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Posts Tagged ‘homesteading’

MEN June-July 2013

Includes Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency.

To truly feed yourself from your garden, you need to grow staple crops. The current issue (June/July 2013) of Mother Earth News contains an article that I wrote about the subject. You can read Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency in the print magazine (where these things always look better) or online. The crops that I talk about are potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, peanuts, winter squash,  dry beans, cabbage, collards, and kale. There are two charts in this article that you might keep for reference. One chart shows suggested varieties of these crops for each region of the continental U.S.  The other chart is “Crop Yields and Calorie Density”. The information posted there is based on my article that appeared in the October/November 2012 issue, with the addition of calories produced. If you don’t have that issue, you can read that article, A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency, online. The four charts in that article show suggested yields and the number of half-cup servings you might expect per pound of food as it comes from the garden. There are many crops listed, with separate charts for vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. A fifth chart (online only) that is connected to that article shows yields and oil content of nuts and seeds. 

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency.

Including staple crops in your garden plan is one thing; finding the variety for each crop that will do well in your climate, that also fits well with your management schedule, is quite another. Besides depending on my own experience, I pored over catalogs and read variety descriptions and gardeners’ internet postings carefully to decide which varieties to include on the regional chart. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was kind enough to go over the chart with me and make suggestions. It helped that we were both at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in early February and that our booths were right next to each other to afford us the time and opportunity for that discussion. In working on this staple crops article I met Eli Rogosa through email and telephone. She is the director of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy and provided the wheat varieties for the chart. You may have other varieties of these staple crops that do well for you in your garden. If so, I welcome you to post a comment with the crop variety and the general area where you are located. Your comments will be helpful to everyone. To my readers from outside these U.S. regions, I hope you take this opportunity to write a comment to share the varieties you are growing in your part of the world.

Building our personal and regional food supplies will take all of us sharing information and seeds as we develop a new food system independent of corporate America. If we are to succeed, we need to be active participants in the process. Even with the best information and seeds, the learning is in the doing. Get out in the garden and get growing. Your skills and knowledge will develop more each year. For the sake of us all, I wish you well.Homeplace Earth

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chicken house interior with loft

chicken house interior with loft and access to nest boxes for egg collecting

Keeping chickens is a popular thing to do these days and there is a wealth of information for new keepers of the flocks. I have had chickens since 1989 and would like to offer some tips that have proven helpful to me.

If possible, have an area to store feed within the chicken house. That saves trips back and forth from another storage area each day. I store feed in galvanized metal garbage cans. I don’t use plastic garbage cans because I believe they contain pesticides—after all, they are intended for garbage—and animals can chew through them. This feed area needs to be “walled off” from the chicken-living area, which can be done with chicken wire or welded wire fencing. That brings me to my next tip.

In the chicken-living area, it would do you well to arrange to divide that space into two. I read that idea long ago in Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills (1985, Rodale Press). In my chicken house the divider is made of welded wire fencing for the upper permanent part and wood for the lower removable part. A nail at each side of the bottom part holds it in place. When I want to allow the chickens into the whole area, I remove the bottom panel by pulling out the nails enough to remove the panel. In order to tend to both sections, you need to have a door to each one from your feed room. The doors can be made with a wood frame and wire fencing or you could scrounge old screen doors for this.

This division is most helpful when my chicks come out of the brooder. The outside pen area is divided, also, so that each inside area has its own run. One side, where the chicks are put, has smaller wire to contain the little ones. The rest of the chicken run has 2”x4” wire. Young chicks can slip right through that. The chickens, big and small, can see each other. When the time comes, I can take off the bottom panel in the chicken house and open the gates within the chicken run and they will all be together.

nest box on chicken side

nest box on chicken side

My next tip is to be able to collect the eggs without walking through chicken poop. You might not mind it, but occasionally you might need to have someone else, who is not so much into earthy ways as you are, collect your eggs. Also, chickens can be intimidating to young children and a rooster can be an attack animal. It is best if children don’t have to watch out for that, besides making sure they don’t break any eggs. If you have a feed room, have the nest boxes protrude into that space, with the top opening up for egg collection. If your nest boxes extend to the outside of the chicken house, make sure they are weather-proof. You wouldn’t want rain dripping on your hens as they sit in the nest box. My nest boxes are accessible from the feed area. I made them from scrap wood and used the tongues of old tennis shoes for hinges.

chicken house loft

chicken house loft with grass clippings

My last tip is to put a loft in your chicken house. That gives you space to store straw for bedding—maybe even straw from the grains that you’ve grown. The loft in my chicken house is only over the chicken-living area, allowing more headspace in the feed room. I have an old wooden five foot ladder there to access the loft. I add carbon material over the chicken droppings throughout the year and clean out the chicken house once in the summer. All of it goes to the compost pile. Having that bedding material right there in the loft is nice, especially if it is something I’ve grown.

