Hardy, Tasty Survivor Tomatoes

Well, here I was with tomato plants running out my ears from my zeal for variety when I planted those itsy bitsy seeds. What a miracle life is, just plant a tiny tomato seed and watch it become a man eating vine and you too will marvel at the miracle of life.

I eliminated the weak so my inventory of tomato plants in quart and 6”  pots went down to about 63 plants.  No, I am not a commercial tomato grower.

Then came the unplanned opportunity for a trip to Florida for 2 weeks leaving the end of May and returning June 15th. I left two teenage grandchildren in charge of the care and feeding of my babies. Enough said.

I decided to plant 4 different tomatoes, 2 cherries, 2 plums in the ground surrounded by Wall o’ Water before I departed. The holes were deep, the soil amended with organic compost, Excelerite and organic cold climate fertilizer. Note: both are local Central Oregon products. I watered deep and long knowing the chance of the plants getting additional water until my return was pretty slim.

The remaining tomatoes were left on a flower cart wrapped in row cover or in the unheated greenhouse with the row cover blanket and left with my prayers and a hope for their survival.

Upon my return, the tomatoes in the Wall O’ Water were thriving, some on the flower cart were history as well as some in the greenhouse.  I nourished the soil in my greenhouse rows and planted a dozen plants in the rows. These will be pruned and  trained to grow up the twine anchored to the railings above. Two more were planted outside in Wall O’ Water near the other four plants.  I added large, sturdy tomato cages inside the Wall O’ Water to each of the 6 plants. The remaining survivors were gifted to daughters and friends.

Why do I call these tomatoes ‘Survivors’?  The nights were often cold, sometimes with light frost.  They did receive some water, but not as I would have done with feeding and frequency.

The 4 tomatoes I planted on May 30th out performed all others by producing earlier and more prolific than those planted later.

In my next post, I will share the names of the ‘Survivors’ and the results of our taste test!

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Tomatoes, Corn and Squash Take Over the Garden


2012-08-17 11.48.37

Yes, I know, gardeners in California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon are used to the abundance of vegetable gardens. 

Central Oregon climate makes a gardener work a little harder to achieve almost the same results. It certainly give me great satisfaction to see this jungle.  Yes, there are tomatoes on the vines you see behind the sunflowers.  Will they ripen?  Only the weather Gods know and they aren’t telling.  These tomatoes went out in walls ‘o’ water the end of May when I left for 2 weeks in Florida.  They were pretty much on their own with a 16 year old boy caring? for them.  They survived and thrived.

Tomato starts from the same seedling trays took their chances in pots wrapped in row cover and a prayer. (same teen-ager in care of them).  They survived, I planted them in the green house about the 2oth of June.  They are doing fine, but not the monster tomato like the ones planted in the garden earlier.

See my post on planting seedlings.  When I harvest I will give an account of the results of my labors.

2012-08-17 11.49.52

I did my best to plant a lot of zucchini this year.  Three plantings later, I did have golden zucchini growing in another area of the garden, not where the giant plants compete with tomatoes and corn.  They are producing, but they are just not as sweet as last year’s crop.

The Monster Squash, I think is Delicata. I had some free growing starts so I’m not sure.  I did plant Delicata squash in that area along with zucchini.  I see zucchini leaves, not what I identify as zucchini squash.  Oh, well.  HOWEVER; the delicata (I think) are making squash all over the place.  I should have a great crop if I can get them to survive that first frost strike the first week of September.  Then we have great weather for awhile longer.

Next Post I will share my secret for Monster Squash!

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Vegetable Gardening in Bend, OR


Zucchini starts to take over the garden!  If you have never tasted a zucchini fresh picked, raw from the garden you have missed tasting nectar from the Gods.

Yes, even in Central Oregon, I can grow zucchini, tomatoes, basil and eggplant.

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Planting Tomato Seedling Lessons

This year was my “Great Tomato Experiment”.  I researched on-line and seed catalogues for the best tasting, cool hardy, short season tomatoes.  As usual my zeal for variety overwhelmed my ability to maintain the care of way too many tomato plants.



This is just one of the 10 trays I planted.  Yes, it was temporary insanity, at least I hope it was temporary.  Next year will reveal the truth.

