Food on the Shelf

Here is what we’ve been up to – adding food to the shelf. We have plans for more to come including cowpeas, chili, tomatoes, tomato sauce, green beans, sunflowers and amaranth. Not everything will end up in jars, but will be on the shelf in some fashion. Food. The essence of life.

Carrots

Beets

These are the best tasting beets we have ever grown.

Green beans – a basic staple

Winnowing amaranth
Amaranth for our bread

Thelma Sanders winter squash

Winter squash and pinto bean harvest

Communication is always essential.
Our first apple crop. These are wind falls.

The tomatoes are being frozen for future canning.
The more food we put on the shelf, the more content we feel about feeding ourselves for a few more months. That’s a great feeling. Enjoy your harvest, whether it be a garden or a grocery store. 
Stay vigilant. Stay away from crowds. Be ready for anything, it just feels near.
Until next time – Fern

Homestead News Volume 21

We are enjoying below normal temperatures here this week which is a welcome relief to the hot humid weather we have been having. Our hot weather has been similar to what is happening across the country east of here, we have been having daily heat advisories for a while now. We know the heat will return because that is what is normal for this location in the middle of summer, but this morning the low was 61*, normal is about 80* in the midst of summer.

Self discipline has kicked in a little better this summer with rising early and getting out of the house before 10:00am. We don’t always, and definitely haven’t always in the past. It’s easy to sit and drink coffee, visit and peruse the internet. That’s more fun than going outside and sweating. But when we do get up and about and get things done, it feels better, physically and mentally. The bonus is that things get done. So, here are some things that have been happening around the homestead.

We have put about two dozen roosters in the freezer, with the last of them butchered today. Now that the chickens are finished we have six wethers we need to get in the freezer as well. That will be next on the meat preservation list.

There are now more jars on the shelf including green beans, turnip greens and beets.

The garden continues to produce a good harvest almost daily. We are currently getting okra, tomatoes, peppers and green beans.

The pinto beans have been pulled and I’m working on shelling them for canning. The harvest would have been much larger if I had realized pinto beans are pole beans, not bush beans. 

Pinto bean harvest

The first planting of cow peas, purple hull peas, are just about ready to begin blooming and the second planting is up and growing well.

We have harvested the first cutting of amaranth. I will be doing a separate article soon. The second planting is in and also doing very well.

Amaranth after the main seed head has been harvested.

New amaranth seedlings

I have pondered doing a Goat Tale for you, but there really isn’t much to tell so I will include them here. The doe, Patch, that had mastitis and a retained placenta, is now healthy, and I am still milking her on the ‘good’ side of her udder.

Patch – you know, see that patch of white on her side?

In the last few weeks all of our does have bred which has happened before, but is unusual. Neither the does or the buck seem interested in breeding during the heat of the summer most years. This breeding means in the next few months our milk supply will diminish and dry up sometime before they give birth in December. Winter babies are good. They tend to be healthy and thrive better than summer babies, but we will miss having our own fresh milk while waiting for them.

Here is a sneak peek at a project Frank has been working on. He will fill you in on the details in a future article.

We have begun reading Leigh Tate’s book Prepper’s Livestock Handbook. Leigh blogs over at 5 Acres & A Dream which is packed with information about developing their homestead and becoming as self-sufficient as possible. Leigh does a lot of research and tracks data covering their successes and failures. This is where I discovered amaranth and kefir. If you haven’t been there, go take a look, she has a wide variety of information available. We’ll be telling you more about her book after we have more time to graze through it. After all, it is about livestock. 

Frank and I were talking about plans for our activities yesterday and came to the conclusion that this time of year almost everything we do is related to food. It is the food production and preservation time of year. Other things can be postponed until winter when the harvest is in and the weather cools down. 

Life is good on the homestead. Very good. The world? Well, that’s another story. I could direct you to all sorts of horrible, troubling things, but you know what is out there. You know what is coming our way. Prepare accordingly. Don’t be caught by surprise. What comes may shock us, may devastate us, may end the world as we know it. But until that time arrives, the sun is shining, I get to spend my days with the man I love at my side. The flowers are blooming. There is food on our shelves. We have a wonderful life.

Until next time – Fern

What’s Growin’ in the Garden 3

I looked back at the pictures from the previous garden update and realized what a difference a month makes. We have had a few more storms and wind, but the plants are much larger and there was not much negative affect from the weather. This article is long on pictures, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy. 

June 22nd

July 13th

The rest of these pictures are from July unless otherwise indicated.

Pinto bean weed patch, July 13th


This looks like overgrown weeds, doesn’t it? This is the pinto bean patch interspersed with crabgrass and other delectable weeds…. I have begun to slowly pull the plants and harvest what I can. Next year I will know these need a trellis. An error on my part not knowing pintos are a vine like pole beans. I just made the assumption they were a bush variety like the Jacob’s Cattle beans I have been growing for the last few years.

Once the pinto beans are harvested, this area will receive carrot and beet seedlings. I will probably plant a couple of hills of yellow squash and see if we can have a fall crop for fresh eating.

The trellis next to the pintos has the peppers and Missouri Wonder pole beans. The peppers are just starting to produce well. I will be freezing some of them soon. We have found that frozen, chopped peppers come in handy cooking through the off season.

The yellow squash is finished thanks to the annual squash bug invasion. These will be pulled up and replaced by another cowpea patch.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen and we have begun to freeze them. We have two gallons in the freezer so far. Last summer we froze 20 gallon of tomatoes that we turned into tomato sauce. They seem to be ripening late again this year. Last summer many people in our area barely got any tomatoes and most folks we talked to indicated their gardens didn’t do well at all. We’ll see how this year turns out.

 

We tilled between these tomato trellises about a month ago with the new electric tiller and this is all that has grown there. Without the tilling it would have the same crabgrass overgrowth you see at the opening of the row. I remain very impressed with how this new tiller helps to eliminate grass and weeds compared to the Mantis that I used and liked for years. These amaranth seedlings will be planted between the tomato trellises and in the now harvested corn patch which I’ll show you in a minute.

Amaranth seedlings

Speaking of amaranth, we have harvested some of the heads and are drying them in the greenhouse. I probably picked the first few before they were quite ready, but this is a new learning process for us. There are more heads to harvest from the original growth and we hope the side shoots will now continue to grow and produce more grain. For now we are not harvesting the entire plant, only the top most portion of the main grain head.


How are we going to winnow and clean the grain? Well, we have yet to figure that out. We have some fine strainers that may work and will cross that bridge once the seed heads are dry and ready to work.

The cowpeas we planted right before the last garden article are growing well. They will soon fill in this area between the tomatoes and okra. For now the zinnias are taller, but that won’t last much longer.

Purple hull cowpeas

The okra has been slow to grow and produce this year. It just hasn’t liked the cool, wet spring and the lack of sunshine. One of the nice things about this patch is that it was grown from seed that we saved last year.

And speaking of seeds, much of the garden this year was grown from our seeds. This has been a goal for many, many years, one that we are starting to make some progress on. From our own seeds this year we planted green beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, winter squash, turnips, zinnias and marigolds. And yes, you read that right, carrots. As you know, carrots don’t seed the first year, so I had to plant them in a separate part of the garden two years ago. We harvested these seeds last year.


The last of the corn has been harvested and I have a question. I didn’t realize that corn grows suckers similar to tomatoes. I broke them off thinking they would prevent the stalk from producing good ears, but I think some of those plants didn’t produce any ears. Would someone increase my knowledge about the growth and production of corn? We haven’t grown any in a number of years and have never been tremendously successful.

 

  
The strawberries have died. Last year after we planted them they grew very well. Then toward the end of summer, some of the leaves started getting brown spots, curling and dying. The only information I could find was that a virus in the soil causes this problem. The solution? Kill the plants and start over somewhere else. I tried inoculating with nematodes to see if that would have any impact, but it didn’t. The plants started growing this year and trying to produce in the wet, cloudy spring, but most of the berries rotted from the excessive moisture. Now, the virus has wiped out the rest of the plants.





We had a plum harvest this year. Here is half of it. Tasted great!

We have some lettuce coming up in the small bed by the back porch. I’m not sure how well it will do in the heat of summer, but fresh salad greens do sound good.

  
We are blessed to be able to live where and how we wish, and we certainly hope this continues as long as possible. There seriously appears to be very troubled times coming. Plan and plant ahead.

Until next time – Fern

What’s Growin’ in the Garden 2

Interesting that I was thinking of doing a garden update today since we had rain forecast. I have some pictures from May 25th and was going to add a few more today. Well, it is raining. We had and inch of rain in five minutes, then ended up with 2″ in about 30 minutes and it arrived with 25MPH winds. Here are some pictures from the porch.

Our creek has extended into the backyard.

North side of the house, water running, now the corn is facing west laying over.

Our new creek through the turnip bed.

Lots of water – this is normally dry

I won’t know if there is any permanent damage for a few days and will let you know about that in the next update. Message for me – always plan for the unexpected. Always…..always.

Here are a few comparisons from the last article. Then pictures and comments about what’s growing out there – or was – or maybe is still growing. Time will tell.
 

April 22nd

May 25th

We are still using coffee grounds for acidity around some plants, these were for the blueberries. The eggs shells have made their way around the base of all squashes and tomatoes, so these were given to the peppers.

 

 

Pinto beans

The pinto beans are doing well and I have learned something. They vine like pole beans. I thought they were a bush bean, but they look just like the Missouri Wonders, except they don’t have a trellis to grow on. Another thing we’ve noticed is that some of them appear to have the same type of curly top problem some of the tomatoes have. Because of that I think the person that commented about the soil being too fertile is probably right. Some of the beans look great and some of them are wrinkled up. Another good learning experience.



Missouri Wonder green beans next to the pinto beans


While we are in this corner of the garden, here are the two apple trees. In the past we have harvested about 20 apples altogether in the seven or eight years these trees have been here. This year there are many apples. We hope they remain on the trees long enough to ripen and harvest. I’m wondering if I will have enough to can a few which leads me to pondering the best way to do that without any added sugar or other ingredients. Any ideas?

Comfrey by the apples. The chickens get a handful each morning.

Sunflowers are planted at the end of each trellis and here and there in a couple of other places.

 I told you about the potatoes Frank bought for me in the last article. Well, right after we planted them it rained and rained and rained. Four plants survived the wet soil. They look healthy and vigorous, though, so we will see what kind of harvest we get.


We have had a few meals of the first small yellow crook neck squash. There is nothing like those first few meals, they always taste so good. Soon we will be overrun with too many, but that’s not such a bad problem to have. We can always share with the chickens. We lost a few winter squash and one yellow squash plant to vine borers before I got the wood ashes around the base of the plants. I’ll put some more out after this rainy week passes.


The carrots, and all of the surrounding weeds and crabgrass, are doing very well. I started the carrot seedlings in pot makers again this year which makes all the difference. They get a good head start and produce much better than direct seeding.

 

Our winter squash this year is Thelma Sanders which is a type of acorn squash, along with some seeds we saved last year. They are a mixture of five different winter squashes we grew last summer. We’ll see what they produce.

 

There are a few pots of nasturtiums, marjoram and basil here and there throughout the garden.

 
The Japanese beetles really like the amaranth. Even so, it is growing well.

 The beets are doing well this year due to being seedlings in pot makers just like the carrots. I hope to can some this year.

The okra has not liked the cool, rainy weather. It is very slowly coming along.

The corn is doing okay. The 2008 Painted Mountain seed germinated very well, much to our surprise. It has tasseled first when the open pollinated sweet corn has barely begun. We hoped to cross pollinate them, but that won’t be happening since the timing is off. And now, after the rain and wind, we’ll have to see if any makes at all.

 


Our experimental patch of sorghum is coming up. It will be very interesting to see how it does, along with the amaranth. We’re curious about the harvest, the labor involved and how we can add these to our diet. Learning, just can’t do without it. There is always something to learn.

That small patch of dirt back there is the sorghum.

 

I planted some lettuce in pots on the porch to see if we can have some through most of the summer. Another experiment. This pot has a marigold coming up in it along with the Romaine.

What is surprising is how much the garden has grown in the last week since these pictures were taken. We’ve had sunshine and many things are really taking off. I realized when looking through these pictures that there aren’t any of the tomatoes, but they’re out there, along both sides of the carrots.
 
Well, that’s it for now. We hear thunder not too far off and there is more rain on the way. Just hope it doesn’t have any hail or high winds with it this time.

How are things growing in your neck of the woods?

Until next time – Fern

P.S. We have a question. Do any of you have experience with a corded electric tiller? We are reviewing this one. Please tell us what you think or if you have other recommendations. I have a Mantis and it works fine, but it just won’t till. It is a cultivator, not a tiller. I need something vastly smaller than the tractor with the tiller attachment to help take care of some of these weeds. Please tell us what you think. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Goat Stock Garden Soup

Recently, when we butchered one of our wethers, we made some soup stock with the bones, and since this was a first, we wanted to try it before we made any more. I wanted to see if I could make the soup with ingredients that came from here, just like the wether we made the stock from, so off to the garden on a treasure hunt I went, and here is what I came back with.

Starting from left to right there are purple hull peas or cowpeas, green beans, carrots, tomatoes and some roast from the wether that turned out pretty tough. I was hoping the soup would make it a little better, it didn’t. You can see that the soup stock doesn’t have much meat, but a decent amount of fat for flavor and nutrition.

I also found enough okra in the garden to saute as a side dish. We now cook it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper in a skillet and it tastes great.

This is not a lot of food, but if it was what we had to depend on for our sustenance it would provide for our needs. That is something I look at more and more. In the past I would experiment with all kinds of seeds in the garden, sometimes to see what would grow here, but usually just for fun. I have now grown much more serious about what we grow and I have written about the nutritional content of some of the vegetables. My purpose was to try and determine if what we are growing would be adequate nutrition. I haven’t had the time to sit down and analyze our common vegetable combinations, but it would be interesting to know. I think it will all boil down to what grows well here, the physical demands of the crop itself, the physical demands of growing the crop and how we can preserve it to last until the next crop starts producing, not to mention the ease and success of saving seeds for future crops. There are many variables that will impact the possibilities of adequate, or inadequate nutrition after the SHTF, many of which will be unpredictable. Even if things don’t work out, at least we have to try.

Until next time – Fern

Let the Canning Begin!

You know those horns that were blown when the king arrived in the arena for a jousting tournament? Picture that sound.
Let the canning begin! 
[I don’t know why the spacing in the rest of this article is not single spaced and I can’t figure out how to fix it. I’m sorry for the changing format.] I was excited this morning to know that today is the day that I started filling jars with food so I can fill my pantry shelves. As usual, I had so many things in mind that I wanted to accomplish today, that it is impossible to do in one day. Well, that’s okay. I did get a lot done, just not as much as I would have liked. I always start off a canning session, and especially a new canning season by reviewing the manual that came with the canner. We have highlighted the most important information to make sure we are using it correctly.
When I first started canning, I was afraid of the canner, feeling like it might explode or something. Now, I am not afraid. I am very careful, make sure I follow the directions, use all standard safety precautions, and just good ole’ common sense.
 
Our first harvest of Cushaw winter squash came to about 28 pounds from four squash. This is great! Not only is Cushaw a good keeper and nutritious, it tastes good. Since I have not included any winter squash in the articles on nutrition, I want to include it here.
  • calories 80 
  • carbohydrates 17.9g
  • protein 1.8g
  • vitamin A  10,708 IU
  • vitamin C 19.7mg
  • vitamin K 9.0mcg
  • folate 57.4mcg
  • choline 21.7mg
  • calcium 28.7mg
  • magnesium 16.4mg
  • phosphorus 41mg
  • potassium 896mg
 

 

I wanted to start off my canning day by putting these four squash into quart jars. I quickly realized that it would take more than one batch to can this much Cushaw, so I decided to get out our second canner. We have had it for a while, but basically got it for a back up, just in case we ever needed to replace the one we usually use, or like today, that we had a lot to can. We use an All American canner that does not have a gasket, and have been very happy with it. Until today. Well, I’m still real happy with our older canner, but for 

some reason, the new one will not seal well enough to produce 10 pounds of pressure. We tried and tried and tried and tried, about seven times, to get it to work. The first four times were with my seven quarts of squash in it. By that time the old canner with it’s seven quarts was finished and we moved the squash from the new canner into the old, and fired it up again. It worked like a charm.

