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, 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