Gardening update

I love Sundays, especially early in the morning, when no one is really awake. They’re so peaceful and simple.

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Noli and I went out this morning to check on the garden and make sure everything was going well, here’s an update on everything we are growing!

Basil: I wasn’t thinking and didn’t harden it off. Dummy. Soooo, it’s growing still, but it’s looking a little rough. But I think it’ll be fine. I might pick up a few plants just to be on the safe side. You can never have too much basil!

Beets: Attacked by the Spanish Leaf Miners. *insert crazy gardening lady with clippers and a spray bottle filled with soapy water*. Good news, although the leaves might look a little rough, the roots themselves are good and growing strong!

Cantaloupe: Still no sign..I didn’t keep track of when I planted it, although it was the same time as corn. (2 weeks ago?) I’ll give it a few more days and replant it.

Carrots: Carrots, you never fail me. You are delicious. I love you. (They are growing amazingly well, of course).

Celery: I’m not sure how this is going. It’s growing. It’s small..there’s no guarantees it’ll make it. I’m not placing any bets.

Cilantro: Harvested 3 HUGE bunches of this. We cut back the plants to the base and are waiting for more to sprout before it gets to hot and bolts.

Corn: It has started to pop up! Thank goodness! I felt like that took forever! Something about growing corn makes me feel like a real farmer.

Garlic: Everything is looking good so far. This is definitely one of the harvests I’m looking forward to most. Unfortunately we had to harvest one a little early (someone, or some furry black dog named Charlie, stepped on it).

Green Beans: I started these outdoors last-minute, in a spot that wasn’t even intended for anything. But they are growing great and I’ll be glad I planted them.

Horseradish: My one regret, NEVER GROW HORSERADISH IN ANYTHING BUT A CONTAINER. They will take over and conquer. The good news is, horseradish is delicious.

Hubbard squash: This beautiful plant has popped up and is looking strong and handsome. Has anyone else grown it? If you like pumpkin pie, grow this. Pumpkin doesn’t hold a candle to Hubbard.

Kale: Kale is doing beautifully, already harvested 3 HUGE bunches.

Potatoes: Wowee. These guys. They sure know how to grow. Handsome little taters.

Snow Peas: Growing STRONG, but….it’s getting hot. Like really hot. So I don’t think they’re going to be very tasty. But we’ll see!

Spinach: Damn Spanish Leaf Miners.. but overall it’s been a good harvest so far. Probably about 2 big bunches/or 3 salad bowls full (I’m going to get a better system down this week).

Strawberries: I’m so glad we have strawberries. If you don’t have berries in your garden, you need to get some. Your gardening life will never be the same. I think next year I’m going to double and/or triple our strawberry plants.

Tomatoes: This year I started my tomatoes indoors, and although they did great in the beginning, they became spindly from lack of strong light (we were using shop lights). Next year I’ll definitely build a mini green house, just for the tomatoes and peppers. I think they will do fine since we re-planted some of them sideways to give them more roots. A few we left as is to see if it made any difference. (8 in total). AND they are flowering which is a good sign!

Zucchini: I bought an heirloom plant of this about a week or so ago. I didn’t think I wanted zucchini this year, but when I went to the store and had to pay .69 cents for ONE zucchini squas. I about died, and immediately put a plant in the ground.

Things I wish I had room for: Cucumbers, broccoli and raspberries. And about a billion other plants. But these were the top 3.

Is anyone keeping track of their harvest this year? I decided to see how much money I’m saving this growing season and I’m keeping track of the number and weight of my produce! So far I’ve harvested: 1 lb of organic spinach ($4.12 per lb), 10 oz of organic garlic scapes ($7 per 1/2 lb), 1 lb 8 oz of organic cilantro ($1.46 a bunch), 3 lb of organic kale ($1.97 a bunch), 1 German Red organic garlic head ($3.50 ea), and 3 organic strawberries!
Estimate savings price for May: Est. $27.91
Total savings to date: Est. $27.91

So far so good.