If anyone knows what we might try with this new canner, please let us know. I recleaned and relubricated the sealing plate; re-read the manual for any indications of what to do; checked the pressure blow off valve, and checked the pressure gauge opening and they all appear to be functioning properly. The vent valve works great and allows a full spout of steam to escape during venting prior to adding the 10 pound pressure regulator weight. After the weight is put in place, the canner starts steaming around the lid instead of building up pressure. Frank finally got it to go up to five pounds of pressure the last time we tried it empty, but that is as far as it will go. I will try to call the company on Monday to see what their recommendations are.

 

I had planned to cook and peel the beets after the squash was finished in the canner, with plenty of time to can them with the few cowpeas I have. Both need to be pressure canned, the beets for 30 minutes and the cowpeas for 40 minutes. Since I don’t have very many of either, I will can them at the same time. Tomorrow. I did get the beets peeled, so they are ready to be sliced and put in jars. I shelled the peas I picked this morning while the beets were cooking.

 

I didn’t think I would get to everything, and I didn’t. So, now I also have carrots and green beans to can tomorrow. I’ll do the same thing with them since the carrots need 25 minutes and the green beans need 20 minutes. I finished snapping the green beans I picked this morning while the last batch of squash was in the canner.

Since there were about two quarts of squash left over after I filled the 14 quarts, and Frank was gone looking at some antenna towers a man had for sale, I baked the rest of the squash for lunch. And since the stove top was busy, I peeled a few of the small turnips I had harvested and baked them with some simple meatballs made from ground meat. That gave us a good meal without interrupting the canning process.
It has been a long busy day, but a very good one. I can see where we will have many more jars of squash on the shelf, both winter and yellow summer squash. They are both very nutritious and easy to use in many different dishes. We will keep some of the Cushaw to store fresh, but will wait and harvest the keepers later on in the season. For now, I will can as many as we harvest. 
Our beet harvest has been very small so far. I hope to be able to grow many, many more before winter sets in. I would like to have about 70-80 pints on the shelf. And the same with the carrots, and green beans, and…… Everything! I am glad the time has come to preserve the harvest. Like many folks around, I feel pressed to grow and store as much food as we can. The unprecedented rainy spring has delayed the harvest of many crops in our area. I sure hope we can make up for lost time. In the meantime, I am planning our fall crops and will continue to plant many more seeds before the year is out. And by the way, our greenhouse is about halfway finished, and it is beautiful. When I look at it, I don’t really see a greenhouse, I see food. This will give us the potential of growing food year round. I will show you the finished greenhouse and explain our plans before long. 
Find your calling in the hard times that come. We all have talents and abilities that will be needed. Be ready to put yours to good use. Frank and I have found over the past few months that there are and will be things that we don’t do together, which is different for us. We have always done things together. Building projects, homestead chores, washing dishes, everything. But now our roles are changing a little. Today while I harvested and preserved, Frank worked toward the communication abilities for our community network. Then this evening while I did the chores, he visited with a gentleman from his class, answering questions and discussing the capabilities of different kinds of radios and antennas. We talked about it after I came back in from the chores. You see, I feel like the time and effort he is putting into radio communication could very well save my life one day. Just as much as the squash I am putting in jars. Find your calling and increase your abilities as much as possible. It could save your life one day as well.
Until next time – Fern

The Current Garden

I figured it was time for an update on our garden, especially since the weeds are giving the vegetables a run for their money. When it was too wet and rainy, I couldn’t do much weeding. Now that it is hot, humid and dry, we are really busy with a number of projects, so I still have accomplished little weeding. I get a little done in the mornings when I go out to pick greens for the chickens, goats and pigs. That’s about it for now. The last few days have been in the 90’s with high humidity and intense sunshine. I know, I know, I really wanted some sunshine, and I’m glad we have it, but it sure has turned off hot rather quickly. Here are some pictures of our growing masterpiece, weeds and all.

 Not only are the turnips not a hot weather spring plant, these are having to compete with a lot of grass. I pull as much grass as I pick turnip greens for the chickens in the mornings, but it is still starting to overtake the bed. These pictures were taken around 5:00pm, when the lighting wasn’t the greatest. The wilting of these greens tells me it’s time to water the garden. A week ago I never thought I would be saying those words.

