gardening, glass gem corn, homesteading, Uncategorized

Glass gem corn happiness and beauty


Every year when I look through the seed catalogs, I always come across a picture that grabs my attention.  A picture of a vegetable taken at peak ripeness and in perfect light.  Last year was no exception,  and it was Baker Creek’s catalog cover that drew me in.  It’s always the same. I look at the picture, turn to Tracy and say I’m gonna grow that.  So when the seed order for the year was placed glass gem was on the list.  Glass Gem corn is a beautiful native american flint corn that can be used for flour or popcorn, but it’s this corn’s amazing color that makes it prized. In our area, we plant corn on memorial day weekend, so it was a long wait to get our seeds in the ground.  We planted them away from our other corn to decrease the chance of cross pollination.  After 2 weeks, very few plants had emerged,  and I was discouraged.  I replanted over the old seeds and waited.  After two more weeks both sets of seeds began to grow.


Although the spacing was too close, I let all the plants that sprouted grow.  And grow they did.  After a short time, the plants were shoulder high, and then quickly taller than me.  Soon after, I saw the first silk emerge.



Now waiting has never been my strong suit, and as soon as the ears seemed big enough and some of the silk was dry,  I began checking on what was inside.  I was devastated, all of the ears were yellow.  I began to think that all of my beautiful corn had cross pollinated with my sweet corn.  We decided to wait until the ears dried on the stalks and then check again.  A few weeks passed, and when we opened them, we were overjoyed.  They were just as gorgeous as the pictures in the catalog.  I have never grown anything that had looked as good as the pictures in the catalog, but this may have been more beautiful.


Now it was time to decide what to do with it all.  First it needed to be dried, so we laid it out in the sun.


We made some bunches of three or four ears to decorate and give to family,  but we still had so many ears.  Finally we decided to put some out in our little farm stand.  Very soon after we put it out we had our first customer.  A young lady who was getting married next fall wanted some to plant next year to use as decorations at her wedding.  We also put the beautiful 8′ tall stalks out for sale.  We were now glass gem farmers.


We took the corn that was left after our sales, hung it to dry, and later we ground it into flour.  We saved the kernels from the most beautiful ears to share with friends, and to grow for ourselves the next year.  Our experience growing glass gem corn was a success.  It is hard to believe that growing a vegetable could be this rewarding!  So the next time you see that picture in the catalog that draws you in, take a chance.  You will always learn something new, and you may get lucky and find happiness on a cob.


Glass Gem corn seeds

One packet containing 100 seeds that we hand picked from our best ears. Free shipping to the lower 48 states. contact us if you need an international quote.


homesteading, maple syrup, Uncategorized

Homestead upgrade, “un-tapped” potential


IMG_5136On warm winter days, our thoughts often turn to making maple syrup.  This is the first food that we will produce for the coming year.  A major component of making maple syrup is the evaporator.  This is what we use to take the sap from 2% sugar to 66.7% sugar.  The entire process is about getting rid of water through evaporation.  When we first started making maple syrup, we would boil it in a small pan over a fire. As you wait for the water to boil off, you have a lot of time to think about how you could speed up the process. A maple syrup pan can boil off one gallon of sap an hour for each square foot of surface area.  So a pan that is 2’x4′ can boil off 8 gallons an hour.  This is the most time consuming part of the process.  As you sit there waiting, it’s impossible to not think of ways to make the process more efficient and every year we make upgrades.  Last year we got a new pan, so we built an evaporator.  It would be too expensive to build one from scratch, so we built it from an old tank/stove that we had found in the woods.

After a lot of cutting and some welding we had a basic evaporator.  This was a big upgrade for us and allowed us to burn much less wood in the process.


During the season last year, we made several modifications to make it work more efficiently, however it still left something to be desired.  So this season, we came up with a plan to get that sap boiling faster.  All winter long, my mind worked on ideas to make it better.  We looked at commercial evaporators and watched videos, however, none were made out of an old relic like ours.  We borrowed ideas from all the different evaporators we had seen, and began working.

