Tag Archives: preservation

2021 On the Homestead

Our Best Peach Year So Far

As 2021 ends, I’m taking a moment to reflect and share about our year – to “observe and interact” as we permaculturists say.

Globally, it was another tumultuous and historic year. While the scary moments are what tend to be reported on, there were positive developments as well. I believe in facing problems in order to deal with them, but more and more I see the value in noting progress made, too, as it inspires me to continue working hard in the world and on the homestead (which is in the world, of course!).

Locally, in our homesteading adventures it was a solid year of growing for plants and animals here, details coming up. For consistency and building knowledge, I will comment on the same subjects as in previous year-end reviews, plus add new developments.

Starting Seedlings

I continue to have great results using the peat-free seed starting mix from Organic Mechanics. I mixed in some of our worm castings as well, so I have to buy less of the bagged product and to help with feeding the baby plants. I have also improved my ability to let go of old seed packets so, indoor or outdoors, my seeds are coming up more reliably.

One of our new “rain barrels”

Water / Weather

The 2020 drought continued through spring 2021, finally breaking in July. The rain was a welcome relief and great help, decreasing our work load and helping our plants thrive. Not all crops bounced back from the spring drought, though. We did get a much bigger water catchment system installed, with four 275 gallon totes. The rain water is also better for the animals to drink (especially goats), whether we are having a water shortage or not.

Rodents, Pests and Diseases

Sunflower Before Chipmunks

Rodents were back in force this year. Specifically, we had voles who took more than their fair share of our root crops – carrots, beets, parsnips and potatoes. There were also extra chipmunks eating in the garden (they loved the sunflowers, climbing up the big stalks to hang off the flower heads), and mice or rats going after the poultry feed. Two mild winters in a row and two oak mast years may have created a population boom. Likely there will be a rise in rodent-eaters to help balance this out. 2021 was not a mast year, so fewer acorns should curb populations, too. That’s the normal, healthy cycle at work!

We didn’t have many other pest or disease issues. There were squash bugs, potato beetles, cabbage worms… but not enough to take down yields significantly. I expect as the drought eased the plants were able to keep up their defenses to coexist with these other organisms.

Labor

Every year my belief in community land management grows as I experience how the individual, private property systems are so hard to manage and so much less fun. I miss the days of working on a farm crew that talked, laughed, and helped each other as we accomplished so much. But, as we figure out how to move back towards more commons-based living with land trusts, cooperatives and more, and while a pandemic limits group activities, we keep at it here, sometimes tiring myself out in the growing season. I have gotten smarter about what to focus on and what to let go, but in a good year, there is a lot of harvest to process.

On this issue, the pandemic has been a teacher. I now see that I was doing too much off-farm work in harvest season. Being able to attend meetings and offer classes on Zoom, thus eliminating all the driving around, is a great help.

Animals: Bees

As I had feared, I did lose many hives over the winter. I’m sure there are various reasons, but I continue to see a pattern of heavy losses in drought years. I did keep a couple hives going that look strong and healthy and I hope will live through this winter and get back to making us some honey.

Animals: Goats & Pasture

Diana with her Mom, Luna

We had a great year with the goats. After Honey’s difficult birth in spring 2020, I worried as our three bred does approached their due dates. Happily, all three kidded with twins when expected with no problems. Phew! We are keeping one of the doelings for our herd: Diana, daughter of Luna who is proving to be an exceptional animal with a calm personality, excellent health, easy breeding and birthing, and strong milk production.

This year we got more serious about rotational grazing. As we have removed trees to open up our land to more sun, we have grasses springing up creating actual pasture that needs management for the health of the plants and animals. Our electric fencing was in full use finally, and we saw serious improvement in keeping the pasture plants alive and covering the soil. This was especially important with the torrential rain storms we had, which caused erosion problems in any ground not protected, highlighting the benefits of perennial plantings, and appropriate animal management. This is a huge topic I plan to say more about in a future post.

Animals: Poultry

The New Rooster

We had a slow start to our chicken flock expansion in the spring as our rooster was getting older and less fertile. Between other local chicken keepers and an order to a hatchery (something we try to avoid) we were able to raise new stock, including a new rooster.

A friend of ours had amazing results incubating some of our Indian Runner duck eggs (15 out of 16 hatched!) and we welcomed back two girls to take the place of a couple older females. I am more seriously managing the duck breeding with two males here, so I will be able to keep this flock going with less in-breeding or need for outside animal genetics for quite awhile.

Harvest totals

Here’s what we recorded (note that this is what came into the house to be weighed, so misses what we directly fed to the animals or what Steve ate in the field), with some comments:

One bed of Leeks

Alliums – garlic – 35.25 pounds(#) (173 heads); garlic tops – 150; leeks – 41.75# (and more leeks still in the ground for winter harvesting), perennial onions – 10#

Beans & Peas – 45# snap beans; 12.5# dry beans; sugar snap peas – 7#

Brassicas – broccoli – 8#; brussels sprouts – 17#; kale/collard – 18# (there are at least 10# of brussels sprouts still outside for us to pick)

Popcorn, drying in the living room

Corn, popcorn – 7#

Cucumber – 30.73# (many, maybe more, went straight to the animals – the chickens LOVE overgrown cukes!)

Eggplant – 17.5#

Greens – lettuce – 7.75#; nettles – 3#

Herbs – basil – 6#; dill – 1# (it was an excellent basil

Wine Cap mushroom (Stropharia rugosoannulata)

year)

Mushrooms, winecap5.75#

Potatoes – 129# (which broke down to 6# per 1# planted – it would have been much better if the voles hadn’t taken so many)

Roots – beets – 21.5#; carrots – 20#; parsnips – 14#; radishes – 87 (the carrots were especially decimated by voles, and parsnip seed germination was poor)

Squash – summer – 36.25#; winter – 712# (butternut, delicata, long pie and Seminole)

Tomato – 42#

Fruit: crabapples – 10#; currants – 6.5#; elderberry – 1.75#; grapes – 18#; honeyberry – 1#; mulberry – 1#; peaches – 347.5# (from 4 trees); rhubarb – 27#; strawberry – 2#; 100s of # of gleaned apples which we didn’t weigh

We brought in 104 gallons of goat milk and 117# goat meat.

Our poultry harvest came to: 1,549 (129 dozen) chicken eggs from 12 hens; 840 (70 dozen) duck eggs from 7 ducks; chicken meat – 74#; duck meat – 15#

Food Preserving

Dehydrated Foods

Some of the food we ate when it was ready, but preserving for the off-season is important to me. Here’s a summary of what I put up:

Canned: 87.5 quarts peaches, 7 pints pickled beets, 21 pints of strawberries & 12 pints strawberry jelly from berries picked at East Wind Farm

Dried: 7 gallon bags kale/collards, 2 pounds nettles, 1 pound wine cap mushrooms, 1 pound raisins, 1 pound tomatoes

Refrigerated: 10 quarts lactofermented cucumber pickles

Frozen: 5 pints peach juice, 5 pints tomatoes, 10 pounds of snap beans, 10 pounds of eggplant, 12 pints basil/garlic pesto, 8 gallon bags of other fruits I will pull out of the freezer to can soon, 10 pints chevre cheese, a few pounds of mozzarella cheese and most of the meat.

Butternuts spend a couple weeks in a warm place before coming in to our house

Also, there are many crops we are storing that didn’t need to be preserved exactly, just handled and stored properly: garlic, potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, winter squash and apples.

Looking Ahead

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do make plans. Given the high demand the past couple years, I have already put in my seed and tree orders, a commitment to next year’s gardens.

We have a new area where we have worked on soil improvement for a few years which I will plant this spring when my Fedco order comes in: fruit trees & bushes, perennial veggies like asparagus, and grapes.

In an effort to bring down the vole numbers I am going to try planting fewer root crops and moving them completely out of my annual garden up to the orchard area by the house. I hope they will have trouble finding them and that our huntress cat will have a better chance of catching them closer to her regular patrol area.

