"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mr. H's Food Dehydration Unit #1

A couple weeks ago, just as we were beginning to use it, our obnoxiously noisy Nesco brand dehydrator broke...again. The the third one in 4 years = junk. Now I know that many people have lots of luck with the Nesco brand dehydrators but we don't, perhaps they get used and abused too much by us...I really don't know. The other day I read an interesting post on the The Thrifty Garden/Home blog about junk products and how poor quality so many of the appliances we purchase are these days. That post really resonated with me and I have decided to do my best not to replace any more of our junk with more junk but to make do with what we have instead. Goodbye forever microwave, and Mr. Coffee, your turn is next!

So, yesterday I decided to make my own dehydrator, as I refuse to buy another Nesco or afford a more expensive model. In the summer we simply use the roof of our barn to dry things but that doesn't work so well with late crop apples, plums, pears, and tomatoes because there isn't much in the way of sun this time of year...mostly rain. Anyway, I read about building this dehydrator out of an old dorm refrigerator or one like this and they both looked like good possibilities. But, before I could start planning for either model a thought hit me on the head like a ton of bricks. I already have a huge totally functional dehydrator sitting right there in our kitchen, a pellet stove complete with hot air blowers...ha! This stove is used for a few weeks in the fall and early spring when the roof of our house is too dry to safely heat with firewood, the rest of the winter we rely on wood heat for warmth.

All I needed to do was concentrate the warm airflow that comes out of the pellet stoves blowers in a way that would allow for it to circulate around the produce I wished to dry. I used the best part of my Nesco dehydrator, the trays, as drying racks. A cardboard box plus two bricks completed the dryer assembly and 5 minutes later...Voilà! We now have a much more efficient and quieter unit. I set it up just high enough so that the air would flow in and underneath the trays, rising upwards through the racks. I first tested it with tomatoes and 14 hours later had perfectly dry fruits.:) Today, after contemplating the addition of a drip tray to the contraption, I will dry some pears. To think that all of these years what I really needed for indoor food drying was a simple cardboard box and enough brains to realize it.

Click on this link to see how others use to dry food in days gone by - National Geographic (June, 1917)

Note the dryer racks hanging above this old wood cook stove

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Red Shiso - A Plant Worth Growing

Each year we try to grow a few new varieties of edible plants with the hope that we will find something that proves to be a valuable asset to our food garden. We have been surprised at how many of these "experimental" plants have found a permanent, sometimes prominent, place in our gardens. Take tomatillos and amaranth for example, two plants that 10 years ago I did not even know existed and today would not consider being without. Amaranth leaves find their way into stir frys, salads, kimchi, the list goes on. Tomatillos comprise a large portion of the salsa we make each year and are easily canned or frozen for future use. Suffice to say, we have found quite a few useful herbs, berries, and vegetables that seem to thrive in our gardens, all of which at one point in time were very much "new to us."

This experimenting with different plants is one of the things that helps keep the whole gardening and food self-sufficiency endevour fresh and exciting. One of the new plants that we grew this year was called Red Shiso (perilla). This beautiful maroon colored herb has a multitude of culinary, medicinal, and other uses that you can read all about at http://www.apinchof.com/shiso1119.htm. With its strong cuminesc like flavor I am hoping to use it as a colorful addition to our kimchi next year. I was going to dry the leaves off this year's plants but unfortunately frost took them from us before I had a chance. We did enjoy it's strong flavor in many a stir fry throughout the late summer months though.

This picture was taken in mid August, the leaves turned much darker as the cooler months arrived.

This September 29th photo shows the much darker leaves

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day In The Slow Life

I have been invited by Laura, curator of The Modern Victory Garden to participate in a "meme" called A Day In The Slow Life created by Tony over at Backyard Feast. That said, I carefully attempted to record the events of Monday October 18th, a day both my wife and I would be home and able to devote the day to working in our gardens trying to finish up our harvest. As Mrs. H had just returned from a trip to Nevada we wanted to spend a relaxing day working together and enjoying the sunny weather.

