cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, peas

Take a Step Back in Time and Grow Peas This Spring

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One of the first crops we plant every year on the homestead is peas.  They give us our first opportunity to really work in the soil.  They are also one of the first vegetables we harvest.  They are very easy to grow and preserve, so they are a great addition to any garden.  You can even plant peas again in late summer for a fall crop.  We start planting peas as soon as the soil can be worked.  We plant both bush and vine varieties,  we also plant sugar snap peas for stir fry and salads.  We start planting seeds by turning over the soil and then making a small 1/2″ deep trench.  We then place the seeds about 4″ apart in the trench.

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Finally, we cover the seeds with soil.  Some varieties require a support to grow on, and for those we construct a simple trellis system made from t-posts and some used garden fence.  Over the years we have used all kinds of different materials, but these are the simplest to install and seem to last the longest.  We simply put a t-post every 8 feet and then tie the fencing to the posts with wire.  The least expensive wire we have found is in the masonry department at our local lumber yard, it is used to tie re-bar together so it is strong enough to do the job and the price is right.  Sometimes we use wooden stakes for additional support.

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In 7-10 days you should see your seedlings begin to emerge.  It is so exciting to see new green in the garden. After a long winter those little green leaves can really lift your spirits.  They grow fairly rapidly and really enjoy the cool weather.

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Those little marvels will send out tendrils and climb up your trellis.  We keep the weeds at bay by using an extra heavy weed guard, but weeding by hand is also a snap.  As the days grow longer the peas will stretch for the sky .

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Eventually white flowers will form and it is from these flowers that your pods will emerge.  You can eat the pods when they are young or leave them on the plant to grow big round peas. We pick sugar snap peas when the pods are about 3″ long, but the best and most fun way to see if they are ready is to taste them.  Peas are perfect for a snack in the garden, and often more make it into our mouths than into the house.  Kids love to pick peas and eat them.  You can teach them quickly how to pick them without damaging the plant.  Some of my first garden memories are of picking peas and beans in my grandfather’s garden.  Even then, very few made it back in the house to grandma.

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We pick our peas when they are nice and round inside, again it takes a little trial and error to get the right size.  Once the peas are picked it is time to shell them.

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Sitting on the porch shelling peas truly brings you back to a simpler time.  We often shell them at the end of the day and have an adult beverage with great conversation.  The most wonderful part of shelling peas is that you cannot use your cell phone while doing it.  Two hands are required and after a short time you really get the hang of it.  A big bowl of pods does not yield a big bowl of peas, but they sure are worth the effort. We also feed the pods to our chickens and pigs so nothing goes to waste.  Unless you have grown them you have no idea how good a fresh pea is.  Frozen and canned peas are not even close.

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Preserving peas is a snap.  You just have to toss them into boiling water for about 30 seconds then shock them in ice water and freeze in a single layer.  Once they are frozen you can put them into a good quality freezer bag.  Every year we grow more and more peas aside from being a great side dish, they are a great addition to salads.  They can also be a healthy snack.  Growing anything in our garden has to be worth the effort and space we give it.  Peas take up little space because they grow vertically,  and because they grow quickly you can grow more than one crop a season.  The time spent shelling them is almost as valuable as the nourishment they give us.  Growing peas takes us back to a simpler time when people actually talked to each other.  And after growing them you will never look at that big bag in the grocery store the same same.  So grow some peas this year, and don’t forget to wave to your neighbor when they drive by.

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farming, gardening, homesteading, how to grow potatoes

Planting Potatoes to Save Freezer Space

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Homesteading is all about food.  Being self-sufficient should just be called surviving because that what the first homesteaders were doing.  They were not trying to shrink their “carbon footprint”, or save “green space”, they were trying to harvest enough food to make it through the winter.  After winter was over, and if they made it, they started all over again.  We are trying to follow in their footsteps.  One of the things we noticed early on in our quest to grow our own food was that we had become very dependent on our freezer.  So we sought out crops that could be harvested, and stored without refrigeration.  One such crop is the simple potato.  It keeps well and fills your belly, so it is a wonderful homestead food.  We start our potato planting as soon as the soil can be worked, but there are a few things that need to take place first.  We choose varieties that we normally don’t buy at the store, like purple and red potatoes.  We also grow Yukon gold and German butterball.  We always choose certified seed potatoes, because they are disease free. img_2702.jpg

Potatoes are related to tomatoes so we are unwilling to risk both crops by saving our own seed.  The homesteaders did not have this luxury,  but we are not so immersed in the homestead life that we are willing to take that risk.  First, about a week and a half before planting,  we take the potatoes out of their bags, and put them in a warm sunny spot indoors.img_2701

This gets those eyes to start growing.  After a week we cut the potatoes into pieces containing two eyes per piece, and put them back into the sunny spot.img_2721

This allows us to get more out of our seed potatoes.  After two days the potatoes should form a callous over on the cut end.  This callous will keep the potato from rotting when planted.