And…I’ll end with a few pictures!

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Hey tomato flowers, lookin’ goood!

 

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My daughter already ate all the partially ripe berries. She knows what’s up.

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Bouquet of cilantro.

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Potatoes aren’t wasting anytime!

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Had to harvest this guy early, got trampled. Not sad one bit!

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Beets

 

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So I just planted my beets the other day, and in celebration I bought some from our local grocery store. I cooked them for about an hour in the oven and then chopped them up with some pears and nuts and put them in some mixed greens. It was a day to remember.

This is my first year growing beets and I decided to grow the Early Wonder variety. It’s a old heirloom variety dating back to pre-1811. Must be good if they’ve been haulin’ them around this long 😉

Here are some  facts about our little mediterranean native:

  • They are packed full of: potassium, folic acid, manganese, fiber, vitamin a, c, calcium, and iron
  • They are biennial- meaning they flower and set seed their second season
  • VERY cold hardy.
  • Sow directly into the ground, but soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours before placing in the soil. Helps with germination. (Which I didn’t do…shoot)
  • Each seed is actually a cluster of 2-6 seeds
  • Plants that reach maturity during hot weather will have less color and flavor. Dress your plants with compost and plant in the shade of another plant to secure your chances of a good harvest

Growing beets:

  • First off, pick a nice sunny location that has well drained soil
  • Amend your soil with organic material working it in to a depth of 8-10 inches
  • Sow seeds 2-4 inches apart, water well and add a thin layer of dressing. This helps to moderate soil moisture and temperature. *Keep beets watered well and you will have happy gardeners and happy beets*
  • Beets require lots of phosphorus to grow healthy large roots. If you run a soil test and you find in lacks in phosphorus give your plants a side dressing of bonemeal or rock phosphate. (Favored pH range for beets is 6.0-7.0)
  • Stop sowing seeds once the temperatures reach about 75 degrees, but start again 8 or so weeks before the first fall frost, for a late season harvest

Harvesting beets:

  • Beets taste best when they are 1.5-2.5 inches in diameter. After that they start to lose flavor and the texture becomes unappetizing
  • Beet greens can be harvested as soon as plants are an inch or two high. Older greens are best when steamed or sauteed.
  • When beets are ready to harvest, pull or dig them out then remove the tops by twisting them or cutting them off, being careful to leave a few inches of stem on the root to keep them from bleeding and losing their moisture. They can be stored this way, in the fridge for up to a week
  • For long term storage, layer the beets in damp sawdust or sand and keep in a moist cold root storage until ready to use

 

  • Beet seeds

 

 

Spring!

Whew. It’s been awhile. Sorry about that guys.

This year has been a tough year getting things going, I have a million things going on! It’s also an especially warm winter here in Utah so it’s been throwing my growing groove off.
Do people still say groove? groove.

Anywho… Anywho?

ANYWAYS.

I’ve had some up and downs. I tried soil blocking under the pretense that there was a good chance I would fail the first year. And I did. I got the blocks to form beautifully, and I even followed a recipe. I hate following recipes. But, I did anyways, and after the first few days in their little hut they started to smell STRONGLY of ammonia. Not a little ammonia. But like someone pee’d on it and stuck a plastic cover over it for a few weeks. I’ve read a few reviews on how you are supposed to let your soil blocking mix sit for a month to break down before you use it, so I’m going to try that and test it out. In the mean time, I’ve already gotten my seeds going in a pre-made seed starting potting mix, and they are chugging along quite nice.

Chugging…why do I keep saying weird things?

My tomatoes have formed true leaves and I’ve transplanted a few of the extra sprouts into their own container. Which, holy smokes, I thought I had lost them. With in 10 min they were flat on their backs and weaker than a candle in the wind. But with in a few hours they were back to their upright positions. Tip I learned: DO NOT GRAB BY THE STEM, only by the leaves. The stem is very sensitive and can be easily shocked.

Right after transplanting:

Shocked tomatoes, poor guys.

