Friday, May 30, 2014

Deciding What to Plant and How to Preserve It.

Because we are putting in our Homestead gardens right now, we have this summer's food preserving to consider. How many plants of each type is an important decision. You don't want to plant too much of one thing and not enough of another. And how many jars of this are left from last year and how many bags in the freezer of that is integral to the decisions we make.

It can be complex to manage garden space, time, resources and appetite. And when you are attempting to be self sufficient it does not pay to waste or disregard any of these factors.
I have been using Ed Hume's Garden Almanac for several years and I really have had very good success with it. It has a planting chart in the middle which gives you the number of plants for a family of four, for easy reference. This makes it a lot easier to decide on how many rows of what to plant.
One of the main quandaries for me is how to preserve what we grow so that it gets eaten in a timely manner. If something tastes or looks slightly off, my experience is that we put off eating it until it is too old to eat. That is important to know about ourselves and instead of putting all that work into preserving food we will end up feeding to the chickens, we keep what works each year and drop the rest.
Our most recent failure was canning plums which looked beautiful in the jar but came out of the jar like disgusting bags of goo. I would rather put that work into other things.

We have used the freezer in the past to do most of our preserving, and it is the very easy option. But we are trying to take this one step further and preserve our food with methods that will not be vulnerable to our frequent power outages.

The Homestead is on top of a hill, all by itself and the power line that comes to it makes its way through a lot of timber. Since we are the only ones on this half mile stretch of wire, the Power Company does not view us as a high priority. So when we have a wind storm and our power goes down, we call the Power Company and then we wait...

Sometimes we wait four or five days for our power to be restored. In the meantime we can't really open the freezer or it will substantially decrease the amount of time that the contents will stay frozen. So we sit in limbo. Having food to eat but unable to access it. We cheat sometimes if it is very cold out or we think the power might be back soon, but it gets us thinking about how silly it is to be so dependent on the Electricity.

One item that has definitely been a big help in our quest to use the freezer less is our dehydrators. 

I picked my first one up at a garage sale and we used it so much that every time I see one at a thrift store or yard sale, I snap it up. 

We found out this was the very best way to preserve our plums for winter. They are chewy and tangy. A real treat in the depths of winter or on a car trip. My dad keeps the dryers cranking for a week or so and put away about 50 quarts of these yummy little delights last year.

 It's also my favorite for mushrooms.

Buck has become the families expert on fermenting foods like cucumbers and cabbage. 

He makes the BEST kraut. He keeps it chugging away on the counter year around, so we are definitely putting in several plants of those.

When it comes to things in jars, we love our jams and peaches. 
I also like to turn our tomatoes into pre-made pasta sauce in jars because I find we use it much more often if it is already seasoned and simmered down. It makes a fantastic last minute meal for us. And this knowledge informs what type of tomato I would like to plant more of- a sauce tomato like Howard German. I however, do not bother drying our tomatoes. Oregon tomatoes just don't have that intense flavor that I want in my dried tomatoes, and they take forever to dry.

My mom and grandma used to can chicken and venison, but we haven't yet. I have a future post on why, but for now I'll say it takes a set of special skills and tools to can meat and low acid foods safely and I haven't been that brave yet.
So these things go in the freezer for now.

I will say it has taken a few years for us to learn what and how much to plant let alone how much we will actually eat. We tend to think we love something more than we really do. For instance we went to a lot of trouble making a ton of strawberry jam a couple of years ago. We just gave away several pints of it because, well, there is only so much jam you can eat. I would say next time 12 pints of each type of jam would do us just fine. Sometimes it's hard to remember that condiments last for weeks in the fridge and variety is a nice thing to have in the winter.

Then other times I only make a few jars of something and we wish all winter we had made more. Like my pickled pepper experiment and the few jars of apple sauce I made. There will be much more of those two this winter!

What are your favorite foods and methods for preserving them?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shiny Snapper!

Well, spring arrived and I got out the Old Mower.

And the Old Mower said "We have to talk. Cough, Cough, I don't think I can do this any more."

