Monthly Archives: November 2014

Maple Syrup – What to do When it has been Stored Improperly

Maple syrup is delicious.  It is a wonderful sugar replacement that has a bonus of added minerals.  It can be rather expensive, so I save money in the long haul by purchasing large quantities at a time.

This is a case of learn from what I did wrong.  Yes, I did this wrong.  I bought a gallon of maple syrup.  I put some of it in a smaller bottle for easy pour and I left the remaining syrup in my room temperature pantry.  DO NOT DO THIS!  When I refilled the smaller bottle, a puff escaped the container which looked like brown smoke.

This was mold spores that grew. These mold spores can cause life long breathing and lung disorders.  So now I had 3/4 of a gallon of maple syrup that was bad.  That is a lot of money to throw down the drain.  Luckily, maple syrup can easily be re-pasteurized in your own home.  Simply take the maple syrup and run it through a cheesecloth, and then boil it.  This will sterilize the maple syrup and you can now use it.20141128_104745[1]

When storing the excess maple syrup, store it in the freezer or in the fridge (as says the instructions on the side of the bottle, which I didn’t notice when I first bought maple syrup).  I have mine stored in mason jars in the freezer, but transfer it to a smaller maple syrup container (which is kept in the refrigerator) for ease of pouring.  With maple syrup’s high sugar content, it will not freeze solid in the freezer.  This means you do not need to leave time to defrost your maple syrup if you run out of your syrup in the fridge.20141128_105248[1]

I hope in sharing my mistake, I can prevent you from making it.  And if you already did make it, I can help you fix it.

A bonus food safety tip I learned tonight from a friend: Never wash your meat (that includes your turkey!).  Wash your hands.  There is no way to wash off the bacteria from your turkey.  The only safe was is to cook it thoroughly.  (That means 165 degrees F, and check that at 3 places – the thickest place in the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh).  You can find these details and more at http://www.foodsafety.gov/. Following these tips can help prevent you from hosting a salmonella dance party at your dinner party.

 

Barnheart – A Book Review

I previously posted this on my old blog.  I decided it would be good to re-post it.

 I got Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own from the library. This is a wonderful memoir by a formerly local woman, Jenna Woginrich.  In her previous, book she mentioned she went to Kutztown University and in this book, she reveals she grew up in Palmerton, PA.

The book starts with Jenna uprooting her homestead in Idaho and moving to Vermont to start over due to job loss.  She moves into an old rental house with some acreage and starts to make her dream come true.  Vermont holds a lot of challenges for a starting farmer including the harsh winter and urban folks who only want “pretty farms” as neighbors.  Jenna ends up being forced from her rental property by her landlord when the landlord wants to reside in Jenna’s current home.  Jenna takes you through her journey of reestablishment.  She rebuilds her farm twice throughout the span of the book.

The book is honest about her struggles.  She is introspective and inspiring.  When I was single, I dreamed of a homestead, but could never imagine accomplishing this without the help of a partner.  She threw caution to the wind, and chased her dreams.  She has more responsibility on her shoulders without a partner to lean on. Jenna shares her frustrations of being alone, but she has  dream and won’t let anything stand in her way.

Jenna goes from nothing, to a full garden, a flock of sheep, chickens, and bees all while learning some lessons about farming along the way.

This quick read (under 200 pages) lets you share in her adventure.  I enjoyed reading about her passion for her lifestyle, although I did have to roll my eyes at the thought of Palmerton being suburban.  Palmerton does have a downtown, but it is about as small town as it gets and I would consider rural.  Palmerton is surrounded by farm and woods.  But it made for good reading when she described her sister’s horror at the thought of eating a turkey Jenna raised herself.

I would recommend this book for light, fun reading.  It was an enjoyable read from someone who harbors the urge to homestead.  You can follow Jenna on her blog where she has added to her farm.

**This post contains affiliate links**

Everlasting Potato Rolls: A Case for Real Food

Halloween is over, but I have a scary story for you.

