All posts by Erin Castillo | Grow Your Health Gardening Owner & Certified Hydroponic Grower

Slugs, Snails, and Sourdough Starter Discard? A recipe for success?

We have been making our own Sourdough Starter for some time now to use in making our own bread (and we use a Spelt Sourdough Starter in particular because Spelt is said to be easier on your digestion system. But that’s for another conversation.)

Exciting news (especially for any of your folks that like sustainable organic gardening)! There’s yet another use for our sourdough discard! Chemical-free, pesticide-free, and organic slug bait! Yes, you read that correctly. Sourdough starter discard can be used as an organic option for rounding up slugs and snails.

Recently, Oregon State University (OSU) researcher, Rory McDonnell, led a multi-institutional research collaboration and found that a simple mixture of flour, water and yeast (bread dough) attracts slugs and snails in droves.

Snail on leaf chewing away as a pest to production

McDonnell theorizes that it is the fermentation process that draws them in saying, “We gave them a choice of food and they consistently went for the bread dough. They really, really like it. They went bonkers for it. Bread dough outperformed everything (even better than beer).” In fact, in one instance, over 18,000 snails were trapped within 48-hours according to McDonnell! Research also revealed that it can be effective in the field in Oregon for at least 8 days if the bread dough is kept moist.

Don’t have sourdough starter discard? No problem! You can make your own slug and snail slurry any time using whatever flour you have on hand along with yeast and water. Here is the recipe McDonnell recommends:

  • 500 g of All-Purpose Enriched Bleached Flour
  • 500 mL of water
  • 2 packets of Active Dry Yeast (0.25 oz packet size)
  • Note: You do not need to use any particular brand of flour or active dry yeast

1. Mix all three ingredients thoroughly until combined. (If you already have sourdough starter discard, simply feed your discard with equal amounts of water and flour to the weight of your discard and mix ingredients thoroughly.)
2. Apply dough directly to the ground leaving a little distance away from the plants you want to protect. Simply remove the slugs or snails as they arrive.
3. Alternatively, you can also sink a shallow container into the ground and add the bread dough / sourdough starter discard. If you add water to make it a bit more watery, they may simply drown and then you can toss the jar contents periodically, rinse out, and replace with fresh sourdough starter discard or bread dough.

McDonnell also suggests, “The dough works best when it is moist. If it dries out, it will not be as attractive, so in dry weather we stir the dough daily and then replace it if it starts to get dry.”

close up of person making dough
Photo by Felicity Tai on

If you grow anything in the mint family, know that during wetter weather, snails and slugs will especially be attracted to these plants. Have a non-toxic slug or snail plan in place like bread dough.

photo of green peppermint plant
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Also, NASA spotted El Niño precursor from space (May 21, 2023) and says that in the Southern part of the United States we may see wetter weather more than usual. This is actually something I’ve been noticing in our own garden (and I’m totally enjoying this cooler spring) — the snails and slugs have been out in full-force.

NASA El Niño satelite scan

I will be implementing this sustainable gardening practice bread dough tip from the OSU right away! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you try it in your area and if it works for you.

PS: OSU has a slug portal (yes, I’m not making this up) if you want to learn more about the latest news on slug identification and management using sustainable practices. You can check that out here if you are interested. (Also great for any homeschoolers out there who want to learn more!) 😉

Happy growing y’all!


slug on a leaf

What should you be doing for fruit tree care in February (Growing Zone 8+ and Patio Citrus Trees)

Our family likes to travel and I remember one time while we were vacationing at an RV park in Florida, our RV neighbor came over and shared a sack of satsumas he had purchased from a local grower. Y’all! These were THE BEST oranges we had ever tasted… sweet, easy to peel, and perfect snack size. I was hooked.

Upon returning home, I quickly learned that the shelf life of a Satsuma is not conducive to the grocery store system where food must be able to handle transportation time and sit on the shelf until sold. I did find it at an asian market much to my delight. But, alas, I wanted a Satsuma tree I could call my own…. so I bought four Satsumas. (I justified my purchase telling myself that even though these trees were self-pollinated, if I got a few others, it would produce more fruit.)

satsuma orange citrus

Satsumas can grow in large pots if they are on a dwarf rootstock and pruned to limit their height and overall size, but they are best in the ground as the limbs will get heavy laden with fruit anywhere from October through December (typically, but will vary by cultivar.) Fresh Satsumas for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Count me in!

As I was caring for my young citrus trees and other fruit trees, I thought it might be a good time to talk about how to care for these wonderful trees that provide us with the healing nutrient vitamin C (among other beneficial antioxidants!)