Shocked tomatoes, poor guys.

A few hours after transplanting:

Bouncing right on back!

Bouncing right on back!

And here they are now, a few weeks later. Lookin’ good ladies! (And gents..) I’ve also been giving them a few tablespoons of fish fertilizer once a week, and it’s been a great thing! Especially for the tomatoes that had some shock.

German PInk

German Pink

Bonny Best

Bonny Best

 

Sorry for the blinding light, but here are a few other things I’m growing so far: kale, oregano, chives, cilantro, broccoli, celery, parsley, basil, lavender and peppers. I definitely started the kale and broccoli a couple of weeks to early. So I’m going to try and transplant them outside and put covers over them till it’s a bit warmer out.

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I spent all yesterday working on our strawberry patch, removing the old mulch, weeding, and removing some of the strawberry plants that died. There are a few things that I’m going to do differently this year/next year. 1) Transplant some of the runners after the last harvest, that way that are in their semi-dormant phase. Yesterday, I removed some of the plants that were to close to each other and tried to replant them. I think they will be fine, but it took a tole on them. 2) Their roots are sensitive to moisture and light, so I’ll be more careful not to lay the bare roots out while I’m working on getting them replanted.  3) This year I want to fertilize them more. My strawberries did great last year, but I think they will really benefit from the fertilizer.  Tip: 1 lb of balanced fertilizer per 100 sq feet. With that water an inch per week throughout the growing season.

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Over the next 2 days I’ll be planting my lettuces, spinach, carrots, peas and potatoes! I’m a couple weeks behind on the peas, so we’ll see how well they do. Also, I’m growing potatoes for the first time this year. What is your preferred growing method? I’m short on space, so I was thinking about building some wire potato cages out of thick wire fencing. If you have a method that works, please share!

Overall, I think this is going to be a great growing season and I can’t wait to see what everyone else is doing and growing!

And to end, here’s a cute picture of my daughter 🙂

 

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Gardening Trays

Every year in my garden I weed, I pick, I pull, I trim and I harvest. I end up with handfulls, armloads, bucketloads of plants and produce. How do I move it? I use my hands, I use my shirt, I use bowls from the kitchen, I use the baskets that normally hold the throw blankets in the living room. Really anything that could hold something.

None of these things were really working well for me. I’d leave my kitchen bowls outside for a few days, my good shirt would now become another…gardening shirt. (Why do I always forget to put on the ratty shirts when gardening?!) My hands could never hold enough, and a few delicate tomatoes would go tumbling down the steps, and my basket used for blankets would eventually be covered in dirt and leaves because I would forget to clean it out before returning it to it’s rightful place. But the gardening stores around here never really had anything I liked. They had totes and cute baskets for holding fancy tea towels in..but nothing I wanted to fork out 30+ dollars for that was practical.

We’ve been tossing around a few ideas for gardening trays that would be useful in the garden. You could rinse your produce in them, shake off dirt, use them to hold your weeds or carry gardening pots outside with them (and whatever else you could imagine using them for.) Here’s our first draft.

Sketching out the ideas

Sketching out different ideas and measurements

Picking out different woods. Poplar and Oak.

Picking out different woods. Poplar and Oak.

Beautiful oak

Beautiful oak

Sawing sawing sawing

Sawing sawing sawing

Oak box and a poplar box

Oak box and a Poplar box

So there they are! This is definitely the rough draft, things weren’t quite even in some places, and we are still working with what type of screws/nails to use on the boxes, especially the Oak boxes. I like the idea of using Poplar, they are easy to put together and affordable. We will definitely need to put a linseed finish on both of them (or something similar.) The Oak boxes are very sturdy and they just feel good in your hands. They are a bit heavier than the Poplar, but will withstand weather and use for a very long time. They aren’t as affordable as the Poplar, but I think they will be worth their weight in gold once finished. Also, I think we’ll do a couple different varieties and sizes. Make the Oak one with a mesh bottom and the Poplar one with wooden slats, maybe do a few smaller varieties for those that mostly have berries and herbs. Let me know what you all think! 