It all started two days ago.  I decided to clean the top of my refrigerator off.  The top of my fridge is where we store cookies, lunchboxes, fruit leather, tissue boxes, my brewing kombucha and bread.  And the horror story begins.  As you can tell, I need to add some organization into my home; however, this is not about my organizational challenges.  When I was cleaning off the top of the fridge, I came across one very unexpected thing.  A bag that contained two potato rolls that we bought back in August.

This is the tag of on the rolls.  The rolls were over 3 months old!!!

This is the tag of on the rolls. The rolls were over 3 months old!!!

This would be your average kitchen cleaning horror story if it was moldy and disgusting.  It was not. It was a nice as the day we bought it.  One roll was still soft.  When I bake bread, the bread will last 3 to 5 days before going moldy.  But this bread lasted 3 months with only slight hardening.

Potato rolls which "expired" three months ago.

Potato rolls which “expired” three months ago.

How does your body digest these things?  What is even in the rolls?  I looked at the ingredient list, and it was a list of chemicals with multiple syllables.  I could list it here, but please take my word that is was long and requires a degree in Chemistry to decipher.  Chris and I don’t even feel comfortable feeding this to the chickens.

Real homemade bread is one of the most perishable items in your kitchen.  However, these rolls have been modified so much that they lasted over three months without even a hint of mold.  This means that even the mold finds this franken-roll to be totally unappetizing.  This unintended experiment solidified my resolve to eat real food with real ingredients.  Thus concludes the horror of the everlasting potato roll.

Back to Basics: Beans

I am going to start a series within my blog that outlines the basics of the basics.  Some folks will cook at home, but what they cook is convenience foods.  So for example: using Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice, Instant Mashed Potatoes, canned chicken broth, or canned beans from the store.  These things are not that hard to make from scratch, but there can be an intimidation factor.  A “I don’t know where to start factor”.  I’m here to hold your hand.  I want to show you how easy some of these things can be.  It’s true, it will take a little extra planning on your part, and a little more time, but the outcome will be a more nutritious and many times less expensive way to make your food.

Being able to make these things from scratch is also good for long term storage.  I can store lots of dried beans which I have purchase for a very long time quite easily.  A lot of people who are “Prepper’s” or “Survivalists” will stock up on dried items such as rice and beans.  But what good are they if you don’t know how to make them.  Aside of ease of storage, here are a few more reason you may want to make your beans from dried beans:

  1. Much less expensive: a pound of organic dried kidney beans cost me $2.04.  A pound of dried beans, once cooked, will equal over 4 cans of beans.  I found cans of organic canned red kidney beans for over $2.00 a pound.  So $2 of dried beans and a little bit of planning will yield $8 worth of canned beans.  That’s a 400% return on investment.
  2. They aren’t stored in questionable cans.
  3. Less waste.  When you buy dried beans, they generally come in a plastic bag.  I then transfer my beans to a glass jar.  So I’m only disposing of the plastic bag.  When you buy canned beans, you are disposing of the can.  While the can is recyclable, recycling is not a zero sum game.  We are using fossil fuels to transport this recyclable material and to process the material.  While recycling is better than putting your garbage in a landfill, not creating any waste is the best way for us and for our planet.
  4. It is rewarding to have the knowledge that you can make dried beans.

I’m using organic dried red kidney beans.  Each type of bean has different tastes and textures. This is where you can experiment and see what works beans work best for you.

Here’s where the planning comes in, the night before you want your beans (if you want beans for Thursday night’s dinner, do this on Wednesday night before bed), put your beans in bowl and add water so that the water is covering the beans by one to two inches.  How much should you make?  I say make a BUNCH. **TIP ALERT*** You can freeze the extras, and they stay in the freezer for up to 6 months.   But for a recipe, I’ve found that about 2/3 of a cup of dried beans translates to one 15.5 ounce can of beans.  Different beans vary on this, but this is a good rule of thumb as most recipes that require beans do not need exact amounts (Like my super yummy chili I’ll share with you soon!).