Not a pic of me, but these are an example of the kind of pruners you want to have sharp and clean (with rubbing alcohol.)

When should I prune my fruit trees?

The time to prune and treat your fruit trees is late January and into February, so now is the perfect time to be looking at your citrus and other fruit trees if you live in growing zone 8+ or if you grow indoor trees of this nature. I also have peach trees, olive trees as well as roses in pots that I plan to use the following treatment on in preparation for spring and summer growing season.

And when we prune, we need to protect. Make sure you always use sharp pruners appropriate for the size of the limb your are trimming. Always clean your pruners with 80% or higher alcohol in between each tree or bush you prune. Follow up by sealing cuts with an organic sealer to protect the plant from bacteria and pests. As we look at pruning and protecting our investment, I personally like when I find a product that has multiple benefits with one application. Here’s a quick rundown of one that makes logical sense to me to be a good solution and I am currently testing it out on my trees and ornamental bushes.

One Step Protects Tree Three Ways

As I study and learn from other growers on this beautiful citrus option, I’ve learned from Charles Malki, Director of Horticulture and Education at IV Organics that even though citrus are heat-loving, the intensity of the sun can actually burn the trunk’s outer bark layer inviting disease and pests to attack the tree in the sun-damaged region. I encourage you when you have an hour or so to check out his video series on fruit trees as it is very informative.

Malki has developed a product called IV Organics, a 3-in-1 Plant Guard, that is organic and can reapplied annually while doing spot checks on your tree(s) called IV Organics. This product is purported to tackle three things: sunburn on trunk (and leaves), protects from pests and open cuts (caused by pruning or breakage) that promote bacteria to enter the tree. and protects from rodents who may want to chew on the bark towards the base of the tree.

He also notes that using latex paint or tar-based products to protect tree trunks may last longer without reapplication, but you’re exposing your tree to toxic chemicals which can affect the health of the tree.

Painting on 3-in-1 IV Organics onto trunk and lower limbs of citrus satsuma tree during month of February to provide protection from pests, sun, and rodent pressure.

What is IV Organics 3-in-1?

This IV Organics 3-in-1 Plant Guard reminds me of a milk paint, but it contains beneficial compounds that not only coat a “sunscreen” to the tree trunk’s exterior, but it also contains essential oils that are known to naturally repel most insects and rodents. The mix of essential oils included are: castor, cinnamon, clove, garlic, peppermint, rosemary and spearmint.

Castor oil, spearmint, peppermint and rosemary are known to repel rodents. Garlic, Clove, Peppermint, Rosemary are known to repel various insects including but not limited to: aphids, ants, beetles, borers, caterpillars, slugs, termites, and whiteflies. Some of these oils also have anti-fungal properties.

IV Organics 3 in 1 label

You can also choose from five color options to fit your aesthetic preferences: Greige, Grey, Brown, White, Green. I personally chose “Greige” as I wanted it to look natural, but keep in mind that certain colors absorb light (and heat) and other colors reflect light (limit heat). (White would have shown up better for example pictures and easier to see to apply while wearing my sunglasses.) I am really happy at the results of my color choice as from a distance, you can’t even tell anything has been applied to the tree in my opinion.

How much will you need?

If you have an orchard of several mature trees, you’ll want the gallon size, otherwise, the pint-size is ideal from one or two trees or several tree starts. Keep in mind, that the product, once mixed, will last for 2 weeks in the refridgerator.

The product comes in a paint can with a package of clay-type powder and a vial of essential oils. You mix the two and add water until it becomes combined and then paint onto the trunk of your tree. You can also add some of the product to a spray bottle and dilute it down further to spray as a foliar application to leaves during the hotter months. They also have a ready-to-go option if that suits your preferences better. (Note: be sure to apply this foliar spray at dusk after bees have gone and the heat of the day has ended.)

I recommend getting two when you purchase… one to use now as you prune and spot-check your tree(s) and another later for reapplication if needed and to apply a foliar leaf application as you enter the more intense sun in the Southeast as we approach the summer months. Keep in mind that rain will eventually affect the leaves, so reapplication may be necessary if you begin to see sun damage on your leaves. Remember, you can also use IV Organics on roses, fruit & nut trees, as well as ornamental trees & shrubs. You can get a combo pack which includes the product to paint your tree trunk and limbs, a foliar spray, and nutrition your tree needs throughout the growing season which makes it easy to treat your trees and bushes all season long.

