DIY All-Natural Sensory Play Dough

DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog
Play dough is such a great learning activity for toddlers. Unfortunately, I am allergic to a lot of artificial dyes, and it appears that little E is allergic to some as well. I wanted to make him some homemade play dough with natural coloring so that he could play with it without any problems with allergic reactions. I used to buy natural food colors at Sur La Table (for cupcake frosting, etc.), but they have not restocked them in a really long time. Every time I asked about them, they just suggested that I order them online. I felt silly paying for shipping for something so small. Then I realized that the same natural food colors are available on Amazon.com, and they come with free shipping with our Prime membership (I cannot say enough good things about how much I absolutely love having that Amazon Prime membership…I use it for so many things)!

I was quite excited to get started with making some homemade play dough! I thought it would be even more fun to make a bunch of different scents with the dough, enhancing the sensory experience.

Here is the recipe I used:

2 cups flower
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup sea salt

1. Mix all of the ingredients above into a pot on the stove, over medium-low heat.
2. Cook while stirring frequently, until the mixture resembles mashed potatoes.
3. Let mixture cool, then divide into 6 equal sized chunks.
4. Each chunk of dough got a different color and scent for a fun, sensory experience. I kneaded 3-5 drops of food coloring and 3 drops of essential oil into each chunk of dough.

Here are the color/scent combos that I used:
1. purple – doTERRA lavender essential oil
2. yellow – doTERRA lemon essential oil
3. pink – rose essential oil (purchased at Sprouts since doTERRA does not currently sell rose oil)
4. greenish blue – peppermint doTERRA essential oil
5. green – oregano doTERRA essential oil
6. orange – 1 pinch each cinnamon and nutmeg, to smell like pumpkin pie

Between uses, each ball of dough is stored in its own ziploc baggie in the refrigerator.

*Important safety warning: Since this recipe contains a significant amount of salt, do not let your child play with the play dough around dogs. Salt is toxic to dogs, and most dogs love to eat anything they can get their paws on. Our dogs are especially good at making sad puppy dog eyes at our son, manipulating him into giving them whatever they want, even when they are locked out of the room behind a baby gate. When our son is having sensory dough time, I lock our dogs outside or in one of our bedrooms. One of our dogs has tried a few times now to get E to give him the dough.

E’s favorite scents are the three that he is most familiar with from our garden: lavender, lemon, and rose. The oregano and pumpkin pie scented doughs are not his favorite…sometimes he is in the mood for those, other times those two get pushed away. Here is a funny video of him having so much fun smelling his dough. πŸ™‚

DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog DIY All-Natural Play Dough - Alicia in Wonderland Blog

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

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Wellness Wednesday: My Low-Maintenace, DIY, Non-toxic Beauty Routine

I know that many people are fed up with seeing posts online (mostly via Facebook) about essential oils, nail products, skin care, body wraps, eyelash extensions, etc. I apologize in advance because I am not trying to be one of “those people”. Simply put, I have found a few things that have been major game changers for me in my beauty routine, and I am just excited to share with you all. Before our son was born, keeping my hair and makeup well-kept was much easier. While I was always very health-conscious and concerned about using products that were environmentally friendly, I tended to use whatever worked best in the beauty department before I was a mom. Ever since I was pregnant with our son, my whole perspective on beauty products changed (previous post here). I started searching for natural options, and things free of all of the toxins. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least. Some things that I have tried did not go well.

I had actually planned to do this post months ago, but it took me a while to be able to put it all together. Plus, there were a few variations that I wanted to experiment with to make sure that I was giving the best possible advice.

The first thing in my repertoire is dry shampoo. I have very curly (frizzy) hair, and curly hair always tends to be dryer because of the uneven hair cuticle. One of the best ways to care for curly hair is to not wash it every day. That works great for a busy mom because it takes me a long time to blow dry my hair (air-drying is not an option for me…my hair is way too wild and it just gets too matted, tangled and unruly for me, despite a lifetime of trying everything and anything to get it to air-dry nicely). Let’s be honest though…skipping shampoos does wonders for my hair (and my time management), but my scalp is oily so it is kind of a double-edged sword. I used to buy those fancy dry shampoos in a bottle that you spray in your hair, which worked great. However the good ones are expensive, and full of pollutants and strange chemicals. I decided to try making my own dry shampoo, and this has been amazing.