Getting ready for winter

Let’s talk about winterizing. A lot of people, including myself, thought you could just let the garden go once you collected all you wanted from the garden. But I’ve realized over time that it would be like having a one way friendship with someone, it just doesn’t work.

First lets go into WHY winterizing your garden is important:

  1. By composting all your left over annual plants and vines it prevents the build up of diseases.
  2. It also gets ride of nasty bugs that would hang around in the dead plants waiting for next year’s vegetables. (Composting reaches high heat levels which kills off diseases and bugs that otherwise would live if left in the garden.)
  3. Cleaning out your annuals gives you a chance to build up your compost and get some great dirt filled with nutrients for next year’s garden.
This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

How to winterize your STRAWBERRIES:

This was my first year growing strawberries and it was such a fun experience. We had about 20 plants that produced all summer and are still producing a few berries today!

JUNE BEARING STRAWBERRIES: One/two weeks after they have stopped baring fruit take a pair of scissors or use a lawnmower and go over your berry plants to cut them back. This will help increase your production for the following year.

EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: I’ve heard of a few people that will cut their berries back the same way they do their June Bearing plants, but most people recommend leaving them be. But make sure you cut off all the runners and replant them or compost them.

FOR JUNE BEARING and EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: Before the first hard frost sets in, cover your strawberries with 4-6 inches of straw and cover with a wire mesh of sorts to keep the straw from blowing away during the season.

This haven't been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week.

These haven’t been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week. (Lows in the 30’s this week!)

How to winterize your RHUBARB, ASPARAGUS, HORSERADISH, GARLIC, and other Perennials:

Mulch, mulch, mulch and more mulch.

Rhubarb: Mulch with organic matter and well rotted manure.

Asparagus: Mulch with 4-6 inches of chopped leaves, hay or straw. Remove the mulch in the spring.

Horseradish: Mulch only if you live in particularly harsh areas. Otherwise no mulch is needed.

Garlic: Mulch with chopped leaves, grass hay or alfalfa. Avoid grain straw if you can which can host curl mite that can attack garlic.

mulching

WINTER GARDENING AND COVER CROPS:

Instead of closing up shop after clearing out all the summer plants, plant something that can grow and keep your garden alive. Kale, collards, leafy greens, garlic, rhubarb, shallots and carrots are a few great things that you can start late in late summer and harvest in the fall. Your garden can also work as a great ‘root cellar’ of sorts, to store things like carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage. Just burry in a few inches of soil and place a marker over the spot so it can be easily found once winter sets in.

Something else to consider are cover crops! I have never done a cover crop but I really want to try one this year. I love that they keep your soil healthy and in place.

Why cover crops?

“Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop’s root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil.” -Cornell University

Great cover crop options:

covercrops

 

Portia Westesen

Houseplants

I’ve been thinking of plants a lot lately. Although we garden we have hardly any plants in our house! We have one clover plant that sits on our fireplace, but other than that we have absolutely nothing! (Until today, we went to our local gardening store and got a little Golden Pothos.)

I’ve heard a few people over time express how they have a strong dislike for houseplant because of how dirty they are. They couldn’t be more wrong!

Why are house plants so important?

Research has shown that having house plants reduces stress levels, increases oxygen and cleans the air. So even if you hate gardening you can have a lot of the benefits gardening gives!

