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Archive for the ‘food preservation’ Category

Onion braids hanging in my shed.

Onion braids hanging in my shed.

I have been writing quite a bit this year about growing cotton and flax, with the idea of taking the fiber all the way to clothes you can wear. Scroll through my posts and you will have enough information to begin working on growing your own clothes. You will be hearing more about fiber in the future, but now I will turn my attention back to food crops.

Onions are a great crop! Plant them at the right time in the spring, harvest them all at the same time, and, if you have grown enough and stored them carefully, you can be eating your homegrown onions all year. Onions grown for storage can become a staple crop for your homegrown diet. Open-pollinated onion varieties good for storage include New York Early and Red Wethersfield, but there are others. Sweet onion varieties, however, do not last as long as the varieties grown for storage. The descriptions in seed catalogs should indicate if a variety will store well or not.

If you have had a problem with the onions you buy at the grocery store sprouting in a relatively short time after you brought them home, you are probably wondering how you could ever keep them long term. Well, the ones you grow are much different from the ones you get at the store, primarily because you can manage them from the time they come out of the ground. Most likely, the store-bought onions have already been kept for a long period in cool conditions and, once they are brought out to room temperature, they are ready to sprout.

onions in fence circle just after harvest

Onions in fence circle just after harvest.

By this time of the year you have probably already harvested your onions, hopefully before the tops died back. If so, you will have them to braid. Onions need to be cured after harvest under conditions with good air circulation. You could lay them out on a screen or board in the shade or lay them out on your barn floor, which is what I used to do before I began putting them on a circle of fencing. I went to the fence circle once I was growing more than my barn floor could accommodate. For each circle, I use a piece of old welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spacings. It sets on two cement blocks in such a way that allows good air circulation up through the middle. It could also be hung from the rafters, which would get it off the floor and provide even greater air circulation. I put each onion in the middle of the circle and pull the green top through the wire to the outside. Those tops will die back in the next couple weeks. Having them on the outside, allows them to dry quicker than if the onions were on the outside of the circle and the tops were inside.

Onions in the fence circle ready to sort.

Onions in the fence circle ready to sort.

Most likely, no matter what you have done with them, you have reached the stage where the onions tops have dried and it has become apparent that not all your onions are going to keep till the spring. It is time to sort through them. Identify the ones to use early and which ones you can keep for later. Hold each onion in your hand and put your thumb over the spot where the top comes out. Press down. If there is much give, put it in the “use now” pile. If it is very hard, set it aside to braid or otherwise store for the long term. If there is just a little give when you press down with your thumb, put it in the “use next” pile, meaning it will be used after the “use now” pile is depleted.

Onions in solar food dryer.

Onions in solar food dryer.

The “use now” onions are what you want to be using as you are canning salsa, spaghetti sauce, or anything else that needs onions this summer. You could also cut them up and put them in a dehydrator. Here is a photo of some onions in my solar dryer. My extra “use now” onions are sitting in a basket on my back porch and that is what I am using for summer cooking. I’ve braided my “use next” onions and labeled the braids so that I will use them before the long term storage braids. For now, all the onion braids are hanging in my garden shed. About mid-October I will transfer them to the crawlspace under our house. I have put nails in the joists just to hang onion and garlic braids through the winter. Even in the coldest times here in central Virginia it never freezes there. You can find details about how to braid onions in my July 28, 2015 post.

There are many ways to manage onions, but this method is what I have found to be most helpful  It is a wonderful feeling to reach the point where you are growing most, if not all, of the onions you will need for the year. The important thing is to not crowd them in a warm place. They need to have air circulation. A story for another day is about using onion skins to make a natural dye. As I use the onions, I save their yellow skins in a mesh bag to use in dyeing. There is much fun to be had from what you can grow in your garden!