Recipe:
1. 2 tablespoons corn starch
2. 2 tablespoons cocoa (or cacao) powder (omit for blonde hair)
3. 3-4 drops eachΒ dōTERRA essential oil: lemon (for cleansing), melaluca (also known as tea tree – for itching and cleansing), lavender (for cleansing and soothing), and peppermint (invigorating and refreshing).
4. Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times until well blended.
5. Transfer contents to mason jar or other container.
6. When using, dab small amounts of the powder onto scalp with a makeup brush, massage into scalp, then brush thoroughly.

It helps with oilyness, itchy scalp, gives your hair a great refresh between washings, and saves tons of time (and money)!
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The next thing on my list is my recipe for the perfect detangler/leave-in conditioner/texture and shine spray for perfect beachy waves and curls. I use fresh aloe vera for a lot of things, especially when any of us gets a cut, scrape, bruise, rash, etc. It has such amazing soothing and healing properties for our skin, and I started to wonder if it would do the same for my hair. Spoiler alert…it does. πŸ™‚ I have spent most of my life hating my hair, wishing that I had been born with anything other than such frizzy, unruly hair. I am not exaggerating by any means, but ever since I started making this spray, I have finally started loving my hair for the first time ever. See, major game changer, right?

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1. To start making the spray, a piece of fresh aloe vera plant is essential. Cut off a piece about an inch in length, and place it in a food processor or blender. Liquify the entire piece until it is mostly smooth and creamy.
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2. Then poor that mixture over a very fine mesh strainer. It is slow to strain, but you want to separate out all of the fresh juice, leaving behind the bigger chunks and bits.aliciainwonderlandblog
3. Then mix about 1 teaspoon of the aloe vera juice with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 2-3 teaspoons of filtered or distilled water, and 8-10 drops dōTERRA lavender oil (for soothing and healing the hair, as well as masking the scent of the raw aloe vera).
4. Mix well and pour into a spray bottle.
5. Spray onto hair before styling, when tangled, etc. Keep refrigerated between uses. Let sit out for a few minutes before using to reach room temperature, and shake very well before applying.

The other major breakthrough I’ve had with my hair lately has been with these jumbo foam curlers that I found at Target (similar ones here). My mom used to use foam curlers on my hair when I was a kid, and I wanted to try it out in an effort to use less heat styling. The first few attempts with the foam rollers were a bit disappointing. I even tried using them with things like coconut oil, steam, etc. and everything had slightly disappointing results. However, once I came up with the spray above, my results were drastically different. My hair came out with perfect Pinterest-worthy big waves and curls, without using the curling iron or hot rollers! This may not work the same if you are lucky enough to have naturally straight hair, but if you have wavy, curly, or frizzy hair, I definitely highly recommend trying this out!

I start with blow drying my hair to smooth it out. Then as I am getting ready for bed at night, I put in the aloe vera-lavender spray, brushing well to work the spray through. Then I section my hair into chunks and put in the big foam rollers. It works incredibly well, and my hair stays nicer all day than it does when I use the curling iron or hot rollers! It took my husband and son a few days to stop laughing at my hair in rollers each night, but they definitely appreciate seeing my hair down and nicely styled instead of shoved into an ugly bun in desperation. πŸ™‚

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Cell phone selfie of my hair…first time I was ever proud of my hair. πŸ™‚
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Speaking of getting ready for bed, I also made a natural makeup remover. Previously, I had always been afraid to use anything oily on my face because I tend to have acne-prone skin (thanks hormonal imbalance!). Then I kept reading online about how people were having great results with using coconut oil and castor oil to remove their makeup, and how it applies the like-dissolves-like principle. I knew that my regular face washing routine was not fully removing all of my makeup each night, so I decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, it works great, and has not given me any breakouts! I just apply it, massage it in, and wipe it off with a soft towel.

