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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable lifestyles’

Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

For some years now, during the Fridays in Lent, I have been only consuming what I’ve grown myself in my garden. You can read about my previous Homegrown Fridays here. I know from experience that this takes some concentration and dedication each Friday that I do this. We usually have something at a meal that comes from our garden or from a farmer we know personally, but limiting the meal to only what I’ve grown means no dairy products, no vinegar on the greens, and no olive oil. Also, this time of year if I’ve run out of potatoes and onions I have to buy them from the grocery store—something I’m not happy with. Last year, in spite of being terrifically busy writing Grow a Sustainable Diet, I kept to the Homegrown Fridays eating only what I had grown. This year I am deep into writing another book—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. I really want to keep the momentum going on this newest book and decided to be kinder to myself and not be so distracted on Friday. Also, maybe if I back off a little on my self-imposed rules, others will find it more doable. Last year on my Homegrown Fridays 2013 post I invited comments from anyone who had tried the same thing and had no takers.

I’m still sticking to eating something that I’ve grown at each meal on the Fridays in Lent, unless I’m traveling and eating away from home. This year, however, the meals might also include some other ingredients. The stored staple crops I have available are the same as before—sweet potatoes, cowpeas, corn for cornmeal, garlic, peanuts, and maybe hazelnuts and walnuts. There are also greens from the garden, eggs from the chickens, dried and canned produce, and mead. Check my past Homegrown Fridays for examples of meals from only these ingredients.

This year I have some new additions. We made grape juice from our grapes in 2013. Not a lot, but some to save for Homegrown Friday breakfasts. Breakfast is still by the old rules. I have cornmeal mush cooked in water, rather than milk. The honey I put on it is a gift from my friend Angela’s bees (okay, so I bent the old rules a bit for breakfast since it’s not my honey). Our bees did not survive the winter in 2013 and, being so busy, we didn’t replace them. However, new bees are arriving this week. Yeah!

I tried a new corn in 2013 and find I like the taste a little better than Bloody Butcher. Floriani Red Flint corn didn’t yield as well as my tried-and-true Bloody Butcher that I’ve been growing for more than twenty years, so I’ll be working with it to see what I can do. I’ll be planting both varieties in 2014. When I first planted Bloody Butcher I had also planted a yellow variety that I don’t remember the name of. Bloody Butcher did much better than the yellow corn, so that’s what I stuck with. Since Floriani Red Flint and Bloody Butcher are both red corns, I was surprised at the difference in color when I ground them into cornmeal. You can see in the photo that Floriani Red Flint is yellow and the Bloody Butcher cornmeal is purple, which I was already familiar with.

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

Changing the rules gives me the opportunity to tell you about my dried tomatoes in olive oil. When I dry tomatoes in my solar dryers, sometimes there are ones that aren’t quite dry when the rest are. I put the not-quite-dry ones in a jar of olive oil that I keep in the refrigerator, adding tomatoes as I get them. An easy and tasty dish is to sauté a cut-up onion in the olive oil from that jar, along with some of the tomatoes. Add some cooked cowpeas until they’re heated through and there’s lunch. I often refer to those tomatoes as flavor bites and add them to scrambled eggs and quiche.

blessing_130516_A1-198x300If you’ve enjoyed following my Homegrown Fridays, you are going to love reading Blessing the Hands that Feed Us by Vicki Robin. If her name sounds familiar, you may know her as co-author of Your Money or Your Life. I read Blessing the Hands that Feed Us when it came out in January this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Robin limited her diet to what was grown within 10 miles of her home for a month! It all began when a friend wanted to find someone to feed from her garden for a month and Robin, who refers to sustainability as an extreme sport, offered to give it a try. Before starting on this adventure she put some thought into it and decided to widen her diet to the ten miles to include dairy, eggs, and meat, but the bulk of her meals came from her friend’s garden. She allowed what she referred to as exotics—oil, lemons and limes, salt, a few Indian spices, and caffeine–which enhanced her meals. Giving yourself limits like this doesn’t so much limit you as it does open your heart and mind to so many more issues at hand. If you include exotics, how are the workers responsible for growing them and bringing them to you being treated? How is the soil that grows these things being treated? The food you get from local growers—how is it grown and are the growers getting a fair return for their labor, knowledge, and care? Is the treatment of the soil your food is grown in building the ecosystem for those living nearby and for the earth community at large?

