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Archive for the ‘onions’ 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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black-walnut-shirt-and-homegrown-vest-blog

Homegrown cotton vest with black walnut-dyed shirt.

Fibershed is the name of a non-profit organization started by Rebecca Burgess in 2010 in California. Her goal was to “develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters.” Since then her work has expanded and other Fibershed groups around the world have signed on to explore textile production in their own regions. You will find their Facebook pages and activities on the Internet. It is a fitting name for a group looking close to home for their fiber sources. Just like watershed is concerned with where the water comes from for a region, and foodshed looks at our local food systems, I can see the word fibershed becoming a buzz word anywhere someone is talking about clothing themselves locally.

On the Fibershed website I found the term soil-to-skin. I have often used the term seed-to-garment, but I like soil-to-skin, since it takes the concerns further. I also found soil-to-soil used on the website. If your clothes will compost, just bury them at the end of their useful life and let them replenish the soil. Twenty years ago not so many people were as concerned about the source of their food as they are presently. Now, I hope they start talking more about where their fiber comes from—their fibershed. As with their food, it all starts with the soil to produce cotton, flax/linen, and wool. Synthetic fibers are not part of this conversation.

cotton-brown-openboll-copy

brown cotton boll

Many of the Fibershed groups deal heavily with wool. That could be because there are more farmers with small herds of fiber animals than there are farmers with small plots of cotton. I don’t say much about wool because I have my hands full with the cotton and flax/linen from my garden. So much of the cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified that you might think that non-GMO organic cotton is not available to the consumer. I sew my own clothes and set out to see what I could find. It would be wonderful to have sewn a whole wardrobe by now from my homegrown cotton and linen, but so far I have only a vest and a shirt. Spinning the fiber takes time, but it is mindful and enjoyable work. I have learned about the toxic effects of textile dyes and have been exploring those, also. There is a black walnut tree in my backyard and I eat lots of onions from my garden. Walnuts and onion skins are both terrific for dyeing.

onion-skin-shirt-blog

Shirt dyed with onion skins.

I like to use Kona cotton for shirts because it wears so well. When I did some checking I found that it met the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX certification for human-ecological requirements. That doesn’t mean it is organic, but they are moving in the right direction. You’ll find Kona cotton in fabric stores and quilt shops. I wanted to make a shirt to wear with my homegrown cotton vest, but couldn’t find a color in my fabric store that would do. However, this fall I had experimented with the black walnuts and realized that produced just the color I needed. Furthermore, I discovered that Dharma Trading Company sold Kona Cotton PFD (prepared for dyeing); meaning that it was not treated with optical whiteners. I bought enough for two shirts. You can see the black-walnut dyed shirt in the first photo at the top of this page and the shirt dyed with onion skins here. Obviously, this shirt took the color well from the onion skins. I’ve already rinsed out any extra color, but it may fade a bit over time. The buttons were in my stash from previous projects or cut from old clothes.

I needed a new turtleneck shirt to wear with my new homegrown cotton shirt. It is hard for me to find cotton turtlenecks in the weight of fabric I want (they all seem to be too thin) and ones that have cuffs and enough length in the body and in the sleeves. My search for organic cotton led me to Organic Cotton Plus, a company started in Texas by organic cotton farmers to sell directly to people like you and me. It has since entered the global marketplace. I found nice organic cotton interlock for my turtleneck shirts! You can order swatches (99 cents each) of the fabrics you are interested in if you want to see and feel it first, like me. I bought enough fabric for two shirts and made a pattern from an old turtleneck that fit me best, making adjustments as necessary. I love this new shirt. It is a recent project, so sorry, I have no photo to show you of the turtleneck I made, but you’ll see it eventually. I will make the second shirt when I decide what I want to dye it with. Organic Cotton Plus had this interlock in colors, but none that matched what I needed.

I initially took an interest in Organic Cotton Plus because I was looking for organic cotton grown in the U.S. I had already bought naturally brown denim for jeans from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. Although that’s how it started out, not all the cotton for fabrics sold through Organic Cotton Plus comes from this country. I see that the organic fabric for my turtlenecks came from India. Maybe I’m helping to support the Indian farmers that Vandana Shiva worked with to overcome their experience with Monsanto and GMOs. That would be a good thing.

3-pair-homedyed-socks-blog

I knitted three pairs of wool socks this past year from yarn I bought from Kathy Oliver of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. Kathy is a shepherd and we are both members of the same handspinning group. I bought the first two skeins at the Powhatan Fiber Festival in April and knitted the first pair in the natural color. I grew Japanese indigo last summer and used it for my first dyeing adventures, resulting in the blue socks. It was so much fun I bought a third skein when I saw her at the Fall Fiber Festival in October. I used that skein to play with indigo, onion skins, and black walnuts to make variegated yarn.

I applaud the groups that are working to develop textile systems that are environmentally safe and people friendly. It is when we take a closer look at our systems that we can detect ways we can change them—or, maybe do without. You probably know that I’ve worked with growing food and looking closely at what it would take to grow a complete diet. In my blog posts on Homegrown Fridays I share my experiences of limiting what I consumed on the Fridays in Lent to only what I grew myself. That was definitely an eye-opener, so I can see that if someone decided to limit their clothes to what could be produced naturally in their region, they have an adventure ahead of them. Rebecca and her group are working to change the system. I am on a personal journey to produce my own clothes as close to home as possible. If I have to buy fabric or yarn I want my purchases to do the most good they can. Meanwhile, I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will start a journey of their own. There is so much fun stuff to do in this world on our way to making it a better place!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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