As a brief introduction to us and our lifestyle, I first met my wife, a true kindred spirit, while we worked for a now defunct Italian telecommunications company many years ago. Long story short we are now happily married and have over the years slowly and deliberately entrenched our lifestyle into one that revolves around growing and gathering our own foods, truly attempting to live the "slow" life. We have chosen to live this way as it symbolizes our freedom from so many of the things of man that we no longer wish to be part of, choosing instead to live simply and reap the whirlwind of benefits fresh air and healthy foods deliver to us.

The vast majority of the foods we eat come from our gardens where we plant, grow, tend, and harvest on a continuous basis 12 months a year. It is what we enjoy, what drives us to keep moving forward each and every day. To us, it is most empowering endeavour to grow, gather, and consume one's own food. Below is a fairly typical day in our slow but active lives.

5:00 AM, on the dot, Mrs. H's mental alarm goes off and she gets up, starts the coffee, feeds the cats, turns on our oh so slow dinosaur of a computer and then returns to bed for another hour or so of sleep.

5:15 AM I wake up and open our porch door to let the cats and dog outside. We have been keeping this closed as our porch is currently full of tomatoes that we have slowly been bringing inside to ripen and I do not wish either raccoons, skunks, or the cold to damage our produce. During the summer months I leave the door open so the cats can come and go as they wish. With eyes still half shut I manage to find the coffee, stagger over to the computer, and wake up while reading different blogs, articles, and news from the Internet.

6:30 AM finds me bright eyed and bushy tailed after reading all of your fine blogs and drinking a large cup of strong black caffeinated coffee, I holler at Mrs. H to rise and shine as it is another glorious day in Idaho. She hates it when I am all cheery so early in the morning, especially on rainy days...but what can I say, I'm pretty much full of it all of the time.:) Mrs. H, the true highlight of my day, eventually wanders out with coffee in hand and sits down next to me. She squints her eyes and says good morning.

7:00 AM, I leave Mrs. H to finish waking up and head out to with a few scraps from a squash we cooked the other day to feed and release our ravenous flock of red headed chickens with Rowdy the wonder dog glued to my side. Rowdy is supposed to comb the perimeter of the entire chicken run and make sure it is safe from varmints but seems to have once again forgotten his duties preferring to say hi to the girls and join them at breakfast. While the animals are eating I flip the straw and dirt under the chicken roost with a pitchfork and head back in for a shower and more coffee.

It's 8:00 AM, we are dressed and headed outside with cups now full of home brewed tea...time to walk the dog. Mrs. H opens the large outside door to our basement and starts a load of laundry. As our basement/root cellar is also our laundry room we try to run the wash machine in the early mornings this time of year to help keep the temperature at around 40°. It was 46° this morning but 29° outside. When we returned from our walk it was 43°. Our goal is to get it under 40 °and keep it there until spring so that our produce won't start sprouting.

8:10 AM, I grab my daily apple to munch on and we walk Rowdy in the park. He almost always gets to run free and often has the opportunity to play with other dogs during this time..but not today as we were the only ones there. We walked and played frisbee with him for almost an hour before heading home.

9:ish, back from our walk Mrs. H pulls the towels out of the washer and I shut the basement door to keep the cold air in and we proceed to hang the wash on the outside line to dry. As temperatures drop we often have to leave the clothes out overnight, barring any rain in the forecast. Later in the year they will be dried on racks in front of our living room fireplace.

9:30 AM finds us back in the house. Mrs. H feeds the dog while I turn the runner beans that are drying by the fireplace. We were only able to harvest a partial crop this year before the frosts hit. They will dry by the pellet stove for a few days before being shelled and then stored away in gallon jars. We are fortunate to still have an abundance of beans left over from last year and this year's fava bean crop did very well. I hope that next season is a better one for dry beans.

