Archive for November, 2011

It has been an interesting and fun year with the solar food dryers.  As you can see from the picture, I made a summer home for my solar dryers in my garden, laying down pavers which can be easily moved if I change my mind.  That area is 44 feet north of a maple tree.  It got plenty of sun throughout the summer, but in September the shade started to creep in and I had to move the dryers.  When the dryers were in the garden, we didn’t have to worry about mowing around them.  Although I had a grill cover for the small one, I usually left it uncovered out in the weather.  Now, it is in its winter home in the barn with the grill cover on to keep it clean.  The large one will be moved back to the garden, wintering there, ready for next summer.  For information about the cost of these dryers and how I made them, take a look at my post on May 31, 2011.

I had the privilege of having the solar food dryer from Acorn Community in Mineral, VA at my place for comparison.  As you can see, it is similar to my larger dryer.  It has a deeper angle to the collector and the collector box is shallower.  Also, the back legs fold up under the collector, which made it easy to transport in my pickup.  It seemed to heat up a little quicker in the morning than my large dryer, but other than that, they worked pretty much the same.  I assume the steeper angle of the collector caught that early sun. I had it here in early August.  I imagine that steeper angle would have made even more of a difference if I was using it in September and October when the sun was lower in the sky.  My solar oven has a leg in the back that can be adjusted to raise the oven to more of an angle to catch the sun.  I needed to do that during these fall months.  

My friends Susan and Molly, and daughter Betsy decided they each wanted to build a dryer this summer.  We had a series of work days to accomplish that.  If you want to build one, get a friend involved.  It’s a lot more fun and it helps to work out the challenges that are sure to pop up.  Susan added handles on the sides of hers to make it easier to move around.  I like that and would do it if I didn’t occasionally have to load mine in the car to take it somewhere.  On my large dryer, I had a piece of plywood across the handles to make a shelf to put the trays on when I was moving them in and out. 


Those handles of Susan’s made a built-in support to rest the trays on.  When not in use, Susan kept her dryer in a covered work area.  Molly kept hers on the front porch and brought it out in the yard to use it.  There are so many trees where Betsy lives, she put hers in the middle of a field to avoid shading.


  Before she had it at that location she had some problems with ants crawling up the legs.  She moved it to the field and put it on a pallet and had no more problem with ants.  Just in case, she put Vasoline on the legs to stop the ants. It promptly melted in the summer heat and ran off.  Betsy’s dryer stayed out in the weather for the rest of the summer.  They finished their dryers in July.  Another friend made one, following the directions in The Solar Food Dryer book.  His only regret was that he didn’t make it sooner.


We all enjoyed success and agreed we are all still learning.  July had 5 inches of rain and August had 6 inches, with the accompanying humidity.  Most summers are drier.  You can never predict, so it is good to have a variety of food preservation methods to use.  Of course, the best way to eat your food is straight from the garden all year.  So, we have carrots in the ground and row covers over collards and kale now in late November.  Garlic and onions from summer harvest are stored, along with sweet potatoes, winter squash, and any Irish potatoes that may be left. 

I found that I didn’t have much success with green beans in the solar dryer.  They are so easy to pressure can and the home-canned beans have been my convenience food for a long time, so I think I’ll stick to canning the beans.  I used to can spaghetti sauce using my tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, garlic, and onions.  I would check through my onions and use the ones that wouldn’t store as well.  Now that I dry most of my tomatoes, I have turned to drying those onions that need to be used first.  I determine that by pushing my thumb into the center of the onion where the top comes out.  The hardest ones, with no give, are set aside to braid and store for winter use.  The softest ones are used first in spaghetti sauce and summer cooking, and now, solar drying.  They dry beautifully, as do peppers.  I chop the peppers before I dry them.  Of course, we used fresh peppers from the garden until frost, which was not until Oct. 30 this year.  I had some Ruffled Hungarian peppers that were loaded in late October and I chopped up some for the freezer.  We still have a few green peppers in the crisper drawer of the fridge from that last harvest. By choice, we only have the freezer space above our refrigerator, so I don’t depend on it for preserving the harvest, but it was nice to put some late peppers in there.  The peppers dried through the summer will be used as needed this winter and spring.  