Top houseplants for cleaning the air:

  • Snake plants: Great for filtering out Formaldehyde and air pollutants: It’ll do great in the bathroom with low light and humid conditions.
  • Golden Pothos: Also great for filtering out Formaldehyde. Stays green even if kept in the dark!
  • Chrysanthemum: Great for filtering out Benzene.  Loves light and warmth, so put next to a window 🙂
  • Red-edged dracaena: Great for removing xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Grows VERY tall.
  • Weeping fig: Fickle plants, but great for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
  • English ivy: Has found to remove air born fecal matter in the air along with formaldehyde.
  • Warneck dracaena: Kills pollutants that have been related to varnishes and oils. Does not need direct sunlight.
  • Chinese evergreen: Filters out a variety of air pollutants and begins to remove more toxins as time and exposure continues.
  • Heart leaf philodendron: TOXIC to plants and kids. But GREAT at removing all kinds of VOCs. There are also great at battling formaldehyde from sources like particleboard.
  • Peace lily: On the Top of NASA’s list for removing all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It can also combat toluene and xylene.
  • Aloe vera: Sun loving plant! Helps kill formaldehyde and benzene.
  • Spider Plant: battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.
  • Rubber tree: VERY easy plant to grow, acts like an air purifier.
  • Bamboo palm: On the top of NASA’s list for clean air plants. Great at clearing out bezene and trichloroethylene.

So add a little green friend to your home and clean the air around you!

Portia Westesen

Turn your scraps into garden gold!

Let’s talk about compost. I LOVE compost.

Compost is like natures way of recycling. It’s good for everyone, so why not do it?! Composting feeds hundreds of thousands of organisms in the soil. Not only does it help improve your garden it improves the soil structure and makes it easier for plants to grow! The more variety you put in your compost the more diverse your organisms will be WHICH means more benefits for your compost and in turn for your garden.

When I say composting is easy, I really mean it.

Take all those used and smelly waste from your kitchen, garden or yard and, instead of just tossing it in the garbage, toss it into compost box. Don’t know what to use to hold your compost? Just use a large plastic tub, trashcan, or make your own out of wood! Nothin’ special.

Here is a list of things that can be composted: (this list is probably only the beginning, but it’ll give you a good start)

  • fruit and vegetables, skins and all.
  • eggshells (crushed)
  • farm animal manures
  • flowers
  • grass clippings (in THIN layers)
  • hay
  • leaves
  • oats and oat straw, and most other hulls, straws, moss.
  • peat moss
  • potato skins and vines
  • shells (from sea creatures, make sure they are ground and buried deep in the pile)
  • tea leaves
  • weeds

Two of the biggest elements in composting is carbon and nitrogen. You generally want 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith has a great article on composting, his trick to remembering what the difference is between the two is “30 parts brown (for carbon) and 1 part green (for the nitrogen).”

Composting BROWNS:

  • Straw-oats, barley, wheat and rye. (generally, most people prefer this type for composting)
  • Hay
  • Cornstalks and vines from pea and beans
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Wood Shavings and Sawdust
  • Pine Needles

Composting GREENS:

  • Any plant (fruit, vegetables, flowers) material as long as it’s not diseased
  • Grass clippings
  • Seaweed
  • Weeds (make sure there’s no poisons on it!)
  • Bird feathers
  • Manures
  • Alfafa hay

What NOT to compost

  • Meat and Dairy, mainly because they attract animals.
  • Diseased plants and the roots of the cabbage plants
  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Ashes
  • Manure from animals other than herbivores. Like cats and dogs.
  • Plants that have herbicides on them

This is my 2nd year really composting and I’m really enjoying all I’ve learned from it so far! Good luck and don’t be afraid to ask questions or google more about it! Composting is so easy and so beneficial for your garden!

Portia Westesen

Onions

I’ve run into some issues growing my onions this year. First year growing them and I’m definitely learning a LOT. Saying I love onions is an understatement. I remember hating fresh onions all my life until I was probably 16. I’m not really sure how it happened, somehow one sneaked into a sandwich and when I bit into it, it was like I never had an onion before! So for all you onion haters out there, just give your old potent, spicy, smelly friend a try one more time. Or maybe 15 times, I’ve heard it takes 15 or so times before your tastebuds get retrained to like something.

First lets talk about what onions love. Then we’ll dive into the many things I did wrong.

1) Make sure the soil is always moist for the first two weeks. This’ll make the difference between good and great onions.

2) Keep the weeds at bay. Onions grow so close to the surface and their roots are very shallow.