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When you wake up in the morning, drain the water off of the beans and refill the bowl and the beans with fresh water.

Beans that have been soaked overnight, before I changed the water.

Beans that have been soaked overnight, before I changed the water.

About an hour and half before dinner, strain the soaked beans and put them in a pot with enough fresh water to cover them by about two inches.  Put the pot on the stove and turn your stove on medium high.

Let the water come to a boil, stirring  regularly.  If your water boils off to the point that some of your bean become exposed, add more water to your pot.  In about an hour, test a bean.  How do you test a bean?  Fish it out of the boiling water, let it cook and taste it. Is it done, is it the texture you like?  If so, you are done.  Pour the beans through a strainer, and use them for your recipe, or put them in a container to be put in the freezer.  Simple!!

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Fruit Tree as an Investment

I am slowly but surely working on turning my lawn into food, and most of that food I would like to be Perennials, specifically, perennial trees.  Trees can be expensive, my apple trees cost me $23 plus shipping.  When ordering lots of trees and shrubs at a time, this really adds up quickly.  One way to curb your costs is to start your root stock from seed and then grafting scion wood on to it.  I have not tried that yet, but I will (and I’ll tell you all about it!!).

I’ve had shipments of trees (and blueberry bushes) that cost over $200.  And if I could probably spend another $1,000.  Is this being ridiculous?  Absolutely not.  This is an investment, no different than investing in CDs, Real Estate, or the stock market.  Although, I would argue that this investment will over more “earnings” than most investments in your portfolio and less risk.

It is a pet peeve of mine when people refer to items they are buying as an investment.  For example, “I have to go invest in some lip stick”.  No, you don’t. Your lipstick will never make a return upon it’s initial purchase price.  So when I say that a tree is an investment, I’m prepared to back it up.

I’m going to go through an actual cost analysis so we can determine the cost versus real output of this investment.  Let’s take an Apple tree for example, and assume that we already own the land.  I bought an apple tree for $23 plus shipping for a total of $30.  I planted it for free, the water was free, and I used a half a bale of straw to bed it down, if I figure I use about a half a bale a year, so we’ll add this in to our figures.  Also note, I am not calculating my time in for this, as I really enjoy the time outdoors.  This is my recreation.

According to the Stark Brothers’ website, I should be getting fruit within two to five years after planting.  I would like to take a highly conservative look at this, so we’ll say 5 years. So we’ll have five years of straw (assuming I don’t use leaves, or other mulch found elsewhere), plus the initial planting cost. (5 years x $1.25/year) + $31.25 = $37.50.

I have had some trouble finding data on yields from apple trees.  I’m finding a whole lot of “it depends.”  The variables include soil type, sun exposure, type of tree, and density of plantings.  Asking how many apples you can expect to harvest is similar to asking  how much can I expect my salary to be my first year working?  There is a huge range of salaries that people earned their first year working.  There’s no way of giving one hard number for this, even a range would be deceiving.  Is your first year working as a bus boy or an attorney?  So, suffice it to say, there is a huge range of apple yield possibilities.

However, a member on the forums at permies.com told me his production model includes 10 pounds in year four and increases until it plateaus at 200 pounds a year at year 13 and continues at this yield for 40 years.  Let’s assume we’re getting 20 pounds a year so we can be SUPER conservative.

A hard and fast number I do know is the amount we spent on our organic apples that were pick your own at an Organic Apple Festival.  We got a half a bushel for $35 and a full bushel for $60.  A half bushel weighs about 20 pounds.

These numbers are telling me that we will pay-off our initial investment at year 6.  That means that from year 6 forward we are getting a return on investment, and at 100% per year of initial investment.  This is only looking at the apples.  When it comes time to retire your apple tree (cut it down), you can use the wood to heat your home or chip it up to smoke meats.  A five-pound bag of apple wood chunks goes for about $10.  And you don’t have to pay taxes on any of this.