We bought two bushels of apples from an orchard in late September.  I solar dried several loads of them, filled the crisper drawers in the fridge, and left the remaining ones in a basket on the porch.  Once the basket was empty, we started using the ones in the fridge, which are half gone now.  When those are used, I’ll get into the dried apples.  They are great for applesauce or to eat as is.  Peaches dried quicker than the pears I tried.  I bought the peaches from an orchard.  I made raisins from both seedless grapes and ones with seeds.  I cut the grapes in half first, so they don’t look like the raisins from the store.  I would like to propagate more vines from my seedless variety for raisins so that I don’t have to cut out the seeds like I did with the second variety.  That variety with the seeds made great mead with our honey.  Each variety has its best uses. Sorry, I planted those two vines years ago and don’t remember the names of the varieties.

Tomatoes are a given for solar drying, however, since you could have a bumper crop and the climate doesn’t always cooperate, you may want to have alternate plans.  I like to can tomato soup, another convenience food, and it doesn’t require long cooking down like spaghetti sauce.  Tomato juice is easy and relatively quick to can, not heating the kitchen up too much.  It can be used in so many dishes.

This year I had a harvest from some of the filbert trees I planted in 2007.  I was busy when the harvest was coming in and I didn’t want to lose them on the ground or to the squirrels, so I harvested some of the nut clusters when they were on the tree.  Wanting to make sure they were dry, I put them in the dryers.  I grew some cotton this year and got it in later than planned.  Some of the bolls still hadn’t opened when the frost killed the plants.  I put those bolls in the solar dryers and many of them opened.  Another time I used them to dry seeds.  I was happy to find so many uses for these dryers so late in the season.  Having the dryers out in the garden ready to go, I used them as often as I could.  Next year, I want to dry more okra, raisins, and onions, among other things.  It would be nice to grow some mushrooms for drying.    This winter I want to experiment with sauce and soup mixes from my dried supply for quick meals. 

 How did all of you do?  Anyone make a solar dryer and use it?

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Liebster Award–Thanks!

Back in September, Shanon Hilton named me for a Liebster Award.  Thanks Shanon!  I had never heard of a Liebster Award, but soon found out that in the blogging world it is a way to recognize blogs that you like.  Copying from Shanon’s blog here’s what it’s about:

The Liebster is awarded to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. ‘Liebster’ is a German word meaning dear, sweet, kind, nice, good, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. What a gift to be awarded with such kindness! Now for the rules:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all – have fun!

Shanon has the blog http://www.foodfarmhealth.ca/.  She has a small child with multiple food allergies and is a gardener.  As you can imagine, food is a big deal in her household.  I know that some of you out there have food issues and will find her blog and the links there interesting. Okay, now I have to choose five blogs to pass on the Liebster Award to.  That’s why I haven’t responded until now.  I don’t get around in the blog world much and I’ve been kind of busy this fall, but my cover crops are in now, so I have time to think about it. This does sound something like a chain letter and to those that I name here, it’s okay with me if you don’t pass it on.  That said, there are readers out there who would like to know about you anyway, so my picks are:

1.  Dan and Margo Royer-Miller and their Circle of the Sun blog.  Dan and Margo spent years studying GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-farming at Ecology Action and Golden Rule Farm in California.  Now they are in Ohio going it on their own.

2.  Justin Cutter and Nick Runckle converted a truck into a traveling garden education center and have been touring the country powered by used veggie oil.  You can follow them at www.compassgreenproject.org.

3.  Every community needs a blog talking about local food and Richmond, VA has the Richmond Food Collective.  You will enjoy what they write about, but beware, the pictures will make you hungry.

4.  Contrary to what some of us might think, there’s more to life than food.  When I was contemplating having a blog, my friend Vicki Welsh gave a talk to our quilt group about starting a blog.  That was a great help to me–I literally took notes.  Field Trips in Fiber is Vicki’s blog about adventures in quilting, hand dyed fabric, and fiber art.  I’m bending the “rules” a bit here because I see Vicki has more than 200 followers, but take a look and have some fun. 