For the makeup remover, I mixed together:
1. 3 tablespoons organic coconut oil
2. 1 tablespoon organic castor oil
3. 3 drops each dōTERRA lavender (for cleansing and soothing), frankincense (for skin renewal and anti-aging), and melaluca oils (for cleansing and anti-acne).

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The last thing on my list has been something that I’m sure many people have heard of, but perhaps have not considered trying yet. I’m talking about Jamberry nails. When I was pregnant with our son, I started trying all different types of natural nail polish. None of the non-toxic options seemed to last longer than a day without chipping, even on my toe nails. I honestly don’t care if my fingernails are polished unless I am going to a fancy event (with all of my gardening, crafting, and cleaning the house, I am just happy if my fingernails are all the same length and clean), but I can’t stand going in public with unpolished toe nails. Since we live in Southern California, we keep our sandals in heavy rotation most of the year (it is almost November and still in the 80 degree range most afternoons lately).

I have been using Jamberry nail wraps for the past several months on my toes and have been so happy with them! They stay on for weeks at a time, which is amazing! They even hold up through all of my barefoot gardening and beach walks. πŸ™‚ Over the past few months, I found a few tips that work best for me with applying the Jamberry nails. The first couple of times I applied them they were okay, but once I got the hang of a few tricks, they have been beyond amazing.

Alicia in Wonderland blog - low maintenance, nontoxic DIY beauty

If you haven’t heard of Jamberry nails before, they are basically like a DIY, non-toxic alternative to salon gel manicures. They are adhesive strips that you apply to your nails with a hair dryer. It is pretty simple and great for moms because you don’t have to worry about your kids coming over and smudging your perfectly painted fresh pedicure (has happened to me many times before I tried these)! Also, they have so many fun, amazing designs to choose from! I have seen some nail wraps at the drug stores, but the patterns available there do not come anywhere close the the amazing options that Jamberry has available. πŸ™‚

Here are my tips for the perfect Jamberry manicure/pedicure:
1. Be sure to prep your nails well. Soak to make sure they are nice and clean.
2. Dry completely, then push back/clip any messy cuticles.
3. Lightly buff your nails, trim, and file them to get them prepared.
4. Wipe nails with rubbing alcohol pad.
5. Apply Jamberry strips per instructions.
6. Be sure to trim any excess tiny bits around the edges and sides of your nails. Anything that is not trimmed off will lift up, leaving your manicure or pedicure falling off when it could stay on for much longer otherwise. The easiest way I have found to trim all those excess bits is with a pair of sharp cuticle nippers (seen below).
7. Pay attention to the size and shape of your nails when applying. I am very petite, which means I have small feet, and therefore tiny little toe nails. I initially had a problem with keeping my pinky toe nail polished, but then I realized a trick that worked best for me. The cuticle bed of my pinky toe is tiny and flat, not rounded like the other toes. Once I trimmed off that rounded bit on the pinky toe wrap, it stayed on much longer! Trimming to fit your own toe nails’ shape/size is the most important part. πŸ™‚
8. Don’t rush when using the hair dryer to apply them. If you need to, stop the process and come back to the next few nails instead of cutting the applying time short. I often do a few nails, deal with the round of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom”, and then come back to finish up the rest. πŸ˜‰

Alicia in Wonderland blog - low maintenance, nontoxic DIY beauty

If you would like to try Jamberry nails for yourself (and I definitely recommend that you do!), I have a Jamberry party set up over on Facebook here that you can join! My friend Kristin set up the event (and has very patiently rescheduled it multiple times for me while I tried to get this blog post together!), and she has a way of making these Jamberry parties so much fun. πŸ™‚

*Disclaimer: the post above contains affiliate links for your convenience. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease.