 

Collards, carrots and zinnias. I sprinkled the collards with diatomaceous earth a few days ago and I think it is helping with the slugs and worms.

 

Frank made the perfect DE (diatomaceous earth) dispenser for me out of an old fiber canister. Works great!

We have about 20 volunteer potato plants in this area of the garden where we grew them last fall. Even though we are not eating potatoes right now because of the high carbohydrate content, we view these as our seed potatoes for future consumption on a limited basis.

If you look at the size of the blade of grass in this picture, you’ll realize just how small this pepper plant is. Surprisingly, it is growing. There are a few more that survived the cats and the last flooding rainstorm. I need to plant more seeds and see if they will direct germinate in the garden.

The Buttercup winter squash hasn’t taken off as quickly as I would like, and one hill rotted from the rain, but it is starting to vine out and produce. These are really good, sweet squash that are great keepers. They taste similar to a sweet potato.

 

The tomatoes are blooming and have been worked into the trellis on the right. They are healthy, sturdy plants that are growing vigorously. The Buttercup squash is on the left in this picture, with carrots beside the tomatoes on the trellis to the right.

  

We have lots of zinnias growing here and there throughout the garden.

 This small trellis was supposed to have cucumbers growing on it. Instead, I must have planted some yellow squash seeds that we saved last year. The cucumbers I planted while it was still raining, are still in a tub on the porch. See the empty space on the right? That is where I planted the cucumber seeds I saved last year. Only three of them germinated. All of the plants on the left are from a packet of seeds I bought.

 The planned yellow squash patch is between the tomato and green bean trellises. The grass and weeds are especially happy here.

 Some of the squash is happy, and some are heat stressed and need watering. I applied diatomaceous earth to all of the squash mounds in an effort to impact the vine borer and squash bug populations. I planted nasturtiums around the squash hills this year, which are very pretty flowers, and supposed to be bug deterrents.

 



 The green beans are growing well and blooming, but the heat is getting to them as well. Some of the bottom leaves are yellow today. There are carrots growing down each side of this trellis, in spite of all of the grass and weeds. I’ve been able to clear out parts of the weeds, but there are still more than enough to pull in this area.


The Cushaw winter squash grows very well here. It took off early despite all of the rain and is producing a number of young squash. It is hardy and healthy.

The cowpeas have more than enough grass to keep it company. Some of the seeds I replanted made it and some of them didn’t. There are supposed to be two rows of okra growing in between the cowpeas, but the rain either washed away the seeds, or they rotted. I will be replanting them next week.

 I may be able to harvest a head or two of cabbage after all. They got a hefty dose of DE after it quit raining and since then I haven’t seen much more damage. I’m tempted to harvest the largest head just to see if the worms and slugs are hiding out inside where I can’t see them.
 

The Michilli cabbage has been disappointing. It didn’t do anything besides grow loose leaves that were rather tough, then start bolting to bloom. I have used these as animal feed instead of human feed. Now I am pulling up the plants a few at a time and feeding them to the pigs. I will plant some cantaloupe or honeydew here.

  
The only thing that is planted in the new part of the garden for now are pinto beans on this trellis. As time allows I will till some of this area and plant sunflowers and cowpeas.

  

There is enough spinach for salads, even with competition from the grass.

The beets are doing well. There are some here and there in the cabbage patch as well as some back down by the collards and turnips. But there aren’t enough, and I need to plant some more.

I attended my bug class today and learned a few interesting things I will share in another article. It was geared more towards habitats for pollinators than beneficial garden insects, so in that respect I was disappointed. But, on the other hand, I learned some useful things about beneficial insect habitat that I will be able to incorporate into our garden and landscape environment.

It is 94* today with high humidity and little to no breeze. I hope this is not an indicator of how the rest of the summer will be. After having cool, rainy weather for so long, this quick onset of hot, summer weather has been difficult for gardens, animals and humans. I some ways it reminds me of how the events in the world, and particularly in our country, are heating up. If we’re not all careful, vigilant and prepared, we could suffer heat exhaustion or have a heat related crisis, in more ways than one. Remember to protect yourself from the heat, meaning the temperature and the climate of your neighborhood, city, state and country. It could be a matter of survival.

Until next time – Fern