You can also store grass clippings there. If you have sown white clover in your grass, your “grass hay” will be rich in clover. You can feed that to your chickens, line the nest boxes with it, or use it as bedding. Let the grass dry for a day or two before storing it or spread it out in the loft if it is fresh. When it is dry, you can pile it up. Otherwise, you will have a hot, slimy mess. Look at all the resources you have and make sure they are part of your circle of living. What is left from one thing becomes a resource for another. As much as you can, bring your chickens into your circle.Homeplace Earth

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green and brown cotton bolls with spindleI usually write about food crops and soil building, but today I’m talking about fiber. I have begun to grow cotton and have learned to spin it using a spindle. Growing and using cotton is more than just a new craft for me. It adds diversity to my garden, which is important in a permaculture garden, and it helps me connect with factors beyond the garden. Plants are grown around the world for more things than food. If our gardens are to provide for us and if we are ever going to be free from corporate domination, we need to consider everything. From our plants we can get food, fuel, medicine, fiber, dyes, and so on. The movement to make available food grown in a sustainable manner to everyone is gaining momentum. What about obtaining our other needs from sustainable sources?       

When India was a colony of Britain, Indian cotton was shipped to Britain and the Indians had to buy it back as fabric. Gandhi promoted spinning as an act of independence. If the Indians spun and used their own cotton, they would be free of British control of that resource. In fact, Gandhi had a contest to develop a small spinning wheel that was portable enough that people could easily spin in public and the box charka was born. What better act of nonviolent protest but to spin cotton into thread and yarn in public! Unfortunately, today Indian cotton farmers face another peril with the introduction of GMO cotton seeds. In 2000 I heard Vandana Shiva speak about the number of suicides among cotton farmers in India. They had been convinced to grow GMO cotton by Monsanto and things were not going well. The problems continue to this day. Please take the time to listen to her tell you about it here. Shiva’s organization Navdanya goes into these areas with open pollinated seeds to help the farm families recover.

In doing some research for this post I was heartened to find that there are projects underway to promote the sustainable growing of cotton around the world and in the U.S. You can find more about that at http://www.sustainablecottons.com/. Where is the fabric coming from for your cotton clothes? Begin looking for a Fairtrade label for cotton. Also, consider how the cotton you buy gets its color. Cotton grows naturally in more colors than white. Pakucho is the brand name of cotton from a project developed in Peru to revive the growing of colored cotton on small farms.

green cotton fiber and seeds--BLOG

1 ounce green cotton fiber/seeds

In 2004 I came across an article in Spin-Off magazine about a woman who had grown the cotton that she then spun (with a spindle) and wove into fabric for a shirt. You can read “My Cotton Shirt” here. At least I knew that my idea of growing cotton and making a shirt out of it wasn’t totally crazy. I did grow some cotton around that time, but I didn’t know anyone who was spinning cotton and I was busy with other things, so the harvest was stored away. The only spinners I knew worked with wool and said that, since cotton had such a short fiber, it was really hard to spin. I figured that if spinning cotton was all I knew, spinning cotton would be my normal and that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, people have spun cotton down through the ages so I should be able to learn this. For the past two summers I grew both Erlene’s Green and Nankeen Brown cotton. The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange the first year and I saved them after that. There are a lot of seeds in cotton. In one ounce of green cotton that I weighed, 75% of that ounce was 185 seeds and 25% of that ounce was fiber.   