To plant the potatoes we dig a ditch 8 inches deep, and place the potato pieces cut side down in the ditch. img_2770

We then pull 4 inches of dirt back over the potato pieces.  We do this so that when the potatoes are 12 inches tall, we can put the rest of the dirt in the ditch.  This will keep the newly growing potatoes under the soil.  If they make their way to the top and the sun is directly on them, they will turn green and be useless.  Often we have to add additional dirt to keep those pesky spuds below ground where they belong.  We wait until the tops of the plants die off before we harvest.  Harvesting potatoes is like Easter morning, but instead of looking for eggs you are looking for delicious tubers.  The potatoes we grow last us well into the winter.

We store them in a cool dark place in a potato sack.  We know they will not last all winter, so we make sure we use them up before they go bad, and are wasted.   Growing potatoes is so easy because the plants really don’t take much care.  Thy grow very dense vegetation that keeps the weeds down as well.  So if you are looking to save freezer space, potatoes are a must.  They were a staple for our ancestors, and are a valuable addition to any modern homestead.

 

We made a YouTube video covering the whole process

 

cooking, farming, gardening, garlic

How to Grow Garlic and Save America

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With the whole country divided on every issue, it seems like there is constant disagreement.  However there is one thing everyone can agree upon, garlic is delicious.  The left and the right use it, and every culture takes advantage of its signature flavor.  Garlic is even good for you, it has too many health benefits to list here, and keeps vampires away, supposedly.  It keeps well and is easy to grow,  so why do so few gardeners plant this unifying crop? Growing garlic takes just a few easy steps and a little bit of planning ahead.  We grow hard neck garlic which is well suited for northern climates like ours.  Although garlic is easy to grow, it can be expensive to get started.  With seed companies charging upwards of $5 a bulb, planting more than a few dozen cloves can be cost prohibitive. We were lucky enough to have a great friend who got us started.  She not only gave us the cloves to get going, but shared some of her secrets to growing garlic with us.  The first of which was when to plant it.  Here in zone 5 we plant garlic in the fall around Columbus day.   Because we plant in the fall and do not harvest until June, we have to think about what next years garden will look like.  One benefit to garlic being done early the next season, is that you can plant a late season crop in the same spot right after you harvest your garlic.  We like to plant peas for fall harvest and to put nitrogen back into the soil.  Once we choose our spot we till it well and sometimes add a little peat moss if the soil is too firm.  We then take only the largest cloves of the head and plant them. We put them about 3″ in the ground with the pointy end up.  We find a grid pattern works well with 6″ spacing.  We then cover the cloves with dirt and wait.  Some seasons the garlic will sprout in the fall, others it won’t come up,  which seems to make little difference in the final product.  Right before the ground freezes hard for the winter, we cover the garlic bed with leaves to give it a little protection.  Then we wait through the long winter, garlic is the first sign of spring in our garden. When the ground has mostly thawed, we rake away the leaves from the bed. Garlic’s little green stalks  pop up out of the ground letting you know they made it through the hard winter.img_2708

They grow very quickly in the cool weather of spring.

In early June, our garlic begins to send up scapes.  These are an edible stalk that grows up from the center of the vegetation.  They are delicious and once they curl all the way around in a circle we cut them.

They are great added as seasoning and make a great pesto.  Once the scapes have been cut, your garlic’s leaves will begin to yellow signifying that it is putting all of its energy into the yet unseen bulb below the soil.  When most of the leaves are yellow, we pull the heads of garlic from the ground and finally get to see if all of our hard work has paid off.