So, your initial investment in an apple tree will have a return on investment through it’s production of apples, through the wood and apple chips for smoking.  You will also have the benefits of increasing soil health, decreasing erosion, increasing the beauty on your property, and providing increased habitat for animals.  Oh, and the blooms of your apple tree will help to feed the bees.

Purchasing a risk-free CD will leave you with a less than 5% ROI, and the stock market is highly volatile, so you may lose some money or you may make some.  I’m pretty dang sure you won’t be making 100% of your initial investment every year after 5 or 6 years.

And if you apple tree is a complete failure?  Cut it down and use it for wood.

Looking at tree purchases from this perspective shows you that this is a wise way to invest your money.  I will continue to add trees to my investment portfolio as the years go on and I hope you do, too.

You know you are a Gardener when:

  1. The idea of someone dropping a load of animal poo off at your home would be a treat.

    Chicken Poo mixed with straw aka Gardener Gold

    Chicken Poo mixed with straw aka Gardener Gold

  2. Likewise, the idea of someone dropping their yard waste off at your home (leaves, grass, etc.) makes you excited.
  3. Seeing a huge flat yard with beautiful sun exposure and grass as far as the eye can see makes you a little sad.
  4. Getting a seed catalog in the mail is a beautiful warm ray of sunshine on a winter day.  This catalog will keep your dreams and your thoughts racing when your garden is under inches or feet of snow.
  5. Dirt under your nails and on your jeans makes you smile.
  6. Eating a fresh grocery store tomato in January makes you wonder about your grocer’s definition of “tomato.”
  7. You have to control yourself from yelling, “STOP!! I can compost that!” when you see someone putting a fruit or veggie compost material in the trash.
  8. You know what zone you live in.  (6A)
  9. You are hyper aware of the weather during the beginning and ending of planting season.
  10. You read the farmer’s almanac and study their weather predictions.  I wonder if this is what people feel like reading the sports pages before a big game?
  11. You think it’s odd when you go in the grocery store as all you can buy is one type of carrots.  It took you half a day last year to decide which type of carrot to plant from the 20 different varieties available,

    One of two pages of the different varieties of carrots from the High Mowing Seed catalog.

    One of two pages of the different varieties of carrots from the High Mowing Seed catalog.

  12. Buying any organic leafy green in the grocery store cements your gardening gusto.  $7 for a pound of spinach?  I’ll stay and play in my garden and get a pound of spinach for less than $1, thank you very much.
  13. You consider owning bees, not only for the honey but for their pollinating powers.
  14. A dreary day of long slow soaking rain makes you happy, and you start to think you can almost see your plants getting happier.
  15. You start to learn to preserve your harvest.  Canning, dehydrating and Lacto-fermenting are all in the search history of your computer.
  16. Seeing earthworms while you’re digging is like getting a report card from Mother Nature, and she says you’re doing okay.
  17. Happy rabbits bounding along can make you mad.  Those buggars have A LOT of audacity.
  18. Your heart quickens when you see cabbage moths flying around your garden.
  19. You understand the fundamental difference between dirt and soil.  (soil has life)
  20. A salad sourced from anywhere but your garden looks sad and colorless.  It tastes pretty yucky as well.
  21. You talk to your plants, or can at least understand why some people do.
  22. You’ve spent time in the garden harvesting and have nothing to bring into the house.  My son and I will eat freshly shelled sweet peas.  I would say less than one bowl made it into the house, and many more bowls worth of peas made it into our bellies. YUM!!

This was spurred on by the arrival of my 2015 seed catalog.  Oh how I love it’s arrival!!! Let my 2015 garden planning BEGIN!!

Do you have any good thoughts to add to this list?

Herbs and Spices: What’s the difference?

I love to cook.  When I cook things, I get to add the flavor profile I enjoy the most by adding herbs and spices (specifically cumin, a favorite of mine).  Generally when discussing cooking, these two terms get thrown together: Herbs and Spices.  I want to know: what is the difference?

According to the definition found at dictionary.com an herb is:

a flowering plant whose stem above ground does not become woody.