I turned to Joan Ruane to learn to spin the fiber into yarn, once I found her video Cotton Spinning With the Takli. A takli spindle is what is recommended for cotton and that’s what I’ve been using. My husband gave me her kit with fiber, spindle, and DVD as a gift and it was a great way to get started. It was very slow going at first, though. I had to remind myself of how it was when I taught myself to knit—only this seemed harder. Clothos Handspinners, a group of wonderful folks into handspinning, came to my rescue. At the first meeting I attended in November, 2011, Judith spent time teaching me some basics and I will be forever grateful. Most of the members show up with their spinning wheels, but there are some, like me, who are using a spindle. Most work in wool, but not exclusively. I am not interested in getting a wheel right now because I want to master the spindle. Besides, I want to see how much skill and knowledge I can gain with the least money spent. Another DVD that has helped me is Spinning Cotton by Stephanie Gaustad. If my garden DVDs have helped people as much as these cotton DVDs have helped me, I will be happy. My goal is to make a vest out of my homegrown, homespun cotton, so I’ll be learning to weave next. After that comes the shirt.

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds--plus spindle

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds–plus spindle

Cotton needs hot weather and a lot of sun. The varieties I grow take 130 days to mature, but it differs by variety. Sea Island White  requires 160 days. Start the seeds and set out transplants as you would tomatoes. I’ve heard of growing cotton in containers and bringing it inside when the weather turns cold if you live in a marginal climate. In my 2012 garden I harvested 2.5 pounds of green fiber and seed in an 80 ft.² bed. That works out to about .75 lb. fiber per 100 ft.² (and lots of seeds). The brown cotton harvest was equivalent to one pound fiber per 100 ft². I had 7-12 bolls on each plant. Now that I’m paying attention, I believe that I can better that harvest. The U.S. average is 1.7 pounds fiber per 100 ft². You could begin with just a few plants among your flowers.

knitted homegrown cotton sampleGrowing colored cotton has been really interesting. After cotton has been spun, it needs to be boiled to set the twist. When you do that, the color deepens. The green spun cotton shown with the spindle and seeds is the same cotton that is shown as fiber in the other photo with the seeds. In the sample that I’ve knitted, the deep green and brown colors are the natural colors after boiling the spun fiber. The white is what I grew years ago with only an inkling of an idea that I might want to do this sometime.

In 2007 a new charka was introduced in India. This e-charka allows the spinner to produce electricity while he/she spins. A battery stores the electricity to operate an LED light and a transistor radio. Spinning cotton by hand is still important in rural areas of India and elsewhere and this new charka will increase the quality of life for these spinners. Gandhi would be proud. For now, at least, I’ll stick with my spindle. Growing cotton and learning to spin it is a wonderful project. Doing it with children gives them a great glimpse into history. There are so many things you could talk about with them when you are working with the plants and fiber. As you spin your own homegrown fiber, keep in mind all those farmers who are keeping the old skills and seeds alive. Every good thought we have goes out as a ripple that eventually connects us all.Homeplace Earth

For more thoughts on growing and spinning cotton see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/grow-spin-cotton.aspx#axzz2LRWabZ00

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Master Nut Cracker1-BLOG

Master Nut Cracker

                                                                                                                              We have a couple of black walnut trees near our driveway. Until 2008 I had only paid passing attention to them, never taking the time to harvest the nuts at the right time. To do that, every day or two I would have to pick up the green balls that fell from the trees and throw them in the driveway. Driving over them would remove the green husks. Then I would gather the nuts to air-dry and store for later. If they weren’t gathered from the ground in a timely manner, I would find worms in them. Shelling them was a challenge. I tried cracking them using a hammer and by squeezing them in a vice. Both methods were unsatisfactory. You can find information about these methods and more at http://www.nemahaweb.com/blackwalnuts/crackers.htm. Black walnuts are much harder than the English walnuts you would find in the grocery store and regular nutcrackers won’t work for them. Finally I called my friend Margaret to borrow her black walnut cracker.

Margaret and Jerry moved to their 50 acre farm in late 1982. They had black walnut trees in the yard and intended to make use of them. When Margaret told me of her search for a suitable nutcracker, I told her of an article I had recently read in the December 1983 issue of Organic Gardening magazine. I located that issue on my bookshelf while preparing to write this post. It still contained a note to Xerox the article for Margaret. (Back then we didn’t copy things, we Xeroxed them.) The article profiled four nutcrackers suitable for hard-shelled nuts—hickories, butternuts, and black walnuts. The Potter nutcracker was one of them, and the one owned by the authors, Mike and Nancy Bubel.  At the time, I had also checked my copy of Home Food Systems which listed the Potter as the “largest, heaviest, most powerful nutcracker we tested.” Home Food Systems was published in 1981. Margaret bought one and has used it all these years.

