Monthly Archives: January 2015

Plant Your Own Cash Crop: The Sweet Potato

This is the time of year to start planning your garden.  The time for thinking about the first warmth of spring and the taste of a salad made of lettuce straight from your garden.  As such, I want to discuss a an unexpected “cash crop” that we planted last year.  The sweet potato.

I’m not sure why I decided to plant sweet potatoes, but I’m glad I did.  I planted them by way of an experiment.  I do plant a lot of things in my food garden, but I like to plant things in random places.  I like to experiment.  After all, who says my herbs have to be in an herb garden.  I have parsley planted next to my blueberry bushes in the front of the house.  Why? Because the area gets wonderful sun exposure, and I wanted to see if it would work.

Back to the sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes (especially the organic ones) are very expensive in the stores.  They are about $3 for one sweet potato.  That’s crazy.  And they are easy to grow.  I planted mine in less than ideal conditions, and I got a huge return on my inputs.  I highly recommend going organic for your sweet potatoes.  The conventional sweet potatoes have all sorts nastiness sprayed on it.  Here is a smart young woman who shared why we should be going for organics (or just growing your own).


Quick Aside, Vocab Lesson:

When you plant sweet potatoes, they come from slips. A slip is a sweet potato sprout that shoots off of a sweet potato in storage.  Mine were white, about an 1/8 of an inch in diameter and about 6 inches long.  I bought 25 slips for $15.  They probably sent me more like 35 slips. For the $15, I got baskets full of sweet potatoes.  Well over $100 in sweet potatoes.  And I don’t have to do any fancy processing to store them.  Easy, with a high return.  AWESOME.

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What are Ideal Sweet Potato Conditions?

LIke almost every planting instructions I’ve run across, it is ideal to plant your sweet potato slips in “loamy, well drained” soil.  I planted mine in a range of soils that went from 90% rocky (as in, there was almost no dirt) to only about 30% rock.  In the super rocky soils, I barely had a yield,  I got one sweet potato per slip. But where it was only mildly rocky, I had a wonderful return.  I got pounds of potatoes off of one slip.

I’ve read that sweet potatoes do not do well in clay soils.  They grow thin and gnarly.  I say give it a try.  We’re not trying to win any veggie beauty contests, we’re trying to grow some yummy food to put on the table.

I had them in full sun and I watered them when I first the planted them.  As in, I watered them once, and never watered them again.   However, these guys do like their water.  So if you have a dry season, be prepared to give your sweet potatoes a drink weekly.

How to Plant Sweet Potatoes?

Place the fat end of the slip in the ground.  Cover  a few inches with soil and water a bit.  The End. That’s all I did.  These guys are so resilient that if you unknowingly leave a slip on the ground, you may very well come back to a plant there.  This is my kind of gardening.

I live on a hill exposed to the south, so the soil heats up nicely, but if you live in a colder climate, or you have a short growing season, you may want to heat up your soil by laying some black covering over the ground for a few weeks before planting

They are beautiful viney plants. so be sure to give them plenty of room to spread out and grow.  If you’re doing the whole row thing, plant the potatoes within the row 18 inches apart with the rows spaced 3 feet apart.  Or do as I did, and plant them all around your property.  It was landscaping we could eat.  Pretty and Tasty.  Sounds good to me.

In fact, here is a photo of one of the the blooms I got to enjoy while the tubers were growing:

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Climate Considerations:

Sweet potatoes like it hot.  They also enjoy a long growing season.  They need about three months to reach maturity.  So plant them as soon as the danger of frost has passed.  I have read that you need to get the potatoes out of the ground the day before the fall frost hits.  If not, the potatoes are ruined, and you may get grumpy.  I was very careful to get my potatoes out in time, but I missed one.  When the chickens were free ranging, they dug it up, and it looked beautiful and food worthy minus the fact that the chickens ate half of it.  This was in December.  We had had several snows.  This makes me believe that I didn’t have to be so hyper about getting my potatoes out of the ground.  But maybe it was luck.  Do what feels right to you.

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes:

Dig them up.  dig a little wider, pull gently and brush the dirt off.  Try not to bruise the sweet potato.  I try to use my hands for the most part.  Brush the dirt off.  DO NOT PUT ANY WATER ON THEM.  The only time you should wash them off with water is right before you eat them.  They store best with a little dirt on the outside. Keep any potatoes out that you may have bruised (damaged the skin) for eating soon, BUT NOT IMMEDIATELY.