When you pull the heads, it is important not to yank them up by the stalk, but rather turn them up with a pitchfork or shovel.  We then let them lay on the soil to dry out for a day so that we can brush most of the dirt off of them.  Next comes curing, which is just as important as the growing. You can use garlic fresh as well, it is just hard to peel.  We hang our garlic in a cool dry place with good air circulation for several weeks to a month. There is nothing like walking into a room, or in our case garage, full of drying garlic. IMG_0119

You can see all those potential delicious meals hanging right in front of you.   We then cut the stalks about 4″ above the head of garlic and then let it hang an additional two weeks.  After the two weeks we place it in brown paper bags and store it in a cool dark place.  We also separate out the heads which we intend to plant the next year.  We always save the best and largest heads to replant.  We plant a few extra cloves every year and we now are getting close to 200.  We will never buy garlic from the store again, and because we don’t need to buy seed to plant, it’s basically free.  So turn off CNN or FOX news and do something good for the country and plant some garlic this fall, your family will be glad you did.

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carpentry, farming, firewood, gardening, homesteading, tools, wood working

Tools Make The Homestead

When we think about homesteading we always think of images of chickens and fall harvests.  We rarely see pictures of the tools that make homesteading possible.  No two homesteads are alike, and neither are their tools.  What makes homesteading great is that you get to do it your own way.  You can choose your own land and what crops you will grow,  but most importantly you get to choose or make your own tools.  This blog is a tribute and an introduction to the tools we use on our homestead.  Hopefully it will give you a few new ideas about what to use around your homestead.

The Chainsaw

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This is one of the tools that we can’t live without.  It brings us warmth and Christmas trees.  Its uses are endless, especially in places where power cords can’t reach or in an emergency.

 

 

 

When we first started our homestead and decided to burn wood for heat, we realized quickly that we would need a chainsaw.  Initially we started with a box store bargain, but it only lasted a short time.  The next purchase was the largest saw the box store had to offer, but we had a similar experience, it didn’t last. We knew it was time to ask the pros. Knowing that we cut 10 cords of wood a year, we knew we needed something reliable. We went to our local Huqvarna dealer and he helped us select a saw that would fit our needs. We settled on a 365 special because it was a saw we thought we could handle, but can also get the job done.  After 7 years, and still running strong, it has not missed a beat. We try not to spend a lot, but in this case, we learned that you truly get what you pay for.

The Homemade Apple Press

On our homestead we have 7 apple trees, and once they started producing we knew we wanted to make cider so we needed an apple press. We looked into buying one, but they were too expensive, so we made our own plans using an inexpensive Harbor Freight bottle jack to apply the pressure.  Later on when we planted the vineyard, we were able to use the press for wine making.  This tool works well and brings us plenty of joy.  There is nothing like drinking your own fresh pressed cider (or wine!).

Antique pencil sharpener

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Whenever I use it I am reminded of our grandfather’s shop.  I think it makes me work just a little harder to make him proud. No other explanation needed.

 

 

 

 

Small Tractor Supply Trailer

 

This trailer has served so many purposes of the years it’s hard to remember them all.  It was initially purchased to allow our older son to mow lawns.  It has hauled everything from lumber to pigs.  We built a removable rack to keep the pigs on board.  It is the versatile workhorse of the homestead.

The Antique Crock

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This old school tool makes great food and looks good too.  It is one of the few tools we display in our living space. It makes wonderful sauerkraut and dill pickles.  We can not imagine the homestead without it.

Solar Electric Fence Charger

When we decided to keep honey bees, we needed to keep bears out.  After a lot of research we decided on a high voltage charger that was big enough to zap a bull.  This was one of the few times we went right for the best tool first.  It wasn’t cheap, but it has never let us down.  It has saved us money on the electric bill,  and has enough capacity to fence in our pigs as well. It is a Parmak Magnum 12 Solar Pak Fencer and was well worth the $250 we spent on it.

Mowers and Tillers

After years of small front tine tillers and shovels a few years ago we upgraded to a good used rear tine tiller.  We were so happy to not feel like our arms are ripping off every spring.  Used tillers are very reasonable especially around Christmas time.  After years of different riding mowers, this Fall we upgraded to a lawn tractor.  We won it at an auction and it came with a snowblower, tiller, and a mowing deck.  It is an old Simplicity and we could not believe the difference it made.  It does everything well and has a hydraulic drive and lift to make work easy.  By far, its best feature is the tiller.  I can see us expanding our garden with this monster.  We could never afford a new compact tractor, but this used beauty suits our needs.