Potter nut cracker-BLOG

Margaret’s Potter Nut Cracker

Our black walnut trees seem to bear every other year, so I didn’t throw myself into thinking about black walnuts again until the fall of 2010. The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe was hot off the press and the green balls were, once again, raining down. Deppe talks about gathering nuts in her book, specifically the need to get them off the ground promptly. I borrowed Margaret’s Potter nutcracker again. However, the best way to store nuts is in the shell, with the cracking done as needed. It became clear that I should have my own tool. With the harvest skipping a year, there were no new nuts to crack in 2011, but I still had some left from 2010 to play with. I had my eye out for a used Potter, since they aren’t manufactured anymore. What I found is the Master Nut Cracker, similar to the Potter.

My husband gave me a Master Nut Cracker for Christmas last year. It is the one in the top photo and it came with a bag of black walnuts. It was just what I needed for my black walnuts—and as I found later—for the hazelnuts (filberts) and peanuts. My husband had also given me small vice grips to use for the hazelnuts, an improvement over my other methods. I thought my hazelnuts would be too small for the Master Nut Cracker, but I found that it cracked all but the very smallest. Eventually I realized that I could shell peanuts with it, also.

This nut cracker lives up to its expectations for cracking black walnuts. If you see advertisements for nutcrackers, read them carefully. If they list walnuts (rather than black walnuts), they mean English walnuts, which are easier to shell. One of the great things about this nutcracker is that it has a second set of anvils. You can see these in the picture. They’re inserted into their storage holes to the right on the board. Just unscrew the larger anvils and put these in and you’re all set to crack smaller nuts. These smaller anvils are what I put on for the hazelnuts. The anvils are concave, allowing you to crack the shells without smashing everything together, which is what happens using the hammer method.

If you are thinking of getting a Master Nut Cracker, be on the watch for the Duke Nutcracker. The Duke is a Chinese knock-off and of lesser quality, according to what I’ve read. Often Chinese look-alikes are inferior and will soon break or be less than enjoyable to use. Do your internet homework and order from Gerald Gardner, developer of the Master Nut Cracker, himself. You will have to send a check to him and the address is on his website, along with the story of how it all came to be. You might want to put a Master Nut Cracker on your Christmas wish list, like I did. Happy cracking!

 

More about my experiences with the Master Nut Cracker at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/master-nut-cracker.aspx

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dried food in jars-2012-BLOGThis is my third summer using solar food dryers and they have become a firm part of my food preservation plan. Of course, the biggest aspect of my plan is to need as little preservation as possible. So, we eat as much as we are able to out of the garden all year. Next is to grow crops that pretty much store themselves. That would be things like onions, garlic, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, hazelnuts, and peanuts. Some things are fermented, particularly cucumbers and cabbage. I’ve had a huge jar of dill pickles on my kitchen counter for most of the summer, sort of like what you might see in a deli. We take pickles out whenever we want. Some of the snap beans get salted in a crock. The rest of the snap beans and extra tomatoes are canned. 

principe borghese-BLOG

Principe Borghese tomatoes

The crop that I dry the most is tomatoes. There are varieties that are better suited for this and I’ve been growing some. Principe Borghese (preen-see-pee bore-gay-zee) has been the most prolific so far. I had a harvest of about 75 pounds from the plants that grew along a 16’ livestock panel. Principe Borghese is a determinate variety, pumping out the whole harvest in 5-6 weeks. The seed catalog says the days to maturity for this variety is 78 days, however, I’ve found my harvest begins at about 60 days from transplanting and I had my first tomatoes before July 4th this year, without even trying.  These tomatoes look like large cherry tomatoes. Sometimes I cut them in half to dry and sometimes I cut them in quarters. 

I also grew Hungarian Paste tomatoes, another determinate variety. I began harvesting these about 18 days later than Principe Borghese and picked for only 4 weeks. That was too short of a harvest window for me, but the blister beetles had moved in on the plants. This variety is similar to Roma and Amish Paste. I had some trouble with blossom end rot on the first flush this year, which might have been caused by weird weather; however, blossom end rot has been a problem with this type of paste tomato on the first flush in my garden in other years.  I’ve had my soil tested and calcium deficiency is not the problem.

long tom-closeup-BLOG

Long Tom tomatoes

A new variety, for me at least, is Long Tom, an indeterminate. I only have a few plants and they were put in late, but I’m really impressed with the tomatoes I’m getting. It could be due to the bed they are in, but these meaty tomatoes have been weighing 4 ounces each! If you don’t like seeds in your dried tomatoes, this is the variety to grow. I’ll pay more attention to Long Toms next year. All these varieties and more are available through the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog.