IV Organics Product Line for fruit trees and ornamental bushes

Malki also reminds us to not neglect feeding our citrus, avocado, and olive trees during the winter with a light foliar application once a month. In spring, you will want to amp up the soil fertilization with the heaviest feeding of nutrition during the peak growing season of summer. Kelp and or a worm casting biological tea makes for a great foliar nutritional feeding. Malki also has a a super blend of your main nutritional needs of your fruit trees (ie: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium), but also essential micronutrients.

Let me know in the comments below if you try this method and how it works for you. Or, if you have any questions or want an update to see how it’s going with this product before you try it, just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. In the meantime, happy garden planning and don’t forget to buy some fruit trees if you have space to put one!

Grow without chemicals and eat what you grow!


Tower Garden Aeroponic and Hydroponic Growing System recently featured on Daily Mom

The Tower Garden has been recently featured on “Daily Mom” in their list of “unique gardening equipment, gear, and fall decoration for outside.” [Link below] Although we run our Tower Gardens from April to October outdoors, these hydroponic systems really shine indoors where you can grow food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using built-in automation through timers that turn on the pump and light without you having to do anything once it’s been set up to run.

My husband and I see our Tower Gardens as an investment — it is a gardening tool that helps us grow food easily and effectively. As a busy mom of five children running a growing operation, I like any time saving tools I can utilize and my hydroponic Tower Gardens have MORE THAN paid for themselves over the years.

Tower Garden growing indoor Genovese basil hydroponically

I’m not only saving time, but also a valuable resource: water. Research has shown that hydroponic systems like the Tower Garden grow food 3x faster, 3x bigger all while only using 98% of the water used in traditional soil-based growing systems. I can grow my greens in 2% of the water it would normally take to grow greens in soil! And what’s more, I have less to clean and wash when it comes to harvesting food, because my plants are not in contact with soil which can harbor bacteria.

Kale harvest from hydroponic aeroponic Tower Garden

Lastly, I love that I know what is going into and onto our food. I pick it fresh and eat it the same day for maximum nutrition. Our food is grown with nutrients and minerals mined from the earth and put into a water-soluble form for plants to utilize and grow.

And if I’m not able to eat everything we’ve grown, no problem! We go from harvest to our Harvest Right freeze dryer or dehydrator immediately capturing and sealing in all that nutrition for later use.

Demand has gone up for these Tower Garden hydroponic / aeroponic growing systems, so if you’re thinking about it as a gift for Christmas, now is the time to order! Contact me (Erin Castillo) today to learn more!

Why Now is the Time to Get Your Seeds for Warm Season and Fall Plantings

Here in Atlanta, Georgia, we are beginning to see warmer days in the mid-80ºs (F) which means hot summer days are just around the corner starting in early to mid-May. 

With that in mind, we are doing a last call on all spring seed sales so that our seeds do not get damaged in transit by the high heat of shipping containers. High heat can dramatically affect the life of a seed (and even kill good seed), so we recommend our customers purchase purchase seeds during cooler conditions across the United States before the southern shipping lanes get hot.

Now is the time to stock-up on seeds for warm season crops and fall planting!
And for a limited time you can
get 20% all seed orders*
with code

*Limited to stock on hand. No Cash Value. 
Offer valid 4/23/22-4/30/22.

Example of how Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Co packaging and how they ship seed orders

Remember, our seeds are:

  • packaged in a water-resistant sealed envelope to protect your seeds from rain and moisture.
  • packaged in a non-descript envelope and shipped with tracking to limit stolen and lost packages. (Believe it or not, we have a handful of seed orders that mysteriously go missing when we don’t ship with tracking, so now we only ship using tracking!)
  • when local temps begin to go above 75ºF, our packages are always hand-delivered to the U.S.P.S. — your seed order never will sit out in a hot mail box or metal mail collection box that is exposed to the sun and heat. (And be sure that where ever you ship your seeds is climate-controlled so they will not be sitting out in the heat while waiting for you to receive your order.) 😉
  • Grown with love and care on our family small farm using organic methods — many are hydroponic adapted.
  • Heirloom or open source seed (OSSI) so you can have confidence in food security and encourage diversity in your own garden and sharing with friends (patent-free seeds!)
Save 20% on seeds

With daily heat temps rising in the southeast, we are going to be limiting our shipments in mid-May to protect seeds from heat damage during transit. Be sure and secure your heirloom and open source seed now before summer and fall!


Grow Your Health Gardening Awarded April Star Seller for Excellent Customer Service

Grow Your Health Gardening (GYHG) Seed Co. has been awarded the April Star Seller on Etsy for the fourth consecutive month in a row in 2022! Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Co. received a 100 percent score in every category for exemplary customer service.

