Friday, March 25, 2016

Growing Veggies for Your Dog, Part 3: Advanced Vegetables

Some vegetables require much more work than others, from carefully prepping the soil, to rigorously controlling weeds, to waiting very patiently for the things to grow. While they may not actually be that difficult to grow, the following vegetables have long growing periods until they can be harvested (which leaves lots of time for things to go wrong), and require some extra care to flourish.

1. Carrots
Carrots are one of Chewy's favorite foods. When he was a puppy, the vet said to give him baby carrots as treats because they are low in calories. He has been munching and crunching on them ever since! In addition to being low in calories and high in fiber and vitamins, giving your dog a large, raw carrot to chew supposedly helps clean their teeth.

There are many varieties of carrots, with different thicknesses, lengths, and colors. You can even purchase seeds to grow a rainbow-colored crop!

A forked carrot
Carrots can be a little finicky - as a root vegetable, they like sandy, loose soil that is free of rocks and clumps. Rocks in the soil will cause forked carrots. Carrot seeds are tiny, so they may be a bit difficult to sow. They take a few weeks to germinate, and once they start growing, they need to be thinned out so that each carrot has enough space to develop. Weeds need to be carefully removed to avoid competition for nutrients and to prevent unshapely roots. Carrots prefer evenly moist soil, and a drastic change from dry to wet will cause split carrots.

Carrots take about 60-80 days to mature, but they can be pulled earlier for little carrots. When our crop of carrots is pretty much matured, I let Chewy go in and pick his own. He shakes the dirt off, munches on the root, shreds the carrot top, and then goes back for more!

Carrot for me!

2. Potatoes
Potato plants are grown from "seed potatoes," which are just chunks of potato. The plants grow from the eyes of the potatoes. You are SUPPOSED to buy certified, disease-free seed potatoes because any disease present in the plant one year will be carried over to the next year's growth, but last year I just used organic potatoes from the grocery store, and they still did pretty well.

Potatoes grow via tubers underground, so they need loose, fertile soil. Every few weeks, soil needs to be hilled up around the base of the plant to support the stem and to prevent sunlight from turning the top potatoes green. Green potatoes are poisonous! Also, there are quite a few insect pests that may damage potato plants and decrease yield.

You can dig up a few small potatoes to eat before your potato crop has fully matured.

Potatoes should be cooked before feeding to your dog - you can bake, steam, boil, etc.

3. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potato plants are vines grown from slips, which are sprouts that grow out of sweet potatoes. You can purchase them or grow your own (there are various methods to do so). Growing your own slips takes a couple weeks, so it is best to start early.

Since they are a vining crop, they need quite a bit of space to spread out and grow. It is the tubers that we harvest, so they need loose, rich soil. To make the plant concentrate its energy on forming a few nicely sized sweet potatoes instead of a bunch of tiny ones, the vines need to be pulled up periodically to break off the roots that formed along the stems.

It takes a long growing season for sweet potatoes to mature - about 3+ months. The sweet potatoes must be dug up carefully because they get scratched and bruised easily. For long-term storage, they need to be cured at 80°F and 90% humidity for 2 weeks.

Sweet potatoes should be cooked before feeding to your dog. Or, you can slice them and dehydrate them for thick + chewy OR thin + crunchy treats.

4. Pumpkin/Winter squash
Pumpkins and other winter squashes grow on vines that need warm, fertile soil. The vines can grow very long and take up a lot of space, so many people like to grow them along the edge of their garden. They take a long time to mature, need regular watering throughout the growing season, and are harvested in the fall. They need pollinators such as bees to set fruit, and may require special attention to grow nice and round.

There are a couple of insect pests that attack winter squash vines, and powdery mildew may grow on the leaves and weaken plants.

After harvest, winter squash needs to cure for 2 weeks in the sun to toughen the skin for storage.

Small sugar pumpkin

Winter squash should also be cooked before feeding to your dog. You can roast, steam or boil, and even add some puree into homemade dog treats.

Stay tuned for container planting...

Back to intermediate vegetables
Back to easy vegetables

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sojos Complete Turkey Recipe - Product Review

For those seeking alternatives to dry kibble or canned dog food, dehydrated food mixes can be an easy way to provide a less processed, but still fully balanced, diet for your dog. Dehydration is a gentler process than extrusion (used to make many kinds of kibble and cereal), so the resulting product looks and smells more like natural food.

The Sojos Complete line of dehydrated dog food offers the benefits of a natural, raw diet, in a convenient, shelf-stable, nutritionally balanced product. It meets AAFCO guidelines, is made from all-natural ingredients, and is free of grains, gluten, soy, GMOs, by-products, fillers, preservatives, artificial flavors, sugar and salt. It could be a great option for those pups with sensitive tummies or allergies.

Sojos Complete comes in turkey, beef, and lamb recipes -- we tried the turkey. 

8 lb. bag of Sojos Complete Turkey Recipe

In the package is a mixture of dehydrated chunks and powdery ingredients. Some chunks are larger than others, and I like that the pieces are irregularly shaped because it looks more natural. [[We have tried other dehydrated foods where the carrots were chopped into little cubes, and they came out as those same little cubes in Chewy's poop! Kind of a weird sight.]]

The food smells pretty good in the package, without that greasy aroma that is common with kibble. To my nose, it's got a primarily herbaceous scent, probably from the basil.

The nose knows!
The feeding instructions for Sojos Complete say it needs to be soaked for 15 minutes to activate the nutrients and enzymes, while soaking overnight in the refrigerator allows for the best digestion. Fifteen minutes is a long time to a Chewy! He never ventures far away while his food is soaking on the counter.