Count those seedlings and multiply by 10 and you will understand my problem.

My lessons in starting tomatoes from seed were many.  Here are a few of the critical lessons you might find beneficial:

  • Do NOT start your seedlings growing in late January for a July 1st planting, wait until March at least.
  • Just because there are 15 to 25 seeds per packet you do NOT have to plant them all!
  • When you limit yourself to 5 seeds per packet, they may all sprout; keep only the vigorous seedlings.
  • Try to damper your enthusiasm for variety, 20 varieties are WAY TOO MANY!  You can see how easily things can get out of hand.
  • The tiny seedlings above will soon grow into large plants needing quart then maybe gallon containers.
  • Where in the world can you put all these tomatoes and give the proper amount of artificial light?
  • Consistent water and fertilizer along with about 15 hours of light are required for vigorous, healthy plants.
  • Vacations for even a few days can mean death to your tomatoes if the care taker is not diligent. Besides, who else is going to be as crazy as you are that will care for all these tomatoes?
  • Yes, you can sell or give away seedlings at some point; but, you still have to care for them until almost time to plant since not everyone is as crazy as you are.

Lessons in a ‘Nutshell’

  • Pick a promising cherry, plum and slicer to propagate, not 4 or 5 of each. 
  • Do the numbers- 5 seeds of 3 varieties = 15 plants.  Be cruel, eliminate the weak!
  • Remember you must give away or sell plants you do not have space for in your garden and you still must care for them in the meantime.
  • Tomato plants are perennial vines and get very large if you are growing traditional indeterminate heirlooms, which I am.

In my next post I will tell you about the best of the survivor tomatoes in my zone 5 garden.  The last frost date in my area can be July 1st, in fact, I’ve seen it snow on the 4th of July. The first frost will arrive, without fail, the end of August – the 1st week of September.  If my plants survive those 3 or 4 days of cold, I might have another 3 weeks of growing time.

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Tomato Seedlings Move Again!

Tomato seedling transplanted in 1/2 gallon grow bags with aluminum collars

Moving the tomato seedlings from a flat to pots created a new environment in our home. I thanked my husband for noticing he now lives in a greenhouse. I am sure he was expressing appreciation for our unique lifestyle; rather than a complaint in disguise. After all, this first planting only yielded  35 tomato plants, so just one light setup in the living room and one in the dining room, so far.

The grow light bulbs give a full light spectrum.  I added aluminum collars around the plants to bathe them in even more light.  They so thrive on a LOT of light, about 15 hours a day.  It’s their main source of nourishment, along with moderate water from the bottom and once a week solution of fish emulsion (1 tsp. to ½ gallon water).

1 teaspoon Fish Mix to 1/2 gallon water

This is the 2nd move for the youngsters planted on December 19, 2011.

Not all seedlings are created equal, even from the same package, so I picked the biggest and the strongest to move into a 1/2 gallon grow bags.   A package of 30 was $1.80 so the price is right.

Seedlings in flat awaiting transplanting

I am trying a local potting soil mix, the ‘go green’ thing, you know. Actually, it is loaded with yummy stuff, all natural and organic, Central Oregon Cinder Soil.  I’ll let you know what I think, or more to the point what my tomatoes have to say about it.



Step by step transplant:

1)   Lightly water seedlings in flat

2)   Prepare Labels: I printed 2×4 labels and taped over the labels on the pots with                clear package tape.  Be sure to count how many of each variety you will be planting. I        just cannot do this by hand, give me a computer and printer then I am a ‘Happy                  Labeler’.

Labeled Grow Bags awaiting their Tomato


Example:  San Marzano, paste, Heirloom                                 Seed planted: 12/19/11   1st transplant: 1/2/12
2nd transplant: 1/19/12    Soil: CO Cinder
Amendments added: Excelerite, dusting on soil
Watered in with solution H2O2 and fish emulsion


3)     SOIL:  Moisten and warm the soil before adding to pots a)      Try to avoid chlorine water, alkaline preferable, damp not soggy.                           b)     I set my potting soil in the house near heat source overnight, then used                                  warm water to moisten.

