canning, farming, gardening, garlic, glass gem corn, growing corn, homesteading, kale, peas

Homestead Harvesting, When the Real Work Begins

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As summer begins to wind down and the warm days of August begin to get shorter, we are blessed with the fruits of our hard labor. Plans made in February have now come to fruition. If we are lucky, large bags of produce begin to come in from the garden.  In some years we have failed crops, which have turned into lessons.  This time of year is a busy time and it is easy to see why our forefathers would have a party or festival after harvest time ends.  A few times of year will test your resolve as much as harvest season, that is why it is important to not only have a plan, but to posses the skills needed to make the most of your harvest.  Another consideration is space for your freshly grown food.  Early on we would often run out of freezer space and/or mason jars.  This is why it is important to think about the harvest early as you would when planning your garden. img_4011

Over the years we have learned how much food we really needed for the winter, we found it best to package our food so that we know how many meals are in each freezer bag.  Too many years we were down to only beans by February. There is one of those lessons learned!

 

 

Early on in the summer, kale, spinach and lettuce begin to come into the house.  We blanch and freeze the kale and spinach (see our previous blog on freezing kale).  We try to keep it in meal sized bags because it can be hard to break apart once frozen.  Sometimes we freeze it in ice cube trays in order to make smaller servings, each cube is perfect for an omelette in the morning.

 

 

Later, onions and garlic are harvested they are laid in the sun for a day or two, then hung in a cool place to cure.  It is important to have good airflow so an oscillating fan on a low speed can really help.  This year we braided the onions which not only helped them dry but made a beautiful display in our kitchen.

 

Next up are the squash and cucumbers.  These guys come in by the bucket load.  They can overwhelm you quickly.  We make lots of pickles and can them with a hot water bath canner.  They are very easy to make.  The squash becomes bread, dinners, and this year we pre-breaded and froze some.  Even with all of these uses we can not use up what we grow.  We came up with a great idea to build a small farm stand when our boys were little.

 

It encouraged them to help in the garden, and taught them a little bit about money.  As they got older and had jobs we took over the stand and use it as a means to offset our ever growing feed and seed costs.  It is fun to design the chalkboard that lists the prices.  And our neighbors are always happy when it is full.

 

In mid August, the tomatoes will start to ripen and it is time to put your nose to the grindstone.  Skinning, seeding, and canning every night can test even the best marriage. We know that there are food mills and products out there to aid in the process, but we find that hand skinning and seeding works best for us and has the highest yield. Plus, getting so up close and personal with your food just makes you appreciate it a little more.

Wave after wave of beautiful fruit will have you seeing tomatoes in your sleep, but you will be happy in December when you pop open a fresh jar from your own garden. A glass of wine while working makes the task seem less like chore, and if your are smart you buy your wife’s favorite vintage.  We can the tomatoes using a water bath canner as well.  If you are getting into homesteading this will be one of the first harvest tools you will need. You will never look at a can of tomatoes in the store the same again.

 

As the tomatoes slow down the peppers will speed up these are easily processed.  You can freeze smaller hot peppers whole.  We like to slice the bell peppers before freezing to save space. We also pickle some of the hot ones for sandwiches.  Along with peppers we harvest corn which we blanch on the cob and then cut off and freeze to save space.

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It is important to freeze in a thin layer on wax paper and then put it in a freezer bag.  If you don’t  you will have one big corn cube.

 

Throughout the summer and fall there are many other vegetables that get harvested such as peas, pumpkins, turnips, beets, beans, carrots and hops.

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Sometimes it seems like the harvest never ends and It can be overwhelming.  The real key is to put something up every night.  When your kitchen table is full of produce you need to attack it the way you attack a dirty room.  Start in one corner and work your way around.  Harvest time can seem glamorous and who doesn’t love to post their harvest pictures on instagram or facebook.  Never forget that these pictures are just a snapshot of hours of hard work and planning.  So the next time you bring in a bag of tomatoes and say “honey we have to can tomatoes tonight” make sure you stopped for that bottle of Chardonnay first.  Happy harvesting.

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gardening, glass gem corn, growing corn, homesteading

Glass gem corn happiness and beauty

two branches homestead

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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…

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cooking, gardening, growing corn, tortillas

Homemade Blue Corn Tortillas

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An important part of homesteading for us is enjoying what we do.  Sometimes homesteading can seem like all work and no play.  Often we only grow things we know we can put up for the winter, or enjoy fresh.  A great way to make the homestead more enjoyable is to try growing something new and make use of it.  It doesn’t even have to be in your future homestead plans, it is just for fun.  A great time to make these decisions is when you are looking at your seed catalogs in January or February.  One of the fun crops we chose this past year was blue corn from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  We wanted to make our own blue corn tortillas.  We grow several types of corn already, and they need to be separated to prevent cross pollination.   We had no room in our usual gardens,  so after a bit of argument, we planted the blue corn in the front yard.  It was just a little 8×8 patch and didn’t take up too much space.  It was sort of fun to watch the corns progress whenever we left the driveway.

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Soon it was time to harvest.  We had done some research (the fun part ) and found out that we needed it to dry if we wanted  to make flour.  So we found a nice dry place in the garage and hung it to dry.

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After a few months, and after all of the harvesting on the homestead was over, we ground the corn into flour.  We didn’t have a flour mill so we just used a spice grinder.  It was a slow process but in the end we had our own blue corn flour and corn meal.

 

Now it was time for the fun.  We tried a few different recipes and finally found one that worked.

Blue corn tortillas

1/2 cup of blue corn flour

1/2 cup blue corn meal

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1/3 cup of warm water (110 degrees)

Mix all dry ingredients then add oil.  Slowly add water until mix comes together. Knead dough for 5 to ten minutes then roll into a log and cut into equal pieces. Put in covered bowl and let rest for 15 min.  Then put in tortilla press or roll into circles then cook on hot griddle until brown.

 

We had made our blue corn tortillas.  We found that even after pressing twice they still needed to be rolled thinner.  The wax paper helped us keep them from tearing and sticking.  In fact we could have even made them thinner and we will next time.  We decided to fry some of them in oil to make blue corn chips, again they should have been a bit thinner.

 

The chips were a bit thick but went excellent with some salsa.  We had accomplished our goal and had a wonderful time doing it.  And watching the big game eating your own chips is kind of cool, right?  So this year when you start making homestead plans be sure you don’t forget the fun.