The list of things I’ve dried in my solar dryers is: apples, cabbage, celery, collards, grapes, kale, mushrooms, okra, onions, parsley, peaches, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini. I’ve dried snap beans, but I found we just don’t eat them. They are good, however, reconstituted in chicken broth. One of the good things about drying is that you don’t need to have the quantity that you need when you are canning. You can put small amounts of this and that in the dryers. I’ve found that I can salt the snap beans in a crock and add to it over the next couple weeks as the harvest comes in, otherwise if I had a small amount, they’d go in the dryer.

SW trays open-BLOGASU dryer inside-BLOGI have two dryers and each have special features. One, the SunWorks model, exposes the food to the sun. Historically, that’s how things were dried, lying out in the sun. The larger model, based on plans developed by Appalachian State University (ASU), does not expose the food to the sun. If I’m drying mushrooms, I put them in the SunWorks dryer since mushrooms really develop a lot of vitamin D when exposed to the sun. If I’m drying collards or kale, I put them in the ASU dryer. The greens dry quickly in either one, but they stay greener out of the sun. I built the SunWorks dryer with an electric backup option. I played with that a little that first year, but haven’t plugged it in since. If the weather takes a turn and it rains, I just leave the food in until the sun comes back out and it dries. When drying is complete, I put the food in glass canning jars and store them on shelves in my pantry. Of course, if the weather promises to be rainy and damp for days, which is the pattern we seem to be in at the moment, I resort to canning.

You can find more information about my solar dryers at my blog posts Solar Food Dryers and Solar Food Dryers-Update. The Solar Food Dryer, a book by Eben Fodor, was my guide in making the SunWorks dryer. A good book to refer to in handling the food is Making & Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson. I’ll have both books for sale at my booth at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello on September 15 and at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania on September 21-23. I’ll also be speaking on Solar Food Drying at both events.  See you there!

 

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Cindy washing lettuce-BLOGIt never occurred to me to have a place to wash my harvest in the garden until I began selling vegetables. Until then, I would bring everything into the kitchen to clean, since I would be preparing it for our table or to preserve it. In 1992 I began selling produce, primarily lettuce, to two local restaurants. It was time to set up a place to wash it outside.

We happened to have a bathtub sitting in the backyard, having replaced it when we remodeled the bathroom. I put it on cement blocks so the top was a workable height. A screen that I made of 2×4’s and ½” hardware cloth fit over the top. Now I could lay things on that screen and hose them off, with the water being caught in the tub and draining into the bucket I put under the drain hole. This water would be returned to the garden. I would line up multiple buckets and keep changing them out as they filled.

Sunfield washing station-BLOGI built a bench out of scrap wood to hold 5-gallon buckets and harvest trays. That and a drinking-water-safe hose was my set-up. When I sold leaf lettuce by the head, packed in boxes, I would hold each head by the bottom and dip it upside down in first one bucket of water, then another. Doing that allowed any dirt or slugs that were in there to fall out. The buckets were food-safe and kept as clean as if I were using them in my kitchen. I put the lettuce heads on the screen over the tub and hosed them off again. They drained there before I packed them into cardboard boxes to take directly to the restaurants. When I had the CSA and later sold at the farmers markets, I sold bagged lettuce. I used three 5-gallon buckets and put only the trimmed leaves in. By the time they had been through three buckets, the leaves were clean and I put them directly into a salad spinner to get out excess water. I bought a 5-gallon salad spinner like the one I saw in the restaurants. That used spinner cost me $100 at a restaurant supply dealer, half of what I saw a new one for at the time in Johnny’s catalog. It made my job easier.