Onions have many health benefits, which I wrote about on January 24, 2012. Knowing how healthy onions are for you should prompt you to include onions in your diet as often as possible. Learning to store the onions that you have grown for the long term brings you one step closer to being able to put homegrown meals on the table all year long.homeplace earth logo

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corn sheller box

Corn Sheller Box

Corn is a wonderful crop and I encourage people to grow varieties for cornmeal. In order to do that, you need to grow it out until it has dried on the stalk. The stalk will have dried, also. If you have grown only a small amount you can use your thumbs to push the kernels off the cobs. It doesn’t take much to make you start thinking of easier ways to do that job. I have a corn sheller that I found at an antique mall years ago. Corn shellers need to be attached to something to use them properly. I have mine on a box that I made from scrap wood. Painting it makes it not look so scrappy.

ejecting the cob

The sheller is mounted close to one side so the cob will be ejected away from the box.

My corn sheller box measures 18” wide, 21½” long, and 12” high. I would use different dimensions if I were making a new one and I’ll be telling you about that. You can see that I framed the outside of the short sides in wood, in addition to the plywood for the box. That provides extra support and the top piece is a nice edge to hold onto when I’m carrying it. I carry it with the corn sheller against my body and my hands grasping that top strip on each side. It is more manageable than holding the box by its bottom. There is a 1” x 1” nailing strip on the inside bottom edge of the long sides. This is a sturdy box. The sheller is mounted close to the end on one side so that the cobs are ejected to outside the box. I suppose you could hang a basket on the side to catch them.

corn sheller

When I travel I enjoy stopping at antique malls. It used to be I could find corn shellers for $25 – $30 dollars. I would take them apart and add the necessary bolts and wingnuts, give the moving parts some grease, and resell them to my students at the community college for $30-$35 dollars. One hole for the bolts to attach the sheller to a box is usually accessible, but the other is not. The wheel needs to be removed to be able to put a bolt there.

corn sheller on box

Bolts and wingnuts attach the sheller to the box.

One year I turned over five corn shellers to my students, putting them into the hands of people who would bring them back to life. The price may have gone up some by now, but there are still some good ones out there. Two things to look out for are the tabs that allow you to bolt the sheller to the box and the handle. Sometimes those tabs are broken off and you would have to find an alternate way to attach the sheller to a box—maybe with a clamp. It is nice to have a good wooden handle. Some of the corn shellers I have seen have lost the wood on their handles, leaving only the metal rod. The handle could be replaced with a handle that you can buy to put on a file. You can find old corn shellers on ebay. You will have to pay shipping, but if you aren’t in the mood to shop around at antique malls, maybe you don’t mind that.

The box for my corn sheller is easily stored in the barn with other seed processing equipment in it. Since I shell my corn all at one time in the fall it is only used seasonally. After shelling, the corn is stored in half gallon jars in the pantry. If you have grown corn to feed to livestock and have your year’s supply stored in the corn crib, you might be shelling it out through the year as you need it. At our state fair one year, I saw a corn sheller mounted on a box that had legs tall enough to get a bucket under it. The floor of the box was slanted toward one end. The side at that end had a hole that was covered by a piece of wood that could be slid up to allow the corn to flow into the bucket. That is a handy design, especially if your sheller is used regularly and needs to be a stand-alone piece of equipment.

pan inside corn sheller boxYou do have to think about how to get the corn out of the box. You could tip it on end and pour it out, which is awkward to do. You could reach in with a large kitchen spoon and scoop it out. Flat pancake turners also work to get the corn out of the corners. I used those things until I realized I could put a large pan in there to catch the corn. In the photo you see the pan I use to roast a turkey in at Thanksgiving. It has many other uses, but I bought it for the turkey long ago. It is larger than a large cake pan. If I was to build a new box I would decide what pan I would use to catch the corn and size the box accordingly. A plastic bin would work, also. (Maybe I should look for a pan that fits the box I already have.) In the photo you can see my Bloody Butcher corn in the pan and some kernels that escaped it. After I took the pan out I had to round up those wayward kernels with the pancake turner. The photo shows just how the corn dropped. If the box more closely fit the pan, those stray kernels would have landed in the pan.

