Reason I Preserve Food

I’m currently in the middle of moving half the farm, half a house, a bakery, and still canning the few last fall items before winter sets in here at Serenity. So, today I thought I’d share a few reasons why I take the time to can and preserve food for the winter.

Know Thy Ingredients

I like knowing what I’m eating, where it came from, and how it was grown. Some items I even grow myself. Most years the pear trees produce an abundant amount of fruit. Not the past two years. We’ve had frosts at the wrong time and we’ve lost 100% of our pear, apple, plum, and cherry crops. It’s added to the food costs, and I’m out my cherry cordial. Tomatoes, zucchini, apples, peaches, plums, corn, and lots of other produce arrive from neighboring farms. I know the people who grow my food, what methods they use, their families, and often their hardships and joys. Nothing replaces knowing your food is well grown, and supporting your local economy.

I know everything that goes into my food – sodium, spices, and lack of industrial strength preservatives. In addition to canning much of our fruits and veggies we also dehydrate a few bushels of food. I enjoy carrots, squash, peppers, onions, strawberries, and a whole host of other items. I also do copious amounts of herbs – both medicinal and culinary – that are often foraged or home grown.

It Really Does Cost Less

Canning jars are cheap and easy to come by if you know where to look. Once you make the initial investment they are used repeatedly for years. I have several retired jars that hold my salt, pepper, and other cooking ingredients. Why did I retire those jars? They’re over one hundred years old and still being used. I don’t know of any other more cost effective packaging than a glass jar that’s held up since the late 1800’s.

I’ve traded home grown produce for jars, picked them up at yard sales, and had dozens given to me. I also purchase them from our local jam house for $5 a dozen for quart jars.

Even with purchasing a few dozen replacement lids each year it still costs less than purchasing grocery store canned food. Here is the run down of my costs this year – food included.

5 dozen quart jars – $25

30 pounds of pears – $20

70 pounds of pumpkin – $5

160 pounds of tomatoes – free

12 dozen lids – $16

50 pounds of peaches – $12

40 pounds of apples – $22

20 pounds of zucchini – free

12 dozen ears of corn – free

20 pounds of okra – free

3 pounds of blackberries – free

And I made three gallons of wine with the fruit trimmings.

Grand total for 375 pounds of organic fruits and veggies plus a gross dozen ears of corn – $100. That’s $0.26 a pound. Yes. Twenty six cents per pound of food. The average adult eats between three and five pounds of food a day. I eat closer to three. Even with trimming losses (and I’m stingy) that’s nearly six months of fruits and veggies for $100, or $16.67 monthly. Not weekly, monthly. Add that to the $15 a month average for dry staples and you can see how a $50 – $75 monthly food budget is doable.

Living Seasonally and Rural Heritage

Preserving the harvest in season is part of Rural Heritage no matter what part of the world you or your ancestors hale from originally. Here in the Cove spring signals the beginning of the work year as the entire place comes back to life.

We work the soil, gather early edibles, and have our first green salad around February even as the local pond is still solid enough for a skating party. March brings maple syrup season and a rain. April is the month of wait and see as a few brave souls venture out to market stands in search of early produce and the few home canned goods ladies are willing to sell.

Then suddenly in late April or early May the weather heats up and the work year is on – tending crops, canning, baking, birthing, milking, mending for customers, hoeing, haying, fishing, selling, more canning, and working up to eighteen hours a day. Then August rolls around and things begin to slow down. Most of the year’s income happens between May and August – four intense months.

About September the itch for October starts to creep in as the light changes and the Sorghum mill churns out its sweetness. Then suddenly one day in early October the first yellow leaf appears. It’s followed shortly by more leaves, packing up the farm stand, cooler rainy days and saying goodbye to summer friends as the hillside show their splendor.

As the year slides into winter a still settles over the entire village. We sew, relax, read, play outside, and I set my hands to spinning wool and writing my stories. Somewhere in the frozen stillness our bodies and souls are renewed for yet another round of summer work. We open a can of tomatoes laced with spring onions and Uncle Enos’s garlic and taste sunshine. We are nurtured, and we continue along with the rhythms of the year.

Canning is simply a part of the year for us – like the appearance of the first chickadee or catching the first snowflake. And that is totally worth my time.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm

The KindFibers Family

Friday’s Farm: Making Bamboo Trellises

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

It’s no secret that Southerners love their peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s also no secret to anyone who gardens or farms that keeping these veggies off the ground is important to a good harvest and your back. Another local gardener whose garden I’ve had the privilege of seeing uses hog panels set on long upright poles to hold up his plants. On a good year the plants reach ten feet into the air. His method is bountiful. However, when you’re strapped for cash and growing a year’s worth of food his mighty steel frame is just out of reach.

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

One afternoon earlier this month Momma and I walked down to the creek and cut fifty canes. We could have cut one hundred and only made a small dent in our patch. Some of the canes are nearly ten feet long, and all still had last year’s leaves on them. We then hauled it up to the garden, stripped off the leaves (which the sheep loved), and I began to weave.