One of the things that Robin brought up in her book was that as we go forth in these changing times we need to be operating out of love and not fear. I talked about that same thing in Grow a Sustainable Diet. Both books also talk about community. We do not live in a vacuum, needing to provide all of our own needs. Yes, on Homegrown Fridays I explore what it would be like if my diet only consisted of what I’d grown myself. I do that to bring my own focus to what is really important to me and examine what I really need. It deepens my appreciation for what I eat all the other days of the year and for the people and the land that supply what I can’t. When Angela gave me that quart of honey last summer, I truly valued it, knowing that my homegrown supply from the previous year would be running out. My Lenten Homegrown Fridays begin the thought process about what it would take to go forth in a peaceful, loving way that treasures all of life.Homeplace Earth

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homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

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GrowSustDiet~Cat100%25My new book Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed  ourselves and the earth is now available through my website at HomeplaceEarth.com. The home page contains two recently added preview videos about our DVDs. The purchase page contains more information about the book, plus the “add to cart” button to buy it.

You’ll find more information about what this book is about at my August 13, 2013 post  Grow a Sustainable Diet–the Book! 

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VA 100 mile map - BLOGWhen I taught the class Four Season Food Production at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the first project of the semester was a 100 Mile Food Plan. Working in groups, the students were to imagine their food supply was going to be disrupted and their only food, beginning January 1, was going to be from local sources. The project was due in mid-September, so they were to feel fortunate that they had this heads-up months in advance. In real life disruptions occur with increasing frequency with no advance warning. They would have to source their food within a 100 mile radius of where they lived.

The students would need to find sources for winter food and be able to store it or preserve it now. Or, they would need to know a farm where they could buy it as needed, since the grocery stores would be closed. They could grow it themselves, of course, but that would take awhile and winter was coming on. This was a year-long plan, so growing it themselves would be planned in. If the animal products in their plan depended on feed shipped in and not grown locally, that would be a consideration.

My intent in assigning this project was to acquaint them with the local food system. I wanted to get them out to the farmers markets to talk with the farmers and find out what was available. I also wanted them to think about exactly what it was they ate and how much they needed for a year. They received extra credit if they brought in a highway map of Virginia with their location pinpointed and circles at 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles away. It had to be a highway map so that it showed all the localities. When they first thought of this 100 mile limit, many students thought it would severely limit their choices until they actually put the circles on a map. Even if you are not familiar with Virginia, you can see from my map that there are mountains on the left and the ocean on the right—all within 100 miles from my house as the crow flies. The area goes north into Maryland and dips into North Carolina to the south. Make a map of your own and see what you would have to choose from.

This project sure was an ice-breaker. One thing that always happened in my classes was that people talked to each other. Each group had to assess the strengths of each of its members. Someone may have land available for future growing and others may have money, tools, skills, storage facilities, or muscle to contribute to each “community”. They would need to show on a chart what foods they found and where, how much they would need of each food for the year for their group, and how it would be stored or preserved. I also wanted their comments on what strengths and weaknesses they found in our present local food system. This generated plenty of discussion about what would happen if everyone had to suddenly depend on these local sources and what, if any, changes in their lifestyle and diet this project encouraged. I always enjoyed the interaction among everyone. I remember one group that had both a long-time vegan and a young woman whose family ate mostly meat.  When you are planning for a community, everyone must be considered.