Corn shellers are still made, so there are new ones available; but if you can find an old one at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to get it. Don’t let a little rust on one deter you from buying it. Keep your eyes open and you will find a good one that you can use. Happy shelling!homeplace earth

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salsa ingredients for one batchWhen I was first learning to can back in the 1970’s salsa was not on my radar at all. That might be because the canning books I followed didn’t have any recipes for it. Fast forward to the 21st century and there are lots of salsa recipes in the canning books. Salsa is a form of relish and is as easy to make as pickles. It does require some chopping, which I do with a knife; although some people prefer to use a food processor. I can salsa for use later and include vinegar, as you would for other relishes. Recipes for salsa to consume fresh might not include vinegar.

salsa ingredients-choppedThe recipe I use is for Zesty Salsa that I found in the Ball Blue Book from 1998. You can find the same recipe here. The main ingredients are tomatoes, peppers, and onions which I have in my garden. The vegetables you see in the first photo are the ones shown chopped in the second photo—all of which made the 6 pints of salsa in the last photo. Besides tomatoes, peppers, and onions, the recipe calls for cider vinegar, garlic, cilantro, salt, and hot pepper sauce (optional). I always have garlic available from my garden. Instead of cilantro, which I don’t grow, I used celery leaves and parsley from my garden. One of the reasons I like making salsa is that it is so colorful when you have everything chopped up together.

Although the recipe includes both green sweet peppers and hot peppers, I am not into hot so I used sweet peppers only and no hot sauce, although I have added some mildly hot peppers in the past. You have to be careful with canning recipes. You can sometimes make substitutions, but you need to do them wisely. The salsa was canned in a hot water bath which is used for high acid foods, so care must be taken to maintain the acidity. Tomatoes are high acid foods, but onions and peppers are not. Vinegar in the recipe contributes to the acidity. You can substitute different kinds of peppers, such as sweet for hot, but be careful to not have more than the total amount of peppers called for in the recipe. The same goes for onions. They could be any combination of red, yellow, or white, but the total should not exceed the amount in the recipe. The Complete Guide to Home Canning has great information about this and other substitutions. You can find it online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website as a free download or order your own hardcopy at Purdue Extension’s Education Store.

jars of salsaBesides tacos, salsa can be used as an addition to many foods, including potatoes and eggs. Of course, it can be eaten as a dip just as it is. I grow cowpeas out to dried beans, store them in jars in the pantry, then cook them as needed. We have found that salsa goes great with those cooked cowpeas. If you are growing your own staple crops, salsa and other relishes can add interest and taste to your meals. Last winter friends gave us two jars of relish. One was corn relish, but I don’t remember the name of the other. It was all delicious on cowpeas. If you are putting up pints for your table, make sure to can some half-pints (jelly jar size) to give as gifts. The time, energy, and produce that went into making the salsa now will be appreciated by the recipients when gift-giving time rolls around. It will also make your life easier to have something on hand to share with your friends anytime the mood strikes. If you are wondering about those white lids on my canning jars—they are reusable lids. I like to use them on high acid foods and only on jars that I won’t be giving away. I’ll have to make another batch with regular lids for gift jars.

Salsa, canned in jars, is a convenience food for me. I have not tried fermenting it, but according to Sandor Katz in The Art of Fermentation, you could do that. Reduce or eliminate the vinegar and use plenty of salt. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic are available at the farmers markets now. If you haven’t grown your own, you could still do this. The 10 Day Local Food Challenge is coming up in October. If you plan on taking part, having a supply of salsa put up will enhance your meals. The 10 Day Local Food Challenge allows ten exotics in your diet, which are items not local. For me, that would be the salt and vinegar in the recipe. I haven’t made vinegar, but I suppose you could make your own from local apples. Then vinegar would be off the exotic list. Maybe you could find a vinegar maker and saltworks within your local food shed. It is something to think about.homeplace earth

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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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vegetable cabinet

vegetable cabinet

Now is not the time to be bringing in large quantities of vegetables from your garden to store for future eating, unless you live in a climate much warmer than mine. However, now is the time to be scouting the best places for winter food storage in your house, even if you haven’t had a harvest yet. In the heat of the summer, it is hard to imagine what the conditions are in your house in the winter.