Likewise, at dictionary.com, the definition of spice is:
any of a class of pungent or aromatic substances of vegetable origin,as pepper, cinnamon, or cloves, used as seasoning, preservatives, etc.
Well, this gives us a place to start.  But unless you are intimately aware of the plant form of your seasonings, these definitions are not very useful. It’s true, we all know certain herbs that grow in our garden; such as basil or parsley.
A general rule of thumb is to think about the color of the seasoning you’re using.  If it’s green, and leafy, it’s probably an herb.  If you have it growing in your garden and you use the leaves or the green parts (as in chives), it is probably an herb.  Examples of herbs include: oregano, sage, rosemary, cilantro (the leafy  part), and thyme.  While oregano, rosemary, and thyme have woody stems, we are using the leafy green part for our culinary creations.
Spices are more pungent than herbs, and come from other parts of the plant.
For example:
Cumin – seed
cinnamon – bark
ginger – root
cardamom – seed
Pepper(corns)  – fruit of the pepper plant
Cloves – flower pod
Some plants are both an herb and a spice.  For example: Dill.  Dill weed is an herb which come from the plant’s green stem and leaves.  Dill Seed is a spice.
So while this won’t change any of my cooking habits, some of my curiosity has been satisfied.

 

New Apple Trees

From my experience, the best time to plant trees is Fall.  This gives the tree all winter to establish its roots.  When you plant a tree in Spring, all the tree’s energy goes right into sprouting leaves.  Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to plant trees this upcoming Spring, as funds allow.  But right now, I’m planting trees too.

I bought 3 apple trees which are bred to be disease resistant.  I will not be spraying my apple trees, and by purchasing disease resistant trees, it will be easier to have healthy happy apples.  I purchased these trees from Stark Brothers in a “disease resistant” bundle.  The bundle includes:

Enterprise Apple: This is a red apple which matures late in the season (mid-October). It has a mildly tart taste (according to Stark Brothers).

Jonafree Apple: This apple is also red, and matures a little earlier (mid-September), the taste in a combo sweet/tart.  Sounds like a good baking apple to me.

GoldRush Apple: This is a yellowish golden apple which matures mid to late October.  This has a very sweet taste, and is good for fresh eating.

This is a nice combination of apples and picking times.  I already have Gold Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin Antique Apple trees planted.  These trees’ fruit matures late September and mid-September respectively.  They both have sweet fruits.  This should keep me busy with apple sauce and apple butter through the fall once these tree mature.

As these trees were mail-ordered, they were shipped “bare-root”.  That means they look like sticks when you get them.  All three trees came in a box that measure 4 inches x 4 inches x 6 feet.

Those three sticks are our three new apple trees.

Those three sticks are our three new apple trees.

After the bare-root trees arrive get them into a bucket of water and give them a good drink.  Make sure the roots are fully submerged.  Ideally, let the tree soak for 4-6 hours, but no more than 24 hours.

Soaking the roots of the new trees.  There is one rebellious root that keeps sneaking on top of the hose.

Soaking the roots of the new trees. There is one rebellious root that keeps sneaking on top of the hose.

I will be using two of these trees as a living grape arbor.  Will it work?  I have no clue!  But I will in a few years, and so will you.  I will plant them directly next to my grapes with the idea that the grapes will climb up the trees.  This apple tree set up allows me to function stack my apple trees.  My apple trees will be: making a stronger better soil, providing apples, a home to wildlife and act as an arbor to the grapes.

I have two types of grapes: Joy and Neptune.  The Joy grape matures in August and the Neptune grape matures in early September.  This allows me to function stack my trips to visit the grapes.  When I check on the grapes, I am checking on the apples and vice versa.

Here is a video outlining the basics of how to plant a tree:

My 2014 Garden – A look back

It is the beginning of November.  My chickens are putting my garden to bed for the winter.  All of my veggies have been picked and eaten, or preserved. (with the exception of some kale and lettuces).  It is now the time to look back and determine what I can improve in my garden.