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Co. specializes in growing all their own hydroponic-adapted seeds and seeds adapted to being grown in the soil in the Southeast Zone 7B. Even though Grow Your Health Seed Co. sells on Etsy, their main online store can be found on along with the latest releases and updates, how-tos, and more.

Etsy Star Seller for April 2022
100 percent Response Rate
100% Shipping Time
100 percent 5 star ratings
Etsy Star Seller 100 percent customer satisfaction

Here are a few things our customer’s have shared with us over the past month:

“Seeds look great will be planting soon! Fast shipping and good communication. Clean light colored and not dark. I recommend this seller. I will be back!” — Gigi

“Amazing customer service- they always go above & beyond! I love their seeds too- highest quality, hand selected and always packed with care. They always offer growing help and sent extra growing information and some free goodies with my order too. i LOVE this company and always shop here first when i’m ready to get growing!” — Gabrielle

“This shop is always amazing. They ship fast and the seeds always grow! I’ll be back for more!” —Karen

“Thank you for your fast shipping, beautiful packaging and helpful instructions. I can not wait to plant them with the rest of my seeds indoors tonight.” — Donielle

“100% germination rate 👍” — Laurie

“Very fast and great condition 💚” — Nita

“These have ALL sprouted beautifully in about 2 weeks! I will definitely be purchasing more seeds!” — Skylar

“The shipping was so fast and I loved the little info leaflet that was sent with the seeds. So far every single seed has germinated and the sprouts are looking great! Every seed has germinated and sprouted so far. Very happy! Very pleased.” 

“We just want to thank our customers who trusted us as their seed source this growing season! We appreciate your support of our small family business!” said Erin Castillo, Owner of Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Co. “Providing locally adapted seed to our community and across the United States is something we take great joy and pride in.”

Be Sure to Check this Chart Before Starting from Seed

Seed starting?

We have a FANTASTIC resource you will want to bookmark. It tells you what conditions the particular variety needs to help it germinate. Some seeds need it dark. Some seeds need bright light to germinate. Some need to be soaked beforehand. No matter the situation, this is where you want to start.

This is an active reference we update from time-to-time as we learn through researching and growing new varieties. Be sure to bookmark the page and check back for updates!

And remember, when you start from seed, even though you are taking a bit of a gamble on some seeds, the thing that is so awesome is you can grow varieties not commonly found at big-box retail garden centers. A whole new world awaits you!

Oh — and if you’re new to seed starting, be sure to check the “Seed Starting” tab on our Web site for other helpful tips to help you in your quest to start seeds at home.

Hope this helps!

Grow a Record Breaking Tomato: 28 Tomato Cultivars that Produce Really Big Tomatoes

If you’re looking to grow really big — I mean REALLY BIG — tomatoes… the kind you might even break a state record size of tomato, you’ll need to start with good seed DNA. There are certain tomato varieties that tend to grow to a larger size when given proper nutrients, pH, and pruning.

Pomodoro Farina Gigante is a great tasting BIG tomato slicer that is reputed to break records from Italy.

At the time of publication, the current 2021 Guinness Book of World Records for the heaviest tomato was grown by Dan Sutherland (USA). His monster tomato was of the “Domingo” variety and weighed 10 lb 12.7 oz (4.896 kg) when measured in Walla Walla, Washington, USA, on 15 July 2020. The achievement was authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).

It had a circumference of 33 in (83.8 cm), contributed to by a number of outgrowths on the fruit known as “dingleberries” — something that can be common among giant tomatoes. This is the second time that Sullivan has held this Guinness record. He grew a 3.906-kg (8.61-lb) tomato in August 2016. According to Guinness, “the mother seed for this new record-breaker was derived from the previous record plant.”

No matter if you’re wanting to grow a record breaking monster-size tomato to win titles or simply wanting a nice big tasty slicer for your summer time BLTs, these are the varieties that typically grow larger in girth.