There are books and magazine articles about storing the harvest that will provide details about the best temperature and humidity for the storage places. Somehow humanity has managed to survive without climate controlled spaces for all these years, so use these resources as a guideline and don’t obsess if your spaces aren’t exactly what you’ve read about. We heat our house primarily with a woodstove, using the furnace as a backup. That means the rooms in the house closest to the stove are warmer than the areas further away, which makes for much variation to play with when finding appropriate storage spots. If you use central heat exclusively, you could lower the temperature in a room by closing the heating vent. Lower it further by opening a window or installing a vent. If you have a closet available for food storage, one with an outside wall is best to bring the temperature down. It is not quite as easy to find cool spots in super-insulated homes, but check around.

vegetable cabinet is 58.3 and kitchen is 70.2

vegetable cabinet is 58.3 and kitchen is 70.2

I use a thermometer to occasionally check my storage areas. It has a remote feature so that I can tell the temperature of the space the thermometer is in and also the space I have the remote sensor in. This photo shows the kitchen temperature is about 70 and the temperature of the sweet potato/onion/garlic/butternut squash storage area is about 58. Ideally, sweet potatoes and winter squash are comfortable stored at about 50-60˚ and 60-70% humidity. Irish potatoes are happier at a little cooler temperature and 80-90% humidity.

My husband built pull out shelves in our lower kitchen cabinets. We designated the cabinet area in the northeast corner of the kitchen (top photo) for produce storage after I discovered how cold it was in there one winter day (50˚). It doesn’t stay that cool all the time, but usually that cabinet is about 10˚cooler than the kitchen. The pull out shelves in that area have bottoms made of a heavy metal grid that allows ventilation, yet is heavy enough for a load. Irish potatoes are stored here, in addition to the sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and garlic. Extra potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and garlic are stored in the crawl space under our house. When the outside temperature dipped into the teens (which it doesn’t do too often) the temperature in the crawl space only fell to 48˚. So, if a polar vortex comes knocking again, we’re still okay. Mind you, that’s with the vents closed for the winter. If the vents were left open that would be a different story and the cold air coming in could freeze pipes that were nearby. Crawl spaces can provide storage spaces with higher humidity.

pantry

the dryer used to sit in this spot in the pantry

We have converted our utility room, which contained a washer, dryer, and storage shelves, into a pantry. The washing machine is still there but we gave the dryer away, since we never used it. The sun outside and heat from the woodstove dry our clothes. That left space for crocks holding nuts and fermented food and for jars of dried food, including beans and grains from our garden. We didn’t have a honey harvest this year, but when we do, the honey jars are stored here. Before we lived in this house, there was a furnace in this room. A hole in the floor and another one 4’ higher for vents were left behind. I screened those holes and kept them for air circulation. That room is about 10˚ cooler than the kitchen, also. We just have to remember to keep the door closed.

canning jars in the cellar

canning jars in the cellar

We have a cellar under part of the house. That’s where I keep the jars of food that I’ve canned. I have to go around and down the outside stairs to get there, since there is no access from inside the house. If I could just pop down the stairs from the kitchen, I might store more food there. Canning jars get heavy. You’ll see that we used 2×12 boards for the shelves. It has been interesting finding convenient places to store increasing amounts of food from the garden. Wherever you store food, you need to think of everything that could affect it, such as mice. My friend Susan has a nice house that is built on a slab containing heating coils. That makes her house nice and comfy, but since the coils are throughout the house, even her closets are heated. She stores her harvest in an area screened with hardware cloth in her garage. It was after her peanuts disappeared in the garage that she resorted to screening her storage spot to protect her food from mice.