3) Sandy soil is the best for these guys. Keep it fertile and loose. 😉

4) Onions from seed take a long time to grow, so give them a head start. 8-10 weeks indoors before last frost date.

5) Like number 1, even after the first two weeks they need consistent water, if the top inch is dry give it a good water.

6) Spacing for onion plants. If you want bigger onions you need to space them 4-5 inches apart. If you want a higher yield with average size onions, 2 inches apart, and if you want scallions, 1 inch apart.

7) Spacing for onion sets: Remember, if you are buying sets of onions, smaller is better! They are already a year old and are ready to set out flowers, which isn’t what you want, so to prevent that from happening find the smallest bulbs and plant as soon as possible. If you are planting in rows, space them 6-8 inches apart.

Okay, now onto my experience this year with onions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I started out growing from seed in February, but between my wonderful dog, and my baby girl they didn’t really make it. So I went down to our local gardening store and picked up some onion sets.

1) My first problem was I thought I should buy the biggest set of bulbs so I could produce the biggest onions. Wrong. Smaller is better. They are less likely to bolt, so look for bulbs about the size of a dime.

Everything was growing great and strong and the leaves had started falling over so I thought it was time to harvest. When I went to pull them I noticed that most of them were fairly small. I was expecting baseball size onions and instead got golfball sized onions. Major disappointment.

2) To much nitrogen. I’m not sure if this was the reason for the smaller size, but I’ve heard that to much nitrogen can produce lots of leaves with small bulbs. Next season I will test my soil just to make sure that levels are normal.

3) Spacing. I believe I was spacing for onion seeds not for sets. So instead of giving them 6-8 inches of space, I gave them 3-4. (I’m feeling a little embarrassed.)

4) Know where your plants are from. I’ve heard a rumor that sets are known to grow smaller onions anyways but also, I have no idea where my onions came from! It is best to buy plants locally, but if that is not possible find varieties that are known to grow great in your climate.

photo (10)  photo (11)  photo (12)

 

Portia Westesen

Leafy greens

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This year we grew Mantilla Buttercrunch lettuce, Arrowhead lettuce, New Zealand spinach and Kale. Talk about delicious! There’s nothing quite like home grown lettuce, and it’s super easy to grow! Plant the seed, water, then Viola! Green luscious leaves ready to eat!

They are a spring crop and love the cool weather. But with a little work you can grow it all year long! The key is to start it early and sow it often!

SPRING GREENS: I started my lettuce this year in March with row covers to keep the light freezes from damaging my leaves, but quickly lifted the cover once temperatures were above 50. You can also start your greens earlier if you start them indoors, given they have a good amount of natural or artificial lighting. Keep an eye on your green beauties and eat often! They can get bitter and tough if left out to long. Once you’ve eaten a plant cut it back to let it grow again OR remove the whole plant and re-seed. (I don’t have much experiences with cutting it and letting it grow back, I’ve read that head lettuces don’t grow back but the leafy ones do! So this year I’m trying it out with the Arrowhead.)

SUMMER GREENS: When the heat of summer comes, the plants can quickly bolt and get tough so I’ll try and position my greens in the shade of bigger plants, like corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans or any other bigger bushier plants you have growing. There are also different varieties of lettuces that are better suited for really hot climats, here is a couple different sites that list a few varieties and tips: Utah State ExtensionsUniversity of Illinois Extention, The Washington Post, and NC State.

*Also, water often but remember the plants have shallow ends, so they don’t need a ton of it!

FALL GREENS: Once summer ends and the cool weather drifts back in watch for temperatures and cover when temperatures go below 50 degrees.

WINTER GREENS: As soon as winter sets in you’ll need to move your plants into a green house or indoors! But they will grow happily as long as they have enough light, warmth and food!

Buttercrunch

Buttercrunch

Arrowhead

ArrowheadAnd our delicious Kale smoothie!

And our delicious Kale smoothie!

Portia Westesen