Curing Sweet Potatoes:

Put them in a cool place for at least 10 days ( I waited over a month). Then you can eat them as regular.  I have not experimented with this, but I have heard that eating freshly dug sweet potatoes is disgusting.  I didn’t have to try that myself.  Maybe you would like to experiment?  If so, let me know how it turns out.

Storing Sweet Potatoes:

Store them in a root cellar or basement.  Some place cool.  DO NOT STORE THEM IN THE FRIDGE or any place below 50 degrees F.  This will make them go bad.

They store up to six months, although use your judgement.  If after 6 months, the potatoes look good, keep them and eat them.  Six months is just a rule of thumb, not  law.

Eating Sweet Potatoes

Oh!Boy!  This is the fun part! Make them how you like them.  Baked, Fried, mashed.

This is one crop that will earn it’s keep in your garden.  This plant has a high rate of return, stores easily, is super good for you and is relatively easy to grow.  Plant on, my friends!

 

Here’s my purpose, what’s yours?

Recently, Jack Spirko over at the The Survival Podcast had a contest.  The winner of the contest won a ticket to the Permaculture Voices 2 conference.  This is the second annual conference and the only conference of its kind.  This conference is a meeting of Permaculture farmers, teachers, innovators and Permaculture fans.  It is a place I want to be.  The contest was an essay contest. In 300 words or less, the contestants had to tell Jack why they should be selected to go to the conference.  I entered.  I did not win.  However, writing the essay allowed me to think deeply about my purpose and about what going to this conference would do for me.

I consider it a blessing anytime I get to examine myself and my motives more deeply,  It allows me to re-calibrate my actions so that I can be of the best service to myself and others.

I wanted to share my non-winning essay with you:

Helping and Healing.  This is my purpose.  Once one discovers their purpose, one discovers their passion.  Once a passion is discovered, dreams quickly become a reality through work and through doing.  Permaculture encompasses both helping and healing.  By healing the land, I can help heal people.  I am in the process of healing my own land, and I am working to help others heal themselves and their land through my blog.  I will continue to help others by holding workshops at my local library, granges, and farm to table restaurants and eventually at my homestead.  I want to spread knowledge and skills while leading through example.

I am a perpetual student of permaculture.  I continue to expand my knowledge base through books, podcasts and PDCs.  To me, permaculture is a way of living, thinking and doing.  It gives a person a new lens in which to see and evaluate the world around them.  Permaculture has also given me hope, drive and a realization of what my life’s purpose truly is.  Realizing my life’s purpose has been the strongest driving force I’ve experienced.

Investing in someone with a purpose, and someone who is driven to take action to make a real change is always smart.  This type of investment will certainly show a return on the initial investment.  By attending Permaculture Voices, I will be able to learn from others’ successes and from their mistakes.  I will get to meet with like-minded people, and make connections that can help me achieve my life’s purpose: Helping and Healing.  I may also be able to help others with their goals and life’s purpose.  This is an opportunity to help me help others, an opportunity for me to learn and improve.

I have not started any workshops yet, but I am in the thought process of who, what, when and how.

This leads me to two questions: What I can do to help you or your land heal?  What is your purpose?  I would love to read your comments!

Views Around Our Home

I love our home.  I love the location of our home. I love the land our home is on.

Recently, I wrote about how I was treated to a Bald Eagle in our back yard: here.  Being treated to a beautiful natural view around here is part of normal life for us.

I went for a run around my block and it started to snow.  It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a picture (thank goodness for small camera phones!):

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So then, I hopped of the road to enjoy the snow coming down on the creek.

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I even get to see healthy foxes by my home.  I always see him about a half a mile away from my house and my chickens.

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And in the morning, I get to see this sunrise:

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By moving out into the country, I have one day a week that I spend 4 hours commuting, 2 hours to work and 2 hours home from work.  The rest of the time I work from home.  It is worth every second of every minute I spend commuting to have this sanctuary be my home.  I love it here.  I love the people here and I love my life here.  I can have chickens, a huge garden, and a wood stove.  While it’s not perfect, it’s my home.

As time passes, I will continue to make updates to our home that will make it more and more ours.  We’ve lived here just over two years, and have spent all of our resources on the outside: Planting trees, bushes, shrubs, a garden and creating a home to have happy chickens.

I look forward to continued growth in our home and ourselves.  Thank you for sharing in our journey.

