gardening, Home Brewing, homemade, homesteading

The Best Father’s Day Gift Ever, Hops!!

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Many years ago on Father’s day, I received one very special gift.  It was a gift that would keep on giving.  No it wasn’t a membership in the “jelly of the month club”, it was a small Columbia hop plant.  I had brewed beer for years and always fantasized about growing my own hops.  I say that it was the gift that kept on giving because hops are perennial and come back every year.  I began to do some research and soon found out that hops can grow more than 20′ tall in a year. I would definitely need to build a hop trellis, and I also had to pick a location where they could grow year after year.  Hops are also deadly to dogs and cats, so I needed to keep them away from our pets.  I constructed a trellis from landscaping timbers and secured it to the ground with guide wires.  The wires would also serve as the place where the hops could climb.  I prepared the soil with peat moss and composted manure and planted my hops. IMG_5781

I was amazed at how fast the vine grew, sometimes more than a foot a day.  It curled its way up the wire and reached the top of my 16′ trellis quickly.IMG_6100

The vine then began to branch out and formed the beginnings of hop cones.  We stripped the leaves from the bottom few feet of the vine to prevent mold growth.  As the cones formed, I began to contemplate all of the delicious beer I would be brewing.IMG_6772

When the cones are fully formed, they will be full of lupulin inside.  It is a sticky yellow substance.  As I checked for ripeness, I smelled that familiar aroma.  Hops are ready to be picked when they sound like tissue paper being crushed.  We picked our hops and dried them on a screen, turning them twice a day. IMG_3139

After a few days we packed them in vacuum bags and put them in the freezer for future use.  Harvesting hops is a joyous occasion and it is customary to drink a beer when harvesting.  Hops have become a fun addition to the homestead and because they do not require replanting each year, they cost us almost no money to grow, just like our apple trees and vineyard.  We usually brew beer in the winter and adding our own hops to a recipe gives us a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Picking up a handful of your own hops and sniffing them makes you feel like a master brewer for a day.  Growing these hops will always remind me of that Father’s day, and I hope that bine(what the hop vine is called) and memory lasts as long as I do. So if you are a dad, drop a hint. If you have a dad, you now have a gift idea.  And when you brew your first batch of beer be sure to send one my way.

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gardening, homesteading

Planting onions to save your greens and cabbage

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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