Pomodoro Farina Gigante heirloom tomato is a variety known to be record breaking in Italy. You can find seed in our seed shop here.
Pineapple heirloom tomato is a beautiful bi-color slicer.
Goatbag Tomato is a large oxheart tomato full on meaty tomato flesh with very few seeds. It makes a good slicer but also fantastic tomato paste.
Domingo10 pounds
Big-Zac (hybrid)8 pounds
Daho8 pounds
Delicious7 pounds
MegaZac6 pounds
Clementz5 pounds
MegaDom5 pounds
6-Pound Giant4 pounds
Phil’s Fantastic4 pounds
Slankard’s4 pounds
Spaziani4 pounds
Cuostraleé4 pounds
Big Wixom4 pounds
Monster3 pounds
Italian Sweet3 pounds
Mong3 pounds
Beef Steak, Old Fashioned3 pounds
Florida Pink3 pounds
Orenberg Giant3 pounds
Verna Orange3 pounds
Chocolate Stripes3 pounds
Burpee Supersteak (hybrid)3 pounds
Big Rosy3 pounds
Pomodoro Farina Gigante2 pounds
Big Red2 pounds
Lithuanian2 pounds
Omar’s Lebanese2 pounds
Zogalo2 pounds
Brianna2 pounds
Todd County Amish2 pounds
Pineapple2 pounds
Believe It or Not2 pounds
Giant Belgium2 pounds
Neve’s Azorean Red2 pounds
Dinner Plate2 pounds
Champs of New Jersey2 pounds
Persimmon2 pounds
Garden Monster Leader2 pounds
Jerry’s German Giant2 pounds
Brandywine, Sudduth Strain2 pounds
Mortgage Lifter, Red2 pounds
18842 pounds
Mexico2 pounds
Aussie2 pounds
Provenzano2 pounds
Great White2 pounds
Large Pink Bulgarian2 pounds
Watermelon Beefsteak2 pounds
Polish Giant2 pounds
Ponderosa Pink2 pounds
Goatbag2 pounds
German Red2 pounds
Big Rainbow2 pounds
Hillbilly2 pounds
Big Rainbow Heirloom Tomato is a great producing bi-color slicer. As you can see, she produces thick stems to easily handle the weight of big fruit in clusters of 4-6 buds.
Great White Heirloom Tomato is a low-acid tomato that produces big slicers almost 5″ wide.
Apricot Brandywine Tomato is a large slicer producing not only great tasting tomatoes but a good crop of them. This particular variety produced the most weight overall when compared to our other cultivars.

How to ensure you have Germinated Seed Every Time whether Growing in Soil or Hydroponics

I like to know if a seed has germinated before it ever goes into soil or a piece of hydroponic Rockwool. There’s an easy way to know if you have viable seed and that is through a technique that simply requires a sheet of paper towel, a container with a lid, water and a consistently warm location 72ºF-76ºF. You can learn more about how to set up these pre-germination conditions on our blog here, but if you’re already familiar with this method, here is a quick visual of what you’re looking for with pepper seeds and when to transfer them to either soil or Rockwool (Rockwool is used for soilless hydroponic / aeroponic growing systems).

Example of seed that is ready to transfer to Rockwool or soil

The seed that is circled in green is ready to gently transfer to soil or Rockwool using a sanitized tweezer. (To sanitize your tweezer, simply clean with rubbing alcohol.) The seed circled in yellow shows swelling and indicates that you should probably check it the next day as the root is getting ready to emerge.

The other seeds are slightly swollen showing that they are still in the process of germinating. Do not give up on seeds that are slower to germinate — sometimes they can take up to 10 days even when you are providing ideal conditions. Check moisture daily and if paper towel smells funky, swap out for a new paper towel and rewet and put back into germination chamber container.

Below is a photo showing germinated seed that has been placed into Rockwool (see number one below). If you are growing in a hydroponic growing system such as a Tower Garden or Aerogarden, you’ll want to place your seed in Rockwool instead of soil. (Coco Coir is also a good alternative growing medium for hydroponics or aeroponics assuming it has support to hold material together such as in a mesh net.)

I like to cover my seeds with vermiculite. Some hydroponic growers insist that this step isn’t necessary, but I like to make sure my seeds receive adequate moisture throughout these early stages of growth especially. Strong healthy seedlings, make for strong healthy plants. I use this process for peppertomato, and eggplant seeds and any seeds that are not super small. Remember, some seeds need light to germinate (like lettuce), so be sure to reference our cheat sheet before starting seeds to know if your seed needs light, no light, or if it doesn’t matter.

How to transfer pre-germinated Seed to Rockwool or Soil

Rockwool is a fantastic growing medium as it has air pockets and is good at holding water. Keep moist, but not sitting in water.

Hope that helps! Remember, we have a great assortment of hydroponic-adapted tomato and pepper seed available in the seed store. Be sure to check it out!

Happy growing,


watering can

Planning to preserve? Now is the time to gather your supplies.

Just a little tip if you’re thinking of pickling anything this summer be it cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, eggs… you name it… NOW is the time to purchase your canning herbs and spices for pickling supplies whether it is the canning herbs and spices you’ll use or canning lids to seal the jars.