Back to Basics: Rice

This is an another installment of my back to basics series.  My first back to basics post was on cooking dried beans.  What goes better with beans than rice?  Rice and beans is a delicious and cheap meal.  Also, the ingredients are great for long term storage.

What Type of Rice to Use?

There are several types of rice: sushi, wild rice, brown rice, basmati rice, and the list goes on.  My favorite type of rice by far is basmati rice.  The basmati rice has a beautiful fragrance and a wonderful taste without having to add any spices.  Although, when I make rice and beans, I do add spices.  I will share how I make rice and beans in a later post.

Let’s Get Down to the Basic Business:

I  make my rice different than I’ve ever seen anyone else make their’s.  I also like my rice better than most any other I’ve tried.

  1. I start off by melting about a Tablespoon of butter or coconut oil in a sauce pan at medium high heat.IMG_0099
  2. I then add about 1 cup of rice and fry it up.  Allow your rice to warm up.  This will only take about 2 minutes.  Take care not to burn the rice.  You will start to smell the beautiful scent of rice fill your kitchen.  Especially if you are frying up that wonderful basmati rice.IMG_0101
  3. After about a minute or so add your homemade chicken broth to the rice.  You can also use water.  I prefer broth; it gives the rice a richer flavor and adds more nutritional punch to the dish.  For this I usually start off with a 2:1 ratio of liquid to rice.  So for one cup of rice, I add two cups of liquid.  I used a combination of defrosted broth and the broth cubes I talked about in this post.IMG_0103
  4. Bring your the liquid to a simmer, continuing to stir.  Bring the stove down to medium heat. Stir every few minutes.  Just to make sure you don’t have any rice burning to the bottom of the pot.  You may have some rice stick, or even some burn.  Your batch of rice is still good.IMG_0108
  5. Your rice will start to plump after about 20 minutes.  Now it’s time to use your most powerful tool in the kitchen: your mouth.  With a clean spoon grab a few grains of rice, and let cool.  Taste them.  If they taste done, you are done, if they are crunchy, continue to cook the rice.  ***NOTE*** if at any point in this process your rice starts to get dry, add another few cubes/Tablespoons of broth (or water).  IMG_0105
  6. When the rice reaches the consistency you desire, you are done.  If there is too much liquid in the pot at this point, continue to simmer your rice until most of the liquid has cooked off.  If you can’t possibly cook all the liquid off, drain the excess liquid from your rice, eat it and call it a learning experience.  Or if it all works out, and I hope it does, call it delicious.  IMG_0111

Enjoy your rice in your favorite recipe or as a side.  Let me know how it turned out!!

Ditch the Poof: Use a Wash Cloth

I’ll admit it, poofs are pretty awesome.  Whether  you use bar soap or a gel body wash, you are pretty much guaranteed a great lather.  They have a few drawbacks.  The main one that bothers me is that you can’t wash them.

These poofs are balls with an accumulation of mesh in the middle.  This middle is shaded from the outside with its outside layers and it’s almost never dry.  You don’t flatten your poof out to dry like a towel, you let it hang with all of its microbial dirtiness going on in its center.  While I understand a towel is made of cotton and a poof is a plastic material, I think we can still draw the same conclusion when thinking about it in the following way: take your towel after using it in the shower, crumple it into a ball and tie a string around it.  Then hang that tied towel in the shower (which most of the time is dark). How long would you feel comfortable using it without washing it?  How long do you go without washing your towel?

Granted, the different materials mean the poof will dry out faster, but after participating in the above mental exercise, I threw my (and my husband’s) poof away .  I had a small one in my bathroom cabinet that someone got me for Christmas years and years ago.  I found these instructions on it:

The instructions on the poof tell you to throw it out every 30 days.  It's so important, they tell you twice.

The instructions on the poof tell you to throw it out every 30 days. It’s so important, they tell you twice.

I wash my towels more than once a month, and I suspect you probably do, too.  Wouldn’t you want to replace your poof as often as you wash your towels, in the very least? That seems far from simple and highly wasteful.

For the past 2 years, my family and I have been using wash clothes.  I was even able to find super cool, super cute wash cloths sold at a local boutique.  ” Oh Julia! That sounds so expensive!” You may be thinking.  It actually wasn’t.  I believe it was less than $10 for 4 wash clothes.  And they look awesome. And super bonus, they were made by a local artisan.

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You can wash them after every use,  and they last a really long time.  I will trade that for less lather any day!

What the Helt is Spelt? A Discussion About An Ancient Grain

Spelt is a type of flour that folks who are gluten intolerant use.  Surprisingly this flour has more gluten than your regular wheat flour.  Over 98% of the time, when I use flour, it’s spelt.  What is it’s history, why can some gluten intolerant people eat it, and how on earth do you use it?

History of Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain.  Evidence exists that this grain has been used as early in the “fifth millennium BC.”  Let me translate that a bit.  The fifth millennium BC means 4000 BC.  In other words, over 6,000 years ago.  Yes, it is ancient, and we already know it’s a grain. Farmers in the United States used spelt as one of their main wheats until the 1980s.  At that time, spelt was replaced by common or bread wheat.

Common wheat, which accounts for 95% of the wheat grown in the USA, has been bred to have a shorter, more even stem.  This allows for greater ease when applying chemicals.  (This maybe our first hint as to why common wheat is not so great for us).

When the idea of going “organic” came about in the 60s, spelt made a rise back into semi-popularity, due the fact that spelt needs less fertilizer to be happy. Spelt stayed out of the main stream eye, allowing it to escape from the hybridization that common wheat experienced over the past few decades.

Why Is Spelt Easier for Some to Digest?

Common wheat has been hybridized to contain more gluten (albeit less gluten than spelt).  This gluten is a protein, as I discussed in previous post, and proteins are made of amino-acid chains.  These amino-acid structure can vary widely from one type of wheat to the next.  This means that your body can react differently from one type of gluten to the next.  Our bodies have had over 6,000 years to adapt to processing the unchanged spelt gluten proteins.  As common wheat and its structure keep on changing, we are not even one generation into adapting to process this gluten.

Anecdotally, my parents do not eat wheat or sugar.  Their diet has been wheat and sugar free for over a year, closer to two.  If they eat wheat, even if it’s hidden, their body lets them know.  Their reactions to eating common wheat is primarily sore and swollen joints and digestive upset.  When they tried eating some spelt, in the form of the bread I baked, they had none of the negative reactions they experience to common wheat products.  Please note, spelt is not part of their everyday diet, but rather a way for them to treat themselves to some bread without the immediate health repercussions.

How Do You use Spelt?

I have read a lot about how you have to modify your recipes in order to use spelt flour.  I’m not sure if you add more liquid or less liquid.  Maybe you kneed spelt dough for less time than other dough? Maybe there is a dance included?  I have not changed any recipes I’ve used.  The recipes that were designed for common wheat have worked fine for the uncommon spelt. I have done nothing different.  Please note: I dance while I bake, but that’s because of the awesome tunes I have playing in the background.  It has nothing to do with apeasing the Gods of Spelt.

So I encourage you to pick up some spelt and give it a try.  Let me know how it turns out!

My Favorite Chili Recipe: A Winter Favorite

Here is my favorite chili recipe.  It’s not only my favorite, it’s my husband’s favorite, too.  To taste this is to love this.  I’m not sure where the recipe originally came from, but I’ve modified it a bit over the years.  I’ve been making it for just under 9 years, and I have it just about dialed in for my tastes.

It’s so super easy, and they are ingredients you may have lying around.  Perfect for a day when you may be snowed in.  Or make it in the dutch oven and re-heat it on a campfire.

You need:

  • Some Butter (or oil, but please no veggie oil, that’s really bad for you) (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
  • An onion, diced
  • 3-4 Cloves of Garlic, diced
  • 2 pounds of ground beef
  • 2 16 oz cans of beans.  Or you can cook up dried beans, I started with 1 1/3 cups of dried beans and went from there.  Here’s my post on how to do that.
  • 1 cup of water (if you are using store canned beans, put the whole container (bean goo and all) in the chili, OR 2 cups if you are using the dried beans, which at this point will be strained.
  • 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 14.5 Ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chili
  • 2 14.5 Ounce can of diced tomatoes (if you like it spicier, have two cans with green chili’s and one without.  We don’t like a lot of spice in our house)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Chili Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons of Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon of Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons of Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon of Black Pepper
  • If you like it hot, you may want to add some hot sauce, too.  I’m not a spicy fan, so I don’t have any expertise here.

Now the next steps are really simple.  You’ll love this:

  1. Melt your butter or heat your oil.  Mix in your onions and garlic.  Heat until the onions are translucent. 20150108_175338
  2. Add your 2 pounds of Raw Beef to the pot 20150108_175434
  3. And Brown it. This really shouldn’t be a third step, but I have a picture!20150108_181209
  4. Now, add in all your other ingredients:20150108_181801
  5. Stir the ingredients together and let simmer for at least 1/2 an hour.20150108_184713
  6. Now EAT IT!!!20150108_184946
  7. And/Or Serve it to you family (we like ours with a little Parmesan Cheese sprinkled on top):20150108_190144

All of our bowls looked like this at the end:

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This is a great and simple chili recipe that I have used for years.  Once it sleeps in your refrigerator overnight, it gets even better!  This is a family favorite in my house!

Free-Range Chickens: It’s not that Great

Through experience, I came to find out having our chickens go free range is not as wonderful as I had once thought.  Our fence that holds the chickens in fell down.  It is a temporary fence, and it’s easy enough to put back up, but all 18 chickens got out from the garden area. At first it was wonderful.  I looked out from the window above my kitchen sink, and I was treated to a view of chickens doing chickeny things on the hillside.  20150104_091436

Chickens are funny creatures.  When they move, it looks like they have choreographed a comedic play just for you.  Their scratching is great for the garden while it is fallow, as I discussed in this post.  However, when they are in spots that are not meant for them, they can wreak havoc.

As Fall was rolling in, I mulched around my trees, brambles, bushes and strawberries.  I used straw in most places, and some pine needle “straw” around my blueberries and strawberries in the front of the house.  Loose mulch is chicken crack.  They love scratching in the loose mulch.  I think it’s like a chicken treasure hunt.  While I want to provide the best life for them I can, I am less than thrilled that they scattered the mulch, I apply the mulch to protect the plants and feed the plants as it breaks down.

I applied the pine needles in the front of the house.  I was a little disheartened when I walked out my door and saw this:

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They dug up my strawberries, exposed a ton of dirt and pushed all the dirt onto the driveway:

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Later, they were running out into the road.  Running into the road is not especially good for their long term well being, as moving cars and chickens do not mix.  And there was poop where poop does not belong.

Overall, I am not a fan of having my chickens free-range.  It is unsafe for them, and a headache for me.  And I also don’t believe the opposite approach is good either where they are cooped up in a small space and they can’t even spread their wings.   In my opinion, the best way to raise chickens is by using a rotational grazing pattern.

Rotational grazing is used by those who have any number of animals: pigs, cows, sheep, and yes, chickens.  The basic idea is the chickens (or insert your animal here) start off in one fenced in area.  They have lots of room to be a chicken.  They can scratch, find new tasty bugs, and make me laugh.  Once the land has been worked over by the chickens, but the land is still in good shape, you move the chickens to the next bit of paddock.  The chickens now get lots of new goodies and they aren’t depleting your land.

Meanwhile that first piece of land you had them in is now benefiting from the extra fertilizer and the bit of disturbance from the chickens.  The chickens won’t come back to that paddock until it is ready for them.  That is ideal.  BUT this is not what I’m doing now.  I have a slow paddock shift.  Where I’m letting the chickens go crazy in my garden, and they are tilling and fertilizing the soil.  When it’s time to plant in the garden, I will move the chickens into the system I described above.

 

 

Storage Tip for Broth

Making broth from chicken bones is super easy.  I outlined how to do it here: How to Make Broth.  Once you have all this broth you can freeze it, but what if you only want a portion of what you have frozen?  Do you have to thaw it and refreeze the remainder?

No!  A super easy solution for broth storage is to freeze in ice cube trays.  On a minimum, I let the broth sit overnight in the fridge and skim the fat off the top.

There is still a bit of fat on top.  I was able to remove most of it, the little bit left is fine.

There is still a bit of fat on top. I was able to remove most of it, the little bit left is fine.

I then pour it into trays.

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And put the trays in the freezer and let it freeze.

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When I take my cubes out of the freezer, I have to leave it sit out for a little bit before I’m able to get the cubes out of the tray.  Make sure you transfer the cubes into a freezer bag or other storage container or your cubes may get freezer burnt.

Now, if you want to make a small batch of soup, or just need a little more broth for a project, you are ready to go.

A standard ice cube trays make a cube that is about 1 1/2 Tablespoons.  That means that if you need 1 cup of broth, you will need about 11 cubes.  This may vary depending on how much you fill you tray, and the size of the cubes on the tray, but for this type of cooking, you rarely need exact measures.

This simple tip has made life a little easier for me, and I hope it does for you, too!!!!