I had acquired some plastic trays that bakeries use to deliver bread to stores. I would pick my harvest into them and take it to the washing station. With things like tomatoes and peppers, I would just set the tray on top of the screen and hose off the produce, turning it with my hand as needed. Then I would take the trays to the porch and set them on the porch swing or arms of the rocking chairs to drain. It was shady on the porch, a good place to sort the produce. A piece of hardware cloth with ¼” spaces was put in the bottom of the tray if it was used for green beans or cherry tomatoes, to keep those things from falling through the holes. The produce was on its way to the customers in a short time or using the porch would have become a problem with the family coming and going.

Washing produce with a hose is wet work. A heavy duty vinyl apron from Nasco and heavy rubber gloves protected me from getting waterlogged and from the chill in the spring and fall. In the summer, an occasional splash from the rinse water was a welcome cool-off. The Nasco catalog said the apron was the kind used in dairies. I used that apron for the whole ten years I sold vegetables.

I’ve come to believe that a washing station in your garden is a good thing to have even if you are only growing for your family. It certainly saves a mess in the kitchen. You may not do all your washing there, but you can certainly do the messiest stuff there. If you are selling vegetables and you use your kitchen for washing, you are putting more stress on you and your family than is necessary, not to mention the mess.

sink and drying trays-BLOGThat old tub that I used as the base of my operation eventually had to be hauled off to the dump. Installed in an add-on bathroom by a former owner who did things on the cheap, it was plastic and covered with styrofoam. Although I wasn’t selling vegetables anymore, I had gotten used to having a washing station and wanted to put together another one. Sometime over the years, I had found a stainless steel free-standing sink at a yard sale. Two years ago I put it in the garden and plumbed it to a hose (drinking- water-safe) from a pipe sticking out the back. That gave me running water without holding a hose! I could still collect the water from the sink in buckets. One of the greatest things about a garden washing station is being able to use the wash water to water the garden.  These days, I’m not washing loads of lettuce, but I am washing and cutting produce for the solar dryers. Some of my best days are when I can pick, wash, and cut the produce and load it in the drying trays, right in the garden. I feel the fresh air and hear the birds singing. The produce never comes in the house until I take it off the dryer trays and put it in the jars. I suppose I could do that in the garden, also, and clean the trays in the garden sink.

My first set-up was on the east side of the garden with morning shade from a nearby maple tree. I was usually done washing in the morning by 10:30am and didn’t begin harvest in the evening until 6:30 pm, when the sun began to be softened by the trees on the other side of the garden. If I used that space during the heat of the day, it was to quickly rinse tomatoes, peppers, or beans before bringing them to the porch.  To provide some protection from the sun in my new space, we recently built a structure out of bamboo. This thing may not last long, although I’m hoping to get at least a year out of it. We had bamboo we had to clear out, so we thought we’d have some fun. It will help us decide how we want a permanent structure when we get around to it. The permanent one will most likely have a tin roof.

Santa Cruz garden washing station-BLOGIn 2001 we visited the gardens at the University of California-Santa Cruz and found this washing station. Having it against a building makes it easier to add a roof. A wall provides a place to hang things, such as colanders, and maybe shelf space. I know of one market gardener who had added a roofed, room-sized area behind her garage for washing and packing. It was open on three sides and it had a door into the garage where she stored the produce in refrigerators. If you are selling produce, be sure to plan a space for sorting and packing and for the packing materials. Taking over the family porch for that, although convenient, is not always the best thing to do.

Anyone out there with a garden washing station you’d like to tell us about?

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tomato juice and soup-BLOG

tomato juice and soup

Almost everyone grows tomatoes and eventually has enough to preserve for later. I’m interested in using the least energy to get my food to the table and have been using my solar dryers as much as possible. Sometimes with tomatoes, however, I have too many for the dryers, the weather is threatening rain, or I just need to get these tomatoes through my kitchen in a hurry.

When the kids were growing up, I used to can a lot of spaghetti sauce. I would add garlic, onions, basil, parsley or celery, and peppers, all from the garden, and cook that sauce down for a couple hours before canning it. I did that on the days with the most tomatoes. On the days with a lesser harvest, I would can tomato juice or tomato soup. The juice would be used as a base for soup. I could use a quart of juice and throw in all sorts of vegetables and leftover meat. Of course, you could also just drink the juice.