Is it ready yet?

How 'bout now?

Waiting is hard!
After 15 minutes, some of the bigger chunks of stuff don't get soaked through, and the mixture can look a little soupy. Soaking for a few hours in the fridge gets everything thoroughly rehydrated, and it has a consistency more like a puree (with chunky bits). Soaking it in the fridge also keeps it off of Chewy's radar, so there are no sad looks or whining.

                   Dry Sojos                                                       +  water                                                    + 8 hrs in the fridge             
Because this is a raw product, food safety is an important factor on both manufacturer and consumer ends. Sojos says that its "own 'lock-step' process eliminates the risk of food-borne pathogens, while locking in the taste and essential enzymes in raw meat." At home, you must keep food bowls (and your hands) clean, and utilize the fridge if soaking food for extended periods of time.

Must get every...last...bit!
Chewy thinks Sojos Complete tastes really good, and will even start crying if he has to wait too long to eat it. Because it is hydrated, Chewy needs to go potty sooner after eating Sojos Complete than after eating dry kibble. If your dog does not drink enough water, this is one way to keep him/her more hydrated.

Sojos Complete is available in 2 lb. and 8 lb. bags. The package says that an 8 lb. bag contains 40 dry cups of food. The amount of dry Sojos to soak and feed per day is approximately equivalent to the amount of a dry kibble you would feed, and by my calculations, an 8 lb. bag of Sojos Complete would last about the same as a medium-sized, 12 lb. bag of kibble (varies by brand/formula). 

Dehydrated dog food in general seems to be more pricey than kibble, but Sojos is one of the more affordable options in its class.

4 paws up for Sojos Complete Turkey Recipe!

We give Sojos Complete Turkey Recipe 4 paws up! I like that it is made with all-natural, healthy ingredients, without fillers and salt. It is an easy way to experiment with a raw diet without personally having to worry about creating balanced meals or sourcing safe, fresh meats. Chewy loves the smell and taste (but perhaps not the wait time), and always double and triple checks that he got every last speck of food.

Disclaimer: We received an 8 lb bag of Sojos Complete Turkey Recipe from Sojos in exchange for an honest review. We received no monetary compensation, and all the opinions expressed above are our own. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Growing Veggies for Your Dog, Part 2: Intermediate Vegetable Plants

Continuing our series on vegetable gardening for dogs, here are a few plants that require a bit more care, whether in the form of physical supports, temperature requirements, or proneness to pests. They can easily be grown from seed, but some benefit from being started indoors to extend your growing season. It is even easier (but more costly) to purchase started seedlings from your local garden center and transplant them into your garden.

Mischief in the garden, courtesy of Chewy

Intermediate vegetables to grow for dogs

1. Broccoli
Broccoli is a cool weather crop, so it grows better in the spring and fall. Some varieties are heat tolerant, but still need time to get established before the harsh summer heat arrives. Intense heat will cause the plants to flower and produce seeds, instead of the yummy florets that we eat.

Broccoli is a magnet for cabbage worms and aphids, which can greatly damage your crop if left unchecked, so be vigilant in searching for these pests and removing them.

Aside from these cautions, broccoli can be quite easy to grow. As a bonus, after you harvest the main head, side shoots of little florets will continue to grow.

As an extra bonus, at the end of the growing season, Chewy gets to shred the broccoli stalks for fun.

2. Kale

Friday, March 4, 2016

Growing Veggies for Your Dog, Part 1: Easy, Low-maintenance Vegetables

Chewy, being a Golden that practically lives to eat, loves his veggies. Every year, we grow some veggies (and fruits) that we can share with him. Fresh vegetables from our garden add pizzazz to his commercially prepared diet, and are a low-calorie and vitamin-rich alternative to regular dog treats. In addition to getting unmatched freshness, growing your own vegetables allows you to control what goes into the soil and thus into you and your dog's food. Now that spring is almost here, it's time to plan our garden for the upcoming growing season.

Gardening means more time outside for Chewy to relish in the fresh air and roll in the grass. He even likes to pick his own veggies! Sometimes he sniffs out the good ones before deciding which to pick. Other times, he just chomps/pulls away in a frenzy.

Carrot for me!

If you would like to start growing vegetables for your dog, below are some kinds to consider. They are especially good for beginning gardeners who would like some fool-proof plants to experiment with, or for those that want a low-maintenance crop.

These plants are easily grown from seed - just follow the instructions on the seed packet, especially paying attention to when to plant, sun requirements, planting depth, and plant spacing. When selecting plant varieties, consider the characteristics listed on the seed packet, such as sweetness, size and whether it is best suited for salad or cooking. Also pay attention to the days to maturity/harvest, so you have an idea of how long it will take to grow.

Vegetables can also be grown from nursery transplants, available at your local garden center. These are started plants that are ready to be planted into the ground.

Keep in mind that individual dogs, like people, have their own food preferences, and yours might refuse to eat certain veggies. Some dogs might dislike certain raw vegetables but still enjoy them when cooked.

Easy, relatively low-maintenance vegetables to grow for dogs

1. Radish
Radishes come in many different colors and varieties, many of which mature quickly and can be ready to harvest in as little as 21 days. When raw, radishes are crunchy and have a bit of a peppery bite, which a dog (or person) might not like. Chewy will gladly eat one anyway, because he is Chewy. To remove the bitterness, they can be sliced and soaked in water, steamed, or boiled.