Bell Canning Jars filled with  homegrown Jalapeños made into a tasty Jelly
Homegrown jalapeños can be made into a tasty jelly that goes great on crackers with cream cheese. Yum! You can find the recipe that we like to use here!
You can find glass canning jars in your local grocery store or hardware stores. I always think buying local is the way to go because then you support your local economy where taxes go back into your own city and jobs are provided for local residents. But if you find that you need to purchase online, these wide-mouth 16 oz Mason Jars come 12 to a pack $21.99 ($1.83 each jar with free shipping as of 3/6/22.
Pickle slices in a Ball Canning Jar
Homemade Pickled Cucumbers are the best!
This is what I like to use. It stores on my pantry shelf and also makes a generous gift-giving size.
2 (12 count) packs of Ball Canning Wide Mouth Jars 16 oz $47.40 ($1.96 each jar) Price included free shipping as of 3/6/22.
Don’t forget to purchase your wide-mouth canning jar lids as well. Never re-use the same lid twice otherwise you’ll risk an improper seal and introduction of harmful bacteria.

If you’re going to do a lot of canning, I have found this common canning pickles spices option to have the best price per ounce when compared to purchasing dry canning spices / seasonings in the grocery store or elsewhere. (If you find a better deal, please let me know in the comments below so we can all be helped as inflation continues to rise.) Another good resource sometimes is a Mexican Supermarket if you have one nearby. You can often find dried seasonings for sell for less at these wonderful Mexican grocery stores.

Buying bulk is the way to go, so you won’t run out of what you need. Remember, you can store any extra seasonings in an air-tight glass jar or vacuum-sealed container and place in the freezer to extend the life of your seasonings, even to the next growing season.

Gel Pickling Spice Bulk Canning Seasoning $24.99  ($0.39 / ounce) as of 3/6/22

Don’t forget to grab pectin as well. You can purchase by the box or as a ready-to-go liquid (I prefer the later) that can be used to make jams and homemade jelly recipes.

I have found that this ready-to-go Certo Liquid Fruit Pectin makes pretty much fail-proof jelly. Make sure you follow directions on proper temp and you will be sure to have success every time. This is sold each box as a two-pack and buy buying 4 packages you can do 8 batches of jelly. $26.47  ($1.10 / Fl Oz)  as of 3/2/22

And don’t forget that you will need oxygen absorbers for any items where you simply dehydrate and store in a glass jar! Those will be needed for any type of preservation whether you are putting into vacuum packed bags or storing dry goods in a glass Mason jar in the pantry.

Oxygen Absorber for dried dehydrated herbs
Oxygen Absorbers are essential for long-term dry or freezer storage.
I have found that if I slice freshly cured red onions (or you can also buy from the store) and place them in my dehydrator at 110ºF for 24 hours and then immediately place them in a glass Ball Jar or Mason Jar along with an oxygen absorber, they stay fresh for 1-2 years in my pantry. When I want to use some, I simply put a small handful of dehydrated onion bits into my Kitchen Aid duo-Coffee and Spice Grinder and then keep in my spice cabinet for cooking. The flavor is SO AMAZING and the preferred choice over store-bought already ground onion seasoning.
I often get asked what I use for a dehydrator. I have used much smaller counter-top models than this one, but we purchased our Cabela’s Dehydrator about 5 years ago and we have been so pleased with it’s durability and performance that I don’t hesitate to recommend it to those who want to invest in a good dehydrator. It has more than paid for itself over time and I like the adjustable rack system and the dial that I can easily set for a 24-hour run cycle. A great time to get one is when you get your tax return!
Kitchen Aid Combo Coffee Grinder and Spice and Herb Grinder
I love to use homegrown organically grown herbs for all my recipes. I’ve found the flavors are so improved over anything store bough and so much cheaper! Just use the palms of your hands to crush before adding to dishes or I also like to use my Kitchen Aid Coffee and Seasoning Blender. It’s best to leave your herbs in leaf form and wait to crush them until you’re ready to use them. When you break the leaves or crush them, it releases the flavonoids and beneficial antioxidants stored in the leaves. Not to mention, as inflation continues to rise, growing your own herbs is the way to go for great-tasting dishes!

If you’re wanting to learn more about canning, there are some great resources that you can utilize. A good place to start is your local extension office. Every state has an extension program through the Universities and have Web sites. You can call your local extension office with any food preservation question. In addition, they can offer water and well-water testing, radon testing, and even testing your dial gauge pressure canner for accuracy to make sure your canner is safe ahead of canning season. This can especially be helpful with older pressure canners.