I also take this time to put a few of the potato and Giant Cape Gooseberry seeds that have finished drying into envelopes for future use. If you ever want to save the seed off tomatillos, ground cherries/cape gooseberries, or potato seed just toss a few really ripe ones into your blender (or mash them) with a little water. Give them a whirl and then dump the contents into a small bowl. The good seeds will sink to the bottom and the rest of the pulp can be carefully poured off leaving the seeds.

At 9:45 AM we eat breakfast. We often eat late this time of year skipping any type of lunch altogether, preferring to work outside when it is warm. This morning's entree consisted of leftover squash and cooked kale greens that I made into a stir fry and served with pear sauce & sauerkraut. We always eat breakfast at the computer allowing us to read a few blogs together and discuss the days schedule. We really love it when you post videos so that I don't have to type and eat at the same time. See Laura, we share the same habits as you when it comes to breakfast.:)

10:30 AM, breakfast is over, dishes are washed and put away and I have shut the pellet stove off for the afternoon. I pull out our containers of sauerkraut to check on them. We like to clean the lid/weight and stir everything up every third day in order to prevent any scummy mold from developing...it must work as I have never had any issues with that. While I do this Mrs. H works on putting another mix of tea together for the week. Her tea consists of 15-20 different ingredients many of which we have collected from the wild during the summer months...strange things like gum weed and prunella. I don't question her about these things and simply do as I am told and drink up.

10:45 AM, the sun has almost reached the gardens and I am giving the chickens clean water under their favorite tree for the day. I brought an empty bucket along and having watered the birds headed straight to the salad garden to collect some parsley seed that I keep forgetting about. Speaking of parsley, I also dug up some Hamburg root parsley and put it in pots that will eventually end up in the root cellar. This is the first year I have grown root parsley and I think I might just like it...we shall see how well it overwinters both in storage and the ground outside.

11:15 ish found me uncovering our covered rows so the greens within do not overheat in the sun. I also opened the greenhouse that still houses some of our pepper and tomato plants. Some of our hot peppers are starting to change color...yay!

11:30 AM, Mrs. H and I work in the sun, so nice to have it on our backs this time of year. We dig up, clip the greens off and pack into pots our Belgian endive that will be forced during the winter months to provide us with another source of nutritious greens. While working on the endive roots we hatched plans for harvesting soap wort, we need to do this before the ground freezes...which will be pretty soon. Rowdy assisted by digging up the old potato row next to us in search of voles.

It's around 2:30 PM and we are hauling our filled pots to the root cellar. Keeping track of the time like this is hard...I keep forgetting.:)

3:00 PM For tonight's supper we picked celery, rutabaga, carrot, a small forgotten delicata squash, onion, chicory root, parsley, sorrel, and kale to create a homemade veggie broth. Rows were covered back up and the greenhouse was shut to keep the warmth inside for as long as possible. We only get about 4 hours of sun in the garden this time of year as it sits so low in the sky hiding behind the trees that surround us.

3:45 PM Mrs. H has cleaned up the veggies and started a broth cooking on the stove while I snack on some homemade cabbage salsa that I made the previous night and chatter in her ear about the day's events while re-starting the pellet stove.

4:15 ish, with broth simmering we head out for another walk (spoiled dog). We often let him play in the water but our lake is full of poisonous blue green algae this time of year so Mrs. H and Rowdy checked out the construction going on near the docks and then we played frisbee on the way home. We take our time as it is a relaxing day and we are not in a hurry for a change.

5:00 PM (I'm rounding off all these times by the way, we are not this prompt) We both worked on cleaning and then roasting parsnips, onions, and garlic for tonight's dinner of parsnip and pear soup...hence the vegetable broth we have been working on. Oh, and we fed the dog again. He gets a serving of homemade dog food twice a day and we always keep his dry food bowl full.

5:30 PM Mrs. H made a fabulous apple crisp while I worked on an orange tomato sauce to be canned in the morning. The other day I made lovely black and orange salsa so I thought why not an orange tomato sauce too? The orange and black tomatoes are so sweet and flavorful that I hate to mix them up with the reds. It seems we have worked on a canning project of some sort almost every day for the past two weeks and our pantry is quickly filling up.

6:30 PM and we added the roasted vegetables along with a few pears to the broth, eventually turning into a nice soup. Mrs. H drew a bath and relaxed while I watched the news and worked on bruschetta that will accompany our soup. After a drizzle of olive oil I topped the homemade bread with garlic, onions, pepper, tomato, and cheese. The soup might not look like much but it sure tasted good.

At 7:30 PM we cleaned up the kitchen and while Mrs. H set the table Rowdy and I headed out to count and lock up the chickens. I also gathered the eggs at this time, all three of them. Rowdy confirmed that everyone was in for the night while I scolded the girls and told them a horror story about chicken soup before leaving. I can see stars in the night sky and the moon is starting to fill out again helping to light my way.

8:00 PM found us finally sitting down to eat. We watched "Dancing With the Stars" on one of the two channels that we get since being forced to hook up to government TV. Mrs. H likes this show...I endure it.

9:45 PM and we are too tired to stay up any later, we clean up the table, prepare coffee for the morning, brush teeth, tuck in the dog....good night everyone!

I would like to invite, without any obligation, my friend Heiko all the way from Italy via Path to Self Sufficiency and homemaker/animal husbandry expert extraordinaire Ohiofarmgirl from Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures In The Good Land to consider participating in this meme when time permits...but only if you wish to.

For those of you, like me, who do not know about such things as memes here is a very good explanation given to me by Laura -

"A meme is a way to get a broad group participating in posting about a particular topic - each adding their own take and information to the main topic point - part of the protocol is to do a courtesy link back to the one that invited you to the party and then invite a few more people to participate who you think would be interesting to read their posts about the subject providing a link to their blogs at the time."

You can see Heiko's Day "Day in the Slow Life" here and the Ohiofarmgirl's here. Thanks for participating.:)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Harvesting Beets and Carrots

The first frost visited us this morning, pretty light though and much later than I thought it would be this season, nothing was damaged. We have been busy picking and packing our beets and carrots for storage before a hard freeze sets in. It was a decent year for most root vegetables and they all seem to be of fairly good size and shape...not too big and not too small, perfect for storage in the root cellar. Most of the unblemished beet greens were picked, blanched, and frozen for later use the day before we pulled the roots.

Our carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, celeriac, scorzonera, salsify, sunchokes, and root parsley are all layered in between slightly damp soil in totes and coolers. They will remain in good condition for a long time this way. I just gave the remaining few beets from "last years" harvest to our chickens 2 days ago, they were still hard and perfectly edible over 12 months later. The chickens will slowly peck away at them as they begin to soften up.

These are Lutz beets that we grew for the first time this season, they are supposed to be a good storage beet that I learned about on Throwback at Trapper Creek's fine blog. After I took these pictures I also covered the top of these beets and carrots with a couple inches of soil.

This perfectly edible beet has been in storage for just over 12 months.

A Mammoth Red Mangle (beet) from our own saved seed. They are colored like Chioggia beets on the inside.

Bull's Blood beets are the grandson's favorite because they make his teeth look bloody. What can I say, we do what we can to get the lad to eat his veggies.:) He will eat them raw just like an apple. If you hill dirt over the roots of this variety they can be left in the ground to provide greens throughout the winter months.

My wife's favorite Flat of Egypt beets. Peering at us in the background, Gimpy, is back on garden patrol as she has once again injured her leg...or perhaps she is smarter than we think and just faking it.

My favorite Cylindrical beets grow well, taste great, and are easy to work with in the kitchen. They must be picked before a hard frost though as they do tend to stick up out of the ground quite a bit.

Giant Yellow Eckendorf can reportedly weigh up to 20 lbs, fortunately ours never get that big...what would we do with a 20 lb beet? I would only have to grow one or two.:)

Detroit Dark Red is a good all purpose beet that produces my favorite beet greens.

New to us this year, Crapaudine. For what it's worth, Baker Creek says - "In 1885, the French book, The Vegetable Garden stated this is one of the oldest varieties. Today some experts feel this may be the oldest beet still in existence, possibly dating back 1000 years. This unique variety is one of the most flavorful, with carrot-shaped roots that have rough, dark colored skin which looks like tree bark. Inside, the roots are very dark, with almost black flesh that is of superior quality and sought after by chefs who want real flavor. We are proud to offer this rare old selection."

This was one of the best years we have ever had for carrots. Our main storage varieties are Chantenay, Imperator, Danver Half Long, and Nantes.

Imperators are not the very best storage carrot but they always grow well in our loose soil.

We grew a variety of "novelty" purple, white, red, and yellow carrots this year too. The whites bolted, the purples struggled, but the Solar Yellow carrots may become a main crop carrot for us as they did so very well. I will have to see how they hold up in storage. I should mention that I found the reddish colored tops of the purple carrots so interesting that we incorporated them into many of our summer stir fry dishes...yes, you can eat carrot tops.:)

And last but not least here is a picture of some of the carrots I grew from our own seed. They are a cross between three different types that I re-planted and let go to seed last year. We ended up with a variety of shapes and sizes but nothing too special.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Treasure Seekers

Many years ago, tempted by the promise of untold riches and after some serious due diligence on my part, we set out by canoe early one dreary October morning in search of a mysterious treasure that we had only heard whispered rumors of. A treasure that we hoped to find on the shores of a small unknown lake nestled in the midst of a large foreboding swamp.

So it was that after many hours of paddling through fields of wild rice followed by a swamp so dense you could almost walk on the surrounding quagmire of mud and becoming lost more than once we finally broke free of the mucky filth and arrived at the fabled lost lake. We were wet, muddy, and our canoe was full of spiders...thousands of little spiders everywhere. Some adventurers have snakes, others leaches, perhaps bats, we always get spiders.

Anyway, to our delight, on the far banks of this little hidden lake nestled in amongst a few beaver lodges a fabulous treasure awaited. A veritable carpeting of the finest ruby red jewels imaginable, millions of them everywhere. Amazingly, the murmurs of a lost treasure had been true after all.

The beaver lodges on the shores of the little lost lake.

My wife basking in the sun while gathering treasure.

Each year we return to refill our larder with these exquisite gems. This year our motley crew consisted of three. Rowdy's first outing in a canoe was a success, no one fell out. Normally we spend many hours trying to push and pull our canoe through the muddy mire until we find spots where the water is deep enough to actually paddle, much like that scene in the movie "African Queen" when they were hopelessly stuck in the marshlands...one of my favorite movies.:) Spiders are everywhere and the stagnate waters can be quite foul smelling on a warm fall day, how I ever talked my wife into searching out this fortune for the first time years ago is beyond me.

Because the water levels were so high this year the going was pretty easy, we did not get stuck once...Rowdy even fell asleep on the trip in.

Behold, the lost treasure of Cranberry Bog Lake!

Real food is our wealth.

All drama aside, freshly picked cranberries can be stored at around 40° for a month or so. We prefer to freeze ours and use them as needed, they will remain good for years in the freezer. When picking cranberries in a bog surrounded by beavers one has to be diligent in washing the berries to avoid "Beaver Fever" or Giardiasis, a nasty infection of the small intestine.

The swamps in this area are surounded by fields of wild rice, we have gathered it in the past but as it was still green this year we left it be for another time.

With the assistance of a third member our party was able to quickly gather enough berries for the entire year.

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