We are not metal workers so this would be a new adventure.  We do own a small welder and some grinders and saws. We gathered them up and set to work.  A major component of all the evaporators we saw in our research was a ramp.  The ramp forces heat against the pan to get it boiling, so we ordered some steel and began to weld, and weld, and weld.


We also knew that firebrick would retain a lot of heat and make our evaporator work more efficiently,  so we made our design with them in mind.  We also found that a fire burns much hotter with the air coming from underneath, so we built a grate and moved our door upward.  We also added a flue and chimney so we did not get a face full of smoke the whole time that we boiled. Lastly, we added the firebrick.

We now had what looked like a much better evaporator.  Often in homesteading and life you have to take a risk, not knowing what the outcome will be.  You may be building a  fence or raising animals for the first time.  You never know how these things will turn out.  You can do all the research in the world, but there is no substitute for doing, or trial and error.  We crossed our fingers and started a fire in the evaporator.img_1795-1

The sap quickly heated up and was boiling in no time, not to mention a greater area of the pan was boiling, so the upgrade was a success!  Now we can’t wait for all that sap to flow.  One of our favorite parts of homesteading is learning.  It seems like we are always learning something new, or learning a new way to do something old.  We are constantly challenging ourselves to do more, to learn more, and to live more.

homesteading, Uncategorized

Homesteading is more than growing things

Many times when talking about the homestead we get so caught up in talking about gardening or our farm animals, that we forget about another way that we feed ourselves.  Hunting and fishing provide a wonderful way to provide extra meals for our family.  Every year my sons and I harvest deer and a fair amount of fish.  We are as passionate about hunting and fishing as we are about homesteading.  I don’t think a weekend goes by that we don’t hunt or fish.  Time spent with your family in any pursuit is always rewarding, but hunting and fishing provide moments that are unforgettable.  My son and I will tell stories about the deer we harvested or the fish we caught, but never about how many tomatoes we picked.  An adult deer will provide 50 lbs or more of high quality protein for your family.  When you fillet a fish you can expect the meat to weigh half as much as the fish’s live weight.  As the seasons go on, you can add a meaningful amount of food to your families stash.  In typical season we harvest over 100 lbs of venison,  this accounts for one dinner a week.  It also provides jerky for my son to take to school.  This makes him extremely popular.


When you add home grown vegetables to the mix you have a true homestead meal.  We never waste any meat here because we know the sacrifice that was made for it to be on our table.  If you have a small homestead, meat harvested in the woods or on the water is a great way to make yourself more self sufficient.  A few years ago, we took at trip to go salmon fishing and each caught a salmon.  When we were done we had over 40 lbs of  king salmon fillets.  If you had to buy those fillets in the store it would cost over $600, and we had a wonderful family adventure, and that is something you can’t put a price tag on.  After all homesteading is about family and working together.

My son and I also ice fish,  If you have never done it you are really missing something.  Fish caught through the ice are firm and delicious, and who doesn’t love perch?  During  the ice fishing season we harvest enough fish to have fish every Friday during Lent.

In the spring, we fish for trout.  Trout in the spring taste better because they are eating minnows and not flies.  If you have ever had an opening day trout, you know what I mean.

So often on the homestead we are so busy, we barely have time to think.  Hunting and fishing allow us to take a break from the work, and still be productive.  Hunting and fishing  put us closer to our goal of being totally self sufficient.  So if your are looking to take your homestead to the next level, and you don’t have room for a pig or a cow,  get in the woods or on the water, you will be happy you did.

cooking, gardening, homemade, homesteading, Uncategorized

My New Found Relationship with Beets


As the winter begins to wear on,  I often think about warmer weather and the past summer.  Sometimes I scroll through our pictures on cold days, usually looking at pictures of our homestead, and I am always drawn to pictures of food.  Today I stumbled upon this picture and it drew my attention immediately.  It looked like comfort food, like something I’d love to eat on a cold day.  I remembered the story of how this meal came to be.  Sometimes a meal is an old favorite, and sometimes it is a conscious decision to try something new, but this meal was a little different.  One day I posted a picture on Instagram of some beautiful beets that we had grown.