My upcoming book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, has a chapter on food storage and preservation with more information on handling your harvest. When I have it available you will be able to order signed copies from me at www.HomeplaceEarth.com. Finding a place for what you grow and for the equipment that goes with it is as important as growing the food. If you have no plan for storage, your harvest will spoil or ruin the harmony in your home as it sits around cluttering your living space. Check any possible storage niches in your home with a thermometer and record what you find. It might make for a fun project for your children if they are home on a snow day this winter.Homeplace Earth

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  • sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

    sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

This is the fourth year, of the past five, that I’ve eaten only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent. I call these days Homegrown Fridays. I find that it deepens my understanding of what it takes to feed ourselves when I limit myself to only what I’ve grown. By this time of year stored food supplies are diminished and the garden is not quite awake. Our garden and food preservation program has evolved to depend on staple crops that can be stored, rather than canned or frozen. Although I did do a little canning this year, most of the things that couldn’t be stored properly to keep were dried in our solar food dryers.

In the photo you will see one of our Homegrown Friday dinners. It consisted of cowpeas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and collards fresh from the garden. I often try new things on these days and that day I boiled peanuts. We (my husband and I) decided that eating them raw or roasted was our preference. I depended a lot on peanuts at lunchtime this year. Maybe it was because I seemed to be extra busy on these days. I’d grab some peanuts while sweet potatoes were cooking for lunch. My peanut harvest had picked up in 2012 when I planted some after Austrian winter peas in the rotation. The previous year I had peanuts in a bed following onions and garlic. At harvest time there was a definite difference in the yield in the onion half of the bed compared to the garlic half. Winter peas were the winter cover crop preceding the onion sets that had been planted in the spring. I was pretty sure that the increased peanut yield was due to the winter pea cover crop and not the onions. In 2012 I planted one bed of peanuts after winter peas and one in a bed that had had garlic, onions, and kale. The onions were multipliers and had been there with the garlic and kale since the previous fall. The yield following the Austrian winter peas was three times the one following the alliums and kale.

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

I had a great carrot harvest this winter. You can read about it in my post on Winter Carrots. I also had beets in the garden through the winter. The black walnuts yielded in 2012 so I shelled some and made some oil to put on the carrots and beets when I roasted them. Shelling the walnuts and pressing oil took a long time. I wouldn’t want to depend on that for my cooking oil. Frying locally grown bacon and saving the fat for cooking is a lot easier, but that wasn’t an option for these Fridays, since I hadn’t raised the pig. The roasted carrots and beets were delicious.

Soup made from dried ingredients is always on the menu during this time. One soup I made had no dried ingredients. It was made from carrots, butternut squash, and garlic. I cut them up and roasted them—no oil that day. Then I added water and simmered the cut up, roasted vegetables for about 20 minutes. It all went in the blender and resulted in what you see in this third picture. It was good, but a little bit of dairy added—sour cream, yogurt, or milk—would have been nice. Onions would have been a good addition, but I was down to my dried onions and they were in short supply.

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

Dried onions went into bean burgers using the same recipe as I did in 2012. Our staples for these meals from stored crops were sweet potatoes, peanuts, cowpeas, garlic, sorghum (for flour) and corn (for cornmeal). Fresh from the garden came collards, kale, carrots, and beets. I ground Bloody Butcher corn to make cornmeal mush for breakfast. We have chickens, so we have eggs. I use an egg or two occasionally on Homegrown Fridays, but not much because I don’t grow all the feed for the chickens. Since some of their nutrition comes from our property, an occasional egg is included. Dried tomatoes were important for sauce and other dried vegetables and herbs provided variety in our meals. I’ve already written about our new tea ingredient—Red Thai Roselle Hibiscus. With such a great honey harvest last year we could sweeten our cornmeal mush. Unfortunately, our two beehives didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ll be looking for new bees this year. We had mead made from our honey and grapes, and popcorn cooked without oil.