Basics:

Planning:  I feel I would have had a better garden had a drawn out a plan.  I had a little bit of a plan, but nothing specific.  I “winged it” a little more than is ideal.  This is one of my personality traits that I really need to work on.  I need to take my time and think things out a little more.  I used to err on the other side of this dichotomy and go into “analysis paralysis”.  I would get so caught up in minor details that nothing would get done.  Now, I tend to just go for things.  This is good, as I get to experience and I try more things.  This is bad, as I could have had a higher more productive garden had I taken more time to create a plan.  It’s time for this pendulum to swing back toward the side of planning.  This plan should include the plants I intend to cultivate as well as their location.  I always have this plan, but get a little overwhelmed with the companion planting.

Also planning the timing of my plantings.  We have our early crops (peas, lettuce), are post-frost crops (tomatoes, cucumbers) and then there is time for one last planting.  So I  need to make sure my plan includes not only a parameter of space, but also a parameter of time.

Note Taking: I started off wonderfully.  I drew my garden on piece of paper and wrote when my seeds went in the ground.  After my first planting of peas and carrots, I stopped taking notes.  I just started to plant.  My notes are valuable for my future gardens and also with helping others with their gardens.

What I planted:

Next year I want to plant more:

Peas: Jaxson loves peas, and most of them didn’t even make it inside of our home.  They are also Nitrgoen fixing, so they leave you with healthier soil.

Potatoes: Almost every morning, my husband makes a pan full of hash browns and eggs over-easy.  We use a lot of potatoes.  They store incredibly easily.  No processing is needed to get them ready to store.  Conventionally grown potatoes are heavily sprayed, so you want to avoid them.  However, organic potatoes are very expensive, but growing them yourself is easy.  This is something I want to plant enough of so that I don’t have to buy any from the grocery store.

Sweet Potatoes: These are super easy to grow, and just as easy to store.  They require no processing, similar to the potato.  I recently saw organic sweet potatoes for sale for $3.99 for two potatoes.  Plus sweet potatoes have beautiful vines and have attractive purple flowers.  Some people actually use these vines for landscaping and never benefit from the tasty sweet potato.  Please note that sweet potatoes cannot be eaten fresh.  They must first be cured (that means sit around) for a few months.

Cabbages/Broccoli/Brussel sprouts: I love these veggies, but I always get so frustrated because they become infested with cabbage moths.  I think it may be worth the effort to plant some this year.  I’ll cross my fingers and we can figure out how to get a successful brassica harvest together.

Next year, I want to plant less:

Corn: This is a hog of a plant.  The directions on the seed package instructed me “to plant only in the most fertile of soil”.  I was put off.  Corn is good, but not good enough to give up my best soil.

Preparation: I will also prepare my beds for carrots with a little more love.  A lot of my carrots got stuck and gnarled on rocks.  They were quite difficult to harvest.  I believe if I spent more time to prepare the bed, the harvest would have been much easier.

Those are my notes on this past year’s garden.  What are yours?

The Chickens Are Working

While we are currently not getting any eggs from our hens, we are still making them work to earn their living.  One way they earn their keep is by making us laugh.  Another way they earn their keep is by turning down our garden for us for the winter.

There are two main ways I like to put my garden to bed for the winter:

  1. use a cover crop
  2. mulch it

I usually mulch mine, although I find a cover crop to be highly beneficial.  This year I mulched my garden down, and released the chickens to knock help break up the soil and fertilize everything.  They cleaned up the dropped veggies, and are helping to aerate the soil.

The area we fenced for them is slightly larger than my old garden, so they helped me to expand my garden.  We simply place a bale of straw over the grass and the chickens get to work.   They spread the straw and break up the sod.

The amount of feed we were giving the chickens decreased dramatically when we first gave the chickens the run of the garden. As the days get colder, and the garden is more picked over, we are seeing our feed bill increase again.

This is our way to do as Mike, the Gentleman Homesteader says, ” have our systems work harder than we do.”

Here’s a little un-editted video to show of some of the work our feathered (and semi-unfeathered) friends are doing for us.