I always boiled beets and loved them prepared that way.  But one of my IG friends suggested that I roast them.  So I decided to try some roasted beets.  Immediately I realized that those beautiful beets were going to be awfully lonely.  So I began searching for other root veggies that might want to join the party.  We have a big garden and it was late in the year so I had no problem finding guests.  We had potatoes of all colors and beautiful ox-heart carrots. After a little more searching We found some turnips and some very sticky, sweet garlic.

We now had the makings of a wonderful dish.  We peeled all of the veggies with the exception of the potatoes.  Next we cubed all the veggies so the were roughly the same size to make them cook evenly.  We took all of the veggies and tossed them in bowl with olive oil and a little salt and pepper to coat them.  Another Instagram friend suggested we toss the beets separate so their color didn’t bleed into the rest of the veggies.  We then placed them in a glass baking pan and added some rosemary we grew.


We placed them in a 350 degree oven and baked until the veggies were tender.  I was so pleasantly surprised by the flavor of the roasted beets that I may never eat them boiled again.  Another big surprise was the roasted carrots, which were tender and sweeter than boiled carrots.  The whole dish had undertones of roasted garlic and rosemary.  We served it as a side dish, but it could have easily been a main course.  If there had been any leftovers, I am sure they would been a great replacement for hash browns.  A meal that had started as a picture of a beet ended as a roasted medley of deliciousness.  It’s always good to have friends, no matter where you find them.

gardening, homesteading

Planting onions to save your greens and cabbage


For years we grew cabbage and other greens in our garden, but we always ended up with the same result.  All of our cabbage and greens would be riddled with worm holes.  It was always so disappointing to remove the outer leaves of a cabbage to find it full of holes, or pick a bunch of spinach, lettuce, or kale that looked like Swiss cheese.  We set out to find an answer that didn’t include pesticides.  After a lot of research we were no closer to an answer.  Finally one day after reading about homesteaders from the 1800’s, we found the answer was onions.  As it turns out many of the bugs that like greens, don’t like onions.  We decided to try it, what did we have to lose?  We planted onion sets in between our greens.  It was also fortuitous that both greens and onions needed to be planted in cool weather.

In the above picture you can see how we planted in this case along side kale.  After a month it became apparent, that the old timers really knew what they were doing.  It’s hard to imagine how much of their knowledge has been lost, but we are happy to have been able to preserve this small piece of knowledge, and pass it down to our children who we hope will always plant onions with their greens.  The onions didn’t totally eliminate the problem, but they were 90% effective, and we are willing to give up the 10% to keep pesticides out of our garden.  This approach is not only better for us but also for our bees. It is hard to argue with the results.



We were so happy to have these amazing vegetables, and feel safe giving them to our family knowing that they are pesticide free.

Harvesting onions

After harvesting the greens there is an added bonus, beautiful onions.  Onions are harvested in mid summer normally in our area. We wait for the onions to tell us when they are ready to be harvested.  When onions are finished growing for the year, their tops will fall over.


After this happens we pull the onions and lay them out in the sun to cure.  Curing onions properly allows us to have onions well into the winter.  Different varieties keep better than others.  In our experience yellow onions keep better than white or red.


After the dirt on the onions dries, and the tops wilt, we move them to a covered location to continue drying.  We put them onto wire mesh to allow air to circulate around the whole onion.  This keeps them from growing mold and rotting.


Once the onions have dried, and their skins are like paper, they can be stored in an onion bag.  We like to hang ours to encourage air circulation.  Any onions with and bruises or blemishes should not be stored, we take these onions and dice them.  Once they are diced they can be frozen.  Cutting up 30 or 40 onions can make you cry, so try swim goggles while dicing.  The diced onions are great when you are pressed for time when cooking.

Growing food like anything else in life it takes time and experience to learn.  Because of this we always seek the advice of people who have done it before.  In this case we would be remiss if we didn’t thank those tough old homesteaders who plowed the ground before us and showed us the way.  Sometimes in life and gardening you need to take a step back to move forward.  In an age of quick fixes and a chemical for every problem, all we really needed to do was look back to how our forefathers did things to find a solution.  13697150_10205657397148371_851773985273865071_n