5.  I have some cotton that I have grown in 2011 and before.  I’m ready to learn how to spin it and came across http://www.newenglandsimpleliving.com/spinningcottonhandspindle.htm which led me to the blog at www.newenglandsimpleliving.blogspot.com.  I appreciate the cotton spinning tutorial.   Have a look around her site.  There are some interesting things there. 

Cindy in MENF 2011 booth

Cindy, there for the people, at the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania

I looked at many of my favorite websites to include,  but they didn’t have blogs with them.  I’m still getting used to communicating across the world on the internet.  I prefer communicating face to face, but I’m open to learning new tricks.  I have to admit, of these five blogs, except for the last one, I either know the people who write these blogs personally or we have mutual friends.  My husband, who only follows my blog and that’s because he proofreads it, thinks that maybe I should get out more among the bloggers. 

I only joined Facebook when I was ready to start a blog because I knew that people liked to spread the word with Facebook.  Daughter Betsy sat at my side and helped me through that experience.  Don’t bother trying to friend me on Facebook, but you are welcome to sign on as a fan of Homeplace Earth, LLC.  Musician Tim Barry, one of the members of the Homeplace Earth Gang (those in our garden plan video), has over 5,000 Facebook fans!  Tim has given me some pointers and some of his fans are Homeplace Earth fans, also.  Gardening is the equalizer that brings so many different people together.  One of the great things about teaching at the community college all those years is that I met so many diverse and wonderful people.  Now I’m spending time meeting a larger community across the web.  I enjoy your comments and ideas–it shows me that someone is listening. 

There are many great blogs out there.  I made my picks from those that I know, that have great pictures, and that are current.  Being old-school, books are still tops on my list for getting information, but blogs are a great way for people to connect and exchange ideas.  I hope you enjoy my top five picks.  In my next post in two weeks (November 29, 2011)  I’ll give you an update on the solar food dryers.  See you then and enjoy your Thanksgiving!

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John Jeavons at Eastern Mennonite University October 2008

John Jeavons, Director of Ecology Action in California, will be presenting a 3-Day Workshop at the Pratt Institute on January 6-8, 2012.  This workshop will focus on the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming methods developed by John and the Ecology Action staff over the past 40 years.  You can find more information about this workshop at http://www.johnjeavons.info/

 When I was learning to garden back in the 70’s, I had read John’s book How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV) along with all the other organic gardening information available at the time.  I gained skills and knowledge over the years, first growing food to keep my family healthy, then expanding as a market gardener, growing food for my community.  Since I was the only organic grower most people knew, I would get a lot of questions.  In fact, the cooperative extension office used to refer people to me.  Out of self defense, I began teaching through our county parks and recreation program in 1998 and at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) in Goochland, VA in 1999.  Those classes are the Sustainable Agriculture Program offered there now.  I left the college in 2010, but the classes continue with our daughter, Betsy Trice, as the instructor. 

How To Grow More Vegetables....5th edition

When I began teaching, I was bringing together a lot of material from various sources.  About that time I came across a copy of the 5th edition of HTGMV in a used bookstore.  I was pleased to see the ongoing research on sustainability.  Just what I needed for my classes!  I took a new look at what John Jeavons was doing at Ecology Action and discovered their teacher certification program.  All the better!  The requirements are outlined in Ecology Action’s Booklet #30 which is available for download at www.growbiointensive.org or in print form from Bountiful Gardens catalog. 

John Jeavons at 3 Day Workshop at Wilson College October, 2000.

The first steps to becoming a GROW BIOINTENSIVE teacher are to attend a 3-Day Workshop and keep the appropriate records.  I began keeping the records and attended the workshop in Pennsylvania in October 2000.  At that workshop I became more aware of the world situation and began thinking more about my diet, crop choices, and how I could best feed back the soil.  The GROW BIOINTENSIVE method includes eight aspects:  1. Deep soil preparation:  2. Compost;  3. Close plant spacing;  4. Open pollinated seeds;  5. Carbon and Calorie Crops;  6. Special Calorie Root Crops:  7. Companion planting and interplanting;  and 8. The Whole System. This is exactly what I needed to be studying and teaching. 