Making trellises is not an easy task. It’s a life-sized puzzle that will fall over on you if you’re not careful. It took about two hours to make my pea trellis. First, I made a three poled teepee for the end, lashed those together so they would stand, and then made another and set it next to the first. Once I had enough three legged sets I joined them at the top with a “cap” piece. Then I began the actual weaving. Fortunately canes are pliable when green. If you soak them for a few days they are even easier to work with. I began at the bottom and did a simple over and under. If my weaving pole wasn’t long enough to span the entire length I’d add another pole.

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One important note is to have your thick ends at both ends of the structure. In other words, you don’t want all your skinny tops on one side. That makes a weak side.

My structure got a bit wonky and wobbly. Two old metal garden steaks pounded into the ground fixed this problem. After all, no one like their peas in the mud after a wind storm. Speaking of wind storms, my little creations are still standing after two big storms.

When harvesting cane it’s important to be a good steward and only harvest a quarter to third of a stand. If the stand is small or sparse it needs to be left alone. While cane does grow quickly it’s not as abundant as it use to be. Also, be mindful if you decide to forage the local country side. If someone knocks on my door and asks to collect a natural resource I’m apt to say yes. If I find someone just out taking without asking… I’m not so free with my yes. That’s a pretty typical country attitude.

I’ve made other trellises from willow, young tree limbs, and other found material, including old fencing propped up on broken tobacco sticks. Use what you have. The point is to grow good food. Your food doesn’t care if you have the prettiest trellis in the world. It only cares to reach forth to the sky and His blessings while reaching into the Earth for her blessings.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farm: My Unorthodox Garden Bed

I would say spring is in full swing, but if your weather is a crazy as ours, then bless your heart and stay strong. The cold weather has provided one thing: time to make more raised beds. Be prepared, though. I might have been an Orthodox Jewish girl at one point, but I’ve never been an Orthodox gardener!

I don’t know about most people, but I have this unyielding conviction that growing food is suppose to cut the grocery bill, not add a new bill to the yearly cost of living. In keeping with this I use whatever happens to be laying around. What I have laying around happens to be old limbs, old barn wood, spent hay bedding, and tons of manure. I mean TONS of manure, and it has to go somewhere. I also have about an inch of nasty white clay over lime bedrock in my garden. That’s not great for growing…

Interestingly, the resources available right here at home are exactly the resources I need to have a stellar garden. Funny how often that works out!

My first garden bed layer is typically yard trash like rotting limbs and leaves. I use this as the base for my bed. I cross them or just use larger limbs. I have two lines of thinking on that. One, it allows air flow so the upper layers compost, and two my beds drain better. I also will use bamboo leaves, old corn husk, old plants, or whatever is bulky.

My next layer is the fun one! It’s the BIG layer. When I lived in the city this was my kitchen scraps and grass clippings layer. With the animals it’s spent bedding and fresh manure. Don’t worry about your plants – they won’t be touching it for a while. I like a good foot to foot and a half deep bed. You will be shocked how quickly that breaks down into six to eight inches of compost. I like cattle, horse, and of course sheep manure laden bedding. Sheep offerings are actually hotter than chicken. However, I’ve not had issues with using the flock’s donations that chicken bedding causes. Get everything good and wet, keep it moist, and by the time the next season’s planting time rolls around earthworms will have made a nutritious garden bed. Don’t worry about the chunks. They’ll break down after a while.

The top layer is the key to making this whole thing work. I’ll transplant established plants directly into the middle layer. However, young transplants and direct sew seedlings do better in aged chicken compost, dried cow patties, or regular old dirt. Cow patties are my go to seed starting medium. I simply crumble some up (with gloves on!) and create whatever depth I need for my seeds on top of the BIG layer. Then I keep it well watered until the plants establish themselves.

Does it work? I think so!

 

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s so nice you have all that manure and stuff laying around”. Even when I lived in the city in a town house with a tiny patio I still used this method of growing in containers. I’d put in twigs, then leaves from the local park along with my coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, and then let them hang out for the winter. When spring time came around again I’d put a small amount of potting soil on top and plant. Same principles, just a smaller scale. The best part – a $25 a week grocery bill and all the lettuce and pesto I could eat without shelling out a bunch of money for bags of soil.

If you feel adventurous call up some local farms, verify they don’t use round up, and ask to collect some manure. Believe me – you offer to clean stalls or pick up patties from the paddocks and you’ll have a new best friend. You might even end up with some farm fresh produce and eggs for your trouble along with the muck.

To keep weeds from popping up I keep adding new rotted muck and compost as mulch or do some cultivating every few months. That equates to about four times a year on average. It depends on the bed’s age. Older beds nearing the end of their lifecycle need weeding more often. My beds typically live for two years and then it’s time to rebuild it over winter for the next spring.

Recently, I was told that this is called Hugelculture. But when reading up on the Hugel my way is much less sophisticated. I call it composting garden beds or shytenculture. But really, it’s just an old, old, old way of managing waste, growing food, and using the gifts that surround us.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farmlife: Garden Planning

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I’ve decided to branch out and cover more aspects of farm life and homesteading than just the sheep. There’s SO MUCH to share that goes on around here! There are so many skills that people have lost, and that I’m learning. Things that need to be shared. Without further adue, let’s get into it.

 

GARDEN PLANNING

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I can and preserve much of our winter food in a typical year. I start my plan by figuring out what I have cheap and easy access to, what is more expensive, and what I actually have room to grow. I also look at what can be preserved that’s expensive in winter. Lately that seems like everything.

My current garden is on top of solid bedrock and gravel. This means everything goes in beds, and I make my dirt yearly via compost. This is labor intensive, and really curtails my planting. Space is at a premium. This means harder to find, higher priced food gets top billing. But, I also know what we eat most.

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Like most Southern families we love our garden fresh, homegrown, never even seen a hothouse tomatoes. I know we need ten tomato plants, plus about another ten bushels from the local Mennonite community for our household. This is a year’s supply of fresh tomatoes, soup, chili, and sauces. One plant will be a high yield cherry tomato, five are heirlooms, and four are determinate that get replaced mid summer. I’m a fan of black tomatoes, too, but enjoy yellow or orange salsa. Tomatoes are also a big chunk of our weekly food budget as well as a big space taker in the garden. Based on this information, I can easily pick out what varieties to start in March or purchase in May. This year I’m going with Black Cherry, Purple Cherokee, German Queen, and Old Mennonite along with Better Bush as my determinate type.

We also love onions and garlic around here. I have elephant garlic and a landrance type garlic Uncle Enis gave me my first year here. Since alums enjoy repeat growing in the same bed, it’s easy to plan for those plants. The same is true of my asparagus patch. It’s pretty much not going anywhere until I begin divisions year after next. All I do is trim the old foliage and put on thin layer of compost down in the spring.

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Potatoes are another staple for us. I have good success growing them in wire towers. Since the sheep don’t like them, I can actually just plant them along the fence row and save valuable bed space. I usually end up with ten to fifteen pounds per tower. It’s definitely the easiest and least labor intensive way I’ve ever grown potatoes. I always grow Pontiac Reds. They melt like butter in my mouth. We have potatoes right up until December. This year I’ll be planting ten towers.

From there I look at what else we actually eat. Peas, zucchini, beets, radishes, purple cauliflower, greens, lettuce, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, winter squash, corn, green beans, spinach, rocket, cucumbers, herbs, and shelly beans made the list.

Our corn will go our front, and so will the squash and beans. I’m planning on trying three sisters this year. The rest go in back far away from the animals and right out the back door.

Cabbage, beets, and green beans are easy to come by, as are strawberries, plums, blackberries, apples, and melons. In fact, I usually snag free culls from behind the produce washing and packing houses. Since I can find these for free or cheap, I pass on growing them. I also know I grow some things other people don’t. Last year I traded for three gallons of mulberries. Yum.

I draw out my garden space into different sections, and then draw out each section with its beds. My beds are thirty inches by about twelve feet. From there I put in high priority  food – peas, zucchini, greens, lettuce, kale, and herbs. If there’s any room left over I might try a new plant. This year, it’s cockscomb on the outside of the garden.

As my early spring crops die off I’ll replace them with broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, and shelly beans.  This way I can have fresh food from March until December. That’s ten months. Whatever we do not eat in a few days gets canned each harvest. There’s nothing better in the dead of winter to pop open a can of tomatoe soup base, toss in some beans and potatoes, herbs, spices, and have a hot bowl of chili grown on your own land. This means we eat what’s in season typically.

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Why

Like many working class families we are always looking for ways to reduce our grocery bill. If we grew nothing but lettuce and spinach in pots we’d save over sixty dollars a month for two people. The same goes with our tomatoes. At a dollar a can, and ten cans a week, growing tomatoes saves us $520 a year, and that doesn’t include fresh tomatoes. Just those two items is an entire month’s income not going out yearly. Add in the six or seven dozen cantaloupes, the gallons of fresh berries, a few hundred pounds of potatoes, another hundred pounds of onions, and you are up to THOUSANDS OF dollars in food. Yes, it costs money to get started, but once you have heirloom seeds, and learn to save them, most of the cost is done. Gardening can be pretty much free.

Another reason is that it’s fun, and healthy. It feels good to get out there and do something in nature. It’s physical without being strenuous.

We can sell some of our extra food or trade it for other items we don’t have.

I enjoy it. The garden, the thrill of pulling beautiful food out of the canner, and eating my handiwork all year. It just tastes better. When you eat fresh homegrown food you are eating the height of nutrition.

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Closing Tips

Garden planning really isn’t too hard. It just takes some time, some thinking, and a bit of mindfulness. It’s really just menu planning, but way ahead! If you want to plan a garden, now is the time to contact your local ag extension office and find out what time to plant in your area.

No matter if you’re doing rows, containers, or doing beds, start simple and don’t go overboard.

Don’t be afraid to put in long term plants and plant around them.

The twenty five cent packets of seeds grow just as well as the $2 packets of seeds.

Buy heirlooms and collect your seeds each year.

Have fun.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

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