Now that I’m drying tomatoes, I use the dried ones for spaghetti sauce and have become spoiled. I no longer have a kettle of tomatoes boiling away in my kitchen on hot summer days. By choice, we don’t have air conditioning in our house and are very aware of anything emitting heat. But still, there are those days when I have to resort to canning tomatoes. When you look up tomatoes in the canning books, they tell you the first step is to dip them in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then in cold water to remove the skins. I have never thought that was a good idea. Talk about heating up the kitchen! You would only want to do that if, for some reason, you needed to have whole tomatoes in your jars. If you are making sauce there is no need to keep them whole.

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Foley Food Mill

I acquired a Foley Food Mill early on in my canning days to make applesauce with and it works perfect for putting the tomatoes through to remove the skins and seeds. The tomatoes need to be quartered and cooked till soft to go through the Foley mill. You put them in the top, stir it around and the juice comes out the bottom. You need to dump the skins and seeds in a container and fill the hopper again. It is a handy tool to have in your kitchen. Mine hangs from the rack with my pots and pans. In the photo, it is being used on a pan on the stove. That burner is not on, it is just more convenient to use it there because the pot with the tomatoes was still hot.

I use tomato juice to make the tomato soup I can, a favorite for lunch, especially when a friend or one of our grown children stops by. It is all ready to heat and eat. Once the juice is made there is minimal preparation to make the soup, which is then put in the jars and  run through the canner. In the first photo you can see jars of tomato juice and soup on my basement shelves. My recipe is based on one that came from our county cannery back in the mid-1980’s. I’ve posted it on my recipe page here.

Victorio strainer-BLOG

Victoria Strainer

The Foley mill works great, but you have to cook the tomatoes first. That’s hot work, but not as hot as dipping them in boiling water to remove the skins. In 1986 I bought a Victorio Strainer. I see they are still available today, as are any parts you might need. You only need to quarter the tomatoes and put them through raw. I’ve been using it with the small Principe Borghese tomatoes I have and I just wash them and put them through, no cutting needed.  With the Victorio strainer the skins and seeds separate out to a container as you continue to put the tomatoes in. No need to dump anything out in the process, as with the Foley mill. The tomatoes are never heated until the juice is heated to put into the jars or made into soup. That’s our daughter Betsy working on her tomatoes with the Victorio.

But what if you’ve canned enough soup and juice for the year and you still have more tomatoes than you know what to do with? You can put up more juice to be made into spaghetti sauce later. This is where your other dried veggies can be useful. Use your limited solar dryer space to dry okra, zucchini, peppers, onions, parsley, celery, and anything else you might want to put in spaghetti sauce. I didn’t mention garlic because I just store that as it is for the year and have cloves whenever I need them. I didn’t mention basil either. It is a staple in spaghetti sauce, but it doesn’t go through the dryer. I hang it in my kitchen until dry, then store the basil leaves in jars. When you want a thick spaghetti sauce, combine the juice with the dried veggies and herbs, give it all a whirl in the blender and cook it for a short time-maybe simmer for five minutes or so. If you have time, let it set a little longer to let the flavors blend. Your sauce can be ready by the time your pasta is cooked and the table is set.

This is an opportunity to get really creative. You can add different things for different dishes. The okra or zucchini is the secret to getting thick sauce in a hurry. If you don’t add okra or zucchini, you will have to do more cooking, however, cooking down a quart of sauce takes much less time than cooking down a couple gallons of sauce. If you have enough dried tomatoes, you could add some of those, also.

tomato juice-gallon jars-BLOG

tomato juice in gallon jars

Okay, maybe you think all that might be a good idea, but you still just want to can spaghetti sauce. You could juice the tomatoes and put them in the fridge overnight. The solids will separate out from the “tomato water”. You can preserve the “tomato water” to add to soups throughout the year. Use what is left to cook down in a shorter time for sauce. The photo shows two gallon jars with juice from the Foley Food Mill and the Victorio Strainer after they’ve spent the night in the refrigerator. For some reason, the juice settles out with the “water “on top with one method and on the bottom with the other. That relatively clear liquid is what is being boiled away when you cook your sauce down.

Tomatoes can be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner. Since I have a pressure canner, I use that, but when I started canning, all I had was the water bath. Make sure you follow all the safety guidelines whenever you can anything.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource and has the book Complete Guide to Home Canning available as a free download. The print edition can be ordered. The book So Easy to Preserve is available for order from the same website at http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/. That book includes freezing and drying.

I hope I have given you some helpful ideas. Have fun and stay cool!

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