Ashland Market SignWhen I first started teaching at the college in 1999, farmers markets were few and far between. It amazes me how many there are in 2013, with the number growing each year. I was one of the founding farmers of the Ashland Farmers Market. I stopped selling vegetables after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching in order to put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets. The produce, meat, eggs, and honey sold at the Ashland market must have been grown within a 30 mile radius of the town. If shown as a circle on my map, it would be just outside the inner circle. Most markets don’t have such a limit. Besides farmers markets, there are many other options for people to connect with local growers. You can find sources for food grown in your area by checking www.localharvest.org.

The two items my students had the hardest time finding were grains and cooking oil. There was much discussion about the possibility of making oil from the black walnuts that are prevalent in the area. That was before the Piteba, a home-scale oil press, was available. Even with that press, I’m sure the novelty of making oil from walnuts would wear off quickly. There was also much discussion about a source for salt. To really learn, you need to begin with questions and my students generated lots of questions while doing this project. You are probably familiar with Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a story of one family eating locally for a year. Once that book came out in 2007, many people began to think seriously about where their food comes from. About the same time, the book Plenty by Canadians Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon was published. This couple had fewer resources than Kingsolver’s family did. They ate a lot of potatoes and tried their hand at sauerkraut which smelled up their small apartment. I encourage you to read both books.

It can be quite a shock to your system to change your food supply suddenly. It is much better to ease into it and make changes gradually if you want them to last. The change needs to start in your mind, and that’s why I had my students do this project. I didn’t expect them to come up with all the answers to a plan that could be implemented right away. That would take much more planning. I did expect them to begin to question their diets and food sources. It certainly got them to focus the rest of the semester on actually growing their own food.

The next project was on cover crops and then there was one about designing a season extension structure to cover a 100 ft² bed. Although it was not required to build the structure they designed, many students did and managed to get it planted that fall. With the first project, all agreed that if we actually had to depend solely on local supplies, there would not be enough food for everyone. With that in mind, they went ahead and built their structure. For the last project, each student was assigned a vegetable and had to write a newsletter about it as if they were a farm and this was their featured product for sale. I left the college in 2010 to be able to address a larger community. The classes continue with my daughter Betsy Trice as the instructor. Betsy has put her own spin on the classes, but she still assigns the 100 Mile Food Plan. If all the grocery stores were to close on January 1, where would your food come from?Homeplace Earth

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trowels in old mailbox

trowels in old mailbox

I am a long-time subscriber to Growing For Market, a monthly publication for folks selling produce and other farm products. Although 2001 was my last year to sell produce, I kept my subscription up-to-date because I was teaching market growing at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. I left that position in May 2010, but still maintain my subscription because I continue to find the information helpful. When I read ‘Lean’ Principles Applied to a Farm by Ben Hartman in the May 2013 issue, the wheels in my head couldn’t stop spinning, reminding me of all the things that I had experienced along that line that are helpful to me.

You could search “lean business principles” on the internet and come up with lots of background information. In his article, Hartman explains how taking stock of what was happening on his farm, in the light of “lean” principles, helped him have a more efficient and profitable business. I remember hearing Joel Salatin, many years ago, speak about the importance of regularly reading books about business if you are involved in the business of farming. I know–people don’t like to think of mixing business and the pleasure of farming and gardening–but this is a way of examining what you are doing and making it better. The end result, hopefully, is a more relaxed and enjoyable you.

