff at the farmer’s selection of shipped in vegetables, support them.  It seems silly to turn around and head to the grocery store to buy the same thing.  Get a farmer through until the goods start rolling in!

I do not intend to bring in any produce.  What I have is what I got.  The first market opens on Mother’s day and I am really hoping to bring lots of radishes, kale, spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard.  I have some early onions and spring garlic to add in and a few herbs.  I have eggs and milk shares.  That alone certainly could not support me but I have my herbal medicines, yarn, and other farm items to sell that we made.  Diversity can help keep a farm in business.

Problem #4- In my opinion, there are way too many multi-marketing items at the farmer’s market.  There are people there that sell something new every year and even pass it off as their own.  Ask questions.  Just because it is at the farmer’s market doesn’t mean that it is fresh, from a farm, or even made in this country!  We hand make everything we bring to the market.  We are truly a local company.  If we go into a store we lose the integrity of our products because we have to make more for cheap and work twice as hard for less.  The farmer’s market provides us a place to sell our items.

Which brings me to why, despite the problems, everyone should still support their local market.

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Reason #1- The farmer’s market provides a place to sell produce and other handmade goods without having to go into or own a store.  It provides a community of like-minded people that can get together, enjoy a beautiful day, and support each other.  We keep the money in the community, making all of our lives and livelihoods stronger.

Reason #2- You can get really fresh, really nutritious food for less than the grocery store.  Straight out of the dirt, a few bugs still on it fresh.  It hasn’t been trucked from Chile.  It is environmentally smarter.  And the rows are just brimming with culinary inspiration!

Reason #3- Meet your farmer.  Food has become so faceless these days.  Where did that strawberry come from?  That chicken?  The lettuce?  We have no idea where anything is grown.  This way, you can see the person that was up at dawn harvesting it so that you can feed the kids great food.  The smile behind the table cares about what you eat.  I wonder if the reason the farming profession is way down is because people my generation and younger have no clue where their food comes from.  If children saw the farmer, saw the results, and was inspired to become a farmer themselves, that would be fantastic!

Reason #4- Get out of the cold, fluorescent lighted grocery store and get out into the great outdoors!  Enjoy the sounds of summer and the feel of the warm sun on your skin.  Choose from brightly colored radishes and early fruits and talk to the people around you.  Go home with bags of delicious new items.

One of our first markets in 2009.

One of our first markets in 2009.

Remember that we farmer’s market vendors have been there since before dawn setting up, even earlier harvesting and packing our cars.  We will be there into the heat of the day, long after you have left.  We are there in the pouring rain, the first frost, and are there so that you have sustenance and in return we have homes to go to.  Bring your bags and cash and we’ll see you at the first market!  And thank you for supporting your local farm.

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Face to the Sun (early crops and prayers)

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This is my favorite sculpture.  It was created by Roxanne Swentzell.  I could not bring the statue home but I was able to obtain this greeting card from her gallery in New Mexico and I keep it on my secretary.  It emanates my favorite feeling.  Face upturned, worries decreasing as I feel the warm sun on my face.  Even the pumpkins speak to me as my farm’s name is Pumpkin Hollow Farm!

Today will be seventy degrees here in Kiowa, Colorado and I intend to do just this.  To lift my face to the heavens whispering prayers of thanks and soaking up that beautiful sunshine and warmth.  I will plant the early crops today.  Radishes, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and lettuces I will give extra fervent prayers to as I need them in three weeks for our first farmer’s market.  The bok choy, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli will take a bit longer.  Spring peas, snap peas, snow peas will go in buckets up against the house with a makeshift trellis behind them to give them something to play on.

With my hands once again in the dirt, the worries and sorrows of winter will be past and the present power of nature and new beginnings will pour forth as the water showers the awakening soil.  I will breathe deep, be thankful, and infuse life into the soil as it infuses life into my soul.

Happy Easter everyone.  This was my favorite song as a child sitting in church in my hat and beautiful Easter dress, content.

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it…..”

Homemade Toothpaste (and the problem with fluoride)

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When I was on a witch hunt for poisonous chemical products in the house when the kids were younger, I was surprised to find toothpaste on the list.  Artificial sweeteners are undoubtedly toxic for us, there were some other pretty sketchy ingredients listed, but the surprising toxin?  Fluoride. But, fluoride is a natural occurring mineral  in the soil, right?  That is called Calcium Fluoride.  It is found in small trace minerals in the ground and water and these small amounts are good for the teeth.  The added synthetic parading as fluoride in water and toothpaste and dental products?  Sodium fluoride, a byproduct of the aluminum industry, illegal in every other country.  Big dollars are paid to cities to dump it in our water supplies.  This chemical is added to dental products and big marketing dollars go into telling us how our teeth will fall out without it.  Even the dental schools are under the influence of big business.  Fluoride actually causes tooth decay and even cancer.

Our teeth have never been cleaner since we started making our own toothpaste.  It is so easy.  I stopped selling it and started telling folks how to make it ’cause it’s  just too easy.  This recipe is so versatile but for a good general start I have given you measurements.  Feel free to do what you want!

Lime Mint Toothpaste

1/2 cup of baking soda

1 teaspoon of lime essential oil

1 teaspoon of mint essential oil

Shake well.  Wet toothbrush and touch toothpaste, the perfect amount will stick.

Orange, Vanilla, Mint, and Clove Toothpaste

1/2 cup of baking soda

1 teaspoon of orange essential oil

1 teaspoon of mint essential oil

2 drops (hot, not too much!) clove essential oil

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract