Saturday, March 13, 2010

signs of spring- peach blossoms

gardens 2010-starting seeds

The last couple weeks I have been  getting seeds started slowly but surely. The only spring crops I start early are peppers, tomatoes and  tobacco. This year  we do not need any peppers so I am not starting any but we are going for a super crop of tomatoes and a larger harvest of tobacco this year.

We are running out of tobacco  (+/-100 plants) about 4 months early so will need to add  approximately 50  more plants to carry us through another 4 months. We are also going to grow some for a friend   so will need to add about 50 plants for him  and then add another 50 on for good measure because we do not want to run out and have to quit. We all need to have one bad habit don't we?

Today I  got our tobacco seeded.  I used meat trays with holes poked through the bottom for drainage, filled with  soil mix, moistened the soil and then lightly broadcast the tobacco seed. You do not cover tobacco seed  when starting,the seeds need the light in order to germinate.  The top of the soil then  needs to stay damp  until the seedlings emerge. Most varieties will germinate in 1-2 weeks some  will take up to three.

At this stage, the biggest issue with growing your own is not washing the seeds into the soil as you moisten the soil on top. I use  a spray bottle with a fine mist and spray  at about a foot up in the air  across the trays so as not to wash the seed into the soil or blow the seeds out completely.  Tobacco seed is very tiny about the size of a pin head. A little seed goes a long way.  I always over seed, as they sprout any weaklings will be  pulled out and then at about 2 inches in height I  will transplant them to 6 ounce grow cups.

This year we are going to grow two varieties. The Silkleaf is from seed  we saved last season and Kelly Burley  is a new to us  variety that we  will  try. We will  only save seed this season from the Burley rather than the Silkleaf as we got plenty of seed for probably the rest of our lives last year.

I have been planting tomatoes a little bit for the last couple weeks. A couple funky varieties were seeded over the last 10 days or so  and then a couple hybrids  last week and today I planted a few heirloom types. All total  we are up to about 150 plants, some of which I will kill  before they ever make it to transplant stage and then  a few more will be  poor doers, get broken or just die somewhere along the way between seed and harvest.  I will likely  plant  one or two more small plantings of a couple varieties this  week and then take some cuttings off my mother plant to hopefully plant somewhere around 200  tomatoes in all. Hopefully this year we will get a great harvest and replenish all my tomato stocks that we have completed depleted after two years of poor tomato production.

So, not including the funky or hybrid varieties of  maters this season, we have planted Rutger's,Brandywine, yellow pear, Henderson's pink, Homestead and Emerald evergreens. Hopefully one or two or all of these varieties will  produce a bumper crop of tomatoes this season.

When I plant tomatoes I generally use egg cartons  or  meat trays and transplant once they are a couple inches tall. I fill my containers most of the way  with soil , moisten and lay the seeds on the moist soil. I then  take a small handful of  soil and barely cover my seeds. Most tomatoes sprout in 7-10 days. At transplant time bury all the way  up to the lower leaves to help ensure they grow good healthy strong root systems and stems. Tomatoes actually do well  with several transplants if needed. If I notice any of mine getting a bit leggy or spindly I  transplant  and bury the stem as high as I can.

At this stage the biggest issue with  tomato seedlings is lack of adequate light and over loving aka over watering.  Once my seeds sprout and become baby plantlings, I bottom water rather than from the top water. This one little change has saved countless baby plants lives over the last few years.   Most veggies do much better with natural light than what they  do with   artificial light. So far as I have noticed it does not matter how muchfake light or how good of a fake light system they have, they are going to do much better in natural lighting . If you have a place where they can go  during the day and get straight up  natural sun and then bring them in for protection at night by all means do so, your plants will thank you for it.

As of today, all our indoor seed starting has officially been finished. Of course I will add a few of this and that between now and planting time but  for the most part we are done.  In about 3 weeks  we could use a few extra hands to transplant all that tobacco into grow cups though.

Friday, March 12, 2010

lacto fermented soda-part 2

Once the culture for the soda is made, it is time to make the syrup. The recipe I learned with was ginger beer but a syrup can be made from any number of things, the choice is entirely up to you. No matter what flavor you make the syrup is made pretty much the same.

Here are the second steps of the process in video format.

you will need a one gallon, preferably glass container to mix your soda in

syrup recipe
 in a kettle combine
2 qts water
2 1/2 oz of fresh grated ginger (bout the size of a thumb)
Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.Shut off heat.
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Stir until dissolved. Strain through cheese cloth into the gallon jar. Add 6 cups of water to jar and let cool until room temperature. Strain 1 cup of starter and add to syrup mixture. Fill remainder of jar with water Stir . Cover with cheesecloth and let sit on counter for 3 days up to 10 days. Stir twice daily. The longer you ferment it the more alcohol it will make and less sweet it will be. There will be bubbles on top of your soda.

Bottle your soda into any container that will close tight. ( glass soda resealable bottles, old soda plastic bottles etc. The smaller the jar the better it will retain its fizz) Fill bottle to about 2 inches from top, cap tightly and allow to continue to ferment for 3 more days. Chill and serve. Fruit sodas will most likely need to be chilled after a day or two as they ferment more rapidly.

The first few times I made our soda, I made it in any container that sealed and it worked. Just recently however I acquired a couple cases of beer bottles, a capper and several thousands caps. When I bottle the batch I currently have  going I will make a post on that system. Its pretty neat and can't wait to try it.

lacto fermented soda-part 1

Soda in the old fashioned sense is nothing like  the high fructose laden, fake colored and flavored, modified, preserved crap known as soda today. It was in fact  a medicinal type of drink that dates back  to drinking mineral waters. The drinking of either natural or artificial mineral water was considered a healthy practice and thus was sold in  pharmacies across the country. The pharmacists selling the water then began to add medicinal and flavorful herbs to the unflavored mineral water and soda was born. They used birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, and fruit extracts. Early American pharmacies with  soda fountains became a popular part of culture. Over time, customers  wanted to take their "health" drinks home with them and a soft drink bottling industry grew from consumer demand. From there we buggered it all up and completely lost our way  as it seems we have done with most things in this country. 

Some where along the path of time, people figured out that through fermentation  carbon dioxide was produced, bubbles were born and all this could replace the mineral water that had nature given bubbles . Of course modern mechanization has changed all that but  over time some folks have kept the traditions alive and some of us are continuing to  learn them and then  passing it on to others.

As with near all things there are several variations of making lacto- fermented sodas. I do not know if one or another is any easier,  better flavored or anything else but I do know this method has worked for us and is currently the method we use to make our soda.  At some point I may run across something that is easier or that suits us better but in the mean time this  recipe works nicely.

A couple things to keep in mind before making the culture or the soda are It is definitely not a soda we are accustomed too.It smells like alcohol, but doesn't taste much of it. The lacto-fermentation process does indeed make an alcohol however it is a minuscule amount unless of course you over ferment.This is not a sweet, syrupy concoction. Though the recipe and the culture both contain fair amounts of sugar, the fermentation process eats most of it leaving you with a very mildly sweet drink.Fruit sodas ferment quickly and will turn into a wine cooler rapidly although I must admit mixed with a fruit juice they are pretty tasty.

Making the soda is a rather long drawn out ordeal. It is a simple process yet as often seems the case with most things old fashioned it takes forever to go from preparation to  edible or in this case drinkable. From start to finish this can be a two week or more process to get your first batch of soda. This is  basically a two step process. First is making the actual starter culture itself.

For those that learn better by seeing things done here are two good videos on  making your starter culture.

Starter culture
In a quart jar add
2 tbsp diced fresh ginger
2 tsp sugar
3 cups water(non chlorinated)
Stir ingredients and cover with cheese cloth and a rubber band. Sit container on counter. Each day stir the culture at least 2x. At one of two stir time, the culture must be fed. At the  desired feeding time add 2 tsp fresh diced ginger and 2 tsp sugar. Continue for one week.Culture should have a few bubbles on the top. At this point the culture can be topped and put in the fridge indefinitely.  A few days before using, pull the culture out of the fridge, measure out two tbsp of ginger throw the remaining culture away. Add  3 cups water 2 tbsp sugar and feed for a few days before making your next batch  of  soda.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

mid week mumblings

The last two days have been rainy, not overly but enough to  make it too wet to be out working in it. We actually needed a bit of rain and could use a bit more as we only got about a 1/4 inch total.  I did notice on one of the trips down to so critter chores that many of the  first onions are now poking their little green heads through the soil. That is always a good sign. The peas are still sitting dormant. I hope they poke up in the next couple days or I will start worrying then  replant and then wind up with 500 pea plants.

I have been incredibly lazy the last two days. Instead of seizing the down time  from outside chores and getting some of the inside  spring projects done I did  nothing for the most part. I did clean the silverware drawer but that is it. 

Tonight I am making some home made yogurt. I made a large batch   as I need some that I can use in place of sour cream, some for yogurt and some for yo-cheese. Earlier I made some chocolate granola crunch so that  we can have almost good for us snacks in the evenings.  Dinner tonight is luvvin (lentil) loaf with  cheddar n garlic mashed taters and some corn on the cob.

Gumbalina is  getting large these days. She is near a month old and momma  still says  she's the best baby in the whole world. I don't know about that but she  is pretty cute even with the red hair thing she has going on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I am so cheap-container reuse

Aside from my seed addiction I  must confess I have another. The upside to this one is that essentially it is a free  addiction, however, this one is much more space consuming and does not look nearly as nice as the seeds do. In fact this one is quite ugly and makes me look like some bat loony hoarder person since there is  no way to hide them or pack them away. Nope, right in the corner of the living sits my large, overflowing, dust attracting, mish mash of empty containers that I collect.

Since we are not much in the way of consumers this is something that  I have been doing for quite sometime  in order to obtain  my expansive  collection.  I have everything from condiment and herb containers, to pill bottles,  coffee containers, onion bags and oil bottles. If I have bought it in the last few years and it has a reusable container, with  the exception of peanut butter, I wash it and it goes to my collection in the giant box in the living room.

Because we grow about 85-90% of our own food here on the land we  actually do use most of these containers over the course of a year. The box is set to overflow because we are nearing the end of winter and as we use our stocks the containers get  washed  and so the cycle goes. I keep collecting  because  eventually  they do wear out and we will need replacements.  And hey if the SHTF one day, I will be the  one  with the seed and   container carrying goat drawn wagon when all the other containers have ceased to exist.

One of the things we buy consistently is non dairy creamer. Don't look at me that way! My old boss on the dairy farm  looked at me that way too n then asked "why oh why do you choose the chemicals when you have 50 thousand pounds of fresh milk and all the cream you could ever want right here?"  I just like it and I can't answer why. Any way, all those containers make good dry good storage. Here in the  rainforest mountains of North Ga, salt and sugar do not fair well when left in the original store bought containers. The creamer containers hold them wonderfully and a large container will hold 5 pounds of salt exactly. 2  large containers will hold 5 pounds of sugar or 4 pounds of spaghetti noodles. They are then   able to be stored indefinitely.

Oil, condiment and herb containers are all generally used for  the same purposes once there original product is gone .Medicinal oils and tinctures are generally made in glass olive oil bottles. Pill containers become seed  containers that are pretty water proof compared to paper packets.Old water or soda bottles are saved for soda that we make here. Sour creme and other mid size containers are used for  freezing eggs. 16 oz containers hold 8 of our smaller eggs while the 24 oz containers hold a dozen larger eggs. Old onion or potato bags are used for onions, garlic or potatoes here.

We dry a lot of our summer veggies here.Unlike some, we don't store the majority of our food for long term storage. The bulk of it is meant to go simply from one season to the next and then we begin again. Because of this most any container  that seals tightly can be used for storage purposes.Yes, I know, mason jars are nice because we can see the contents but  around here they are also at a premium. That though is a a whole other addiction.

Often times  if a used  container can serve no other purpose for anything that you can see, there is   still a purpose, you just haven't seen it yet. Here,  the "I dunno's" generally get used for feed or water dishes, planters, or seed starters.  Very  few containers of any sort  get thrown out.

Believe it or not I was once a neat freak. Everything had its place and clutter was  something I abhorred.  When  we first  gravitated to a more sustaining life style of growing , preserving and  preparing the majority of our food here on the land I still despised clutter and tossed everything in the trash. Manthing who is a saver of all things was forever on me about throwing things out as I was on him about keeping things. Over several years I have learned that many many  vessels are needed to store stuff and things in and since our consumption of bought things has gone down  considerably, I have realized  the importance of saving the containers of  the few things that we do buy and I have learned  that there is very little true garbage out there after just one use.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

corn puppies

I came across  a recipe  for corn fritters and when I got the batter mixed it was too thin for my liking and it was boring looking. So as per usual  I added some color and flavor to the recipe until I deemed it fit  for consumption and wound up with this recipe. Since they then tasted more like a hush puppy than a corn fritter I dubbed them  corn puppies.

corn puppies
 2 eggs
1 can cream corn
1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
2 TB sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup gr onion

mix all ingredients and drop into 400 degree oil til browned. Serve hot. Recipe makes about 20 large puppies.

around the homestead -fetchin cooking wood

Ahhh, yes, it's that time of year again when we  begin  combing our little piece of heaven on  earth for  dead fall or as some of us like to call it, squaw wood. Squaw wood  are the dead  limbs and branches that fall from the trees through out the year and litter up the forest floor.They are easy to come by and generally burn well since they are already dead before falling.  Usually by  autumn of each year  our dead fall  pickings are slim since this is what we use to cook with  from  mid March until November. By the time spring comes around again  we have a replenished supply of firewood within easy  walking and hauling distance to the stove.

We try and keep a good selection of sizes ranging from tiny twigs to   limbs about the size of  a wrist around to cook with.  This allows us to  be able to regulate the fire temps under the cook top  to better suit what we are cooking. Since wood is all we use to do all of our cooking on it is also important to keep a supply of ready to use wood on hand and out of the weather. Dry wood is much easier and less frustrating to cook with than wood that has been rained on for five consecutive days.  Although we do not use a lot of wood in a given week it is still a  time consuming task that takes about two hours from start to finish. We would use a lot more wood if we cooked large meals on it every day but I try and do a one day a week  large cooking day and then just need short quick fires  through out the week to make new dishes from those I have already cooked, to reheat things and make side dishes.We do try to only use the stove once a day  for cooking  and opt to use the  microwave while we still have power and a microwave that works. We also use a small  fuel stove to make morning coffee. While we willingly step back in some ways, I would prefer to have my morning coffee before  I take that step back each day.  This is not the wood that we use for the oven in these pictures. This is solely for the cook top side.

Gathering the wood for cooking is one of my favorite chores here. I enjoy  going for short walks and then on my way back  I gather wood as I go and  stack it at the end of the shack until wood breaking day. One nice thing is  that for the most part  we don't have to be picky about the type of wood we use for the cook top.  smoke chamber is  separate from where food is cooked so we can utilize much of the fallen pine that would otherwise go to waste.

Here's a "survival in the woods" trick...For fire starter we use pine cones and snaps or pencil-thick and thinner branches on the bottom trunk of a spruce tree or other conifer. They stay dry  in rainy weather, are easy to snap off and gather by hand and they make excellent tinder for starting a fire. The tiniest of the tiniest twigs snapped into 3 or 4 inch  snaps will  light with a match then  slowly add slightly larger twigs  until you work you way up to the pencil size, by then your fire is a guarantee. With a little bit of practice, you should never need any other jazzy fire starters again.


I am so cheap-replanting green onions

Yesterday I planted one of our beds out in green onions. Not seeds or sets mind you  but with scraps of root ends that get chopped off in prepping and normally thrown away or put in to compost. I save all of our green onion roots and every month or so plant out a nice little bed of them. It keeps us in fresh green onions all year as well as the greens to dehydrate  consistently and by doing this it  makes us sustainable in that aspect of our life.

Replanting the root ends is not something that one can only do when they grow their own nor are green onions the only veggie that you can do this with, but more on  some of the others in a different post. In fact, store bought varieties do wonderful  regrowing and it is great to know that you have a food on hand that is essentially ever growing or recycled. After just one cycle of regrowth your  onions will have paid for themselves and from there on out it is money saved.  Another neat thing about these greenies is that you don't even have to have a pot with soil to do this with, you can simply  use a bowl of water. Talk about a  super, simple, lesson  on basic  hydroponics and science for the kiddies.
Any who, all I do is cut the bottom 3/4 of an inch or so of the green onion when using leaving a tiny portion of the onion itself and the root.  I then  throw them in a cup of water in the fridge  and let them sit until the next  time I plant. If it is going to be a while before the next planting, I change  the  water every couple days until I do. They will stay good this way for a  few weeks if not longer.

When I  am ready to plant I just stick the root end down in the soil and cover with an inch of  soil.  They will regrow  rather quickly and be ready to harvest again in a couple months. Once they are a few inches tall  begin to  trim the greens  and use them in soups, salads or whatever else you enjoy  them in.  I like to dehydrate mine for veggie dips and salad dressings.

To grow the onions in water simply fill a shallow open container with water. Completely cover the onion root with water. Place the container in a sunny location to grow, the plants don't need direct sunlight so any room that is fairly well lit will work, although, the more sun they receive the faster they will grow. Replace water every few days as it evaporates. As the onions grow, stand them upright by leaning them against the side of the container so that the top part of the onion is not submerged in water. Once grow either, eat and repeat or plant in to soil.

Monday, March 8, 2010

chitting/pre- sprouting potatoes

 Potatoes are one of the earliest big crops of veggies that we plant here on the homestead. While we have  many small crops of early spring veggies, the onions and potatoes are our first larger scale plantings. Potatoes are a cool weather crop. Potatoes  begin  growing when the soil temperature reaches  45 degrees. They grow the best when day  time temperatures range from 60-65 degrees and night temperatures are between 45-55 degrees. Production will stop when  the temperatures exceed 85 degrees. We can generally plant our potatoes here on St Patrick's day, they have a  90-120 day growth cycle  so  harvest is easily remembered  as the week  of Independence  Day.

One thing you can do to  make for a better harvest of potatoes is  to chit them  or pre sprout them. Chitting potatoes is the process of exposing seed potatoes to warmth and light to give it  a running start on the season by encouraging the eyes to sprout.  This is the one time when you actually want the potato skin to green up as it is a sign of growth. Without chitting some of your seed potatoes may fail to grow while others may send up as many as seven or eight stems which cause them to be  overcrowded and  become tall and spindly. The weakened growth will yield  a poor crop  of small potatoes.

The following is  how I do it. This doesn't mean it is how everyone does it. If you look around you will see many different ways and means to go about the process. I don't know as if any method is  more or less correct than another but this is  how it works best for us in our situation. After experimentation you may find your own system that works better. 

 Most of our potatoes  in storage stayed usable right up until now. Instead of wasting perfectly good potatoes where there were no eyes forming I cut the  section with no eyes off and cooked them. 

Here is  one of our saved potatoes from last year minus the end where I salvaged.  Note the several eyes on this  already begun to grow.

Cut the potato into sections so that each section weighs  2 -3 oz and has at least one good eye.  You can use small seed potatoes or cut bigger potatoes into 2 to 4 ounce pieces. Cutting the potato increases the tendency to rot, so leave the pieces out for 2-3 days so the cut ends will callous.

To chit, place the seed potatoes in indirect sunlight at 65-75 degrees. The pieces should be eyes up. After about 5-7 days, the seed pieces will begin to sprout.If there are more than 3 sprouts per section rub off all but three  and plant.

Because I use smaller pieces of potato for  planting than many people do, I plan for each small section planted to produce 1.5  pounds of potato. This estimate may be a little low but it is an easy way to figure out how many  plants we need each  year  and about how many potatoes to keep set aside for seed purposes

By my cutting off the still good but eyeless bits of potatoes I was able to cook up a two gallon kettle full of potatoes today. Doesn't seem like much but for us that is easily 6 meals worth  of spuds that otherwise would have been  thrown in the ground next week.

monday's mountain musings

We have been quite busy over the last several days working on getting the raised beds back in to crop ready shape. Thus far we have about 1/6 of the beds ready for planting. Couple, few more weeks and we will be done.  The weather has been absolutely gorgeous so staying out and working until you are dog tired is or has been pretty easy. 

This past week I planted more onion sets, more peas, lettuce, radishes, spinach, some carrots, collard and  beets.Today i moved the container plants i have had in the gh  out in to the hot tub. If it gets too cold out I can just run a plastic sheet over the hoops and turn it into an insta-greeh house. This gives me a bit more room in the gh as soonly more babies from the house will be moved down there. My peas and lettuce in the gh are now sprouting nicely as are my experimental tomatoes, cukes and zooks in the house. I got the potatoes chitting today for a St. Pat's day planting.

Today our last doe kidded and gave us another buckling. This gives us 5 live kids for the year. All will  probably be sold once they are weaning age as will  a few of our does. We are going to go with just three   goats from here on out as this will make  us nearly sustainable with their feed needs.

 Here is a bit of video from when I discovered  Abby had kidded today. I was intending to bed them and get them their leaves to munch when I found the new lil guy so instead videotaped  babies.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

over wintered veggies-turnip harvest

While out  working up the terraces today to get them ready for planting I decided to go and check  on my little bed of overwintered turnips and my celery plants I had left for seed this year. To my surprise the celery was growing and bright green and we had some lovely little turnips ready for picking.

I picked enough for a couple of meals for the two of us  and thinned them out where they were a bit cluttered and brought them in for dinner tonight as what better accompaniment to  veggie bacon cheeseburgers than turnip fries and a melon smoothie for dessert. The bunnies and chickens will get a treat of turnips trimmings and small greens.

turnip fries
8 medium turnips
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
dash salt
dash pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp flour

Peal and cut turnips into  fry type strips. mix all ingredients in bag , add turnips shake and place coated turnips on lightly greased baking sheet.   Cook on 425 for 15-20 minutes turning once. serve hot

silent sunday