All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

DIY Natural Food Coloring from Garden Vegetables

Many people are starting to turn away from heavily processed foods toward more wholesome natural diets. While whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are great sometimes you just need to make cupcakes with bright pink frosting. Thankfully you don’t need to turn to artificial colors to make fun, colorful food. These easy, natural, DIY food colorings can brighten up a homemade birthday cake or help you craft a colorful smoothies without chemical additives.

Beets (pink/red)

Peel and slice beets as thinly as possible and place on a single layer on a dehydrator tray. You can dry them at about 135°F or on your dehydrator’s fruit or vegetable setting. Dehydrate your beets until they’re fully dry and brittle.

Then it’s time to powder your beets. This can be done with a food processor, blender, or even a mortar and pestle. Whatever you choose you’ll want to get the powder as fine as possible so it blends well with the food you’re trying to color.

As with many vegetable based dyes the color may not be as strong as you’d expect. Beets may give you more of a pink color than darker red. You can use more beet powder however it will be a balance between adding enough for the color and adding too much powder to your recipe.

Unfortunately with beets and many vegetable dyes they can be affected by baking so you may want to stick with non-baked items like frostings.    

Spinach (green)

Winter Bloomsdale Spinach

Spinach should be rinsed and then dehydrated. For the best color it should be dehydrated as soon as possible after harvest. Place it on a single layer on a tray. It won’t take nearly as long to dry as the beets but once again you’ll want to ensure its fully dried so it can be powdered and stored without molding.

Turmeric (yellow)

As many canners and fiber artists will know turmeric can be used to create a vibrant yellow color. It’s often used in bread and butter pickle recipes giving them their yellowish appearance.

Turmeric is not a commonly homegrown spice but it can be done. It is a rhizomatous plant in the ginger family. Check out How to Grow Your Own Turmeric Indoors from Rodale’s Organic Life.

Carrots (orange or purple)

Carrots can be processed almost exactly like beets to offer an orange or purple color depending on the variety. However carrots do not need to be peeled like beets but you’ll want to wash them well before processing.

Sweet Potatoes (orange or purple)

All Purple Sweet Potato

Like carrots sweet potatoes will give you either a purple or orange food coloring depending upon the variety you choose. Unlike carrots and beets you’ll want to use cooked sweet potato puree not powder. Simply peel, chop, boil and then puree your potatoes.

Blue Butterfly Pea (blue or purple)

Like turmeric this plant isn’t super common in backyard vegetable gardens but it is easy enough to grow. It’s commonly grown in Asia and the flowers are used as an herbal tea. The tea can be used to make beverages blue or you can add a touch of lemon juice to turn the tea purple. For other recipes the dried flowers can be powdered and added as food coloring.

Red Cabbage (blue)

Surprisingly red cabbage juice makes a blue food coloring. You can use a juicer or just blend the cabbage up, place all the cabbage into some cheesecloth and squeeze as much juice out as possible. For a more vibrant blue baking soda can be mixed into the juice. Start with adding just a little until you see results.

No one eats a perfectly healthy diet but by utilizing your backyard vegetable garden and spice cabinet you can have fun, colorful food while avoiding artificial colors. They may not be perfect matches for artificial food coloring but vegetable food colorings are surprisingly easy to make and use. So try your hand at homemade colorful pasta or add icing to some cookies for Halloween!

Have you ever used a natural food coloring?

Planning a Dye Garden: 15 Plants to Grow

For many gardeners part of the reason they labor is to provide healthy, natural food for themselves and their family. For some gardening leads to a desire to get back to natural products in other aspects of their lives as well. One way to achieve this is to use natural fabrics like wool, linen, and cotton which can all then be dyed with natural dyes.

Whether you’re a spinning, knitting fiber arts fanatic or would just like to try your hand at some all natural tie-dye planting a dye garden can be a fun way to connect with the land. You don’t have to be an expert. If you already garden adding some dye plants to your plot is very simple.

Onions

New York Early Dry Bulb Onion

Onions are a great, easy dual purpose crop for your dye garden. The papery onion skin is actually the only part used to make the dye so you still get to use the onion in the kitchen! Yellow onions will give you a dark yellow or orange collar while purple onion dye can be anything from light pink to maroon to brown.

Beets

Detroit Dark Red Beet

Beet dye uses the roots and can color fiber anywhere from light pink to red. You can add a few extra to your veggie garden for some gorgeous home dyed cloth and still eat the greens.

Black Beans

Black Turtle Bush Dry Bean

Black beans make a gorgeous light blue/purplish color dye. Plus for dyeing you only use the water they’ve been soaked in before cooking so you still get to eat your harvest.

St. John’s Wort

St. Johnswort

St. Johnswort is a highly medicinal herb typically grown for its anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant properties. However its also a wonderful dye plant being used to create yellow, green, and red dyes.

Carrots

Scarlet Nantes (Coreless, Nantes Half Long) Carrots

Both carrot roots and leaves can be used for dyeing, the roots for orange and the tops for green.

Parsley

Moss Curled Parsley

Parsley is often used to make lovely shades of green.

Chamomile

German Chamomile

Chamomile is most often grown for tea however it also makes cheerful yellow dye. Both German Chamomile and Dyer’s Chamomile varieties can be used for dye despite the names.

Fennel

Florence Fennel

Fennel produces a variety of shades of yellow. While all parts of the plant can be used the flowering tops are best.