4)     Gather utensils used to fill pots and move seedlings
a)      I used a cup and a large round spoon

5)     Select the ‘cream of the crop’ of each variety for this transplant
a)      Label bags for number of each

6)     Place bags or pots on tray without drain holes to allow bottom watering.

7)     Add about 2 inches of potting soil to bag or pot (adjust to seedling height).
a)      You will want to plant close to the bottom set of leaves, pinch off the                                      cotyledons (first leaves on seedlings) if they will be below the soil.
b)     Roots will develop along the stem for optimal plant health.

8)     Gently hold the LEAF of the plant NOT stem as you scoop him out of the flat
a)      Leaves grow back, damaged stems do not                                                                          b)      Clean hands a must to not spread disease to plants

Remineralizer & Micro-Organism Multiplier Acceptable for Organic!

9)     Fill the soil around the plant in bag or pot as you            hold it by its leaves
a)      Lightly dust top of soil with Excelerite if using                  b)     Do not tamp soil down
c)      Water in gently around the plant to settle soil
d)     Add more soil as needed                                                       e)     deep planted=more feeder roots

10)  Move to their new home with ample light, and                 reasonable warmth day and night for best growth.
a) Growth slows under 50 and over 90 degrees.

11)  LIGHTS: It would be nice to have those wonderful expensive plant lights from the            hydroponic store but they are not necessary.

I use two setups at present.

Octopus lamp with grow bulbs

The octopus lamp with grow lights. Do NOT buy plant lights; they just make the plants look pretty.

Shop light with 1 warm flourescent tube and 1 cool.

Shop lights with one warm and one cool fluorescent tube works quite well.  You can buy the more expensive grow light tubes if you desire.  I have 2 shop lights with 2 tubes on each.  I would buy a 4 tube shop light if going for new.  I used what I had on hand, it works.

Next post I’ll tell you about my ‘Big Experiment’ with the seedlings left behind.  No, I cannot bring myself to toss them in the compost.

Then I’ll move on to the exciting short season tomato seeds I found, now on their way to Bend, OR.  Yes, I am planting more and must confess to 5 more varieties tucked into their seedling soil bed at this moment.  I will be setting up a page on my tomato varieties and some interesting details about them.  I developed an “At a Glance Tomato Chart” for easy comparisons.

If the weather Gods be willing to allow a tomato harvest  this year, I will be posting reviews on each variety.  Oh, then there is seed saving and exchange.  Like my grandson Tannor says, “Grandma you make me tired with all your projects”.  Imagine that!

I know, I only have 1/2 acre part in lawn, trees, and house. I can’t convince husband to move the house so I guess I am going to be the “Tomato Lady” and sell tomato plants.

Lights on my tomato plants just timed off, that means it is time to sign off and go to bed.

Appreciate all YOU are and have. Enjoy Life

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Tomato Seedlings Go Gangbusters

Tomato Seedlings - Age 26 days from seed to this photo

Last post you saw the tomato seedlings before and after the transplanting into the richer potting mixture.  Now, 12 days later,  here they are happily growing in their new bed.

You can readily see the difference in growth of the 3 varieties planted on the same day in the same seed starter tray 26 days ago as tiny seeds. It always amazes me how such a tiny seed can produce such luscious plants with delicious fruits.

On left:    Heirloom Tall Vine Rose, 78 days (sell date of 3/10);


Heirloom Tall Vine Rose Tomato

San Marzano Tomato seedling

On Right: San Marzano Heirloom, 80-90 days (sell by 7/2011).

In Center:  Pruden’s Purple Organic Tomato, 75 days (packaged for 2011)

Pruden's Purple Organic Tomato

In a previous post, I mentioned I soaked the seeds to determine if they were still viable, all but about 6 seeds were on the bottom of their soak jar. The floaters were discarded as deceased seeds that would not sprout.  You’ll note none of the packages were fresh seeds for 2012 but here they are, up and growing.

I noted in the previous post that I transplant my seedlings shortly after they emerge instead of waiting for their ‘true’ leaves to come forth.  You can see how happy the above seedlings look.  I got tired of transplanting seedlings and ran out of flat room so I just left some of each in their seedling mix soil.  I water with the same fertilizer mixture for the transplanted seedlings, light is not quite as good, but there is additional light to the seedlings.