Buck and I are on the verge of getting a  tractor with a PTO mower so I thought I didn't want to spend a ton of money on a stop-gap hand mower.

And so I went out looking for a new casual partner.
I looked for someone who could take a beating and keep on mowing.
I looked for someone whom I could fix when times got tough.
I searched garage sales and estate sales.
I searched big box stores and little box stores.

But none were to my liking.

I mow about 14 miles at a whack (I wore a pedometer last time), I know my mowers. So what was wrong with them?

Plastic wheels. I tried those once. Lasted less than 6 months.

Front wheel drive (exactly how do you get over a gopher hill without killing the engine? Lift the rear wheels???)

A ridiculous "innovation" in which the handle itself regulated the mower speed. I could see going slower and slower as I attempted to mow up a steep hill. I use the mower to pull me up the hill.

Grass bagging option only and no side discharge option. Imagine the TONS of grass I would have to dump from a bag. Plus, the grass clippings going back onto the soil are an important nutrient.

Low horse power. Not on this hill.

And that's not mentioning the long list of parts and features that I could tell, just by looking at them, were going to break before the honeymoon was even over.

So, off I went to our Snapper dealer and he made me a great offer. He bought back the bagger that I will never use and swapped out the wheels for sturdier ones. SOLD!

I have had 3 Snappers over the last 16 years. Each one has been a workhorse. Each one I used and abused and then swapped their parts out and used again. Even if we do get a tractor as soon as planned there will be many places on the Homestead that will need "That personal touch" of a hand mower.

And if there is anything I have learned over the years, it is that buying cheap tools is money and time wasted.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Old Books and Iffy Wisdom

Books can take a lot of the hit and miss out of Homesteading and save a lot of time. In my search for a recipe to create my own chick-starter feed, I found a fantastic online resource which has cataloged and digitized old farming books, including this great old book on chickens and eggs. Although it is in a writing style that is a tad bit outdated, I found it very informative and fun to read.

I am supplying a link to this Journey To Forever website with one caveat, read these old books with some modern discretion.

I have personally experienced the fallacy of a few of my Grandpa's kernels of wisdom.

Most recently debunked is his recipe for a can of "snuff" (chewing tobacco) soaked in a bucket of soapy water to make a "pesticide", which turns out to kill bugs but is also extremely TOXIC TO EVERYONE!

I will be double checking on the nutritional information given in this book. New science trumps all, in my mind.

I think it's very important to verify any old knowledge before implementing it. Just remember that in the "old days" they also thought Opium was an excellent medicine for everything from intestinal gas to a babies cough.

I was once allowed to peruse the personal effects of a Doctor who practiced in one of the local settlements circa 1900. Among them was a book of recipes for medicines. I was doing research at the time for herbal remedies and was thrilled to glimpse back into time and see what the pioneers were using for their ailments. I was astounded to find that over 90 percent of the concoctions in the notebook contained "Tincture of Poppy".

Don't buy the healing effects of Snake Oil just because it's written in a book.

Your local extension office is an excellent resource for science based information to help you with Homesteading activities and dilemmas and, just to get you started, here are a few of the Extension web sites I use often for everything from managing livestock and erosion to identifying a disease in my beans:

Oregon State University Extension
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension
University of Minnesota Extension 
Washington State University Extension

Friday, May 2, 2014

Laundry Day!

I never thought I would be brought to such a state of gratitude over a washer and dryer, but it has happened. I am beside myself with happiness for the ability to wash my chore clothes and throw rugs at a moments notice!

I found this washer and dryer set on Craig's List and I finally got the plumbing installed to accommodate them.

Now I just need to figure out a better clothesline. These gates do work pretty well though. You can swing them to point the laundry in the direction of the sun.

Unfortunately it 's a rather long walk from the washer to the gates. It's about an 1/8 of a mile to the top of the hill.

But I'm not complaining. It's so nice to have fresh clothes to put on in the morning and blankets that smell like the outdoors.