Wellness Wednesday: Vegan Cold & Flu Blast Soup Recipe

Vegan Cold & Flu Blast Soup - aliciainwonderlandblog

I have been making this soup for years and it has always helped me recover from a cold or flu in a hurry. It was inspired by some of the advice my grandpa used to give when we were sick as kids (my grandpa was a D.O. and an M.D. and preferred to find more natural solutions for illness when possible, instead of taking things like cold medicine). Every time I have gotten sick in the past few years, I have asked my husband to go on my blog, find the recipe and make me some soup. I realized that I have never properly blogged the recipe, and the last thing I ever want to do when I am sick is stand in the kitchen and cook. When I got a particularly nasty cough/cold last week, I made a huge batch of this soup again. This time, I saved some in the freezer and made sure to get a picture so I can finally blog the recipe. πŸ™‚

Ingredients (preferably all organic):
1 head of garlic cloves
2 yellow onions
3 lemons
approximate 3 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
4 carrots
2 bell peppers, varying colors
3 long pieces of celery
2 cans of cooked chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans)
1 package of mushrooms
4 tomatoes
leeks (optional)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
water

1. Peel and finely dice all of the cloves of garlic on a head of garlic. I know it sounds like a lot of garlic, but this makes a lot of soup and garlic is great for beating viruses.
2. Peel and chop onions.
3. Place onions and garlic in bottom of large stock pot. Add olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until lightly caramelized.
4. Juice the lemons, and put lemon juice in pot, along with lemon rinds.
5. Drain cans of beans and add to pot.
6. Add whole piece of peeled ginger to pot.
7. Chop all remaining vegetables and add to pot. Fill up remainder of stock pot with water, and cook on medium heat until vegetables are cooked through (check carrots for softness).
8. Once vegetables are all cooked, remove lemon rinds and ginger from soup. Add additional salt & pepper to taste, and serve.

This recipe will make quite a few servings, probably at least 8-10 servings, which is great for a few days of servings, and freezing some for another time. I like to make sure all of the ingredients are organic so there aren’t any extra toxins for your body to cleanse out while getting rid of the virus in your system. This is a great vegan, gluten-free alternative to homemade chicken noodle soup! It should have you feeling better in no time and it tastes great. If you want to be super organized this fall and winter, why not make a batch now, put it in servings in the freezer, and that way you are already prepared for cold & flu season!

Future Little Chef

This little wooden kitchen is one of my favorite things that we have gotten for E. My husband kind of thought I was losing my mind when I said I wanted to get a mini kitchen for E to put in our kitchen. For one thing, our kitchen is small. A tiny galley kitchen. It is definitely a one-chef only kind of kitchen, but there was a tiny bit of space near the doors to the patio that could be used. This little kitchen (made by Melissa & Doug) is the perfect size to fit in our tiny little space. E loves watching me cook, and having his own space to “make lunch”. He is so funny with his little fake food, and whatever sensory activity I have given him (he had cloud dough made out of flour and vegetable oil in these pictures). I often see him adding things to a pan, stirring, smelling, then adding more of something else…pretty much the exact way I cook since I rarely cook with a recipe. πŸ™‚ The mini kitchen has been wonderful for both E and myself. It keeps him occupied and out of my way, allowing me to cook and do dishes without a tiny little guy constantly ending up in my way. πŸ™‚

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My Herb Garden Tour

I have been working on my herb garden expansion for a few months now, I am very excited to give a tour of my complete collection! I started out just growing culinary herbs and lavender. I started using lavender for so many things that it sparked an interest for me in growing other medicinal herbs. Lavender the plant and lavender the essential oil were both my “gateway drugs” into expanding my repertoire of herbal medicine. πŸ˜‰ I don’t actually have lavender in my herb garden since I have it planted all over the place in the front and back gardens. I fit in lavender anywhere I can. πŸ™‚