So What’s My POINT?  My point is the ones left behind are still alive, they do NOT have their ‘true’ leaves as the transplants do and they still look small and spindly.

Tomato Seedlings Left Behind

The enriched potting soil early on does make a big difference! Combine the lack of enriched potting soil, with less light and less fertilizer and you have the difference between a successful planting and one that will fail to produce as you desire.  The photo to the right was taken today, January 14th, 2012.


One more little addition to my watering formula; 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide over the last 5 days before the top photo of transplanted seedings was taken on January 14th.  I am taking an oxygenating therapy for my body so when I read in the literature about adding a few drops (about 6 drops to 1 pt. water) of hydrogen peroxide to your water for plants I decided to give it a try.  When I make the next transplant into 4 inch pots, I will do a test of those watered with and without the hydrogen peroxide to see if it matters or is just something else to add.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, I hope you found something of value here, if not enjoy life and keep looking.

Tomatoes on Jan. 19th, watered with hydrogen peroxide solution

P.S.  Wow! I just had to add this picture of tomatoes today. The next transplanting will be into 3″, or 4″ pots.  I will plant them up to their bottom leaves if possible.  This will allow the tomatoes to form even more roots along the stem.

Note: solution of 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide is 1/4 cup to one gallon of distilled water. (never use chlorinated water, it breaks down the hydrogen peroxide)

I’ll discuss “pinching” next time for bushy, sturdy plants.

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Tomato Seedling Update

New tomato seedlings ready for transplant

Look at those spindly little tomato seedlings.  No, I did not practice what I preach.  I did not keep the light close to the sprouts when they appeared, hence the spindly look.  I did start watering with my dilution of first fish emulsion then a mixture of fish and kelp at about a 1/4 tsp. each to a pint of alkaline water.

I do not make them suffer forever in the seedling mix waiting for their first ‘true’ leaves.  They are big enough to move into that nice rich potting soil with bat guano and worm castings.  Their first watering will be with worm casting tea (raised right here at Sage Woman Gardens) as a base for the fish emulsion.  The transplant date is January 2nd, 2012.  Seeds were started on December 19th 2011.  They sat on my Monitor Heater for 2 weeks before I moved them to a heat mat.  The 3 seed varieties sprouted at different times and once on the mat they all jumped up.

As you can see in the picture, I do have lights on them that are easily adjustable for

First Tomato Seedling Transplant

height.  The bulbs are grow lights, you just can’t depend on the sun this time of year to give the plants enough light intensity or duration.  I keep the lights on for 13-15 hours everyday.

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Starting Seeds for 2012 Harvest


Trays of new seedlings

Starting Tomato Seeds

You are looking at last year’s minor seed starting disaster.  The wind came through the back deck while my back was turned catching the plastic covered rack of seedling flats dumping all on the deck.  I scooped the spill into flats and watered with a weak solution of fish emulsion, some survived, some died, all were mixed up.  This will NOT happen this year!

Yes, it is a bit early for most seeds to begin their burst of life for summer’s bounty; however, I want tomatoes in gallon pots before transplanting them to the garden or greenhouse.  My first small tray of tomato seed planting sits on the Monitor heater to warm its little bottom.  I will start a few tomato seeds every two weeks for a month.  This should ensure tomatoes ready to plant at the right time no matter the weather. I am sure there will be enough little tomato plants to share with family and friends.

So What did I plant? Heirloom, indeterminate, Organic seeds of Pruden’s Purple with maturity days of 75; San Marzano, a paste tomato maturing in 80-90 days; and Tall Vine Rose maturity in 78 days.  I will add Early Girl at my next seed planting to give me a maximum harvest time.

So what’s my method?

1) Fresh, clean seed starting mix is a must!  I could sterilize my old seedling mix by putting it in the oven for a toasting but, I prefer to just toss it in the compost pile.  I thoroughly moisten the mix before putting it in the planting tray.