The following preservation information resources were established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are a few quick links to information you can find if you want to deep dive on learning more:

Canning supply kit for anyone just starting out with canning! $32.99 for everything pictured as of 3/6/22.

There’s so much more that could be said about canning and food preservation, but I’ll stop there for now as those are the essentials that come to mind. The key thing is that if you’re growing your own food, get your canning and preserving supplies now before the season starts as dry canning seasonings and spices, canning jars, canning lids, and such sell out when harvests are on!

Happy growing (and planning!)


watering can
Erin Castillo
Erin Castillo

Erin is passionate about helping others learn how to grow food in order to lead healthier and more self-sufficient lives using organic growing methods, hydroponics, aeroponics and understanding how to improve soils for nutritious food.

5 Hydrangea Care Tips to Maximize Your Blooms this coming Growing Season

Erin Castillo | GYHG and Certified Hydroponic Grower, Gardening Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2022

For those wondering when to prune hydrangeas in Georgia or in Zone 7, now is a fantastic time to think about these beautiful ornamentals and learn any basic care considerations to act on now for big blooms later in your growing season. Here we will deep dive into how to grow hydrangeas in the South and five care tips to consider.

Location depends on cultivar — Be sure to check your variety’s sun or shade needs before planting. If you messed up, you may want to move it while dormant in cold months

The Hydrangea is a perennial typically in Zones 5-9 (with a few rare varieties that are exceptions and can live in Zones 3-4 with winter protection), but this can greatly differ depending on your cultivar, so be sure to check the growing tag that comes with your plant from your local nursery or Monrovia has put together a good resource page you might want to check out as well.

The location you place your hydrangea also matters in the Southeast. You’ll want to protect your hydrangea plant from the extreme summer intensity of the sun (we don’t call it “Hotlanta” for no reason!) Note: be sure to check your cultivar as some hydrangeas do prefer full sun, part sun, or shade.

Conversely, if your Hydrangea is too exposed to extreme cold winter winds and extreme cold weather temperatures, your plant may not form adequate bud formation. Planting your hydrangea near a structure that retains heat while also offering a wind break (like a brick building or foundation) will help your plant produce the stunning of blooms for display you seek. If your temps reach down towards zero degrees or lower, you will want to carefully wrap your Hydrangea plant with a layer of thick burlap to protect forming buds from cold injury. Take wire fencing the height slightly taller than your hydrangea bush and make a circle around your plant then wrap burlap or a cover designed for protecting plants from frost around your plant. This will protect those forming buds and dramatically affect your plants ability to bloom for the following growing season.

What to Add to Your Soil and When You Should Make Adjustments

Before adjusting anything with your soil, be sure to do a soil test at the same time every year (preferably in the fall (October-November). A soil test can be submitted to your local County Extension Office and costs between $7-$12 depending on your particular extension. Be sure to note when submitting your soil test, that you want to get recommendations for hydrangeas. The County Extension will send your soil sample off for a test and you will get detailed instructions on what exactly needs to be added to your soil to feed your hydrangea plants and to keep them healthy.

While waiting for your soil test results to come back, you can do a quick test with 2 tablespoons (30 mil) soil + 1 tablespoon (15 ml) distilled water) and add vinegar. If your soil fizzes, your soil is alkaline! If there is no fizz, get a new sample. Test 2 tablespoons (30 mil) of soil + 1 tablespoon (15 mil) of distilled water + add baking soda. If your sample fizzes your soil is acidic. If it doesn’t fizz, soil is in the neutral 7.0 range most likely.

In the late fall or early winter months (when no snow is present), a top-dressing of compost will feed the soil micro-biology surrounding your plant and make nutrients available to your Hydrangea plant feeding it through the winter. You can also mix in some used coffee grounds and crushed egg shells into the soil and even a fine dusting of wood ash left over from your Green Egg (if you have one) or fire pit (just make sure any coals/ash scooped are cold). You can also add Bone Meal at this time which is slow to break down and only utilized by the plant with soil pH is below 7.0. These additions add acidity and alkalinity to the soil. But remember, these adjustments take three months or more to take effect, so act now if you haven’t prepped your soil beneath your beautiful hydrangea.

How to Get New Hydrangea Plant Starts with Little Effort

And while we are discussing fall / winter soil amendment strategies… if you take a low-lying branch from your Hydrangea and allow it to touch the soil and place a stick with a hook on the end (where you have broken off a branch from the main stem) or a metal u-pin if you have one on hand (even a light rock may do the trick) and essentially have the stem touch the soil and the “mother” plant will put down roots and create a baby plant come spring with adequate moisture. Check it again in 3-4 months and then prune that branch from the mother plant early spring (typically here in Georgia, you can see roots forming on propagated stems by late February.)