I wanted to make sure that our son does not get into my medicinal herbs, so I tried to think of some kind of barrier to keep him out. I found these rolls of little picket fencing held together with wire which has been working perfectly (purchased at Lowe’s). I love that it goes nicely with the picket fence that we are adding to the front of the yard also.
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Previously, I have planted my catnip plants in the ground and in lower hanging containers, and our neighbor’s cat has destroyed them each time. Even when I had my catnip in one of our window boxes, that pesky cat still found it and destroyed it. I have relocated my catnip up into a hanging flower pot near our front door. I actually do not give the catnip to our cats often, but use it primarily for making soothing teas for our son and our dogs (when they are upset and stressed out from fireworks). Next to the catnip, we hung my St. John’s Wort plant (mostly because I think it is such a pretty plant to have hanging!). Yes, we still have our Christmas lights up! My husband says that by the time we finish all of our other urgent projects, it will be time to put them up again, so why bother? πŸ™‚
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Some of my culinary herbs prefer to have consistently moist soil, so I keep them in a small self-watering planter.
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In the rest of the herb garden, I have a bunch of other culinary herbs.
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I use sage and steevia often in my tea mixes. Sage is a great caffeine substitute and steevia adds a great natural sweetness, which I love in some tea blends (I never give our son any teas with sage…he has enough energy already).
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On the other side of the herb garden, I have the rest of my medicinal herbs. I use lemon verbena in lots of my teas since we all love the flavor. Hyssop is something new that I just recently started experimenting with, and the toothache plant has been a lifesaver for us (more on that coming in another post).
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Valerian and lemon balm are more calming herbs that I use for teas and tinctures.
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I cannot remember why I initially purchased rue, but it has the added benefit of deterring pests, especially cats out of the herb garden. Ever since I planted it, my herbs in here have been free from that pesky cat (I still wouldn’t go so far as to trust my catnip plant in there, but the rest of the plants have been unharmed, which is a first here at this house!). Feverfew is another herb I use for teas and tinctures. Comfrey is great for external uses, such as in a warm compress over an injury, etc. I heard one herbalist recommend trying it in a tea (despite the FDA’s warnings against internal use). The day that my husband and I tried comfrey in our tea, we both had a debilitating headache for two days. We are never trying comfrey internally again.
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Three more of my medicinal herbs, a bit sparse since I had just made a bunch of teas and tinctures.
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In the back, I keep two of my herbs that prefer shadier conditions.
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Most of my mints grow under our fig tree and pergola.
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I have found that for me, most herbs tend to grow best in dappled sunlight. Even the herbs that claim to need full sun have done much better for me when they are getting some filtered sunlight near a tree, but not directly under a tree (exceptions being lavender and rosemary – those love full sun but rosemary will tolerate dappled light). Some of the herbs grow well in the ground, andΒ  I plant the ones the ones that need better draining soil in flower pots. I have the comfrey in a pot to control its size; I have been told that it can quickly take over your garden.

I will go into more detail in future posts about how I use each of the medicinal herbs! Are there any in particular that anyone is most interested in learning about? Feel free to let me know!

If you are interested in learning more about growing herbs, this is one my favorite books: Your Backyard Herb Garden.

*Disclaimer: the link above is an affiliate links. Any books I recommend are books hand selected by me that I enjoy and personally recommend (i.e. not sponsored selections). If you are interested in purchasing one of those books, purchasing thorough those direct links is much appreciated and helps keep this blog running!

Resuming My Cook-Once-A-Week Routine!

Back when we used to shoot a lot of weddings, I got in the habit of cooking lots of meals for dinner in batches on one evening, and freezing the individual dinners. It was great on the nights when I was up for all hours, working on wedding photos. We would just pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a healthy, homemade meal in about half an hour. Since our son was born, I somehow got out of the habit of doing that. I decided that it was time to start again! We have gotten in the habit of having too much takeout food when things get busy and I knew that this is exactly what we need.