Coreopsis

Dyer’s Coreopsis Mix

Coreopsis can be used to produce wonderful bright oranges, yellows, and reds. It also has the awesome benefit of being a native plant that attracts bees and birds to your garden.

Red Cabbage

Red Acre Cabbage

Forget the coleslaw, you can make beautiful green, blue, and purple dyes with your red cabbage. Start a few extra this spring.

Mint

Mint

Mint will make your garden and home smell amazing when harvesting and proccessing it into a green dye.

Bachelor’s Buttons

Blue Boy Bachelor’s Button

Bachelor’s Buttons make a great option for dyers because they’re easy to grow, produce beautiful blue dye, and can easily be dried and used for dye projects during the winter.

Wormwood/Sweet Annie

Sweet Wormwood (Sweet Annie)

Sweet Wormwood or Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) and Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) are both commonly used herbal dyes and can be used to create browns, yellows, and greens.

Spinach

Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach

Spinach produces green dyes. It’s an easy natural dye to grow by just adding a little extra to your vegetable garden.

Rudbeckia

Goldsturm Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia is a pretty and easy to grow flower that also produces wonderful green and yellow dyes.

*Note*: Natural dyes will vary a lot! The color can very with the age of the plant, the part of the plant, how long it’s proccessed in a dye bath, any addition to a dye bath like mordants, and also the type of fiber you’re dyeing like cotton versus wool. You can also use one dye after another to get a different color, a proccess called overdyeing.

Add some of these plants to your garden (or a few extra if you already grow them) to start dyeing your own clothes, fabrics, or yarn. It’s a great project to get kids interested in gardening too!

10 Ways to Encourage Gardening in Your Community

If you’ve lived in your neighborhood for awhile you may have noticed the slow but steady disappearance of backyard gardens. More and more people are letting their plots go back to lawns in favor of the ease and convenience of the supermarket.

Small gardens, even those who don’t provide a large amount of a family’s food intake, are so important. They give people, especially children, the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and how to grow food with their own two hands. The provide a social connection for neighbors. They increase neighborhoods self-sufficiency and decrease their reliance on imported food and fossil fuel. Backyard gardens keep people healthy by providing outside time, a connection to the land, exercise, and fresh food. They’re also a great way to keep crop diversity strong even when big farms have switched to monocultures.

Don’t let your community’s treasures disappear. Read on for some great ways to keep gardens blooming in your area.

Share compost.

If you have a large compost pile offer to share with others who garden or may be starting gardens. Seasoned gardeners will truly appreciate your odd homegrown generosity and new gardeners will be much more likely to stick with it if your nutrient rich compost affords them a good harvest their first year.

Alternatively if you need more compost ask friends and neighbors to save food scraps, leaves, grass clippings and other compostables for you. You’ll gain more compost and an opportunity to share some of your gardening wisdom.

Organize a harvest swap.

A harvest swap is when people get together and bring backyard produce in designated increments to trade with one another. For example the swap could be based on $5 increments and someone could trade $5 worth of extra tomatoes to a neighbor for $5 worth of apples.

To get non-gardeners in on it you could also allow homemade products like baked goods, honey, jams, or even crafts to be traded.

Start a seed swap.

Bloody Butcher Corn

One of the best parts about backyard gardens is that they encourage a lot of crop diversity. Keep that motion going by organizing a seed swap in your community each fall. People can meet other gardeners and get seeds they need with first hand advice about growing them.

Set out a free produce stand.

If you have a lot of surplus consider putting out a free produce stand and sharing your harvest. Your tasty produce might inspire people to grow their own or it might help someone in need. You can also allow others to add their garden excess to the pile. If you end up with way too much, donating to a food pantry could be a good option.

If you’re feeling ambitious you could start a community garden.

Community gardens are great for those without access to land and/or tools. They can also be great places for people to learn gardening techniques, produce local food, and get to know their neighbors.

Encourage your local library to stock garden themed books.

Most libraries get some funding to purchase new books. If that’s the case suggest gardening books you’d like to read. You never know who might check them out after you and give it a go. You could also consider donating garden books you’ve already read. If you ever need them for reference you could still go check them out.

Offer a class.

While many of us have gotten some garden lessons from our parents or grandparents some people may have never had any hands on garden experience. Teaching a free or cheap class can help people learn who may be too intimidated to try on their own. You could also consider more specialty classes like canning strawberry jam if you have a particular skill.

Plant your garden close to the road.

Gardening in view of neighbors and passersby can be a great way to plant the gardening seed in someone’s mind so to speak. I’ve seen so many great conversations started in roadside gardens. For the extra dedicated add a section of free PYO produce. Whether it’s blackberry bushes or tomato plants people may be encouraged to learn to grow their own after finding out how good homegrown food tastes.

Divide your perennials and offer free starts to friends and neighbors. 

Many beloved, hardy perennials are perfect for new gardeners and multiply quickly. Plants like mint, lemon balm, and chives can easily be divided to let someone you know start a patch of their very own.

Talk to anyone who will listen.

Spend time chatting with anyone who shows an interest in your gardening activities. Who knows you might inspire a child who grows up to be a farmer or get the best tip from someone who has grown great tomatoes their entire life!

 

Small gardens are great ways to provide local food, connect with neighbors, help the environment, and stay healthy. Encouraging gardening in your community can be a wonderful, easy way to lend a helping hand.

How have you supported gardening in your community?