The Simple Tools

These provide us with heat and nourishment. We always choose durable items like cast iron, composite handles, and ball canning jars. In our house we have a saying “nothing bad ever comes out of the dutch oven”, and to this day, that remains true.

The Green House

img_2602This is our first year with the green house, but we already have cold weather crops like kale and lettuce growing in it.  It is unheated, but we can see that changing in the future.  This $300 dollar investment should pay big dividends in delicious vegetables.

 

 

Maple Syrup Evaporator

This is a tool that may actually pay us back one day.  When we first started making maple syrup we made it in a small pan over a fire.  It took a very long time to boil the sap down into syrup.  During this time we always dreamed of having a real evaporator, but their price always put them out of reach for us.  Last season we were able to get a good deal on a real maple syrup pan from a friend.  We found this old tank in a junk yard and after a year of planning and welding we had made our own evaporator. At 1/4 the cost of a manufactured one, it is the little engine that could.  It makes the most delicious maple syrup.

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The Farm Stand

 

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This simple stand started as a way for our son to make a few extra bucks, but now that he’s older it allows us to recoup some of the money we spend on seeds.  It is so much fun to chat with people when they stop by to make a purchase.  We also enjoy how cute it looks on the lawn when you drive by.

The things that keep us sane

Just like everything else here on the homestead, the hot tub serves more than one purpose.  It is also our onion and garlic drying rack, and potting bench.  It is our favorite place to go after ice fishing in the winter.  Our solar pool heater allows us to extend the swimming season by 3 weeks on either end and is incredibly cheap to run.

As you can see, tools make the homestead an efficient and happy place.  They are our constant companions.  We would be lost without them.  They are more than just tools they are part of us.  Every year we add more and more of them.  Which naturally leads us to a future blog, where to store them.  Time to build a bigger shed.

carpentry, farming, gardening, homesteading, low tunnel

How To Build a Low Tunnel and Save Your Sanity

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Our homestead is located in upstate New York, where the winter can drag on.  By the time mid-March rolls around, we are getting the urge to start gardening.  Like most people, we start seeds under grow lights.  Seeing the seedlings emerge is wonderful, but it still does not allow us to get our hands in the ground.  A great way to get your hands dirty earlier, and extend your gardening season, is to build a low tunnel.  A low tunnel can give you several more weeks of growing in spring and fall.  We often construct a low tunnel when the snow is still on the ground and plant kale, lettuce, and carrots.  We also experiment with different seeds to see which will grow best in the tunnel, we often use left over seeds from last season.  This way if we lose the plants it is not too big of a big loss.  We have come up with a very inexpensive and easy way to build one, so if you are like us and can’t wait for spring, keep reading.

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The first step is to choose a location in your garden and clear the snow off.  By the time March rolls around, the ground is often thawed under the snow.  We then construct a frame of 2″ x 4″ s approximately 4′ x 8′.  Then we secure the corners with screws.  Because these inexpensive tunnels only have a life span of a few seasons, we do not bother using expensive pressure treated lumber.

The next step is to drill holes in the corners to hold the 5/8″ rebar pegs.   We use a 5/8″ drill bit for this task being careful not to drill directly into the corner where our screws are located.  We drill down 3″ and then drive the pegs in.  The pegs are cut to 6″ in length.  We also drill holes along the long side of the frame 30″ apart for additional supports.

We then use 3/4″ plastic electrical conduit to make the arches to hold the plastic.  The length of these supports can vary depending on how high you want your tunnel to be.  They are easy to bend and slide over the rebar pegs.  At this point we can turn over the soil and plant our seeds.  This is where we finally get our hands dirty.  Putting your hands in the soil no matter how cold seems eases our winter blues.

The last step is to stretch the clear plastic over the structure and fasten it with staples along the edge.  We use a minimum of 4mil poly, but 6mil will definitely hold up better.

img_2416Our low tunnel is now complete.  To check on our seeds progress we simply flip it over backward, or pick it up and move it.  It does take a lot longer for seeds to germinate in it, but checking on them makes us happy.  One of the things we love about what we do is learning, and every failure is a learning experience.  On the homestead we sometimes do things just for fun, or sometimes to experiment.  So if the winter blues have you down, try a low tunnel, even if your seeds don’t grow, you still got to play in the dirt.

 

We made a short video covering construction,  Don’t mind the rooster crowing !!!