I started by asking my husband to keep an eye on E for an hour or two so I could cook. Then I started making a huge batch of sauteed chopped veggies in my wok (4-5 bell peppers, various colors, one whole chopped onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, tomato, and a bit of coconut oil, and a tiny bit of salt & pepper). I also started cooking a bunch of rice on another burner. On a third burner, I started cooking up a bunch of lean ground beef with a bit of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. On the fourth burner, I started boiling water for pasta. I grabbed a couple of boxes of Indian food mixes that I found in the non-perishable section at Trader Joe’s, two cans of organic garbanzo beans, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also had a package of marinated carne asada my husband found at Target that was set aside in the fridge, ready to barbecue. Here is what I made with the above ingredients! I made multiple batches of most of the meals, so it actually ended up being enough for almost two weeks!

Meal #1: Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant. Added garbanzo beans and veggie mix, served over plain jasmine rice.

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Meal #2: Gluten free rice pasta with lean ground beef meat sauce and veggie mixture. aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #3: Barbequed carne asada with rice mixture. I added the can of diced tomatoes, some salt and pepper to some plain rice, and added in a bit of the veggie mix and some garbanzo beans. This marinade on the meat was amazing, and I was really excited that we found one that did not have soy in it!
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Meal #4: Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley with extra can of added garbanzo beans and plain jasmine rice.aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It was so easy, and really didn’t take that long! For each meal, I took the frozen portions out, put them in an oven safe dish and baked for about half an hour at 375 degrees F. It is such a relief not having to worry about what I am going to come up with each night for dinner. πŸ™‚ Also, I am quite proud to say that even my meat-loving Texan husband was a big fan of the two vegan meals we had last week. Definitely a major win for me!

Our Summer Fruit Harvest: Not a Bumper Crop Year

summer fruit harvest

If you have been following my blog for a while, since I was just on Tumblr and before I started this WordPress blog, you may remember how we had quite a large selection of summer fruit that I was able to grow and harvest last year. I worked really hard all spring prepping our garden for the summer season, and it definitely paid off. This year, things were quite different.

Since I was laid up all spring, I was not able to put the same prep work into our garden this year. As a result, the production rate significantly declined on all of our fruit trees and vines. The photo above shows pretty much our entire summer harvest (with the exception of a few berries that I have eaten as they have gotten ripe). It is pretty disappointing.

The first problem with the garden this year started with the peaches. The local birds attacked all the peaches on the baby tree in the backyard, so we still have not had a chance to sample the peaches from that tree yet. The peaches on the mature tree in our front yard are absolutely amazing, and I was really looking forward to them. When I got really sick a little over a month ago, the peaches were just about due to start getting ripe. When we got back from the hospital, all I wanted for some reason was one of those peaches. When my husband went to get one, he noticed that they were all gone. Someone or something had taken every last peach on the tree while we were at the hospital. My money is on someone since animals know better than to take unripe fruit, and all of the peaches were definitely not ripe at the same time.

The raspberries, blackberries and apples all produced a bit of fruit, but way low quantities in comparison to last year. The good thing is there is always time to improve for next year!

Last year we had this same problem, and I totally wish I had the chance to take some preventative measures this time, but I got overwhelmed by the whole new-mom thing. Something eats almost all of our grapes. We have 5 or 6 individual grape vine plants, and the basket above was our entire harvest for the season. I’m not sure if it is the squirrel, birds or the raccoons, but someone gets them before we have a chance. I’m definitely going to try putting netting over them next year.

The most disappointing problem of all this year was with our fig tree. We have a huge, mature fig tree in our backyard. Last year I canned as much fig preserves as I could, but a lot of them definitely went to waste since canning out in the patio with the barbeque was a huge pain (our kitchen was still in the middle of being remodeled last year at this time). I was really looking forward to trying out a whole bunch of things with the figs now that we have a kitchen. Last week, I saw that the majority of the figs were ready to be picked. I put it on my to-do list for the week, and planned to get started preserving them and trying out some new recipes. The day I went out to pick them, I discovered that every last fig had been eaten by a swarm of enormous beetles. I was so disappointed, especially since I had just seen tons of them on the tree the day before. I am 100% committed to organic gardening, so I don’t want to use a pesticide next year to prevent this from happening again, but I don’t quite know what to do to prevent that from happening again. Maybe I should harvest the figs just before they are ripe? Anyone have any tips on growing figs organically?