Observing Homegrown Fridays at this time of year makes me more determined to work out my vole problem with the potatoes to make sure I have enough to last through the winter. I’m also acutely aware that I need to up my wheat harvest. I had an interesting conversation with Eli Rogosa of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy in January while I was preparing an article for Mother Earth News that will appear in the June/July 2013 issue. Eli filled me in on heritage wheat and how to grow it. A chart with her recommended varieties for each region of the U.S. will appear in the article. A chart with crops I’ve mentioned here and varieties recommended for each region will also be included in the article. You will be interested in that article if you want to grow staple crops for your meals.

If you have done any of this, even in a small way, I welcome your comments. It is in sharing, both information and food, that we will move forward on this journey.  Homeplace Earth

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Red Thai Roselle teaIn August 2011, I was on a tour of the gardens at Acorn Community, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, when we came upon the hibiscus plants—specifically Thai Red Roselle. This was entirely new to me and the Acorn residents were visibly excited about it. Well, you know how it is when you see your friends really excited about something.  I just had to give it a try. I put it into my 2012 garden plan.

Hibiscus is what puts the color and zing in Red Zinger tea. Hibiscus tea could lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and supply you with antioxidants. Since it has an effect on your blood pressure, if you are taking medication for that, you might want to check with your doctor before making it a part of your life. The leaves can go into your salads, but I was after tea ingredients—whatever it was that would give me a red, zingy tea.

hibiscus

Three Red Thai Roselle plants.

This plant is a perennial in the tropics and grown as an annual as far north as New Jersey. The variety Thai Red Roselle is the variety you want to grow if you live north of the Sunbelt. It matures earlier, which means more harvest before frost. Even at that, my harvest didn’t begin until late in August. I’ll pay more attention this year and make it a priority to get the transplants in the ground around the time of the last frost, or soon after.

Red Thai Roselle calyx?When it began to flower, I realized I didn’t know exactly what I should be harvesting. I learned to harvest the calyx, which is the part beneath the flower. When the flower fades, the red calyx grows into a pod that holds a green ball. The seeds that are beginning to develop are in that ball, but I only needed the calyx. The seeds are not yet mature at the point you want to take it for tea. I left some to grow larger and harvested them for the mature seed later. I bought seeds to start from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but will be planting my saved seeds this year.

Once the harvest began I would check every 3-7 days for something to pick, prepare it at my garden washing station and put the calyx pieces in the solar dryers. After a day or two, when they were dry, I’d bring the trays in and store the dried pieces in a jar. It’s just that easy and it was a good use for the solar dryers in September and early October when my vegetable drying slowed.

Preparing hibiscus for drying.Hibiscus should be planted at least three feet apart, but as much as five feet between the plants may increase your yield per plant. They need plenty of sun. I had three plants in 2012 and was really encouraged by my experience. I’m looking at my yard for just the right microclimate to plant them in this year.

You can make hot or cold tea from just your dried Red Thai Roselle or add it to different herbs. It is interesting to make herb mixes for tea. Using spearmint or bee balm as a base, you could add any number of things. Hibiscus is great alone, and its red color and fruity taste is a nice addition to blends. Sometimes I’ll make a jarful of a mix, putting the ingredients in a blender, then storing them in the jar, ready for tea-making.

Lent is approaching—it begins February 13—and as I’ve done the past few years, I’ll be observing Homegrown Fridays. Homegrown Fridays is a personal challenge of mine when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only eat (and drink) what I’ve grown. Water from our well, of course, and salt in the pickle ferment is allowed in my challenge. Although I don’t necessarily do it for religious reasons, Lent is an appropriate time, since it is a time for reflection. Also, doing this in February and March makes it more challenging and fun. I’ve written of my Homegrown Friday experiences in 2011 and 2012. This year Red Thai Roselle tea will be on the menu!Homeplace Earth

 

For more thoughts on Red Thai Roselle tea see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/red-thai-roselle.aspx#axzz2LRYfjI6u

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