2) Seeds are soaked for 30 minutes or so in a diluted worm casting tea or liquid kelp solution.  Maybe it gives the seeds a head start and disease protection, if not I like to think it does.  Dead seeds float, viable seeds sink to the bottom so I scrape off any deceased and plant the remaining with confidence. I was surprised to see only 3 seeds floating out of about 35 from the older packages I used.

3) The seedling mix in my tray with drain holes in the bottom is smoothed and tapped down a bit to remove air spaces.  I trace rows with my favorite tool for small seeds, the bamboo skewer.   I place a mark with a permanent marker on one end of the tray.  I will start planting at this end.  On a piece of paper, I will identify the seed variety and dated planted for each row. My attempts to tag each row proved unreliable, faded lettering, dumped by wind flats, wrong pen so lettering washed off, tags disappear and so on.

4) I drain the seed bowls then dip my finger in the seeds transfering the seeds into the row with the bamboo skewer. I then break the skewer to the length of the rows then use it to press into the row so the seed has soil contact.  I then dribble water over the rows, cover to preserve moisture and place on a heat mat for seed starting or on my Monitor heater. The soil needs to be at about 70 degrees for tomato seeds to germinate.  Light is not an issue until they sprout.

5) As soon as the seedlings appear, I remove the cover and give them light using a cool and warm fluorescent equipped shop light about 3 inches above the seedlings. Keep an eye on the babies to make sure they NEVER dry out and the light is kept at about 3 inches.  I do not keep a cover on my trays, this helps eliminate the white fuzzy stuff from growing on my babies.  If it should happen anyway, I quickly pluck seedling and soil and toss them in the garbage.

6) The seedlings are fed a 50% dilution of kelp and fish emulsion spray daily.  If I need to water beyond the spray, I do so from the bottom by having my tray sit in a tray of water.

7) Transplanting occurs before the ‘true leaves’ appear.  I move my seedlings into another flat filled with organic good quality potting soil enriched with worm castings and bat guano.

8) Taking my 2 prong fondue fork in hand, I tease the babies out of their bed and tuck them into their new bed with about 1- 1/2 inches around each seedling.  Using the sprayer loaded with 75% dilution of fish emulsion, I settle them into their new bed with the water. Daily feeding of 75% dilution of fish emulsion and kelp continues.

9) Pinch back the plants as they grow to give them strong, stocky stems.  Keep the light about 3 inches above the plants for 15 hours a day.  There is no longer need for bottom heat but a warm environment above 55 degrees will keep them growing. (Tomatoes stop growing as temperatures fall below 55.)

10) The next transplanting into 4 inch pots happens when the plants start to out grow their space.  Keep the light, pinching and feeding going on. My next transplants will be into quart, then gallon.

11) Moving into the garden requires a period of hardening off for the plants.  This entails moving them outside for periods of time and bringing them in at night.  Outside time gradually increases until you can move them to the garden, in zone 5, that will mean with protection of a greenhouse or wall of water to keep them warm at night.  This process changes the structure of the plant from a indoor namby pamby to a sturdy strong plant.

Well that’s it for now. I will let you know how the little seedlings progress.  Happy  garden planning.  Try not to get carried away ordering more seeds than you could possibly plant like I do.



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Winter Gardening

Winter greens growing in the greenhouse

As much as I love gardening, I welcome the winter break.  Not that there is nothing happening in the garden now, because there always is something to do.  The greenhouse I built with the help of my grandsons and friends protects my winter kale, lettuce and spinach from drying winds and hungry deer.

The garlic is tucked into a raised bed with wire mesh on the bottom to protect from the marauding voles who devour tasty bulbs, including garlic and onions.  I will put row cover over the bed when the garlic comes up just in case the deer enjoy those tender tops.  I think they are pretty save since the pulverized garlic juice I spay around my roses etc. does repel the deer so far.

Spinach plants, planted this fall, are up in small rosettes covered with straw.  This will give me an early harvest come spring. I just didn’t get to the carrot and beet planting yet but I will get some started in flats.  Yes, I said flats.  I transplant them in the greenhouse when they are very small, taking soil and all like dishing up a piece of pie.  It worked well last spring so I will just do so a bit earlier this year.