The bell on her collar protects birds from becoming her prey so she focuses on rodents

I plan to keep writing, too, a challenging task for me to find time for, but staying connected to folks beyond our borders is important. Many thanks to you for being one of those people!

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Food Preservation, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Permaculture principles, Poultry, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather

Harvest In Charge

Gold Rush Beans

There is food to pick here as early as April, but true harvest season kicks in as August approaches. Our goal is to not only grow for eating in the summer, but to provide for ourselves year-round. That’s a lot of food for us to bring in and preserve in a short window of time. Thus, in August and September our harvest is my biggest focus – in fact, it really takes over my life! I have learned to plan for it, to free up much of my schedule otherwise and to let people in my life know that emails, calls and letters are not likely to be answered this time of year. I can chart out approximately when I’ll need to do what, but every season has variations so I have to be flexible and willing to change directions. It’s a good but uncomfortable exercise for a person who really likes to follow her list.

Peaches Waiting to be Canned

Peaches are particularly demanding – when they are ready, I preserve them or lose them. With the great success of that crop for us this year, days

I canned 89 quarts of peaches this August, all from our own trees!

that I had planned to work on other projects turned into peach canning days. The peaches were simply in charge!

 

Some of our other big production crops aren’t quite so picky, they will give me days or even weeks of leeway. But being responsive has rewards. Pulling the garlic when the third leaf of the plant dies back, gives the bulbs the best storage life. I’ll still get great garlic after the fourth or fifth leaf withers, but it likely will not last as long. The root crops can sit in the ground until I’m ready to eat them or put them in the root cellar, but the voles will get a bigger and bigger

The garlic is pulled and put out to dry at the end of July.

share as time moves on. The winter squash in the field next to their dying vines are exposed for other critters to gnaw on, too. Our corn is a storage not fresh eating variety so is fine with a long season out there, but we have competition for them as well.

 

It’s true for our animals, too. Our heritage breed chickens take four months to reach their full size. By then, not only are they taking up space and food without gaining weight, but the roosters have been crowing loudly for about a month and it isn’t long until they will start fighting each other. They have many ways of telling us this is no longer a sustainable, safe situation.

Dehydrated kale, mushrooms, tomatoes and raisins can last for years.

All of our charges – plants, animals, bees – have their own schedule and their own plans. For best results, we learn their rhythms and work to fit ourselves into their calendar, although of course our management decisions are important, too. This is all good practice for remembering our interconnected, cooperative place in the world and re-learning how humans are not in charge but are part of a complex, ongoing dance. Which brings me to a last, philosophical thought for this blog entry…

Just recently I learned, to my great surprise, that when Charles Darwin talked about “survival of the fittest” he meant that those best adjusted to and able to fit in to their environment were the ones that succeeded. His ideas and work were misinterpreted and co-opted to justify competitive, dominant and bullying behavior. In fact, the evidence that cooperation, compassion and flexibility are much more prevalent and useful tactics has become overwhelming.

Diversity Supports Health

By the way, he did not say that “fitting in” meant becoming like everything else – in fact, it is through diversification and specialization that competition is often avoided and much energy is saved.

All of this really blew my mind as it is so far from what I was taught earlier in my life. Exploring these ideas over the past few years has reshaped my view of the world, freeing and inspiring me. Permaculture has been a part of this journey with our principles of valuing diversity (#10), embracing relationship and cooperation (#7 & 8) and being willing to learn and change (#1, 4 & 12). I value these opportunities to see and practice such skills – even if they’re currently tiring me out!

Don’t forget to preserve for medicine as well as food! Calendula can be dried for later salves and balms.

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Making Salt: A Winter Yield

Making salt in the winter makes a lot of sense for us, living on the Seacoast and heating with wood. We already try to take advantage of that heated stove top. If nothing else, we put a steamer pot on it to help offset the dry winter air. But, even better is to use it to decrease other energy needs. We cook on it, heat water for tea, dish washing, and some for clothes washing. My daily herbal infusion warms up there. And, now, we’ve learned how to make our own sea salt on it.

