Puttin’ Food By

The past couple years I have been asked quite a bit about canning.. seems as though it is gaining in popularity. I learned how to can from my mother-in-law eight years ago. It was a natural extension to my gardening and something that was nice to learn from another person versus a book. Nowadays there are a ton of great resources for canning in blogs, you tube videos, and new books every year with tons of great recipes. My favorite go to resource is The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is chock full of instructions, recipes, and really helpful tips (like why your pickles did not turn out right). For anyone interested in canning this book is a must have. Another great place for info is on the National Center for Home Food Preservation (USDA) website.  In addition to instructions and plenty of warnings they have an excellent recipe for tomato paste that is delicious as a  pizza sauce.

So what do we can (canning is a family activity in our household) – almost all of our tomato’s are canned into spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, salsa, whole tomatoes, and pureed tomatoes. This is a versatile mix that works well for us. We also can peaches in apple juice (these are so good that I cannot possibly can enough of them), fruit juices, jams, pickles, roasted green chili’s, pie filling, and applesauce.

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I ferment pickles and sauerkraut and follow the recipes found in Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. (For more fermenting recipes my favorite resource is Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.)

Canning can be quite a bit of  work especially this past year with 40 tomato plants. So we have branched out and now dry and freeze more stuff. Our chest freezer is currently full of corn, bell peppers, roasted peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, freezer jam, basil pesto, pureed pumpkin, berries, enchilada sauce.

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Stuff like potatoes, onions, beans, popcorn and garlic go into the pantry and for the most part (we have to hurry through the potatoes) do okay throughout the winter.

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I dry herbs, tomato’s, fruit, chilis (to make an amazing chili powder which I especially love on blackened chicken).

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In an ideal world I would have a root cellar.. however since this is not the case, I overwinter root vegetables such as radishes, carrots and beets. Before winter sets in, I layer up the garden bed of mature root vegetables with a heavy mix of leaves, soil and straw. This insulates them enough from hard freezes and then we pick these vegetables as they are needed. I have found them to be extremely tasty until mid-January when they start to get a little bit weird but until then they are super tasty.

So what does all this home preservation translate into? A lot of really tasty, healthy, organic, affordable meals for our family. Just reflecting upon this past week and here is a quick summary of meals from the garden: Chili (corn, green peppers, chili spice, tomato sauce, onions, garlic), Cauliflower Souffle (eggs, garlic, onion, cauliflower), Pizza (sauce, garlic, basil, green peppers), a pumpkin pie (pumpkin), grated carrot salad (my son’s favorite) mashed potatoes, juice, jam and the list goes on. Not a day passes that we have not eaten at least a few things from the garden including fresh eggs and the greens that are doing so well in the cold frame. I love it and cannot imagine reversing this path but rather plan to continue planting and developing this piece of land.

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I think it is important to note that the first year I learned to can I did one small batch of salsa. It was so good and barely lasted the winter and so the next year I did more.. it has been a gradual progression and each year I have learned new recipes and grown larger quantity’s of plants with the intention of preserving the harvest. So while poring over seed catalogs this winter consider planting a few extra tomato’s (maybe not 40).. and get started.

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One last thing..No canning blog post would be right without a quick safety disclaimer – so not to scare anyone away from canning but it is important that canning recipes are accurately followed for food safety. If you don’t believe me check out what the CDC has to say about botulism. Nuf said.

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Love this…

Was catching up on reading some of my favorite blogs and saw this at Root Simple Blog. The original creator is Mark Fraenfelder of BoingBoing of:

Love it. It made me laugh.

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A Lucky Egg

Yet another weird egg from our new batch of hens. For more about them go here. This one appears to be a double yoke egg and it is extra long!

Even though we have been keeping chickens for some time this is the first time one of our girls layed a double-yoker. These are common to young hens, and are considered lucky!

And after I cracked it… sure enough two yokes!

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Salt Lake Man “Living Off The Grid”

Excellent video on a local man…

Salt Lake Man Living “Off The Grid”

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Just When I Thought Canning Season Was Over

I admit after a four month frenzy of canning, freezing, drying and pickling – I am a bit burnt out on “puttin up the harvest”. So last week when a friend dropped off a few bags of apples, I wasn’t bursting with excitement until I remembered movie-night last fall. Each movie night was shared with home canned apple juice and homegrown strawberry popcorn. Perfect. I threw all of the apples (in batches of course) into the steam juicer ( a must-have for a home canner). A few hours later we had apple juice.

the end product:

More on homegrown popcorn:

This past year we did not plant our usual crop of strawberry popcorn.. which is a big disappointment especially to my three-year old. I had never considered growing my own popcorn until I read the book Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots. An excellent book for anyone gardening with children. The author, Sharon Lovejoy, has a list of plants to grow with children and strawberry popcorn was included. I ordered the seeds from Botanical Interests and we had the yummiest popcorn ever. The same adage about how homegrown tomatoes are so much better than store bought tomatoes.. also rings true for popcorn. Who new.

Strawberry popcorn is considered an ornamental corn (although after tasting it – I decided to eat it rather than decorate with it). It produces small ears with deep red kernels. After harvesting the corn, remove the kernels from the ear of corn, let them further dry out… and wah-la you have the perfect corn for popping.

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Thoughts on Chicken Housing

Currently all of our ladies are housed in a beautiful chicken tractor built by my husband and painted my favorite color:

 
This chicken tractor is a vast improvement over our first coop. Eight years ago our first batch of hens lived in a non-movable coop and run, that quickly became a no-grow zone. Lot’s of mulch was required in order to adequately cover the poopy fly haven and associated stink. We quickly felt bad and let the girls out which meant poop all over the porch – and everything else. It did mean that they were truly “cage free” and grazed on a variety of yummy stuff. Due to this their eggs were excellent and they rarely needed additional feed. It also meant they were quickly eaten (neighbor dog, and maybe a racoon?). When we moved to our new home my husband made our first tractor – good design but very heavy and hard to move.. once again the chickens were let out to poop all over – who wants to eat eggs from chickens standing in poo all day.

Based on all of our experience, this past summer he designed and crafted our best chicken house yet. This tractor is “almost” perfect. The doors shut and latch; thus the chickens and their feed are completely protected from predators. The eggs are easy to access from the back hatch, it is lightweight, easy to move, and aesthetic. The interior has two roost bars that the chickens sleep on; underneath this is an old drawer. We remove this for easy cleaning as the majority of the poop ends up in this drawer. I love everything about this new coop except one thing has become clear and Paul Wheaton says it best at Permies.com

“The moment you put an animal in a cage or behind a fence, you are taking responsibility for the welfare of that animal.” (Paul Wheaton’s Chicken Article)

The problem with a tractor is that I need to move the thing – at the very least daily. In addition their “pasture” is small and thus they exist mostly on feed. And because I delay and do not move the tractor as often as I should, the run becomes a poopy fly mecca. After moving them I often rake the poop from the ground to place in an area that I really want the poop, but cannot get the tractor into.

What to do.

After reading through Paul Wheaton’s post at Permies.com (which I highly recommend – Paul Wheaton’s Chicken Article) I had a duh moment that I should have had some time ago (perhaps after I read Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin!?). I need to rig up a movable pasture that will travel with the tractor. Something easy, lightweight, not too expensive, and durable (cheap throw away stuff defeats the whole concept of permaculture).

Am currently thinking along the lines of heavy duty hardware wire with stakes somehow rigged every few feet. Perhaps I could thread rebar through and use this for staking and to support the fencing? Thinking of ideas…

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Interesting Article on Farm Study: A Simple Fix to Farming

A Simple Fix to Farming – written by Mark Bittman, New York Times

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New eggs and a fart egg (no joke)

Currently we have two batches of chickens, the “old girls” are roughly three years old and are laying sporadically; maybe two eggs per day. The “little girls” are new as of May 2012 and we have been eagerly anticipating their first eggs.. this past week look at what I found:

Check out this picture of the new eggs next to one of the “old girl” eggs. Cute! These little eggs are typical to a young, newly laying hen.

A few weeks back one of the old girls laid a weirdly small egg. A friend pointed out that this is also known as a fairy egg or a fart egg.. gross! For more info check out this blog post by City Farm Girl http://citygirlfarming.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/fart-eggs-for-real/

My three year old thinks this is hilarious and I admit.. so do I.

Here a a picture of the “little girls” when we first purchased them. The hen on the left with the white head is without a doubt the loudest sassiest chicken I have ever known. Not certain what to do with her…

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Garlic planting

This past weekend I taught a garlic planting workshop at a community garden. Thought I would share some of this info in the blog. (Funny how much I learned – even though I have been growing garlic for some time!)

Garlic Planting Workshop

Planting: Plant garlic in loamy, well draining soil. Prior to planting make certain garden
bed is well prepared with compost and soil is loose enough for garlic bulbs to fully develop. Separate garlic cloves from the main bulb, leaving the wrappers on the clove, and plant each clove root end down (pointy side up). Important tip: Make certain to obtain locally grown garlic for planting – this will make a huge difference in the quality of your harvest (check out the farmers market).

Seed Depth: 2-3″                         Seed Spacing: 8″                          Row Spacing: 8″

Care: Keep weeds to a minimum so they do not compete with growth of garlic. Use a thick layer of mulch (straw) to create a weed barrier. In our arid climate garlic needs to be watered throughout the growing season.

Harvest: Pull garlic when the bottom few leaves of stalk are dry, and discolored. The upper part of the stalk will still be green. This occurs in late July. Do not wait until the entire stalk is brown and fallen over – this is too late and there will be a chance that the garlic bulbs will have split. Be gentle in handling the garlic when harvesting; they can easily bruise and this will shorten their storage life.

Harvest when soil is fairly dry. Use a shovel or pitchfork to loosen the soil around the bulbs and then gently pull them. Brush off dirt (do not wash or aggressively clean). For hardneck garlic: bundle the garlic, tie with twine and hang in a cool/dark/well ventilated place to cure. After the leaves and stems are completely dry (this will typically take at least two weeks) trim off the stalks and roots and eat or continue storing. For softneck garlic: immediately braid upon harvesting and hang in a cool/dark/well ventilated place to cure and store.

Important tip: Remember to save the healthiest and largest garlic bulbs and plant these the following year. Over time you will create your own strain of garlic uniquely suited to your garden.

Types of garlic:

Softneck: These varieties have a soft neck (stalk) and are easy to braid upon harvesting. They tend to produce smaller cloves and are what is typically sold in grocery stores. Soft neck varieties tend to be better keepers than hard neck varieties, and are well suited to mild climates.

Hardneck: These varieties have a hard stalk, and in the early summer the tops of the garlic stalk form garlic scapes, an edible and yummy treat. Hard neck garlic does very well in colder climates. The bulbs are typically larger and more flavorful than soft-neck varieties.

Garlic image taken from: The Vegetable Garden Illustrations, Descriptions, and Culture of the Garden Vegetables of Cold and Temperate Climates by M.M. Vilmorin-Andrieux, Paris. English edition published under the direction of W. Robinson. Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. 1905

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Cobbing

Last winter I read A Hand Sculpted House: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage, written by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley and Michael G. Smith . I was smitten. Check out these pictures of cob homes that I found on the internet*.

There is something downright homey about a cob cottage and I decided that my yard desperately needed a cob cold frame, a cob oven and a cob garden shed…

Thankfully my husband was in agreement and so we started with a cob cold frame. I’ve used traditional cold frames in past gardening pursuits, in order to extend the season or ‘harden off’ seedlings, however I wanted an insulated cold frame to allow me to grow greens all winter long. After researching this concept more, I decided on the following specs: a base of gravel to allow for drainage so pathogens would not build up in the soil, old recycled wood for a basic structure to infill with cob, and finally an old storm door for passive solar heat gain thus allowing me to grow greens during the coldest months of the year.

Here is a brief synapses of the steps we took to build the cold frame. (See pictures below) We excavated the site roughly a foot below ground level, then layered sand and gravel to ground level in order to allow for good drainage. After this we mortared cement block (not my first choice) in place to make a foundation as the cob cannot sit directly on the ground. On top of the cement block foundation we placed the wood frame that my husband fashioned out of scrap wood.

After the structure was in place we needed to figure out how to cob. Cob is an old building method used all over the world that has recently been experiencing some popularity. It is a mix of sand, clay soil, water and straw. There is no set recipe for cob as all clay soils are different, thus much of our time was spent deciding on what ratio of clay soil to sand would make a good cob mix.

After we had the recipe worked out we enlisted the help of our three year old. The best way to mix cob is barefoot on a tarp and it was a messy good time. After thoroughly mixing the cob, the mix is formed into ball-like gobs and slapped in place on the wall. We then used sticks to ‘goob’ it all together to form a wall and proceeded slowly, with a level. As the walls grew we became more efficient in our mixing and more confident that we were actually making cob.

Site excavation, adding sand and gravel.

My helper rearranging the foundation

We used this wooden ‘tray’ to make test bricks. On the side of the wood we wrote the various cob ‘recipes’. This was extremely helpful as there is no ‘one recipe’ for making cob as all soil behaves differently. End result was a 60:40 clay to sand ratio.

The wood frame in place and ready for cobbing.

The first layer in place! Note the vents in the back wall to assist with temperature regulation.

Close up of the back wall wrapping around the wood frame.

A confession – towards the end we pulled out the power drill to help mix the cob.

Cob in place and drying.

Project complete! So far it has been excellent at regulating temperature fluctuations.

*Citations for the cob homes:

#1: http://ilovecob.com/archive/fruth-brown-cob-house

#2: http://tinyhouseblog.com/tag/ianto-evans/

#3: http://www.homedesignfind.com/green/escapees-from-mcmansion-ethos-build-tiny-cob-home/

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