Grasses catch the late afternoon winter light

My perennial garden feeds finches, sparrows, wild canaries, robins, grosbeaks and jays.  I leave the seed heads on such things as cone flower, larkspur, delphinium, and monkshood to name just a few.  My garden is not a show garden but one for all to enjoy year ’round. The birds fly in for the feast.  Fun to watch.  The robins appreciate the berries on my privet shrub.  I grow it as a specimen pruned to an interesting shape.  I was surprised to see the berries since I had always seen it just as a hedge.

My small orchard produced apples, Italian prunes, and nectarines this year.  I will get out there to make sure I have cleaned under the fruit trees.  The insect population winters over in debris from the trees so they can start the cycle of life in my apples anew this spring.  I do my best to foil their plans.  Last year I did the sandwich baggies zipped over the apple upon formation.  Not too successful.  No I don’t spray much to my husband’s disgust.  I just can’t go there.  I want my garden organic.  The fruit is still tasty even if there be a worm or two I have to cut out before eating.

The weather is still quite nice during the day.  I will get a couple pickup loads of compost to spread on my perennial beds before spring.  This always gives the plants a nice boost for spring growth.  Spreading compost in late fall/winter eliminates the need to worry about getting the compost too close to my perennials and causing damage so I can just throw it on.

Well I guess I have rambled enough for now.  I’ll be back when I start the vegetable seeds  for spring planting.  I know I want those tomatoes started earlier this year.

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Preserving My Harvest

This was the year of the dehydrator.  Yesteryear’s method of canning does not fit my perspective of a nutritional diet.  I bought the 9 tray Excalibur Dehydrator from Harvest Essentials http://www.harvestessentials.com/ed3900.html. This machine has an adjustable thermostat so I can dry at raw food temperatures of about 105 degrees preserving most of the enzymes and nutrients normally destroyed in cooking.

That said, the tomato harvest was outstanding this year.  I borrowed my friends 9 tray dehydrator and filled both with sliced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato leather.  I added chia seeds and spices for Italian and Mexican flavors to some of the tomato leathers.  They can be eaten as wraps for salad rolls, snacks or rehydrated as a sauce.  Yummy!  They are so delicious!

I moved onto making raw food crackers with tomatoes, zucchini, flax and/or chia seeds, peppers, herbs, whatever struck me at the moment. The possibilities are limited only by your willingness to experiment.  Oh so good, add a little raw nut butter seasoned up the way you like and this is heaven.

Of coarse I couldn’t leave out the peaches, pears, prunes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini and anything else that didn’t move fast enough to evade the dehydrator.  Are you getting the picture of me standing in one spot for hours with my food processor and mandolin slicing, dicing and pureeing away?  Yes, I made some very nutritious, delicious food for this winter but I went from active gardener to standing repetitive motion robot.  My body screamed at me!  My muscles hurt, my shoulders hurt, my wrists hurt from all that limited but repetitive activity.  Don’t do that to yourself, take it from me, it’s not fun.  Keep moving!

Now for my finest achievement.  My nearly 4-year-old grandson eats only what he wants to eat.  Nothing else will pass his tight little lips by trick, game, pleading or force so his diet was not high on the good nutrition list.  However, he loved his Grandma’s fruit leather.  So, I reasoned, if you can add spinach and kale to a fruit smoothie (which will not pass those tight little lips) without detection in the taste of the smoothie, why not in his fruit leather?  YES! He loves the leathers made with banana, apple, pear, blueberries, strawberries and any combination there of, then spiked with greens of choice and any other vegetable I desire.  Voila! He now consumes with delight, a pretty balanced, nutritious diet in the form of fruit leathers as special treats.  Not only did it give him the nutrients he needs, but he prefers it most of the time to a cookie.

You may have guessed I am moving toward a more raw food diet and taking my family along for the ride.  Everything I have prepared is enjoyed by all who taste my offerings.  It does take some effort since it requires rewiring the habits of a life time in food preparation.  Once some of the principals of raw food prep are understood, it opens a whole new world of creative exploration.  Why go to all this trouble?  I have heard a number of testamonies about the healing power of our food.  I am not ill, but I do believe it is time to prevent illness, not just for me, but for my extended family as well.

Grow organic, eat live food for a long and healthy life!


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