Since 1992, I had been selling vegetables to local restaurants and through a small CSA, and in 1999 helped start our local farmers market.  In those years I was growing A LOT of lettuce to sell, plus the usual vegetables.  To replenish my garden beds I was using lots and lots of leaves for mulch.  Our son, Jarod, has a lawn service and would bring me the leaves.  By 2000 I was beginning to transition to cover cropping the beds over the winter, rather than layering them with leaves.  GROW BIOINTENSIVE offered guidelines for working cover crops and compost into my whole plan.  I began re-thinking crop choices and in 2001 I grew more potatoes, butternut squash, onions, and garlic as market crops and less lettuce, cucumbers and other vegetables.  Also, I was accepted into the teacher workshop at Ecology Action for July 2001 and would be gone for two weeks—one week for the workshop and an additional week of traveling.  Not only did the potatoes, squash, and alliums fit that summer schedule better, I felt that I was offering my customers more power packed nutrition.  By the end of the 2001 growing season, I realized I needed to step away from the markets and concentrate on teaching and researching.  I felt by doing that, I could put more knowledgeable consumers and producers out there.  Fall semester 2001 I had the opportunity to add a Growing for Market class, followed by Complete Diet Mini-farming in the spring.  These classes were in addition to Introduction to Biointensive Mini-farming (spring) and Four Season Food Production (fall).

In the years since, Ecology Action has kept researching and updating their information.  February 7, 2012 is the release date for the 8th edition of HTGMV.  Additional information can be found in the booklets available through Bountiful Gardens.  In addition to what you see there now, Booklet #35 Low Rainfall Food Growing and Booklet #36 will be available in the 2012 catalog.  Booklet #36 “describes a basic experimental model for how to grow all your food, compost, and a modest income on as little as 3,300 sq. ft. at intermediate-level GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming yields.”   It has evolved from Booklet #14 and 25 years of additional experience.  John offers the self-teaching video series GROW BIOINTENSIVE: a beginners guide at www.johnjeavons.info.

pocket notebooks

After incorporating  GROW BIOINTENSIVE in my work, I developed some teaching tools of my own–the videos.  Our filmmaker son, Luke, made that possible.  Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden and Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan are still part of the curriculum at JSRCC and are great for individual or small group learning.  Becoming a certified GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming teacher required a lot of disciplined record keeping.  It didn’t come easily, all that record keeping.  I was already pretty good at making a garden map showing all the crops for the year with rotations planned in.  My in-the-garden method of data collection was to write everything in a small spiral notebook that I carried in my back pocket.  I buy those in quantity at an office supply store.  That was my chronological record and the map was my at-a-glance crop location and planting record.  I would make a “proposed” map and an “actual” map, along with an “ammendments” map.  For the more extensive records I needed to keep on my demonstration area for teacher certification I would transfer the information from the pocket notebooks to a data sheet for each crop, along with yield totals.  That would all go on a yearly summary form.  It does take some adjustment and discipline and you want to be careful not to take on more than you can care for, but the rewards are terrific.  I have learned so much in the process.  The more I learn, however, the more questions I have.  There is always more to learn.

If you want to learn more about GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming and what John Jeavons is up to, I hope you can participate in a 3-Day Workshop.  Besides the one in New York in January, he gives one each March and November at Ecology Action.  If you can’t do a three day workshop maybe you can catch him at the NOFA/MA Winter Conference (www.nofamass.org/conferences/winter/index.php ) on January 14, 2012 or the next day, January 15, at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm.  Pre-reading and pre-registration is required. 

It’s up to you.  It’s your journey.  There are exciting times ahead and we need as many people as possible to help lead others onto the sustainable food-growing path.  First you have to learn to feed yourself, then you can better know how to feed others.  You can begin on your own using all these teaching tools or become more involved with a workshop.  Nevertheless, I hope you welcome the challenge and join us.

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