Humans gathering salt has a long, fascinating history going back thousands of years that shaped the world we now live in. It’s importance in human health, food preservation and as a trading commodity influenced where cities appeared, the establishment of trade routes, and the outcomes of wars. Did you know that the English suffix “wichoften indicates it was once a source of salt, some of the first roads were associated with the salt trade, and that salt was the focus on Gandhi’s first civil disobedience campaign in India’s struggle for independence from Britain?

Below I will walk you through the process with pictures to best tell the story. First, for answers to common questions we get asked:

Q; Do you get enough salt to make it worth bothering with?

A: Two gallons of salt water create 1 cup of salt. I’m pretty impressed with that!

Q: Aren’t the oceans too polluted now for this to be safe?

A: This is a hard one and I can’t say for sure. But – we have to ingest salt to survive and I don’t know why I’d trust sea salt in the store more than what I make myself. (Most commercial table salts are currently hydraulically mined inland. My research indicates this might not be as bad as other types of mining, but there are consequences.) We have poisoned the whole planet that we are a part of, so it’s not reasonable to think we won’t ourselves be taking some of that in. Maybe if we better connect to how we need the ocean, we’ll be more motivated to keep it clean. Really, when the oceans get so polluted we can’t trust them at all, I think the least of our worries will be can we make salt from them. We forget how critical oceans are to maintaining life on the planet. So… you will have to decide for yourself, and it might depend on what beach you have access to if you think it is safe or not.

Q: What if I don’t have a wood stove?

A: You can use an electric or gas stove to make salt, it just means you are adding that extra energy. Also, solar salt evaporation is worth exploring. Solar dehydrating of food is tough in our climate since microorganisms usually become established before the food dries enough. However, salt is not perishable that way, so it can take much longer to be finished with not worry about it spoiling.

Q: Does it have a different taste or color or texture?

A: I find it to be a little saltier and more complex than what I’ve bought at the store. I read that sea salt shouldn’t be very white… but mine does turn out that way. My method makes a coarse end product. It can be put in a food processor for further refining.

Q: Is it healthier?

A: Sea salt is less processed than rock salts, allowing trace minerals to remain and not introducing additives, which I think is positive. But, both are still mostly sodium chloride, which is critical to have in appropriate amounts – not too little or too much – for good health.  Also, note that your own salt won’t have added iodine so be sure to find other ways to get iodine into your diet, such as seaweed or dairy products.

The Process

The start – and maybe hardest part – of the process begins with gathering the sea water. We recommend it not be completely low tide (unfortunately, since that’s best for getting seaweed!), wear your tallest waterproof boots, and have smaller containers that you can fill and bring to a larger container in your car. You don’t need to worry too much about sand and seaweed bits in the water – you’ll be straining it later. A tight lid for the ride home is helpful.

Once I get it home, here’s what I do…

A five gallon bucket, filled to nearly the top, in the kitchen

Straining through a tightly woven piece of cloth will catch sand, seaweed, etc.

Set up in the sink – pot to strain it into, jug to transfer it to.

Take sea water from the bucket…

… and pour the sea water into the strainer.

Pour the strained sea water into a non-metal container. Sea water will corrode metal quickly.

I put aside 2 gallon jugs and pour in what fits into the glass pan sitting on a trivet on wood stove. Top it off as the water level goes down.

Close to the end of 2 gallons, the water begins to look cloudy.

Salt starts to form!

I find pushing the solids to the side facilitates continued drying. My original metal spatula for this showed signs of corrosion after just a few batches.

It’s getting close! Note that we don’t have this pan directly on the stove, but on a large, low trivet that Steve created from an old computer case side.

Pushing it to the slightly higher side lets it dry a lot. Then, letting it sit near but not on the stove in an open container for another day lets it really dry out.

From the 2 gallon jugs, more than a cup of salt.

Store the salt in a tight container to keep it from absorbing moisture. Since you aren’t adding an anti-caking agent, it will be prone to do so and to clump. If that does happen, you can re-dry it near a wood stove or in an oven. It doesn’t go bad, just gets hard to deal with!

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