When to Prune your Hydrangea in Georgia

Hydrangeas (Bigleaf H. macrophylla, French, and Oakleaf H. quercifolia) flower buds from on old wood. Big Leaf cultivars include Mophead, Lacecap, Mountain hydrangeas. You want to prune these after flowering and shape your bush at that time.

If your Hydrangea is (Panicle H. paniculata, Smooth Hydrangea arborescens also called wild hydrangeas), flower buds will form on new wood, so prune when the hydrangea plant is dormant and remove spent blossoms after flowering (aka: deadhead). This will include your Snow Ball variety.

As a general rule, plants that flower before May ideally should be pruned following their bloom. Plant that flower after May can be pruned just prior to spring growth during dormancy (Jan/Feb). There are of course plants that are exceptions — those being late-flowering azaleas that bloom during May, June, or even July as well as the hydrangeas that bloom on old wood (mentioned above.)

You will want to prune away any disease, dead, stray or broken branches at anytime.

How to Change Your Hydrangea Bloom Color

Not all hydrangea species change color. White cultivars are an example of this, however, varieties such as Hydrangea macrophylla and H. serrata can range in color from pink to blue, fuchsia, plum and even periwinkle. High levels of aluminum in the sol plus having acidic soil pH will generate the coveted bright blue to purple flower shades.

For blue hues, you will want to use soil amendments like elemental sulfur and gypsum. You can also use an organic fertilizer containing cottonseed meal when feeding the plants. Adding aluminum sulfate to the soil isn’t necessary and could be harmful. Aluminum is plentiful and not an essential plant nutrient and too much of it can actually be toxic.

Recipe for blue flowering hydrangeas:
1/2 cup (120 ml) sulfur per 10 square feet (1 square meter) to alter the soil’s pH.

Recipe for pink flowering hydrangeas:
1 cup (235 ml) garden lime per 10 square feed (1 square meter) to alter the soil’s pH.

Remember, changing the pH of your soil is a gradual process that can take up to a year for the color change to take effect. You may also want to use pine straw as a mulch on top of the soil which will naturally break down over time, but will feed the micro-organism in your soil. Pine Straw, though minimal, may make your soil slightly more acidic over time and multiple applications. These hydrangea plants require plenty of moisture to get to the flowering stage, so put some sort of mulch (Pine Straw, wood chips, leaf mold, straw, or a living mulch that is a low spreading ground cover) down to help suppress weeds and maintain moisture. (Remember, you don’t want to ever have bare soil!)

How to Preserve Hydrangea Blooms to use in Home Decor

When your Hydrangea begins to bloom, pick a full new bloom in the morning and dry it slowly and hang upside down with a clothespin to a hanger in a room with good circulation (preferably indoors where humidity levels are lower due to Air Conditioning.) Allow the bloom to completely dry and then use in whatever decorating application. They are especially pretty as a wreath. Just spray with a clear craft finishing spray to preserve color. The also look pretty as a dried floral bouquet arrangement.

If you haven’t explored growing a hydrangea bush, I encourage you to give it a try! It’s a wonderful showy flowering bush that will bring enjoyment whether fresh or dried! Do you have a tip that has worked well in caring for your hydrangeas? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Happy Growing!


PS: If you are married, the Hydrangea is traditionally the fourth anniversary flower to give your love. I personally think any day and any year is a wonderful time to give a flower to someone you love. 😉

Erin Castillo is a wife and mother to five in Atlanta, Georgia. She grows food using organic methods for her family and also produces seed to sell, some of which is grown hydroponically and adapted to those growing conditions making it ideal for Tower Garden, FarmStand and Aerogarden home growers. If you want to check it out, you can find it at GYHG Seed Co. She is also certified in hydroponics and volunteers as a guest writer for her local gardening community.


  • Dorn Ph. D., Sheri and Sawyer, Sarah. Georgia Master Gardner Handbook, 8th Edition. University of Georgia Extension. Copyright 2021 University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences ISBN 978-0-528-94356-8
  • Monrovia “10 Things Hydrangea Lovers Should Know
  • Hudson, Jr., Charles. Hudson’s Southern Gardening Published by Topper and Love, Atlanta Georgia. Copyright 1953, 1958
  • My mother (God rest her soul) who shared with me what worked for her gorgeous blooms and how she would dry them and save them for me to enjoy in my own home decor.
  • For further reading: Success With Success With Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guides: A Gardener’s Guide Lovers