I urge anyone wanting to sell produce from their farm someday to learn to grow as much as they can of their total food needs first, fine-tuning the timing and quantity to their family’s needs. With a good garden plan, you will know what to expect and when to expect it. You’ll also learn how much you can produce in the area you are working with. When you do decide to grow for more than your family, you will have an idea of how much area you will need, when things will be ready and how much you would have to sell. You can also anticipate if you will need to change methods or add equipment. Your garden plan is your business plan for the business of managing the food production for your household. My DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan can help you with that. You might also take a look at my blog posts Keeping Garden Records and Making a Garden Map.

peanut plants in wood flats

peanut plants in wood flats

The first suggestion in Hartman’s article is to get rid of anything not necessary for your operation. I remember when I was a market grower and made the decision to standardize my operation and only use wooden flats that I’d made from recycled wood to start seeds. I had been using a variety of recycled plastic containers to start seeds in. What I cleaned out of my shed filled half of my 8’ long pickup bed. My shed was cleaner and I loved using the wooden flats.

garden map and sickle storage

garden map and sickle storage

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is a common mantra for anyone becoming better organized. It’s also important for a lean operation, whether for your business or household. I keep my garden maps on a clipboard and have found that if I hang it up, rather than leave it around the house or on my desk, I can find it much easier. I keep it on a nail on the side of a cabinet that I store seeds and garden supplies in. Just below it I hang my sickle, so that I know where it is and for safety reasons because it is so sharp. When I get a garden shed built, the sickle will live there. Some people go so far as to outline their tools on the wall where they are hanging up. That way if something is missing, they readily know what it is and can begin looking for it. I have an old mailbox in my garden to hold trowels and small garden tools. As long as I make sure to put them back there, I can find them in an instant.

The article mentioned keeping work stations clean. Having a defined work station in the garden is something that is often late in coming. Gardeners are too used to picking, then hauling everything to the house. You will get some ideas for making a work station for cleaning your produce in your garden from my post Garden Washing Station. Having a garden washing station allows me to wash and prepare the produce and load it onto the screens that go directly into my solar dryers. That food never enters the house until it is ready to be put away in jars as dried food. Water, dirt and trimmings stay in the garden.

Having a standardize measurement to compare each part of your operation, in this case different crops, is the best way to know what is profitable (in $ or in time) and what is not. The basic measurement I use is pounds harvested per hundred square feet. To take that further would be to factor in the months it took to reach that harvest. If you are growing to fill canning jars, you might measure the harvest in how many quarts filled — or as a market grower, how much money you can make per hour of harvesting. Eventually you realize you can’t do everything and will make decisions about what to keep on with and what not to do anymore. In a market operation, the amount of money to be made comes in high on the priorities for making those decisions. In a household operation, matters of the heart might be higher on the priorities list than potential income.

Another suggestion in the article was to “level the load” — spread out tasks over time, so as not to be overwhelmed. If you are already overwhelmed with a family and a garden, just imagine how it would be if you added selling produce to the mix. Begin now to look at what you are doing in all aspects of your life to see how you could adjust your tasks for a more even flow of your personal energy. Rules we seem to establish for ourselves, for whatever reasons, are not so rigid that they can’t be changed.  Sometimes it is only our minds that need changing — how we choose to perceive things.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. The frog stays there until it is cooked because it doesn’t realize what is happening. If you drop the frog into water that is already boiling, it will jump out. If the waters of your life are heating up, jump back now and take a look at what is going on and make some adjustments in what you are doing. You will be happier and so will your family and friends. Of course, everything doesn’t always go as planned and complications are bound to pop up. Somewhere I came across this saying — Life is not about weathering the storm, but dancing in the rain. I hope to find you dancing.Homeplace Earth

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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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  1. BB corn-BLOGHave you ever wondered how much space it would take to grow your food? Maybe you’ve wondered just how much space it would take to grow all of a certain crop to have enough for the year. The answer to both questions is–it depends. It depends on what you want to eat and how you are growing it. John Jeavons asked what was the least space needed to grow all one’s food more than forty years ago and has been working on the answer ever since, including the sustainability aspect. You need to consider the soil and grow soil building crops along with your food crops. I wrote an article that is in the new (Oct/Nov 2012) issue of Mother Earth News called A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency. It includes planning charts for vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. There is an additional chart online for oilseeds. You can find the article and charts online, however it all looks much nicer in the magazine. You can use that article to begin your own planning.

The charts with the article show estimates of yields you might get if you follow the GROW BIOINTENSIVE® principles explained in Jeavons book How To Grow More Vegetables. I follow those methods, so my blog posts and videos will give you additional understanding of how to put GROW BIOINTENSIVE into practice. The charts also have a column showing the average yields in the U.S. for conventional production. These figures are guidelines for you to use in your planning, but in reality, what you really need to know is how much you can grow in your soil, in your climate, with your schedule, etc, etc. In other words, there are a lot of variables. My suggestion is to just jump right in and get growing. Learn as you go, see what you can do, then improve your skills and soil each year.

In 1997-98 I had a small CSA and decided to include snap beans in the offerings. I had already been selling vegetables to two local restaurants for five years, so I was attuned to doing a trial and estimating the harvest, or so I thought. I had grown a bed of beans in the garden close to the house and had measured the yield and recorded the time it took to harvest, wash and pack. I set my price according to those figures. The crop for sale, however, was planted in another garden on our property, in beds that had not been in production for as long and had not received the mulch and compost over the years that my trial bed had. The yield was not as high and it took longer to pick the same amount of beans, since each grab brought a few beans, rather than a handful. It was definitely a lesson learned. Knowing what I had achieved with the trial bed, however, gave me hope for the newer garden and a yield to aim for.

If you really want to provide a significant portion of your food from your garden you would be looking at growing things that fill you up, so you would be thinking about growing calories. In Jeavons book there are columns in his Master Charts that show how many calories, and how much calcium, and protein are in each pound of food for each crop. Consider corn. If you are already growing sweet corn, using the beginning biointensive yield of 17 pounds of kernels per 100 square feet, you would have 6,800 calories of food in that 17 pounds. If you grew flour corn-corn for cornmeal- and achieved the beginning biointensive yield of 11 pounds of dry kernels, you would have produced 18,216 calories in 100 square feet of garden space. Of course, the sweet corn, depending on the variety, might have been ready to harvest 3-4 weeks earlier than the four corn. The corn stalks provide important carbon for your compost pile. If you grew sweet corn, it is to your benefit to leave the stalks standing for 4 weeks after the harvest of the ears, giving them a chance to produce more lignin. If you were doing that, you might as well grow flour corn.

There is nothing like growing staple crops.  In her book, The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe talks of growing five staple crops that “you need to survive and thrive”. Those crops are corn, beans, potatoes, squash, and eggs. (She prefers duck eggs). Deppe has to avoid gluten, making corn her grain of choice. She even includes her recipe for cornbread that has no wheat flour in it.

beans-dried and canned--BLOGFor fun, let’s take a look at beans. If you grow snap beans and achieve the beginning biointensive yield, you would have 30 pounds of beans from a 100 square foot bed. Those 30 pounds of snaps would give you 4,230 calories. If you grew those beans all the way out to dry seeds, the beginning biointensive yield is 4 pounds of dried seed, giving you a yield of 6,152 calories in the same space. Of course, they would be in the bed longer and you would have to keep the bean beetles from taking out the plants before they reached dried seed stage. One great advantage of growing dried beans is that they don’t need to be cannned. Just put the dried beans in a jar and store them in your pantry. Cowpeas are my dried bean of choice. They grow better for me to dry seed than other types of beans and the bean beetles ignore them. Find out what grows best in your area. At Ecology Action in Willits, California, pinto beans grow well. I have never been successful with growing pinto beans to seed here.

This should widen your thinking as you make notes for next year’s garden. Some more thoughts about planning a diet of homegrown foods are at my post On Growing All Your Own Food. I was recently at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, and at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello in Virgnia the weekend before that. It was encouraging for me to meet so many people who are anxious to learn to grow their food. It proves there is hope for the world, after all. We are living in exciting times and we need to embrace that. Enjoy the adventure!

 

Find more on Planning for Eating at http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/planning-for-eating.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.

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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.

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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.

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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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