You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2014.

Today was a beautiful day to harvest potatoes. It rained last night, so the top few inches of soil were easily workable. I was able to dig all of the potatoes out by hand, with some help at the end thanks to my husband and eldest son. I’ve definitely learned a few things.

1. I won’t buy “seed potatoes” from anywhere ever again. They gave me runty little potatoes just like the runty little potatoes I bought. Next year I’ll just sprout out some regular grocery potatoes and plant them.

2. I need to fertilize better. There were a lot of tiny potatoes in the roots that looked like they never developed. I’m guessing the plants ran out of nutrients. Since the potatoes were the first things in, I didn’t fertilize them much before they were done. Next year I’m going to try to set up a barrel for compost tea. That should help me get bigger, better yields.

3. Grubs are assholes. They ate about 10% of my crop. I fed every one I found to the chickens – sweet revenge.

As far as yields go, I think we did pretty well. I planted 2.5 pounds of white and 2.5 pounds of red. We ended up with 12.5 pounds of white and 15 pounds of red. That’s around a 1:7 ratio, which is what I had hoped for. I know it would have been more if I had fertilized better. Live and learn.

I spent the better part of the morning putting up these potatoes by canning them. Here’s how I did it.

First I rinsed and scrubbed all of the potatoes clean under running water. I used a regular kitchen scrub brush that I keep by the sink. The potatoes went straight to a towel spread on the counter.

DSCN0683

Then I cut off all the bad spots and diced the potatoes into equalish chunks. As I diced, I put them into a large bowl with cold water and a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning.

DSCN0685

While I diced, I had my pressure canner heating up on the stove top with about 4″ of water. I also had a stock pot with water coming to a boil. My jars, lids, and rings were freshly washed and sitting ready for me on a towel on the counter. When I finished dicing the potatoes, I gave them one good rinse under cold water and started packing them raw into the waiting jars.

DSCN0686

I can fit seven quart jars in my canner at a time, so I didn’t bother filling any more jars than that for the first load. The potatoes that I didn’t use were put into a fresh bowl of water with a dash of lemon juice until the first batch was done. To the potatoes in the jar, I added a pinch of salt each, purely for taste.

DSCN0688

 

I wiggled and gently banged each jar down to pack as many potatoes as I could into each jar. They settled a lot. Once I was satisfied that they were full and seasoned appropriately, I brought over my stock pot of boiling water and ladled water in to the bottom ring of the jar. Again, I wiggled each jar to bring up air bubbles and make sure the water was throughout.

DSCN0689

With the jars packed completely, I tossed the lids that I would need into the boiling hot water in the stock pot. They only need a few moments to soften up, so while I waited I swabbed a clean, damp cloth around the top of each jar to clean away any water or debris. Once I was sure of a good seal, I carefully put a lid on each jar and twisted the ring around to seal it finger-tight. As I twisted them closed, I loaded them into the pressure canner.

When all of the jars were in the canner, I put the lid on tight. I let the canner steam freely for several minutes.

DSCN0692

Once it had vented enough and there was a constant issue of steam coming out, I put on the weight, with the 10 pound side down. The canner slowly moved from zero to ten pounds pressure. Once there, I set my timer for 40 minutes and turned down the heat so the weight wasn’t jiggling too much. If you’ve never canned before, stay with your canner the first few times. It’s a scary sound at first, but you’ll be fine. Even though I had the pressure weight in place, a hot stove could potentially make the canner increase pressure, altering the result of my finished canned product. I’ve learned over the years what sounds are good and which are bad by experience – there’s no better teacher.

DSCN0695

When my 40 minute timer went off, I turned off the burner and very carefully moved the canner to a trivet. If you don’t have a steady hand, just leave the canner in place. I waited a bit for the pressure gauge to read zero again, then I removed the weight while wearing an oven mitt. That sucker’s hot – never remove it with your bare hands! A few moments later, and it sounded like all of the pressure had finally released. I opened the canner and carefully lifted out my bounty.

DSCN0703

I used about 11.5 pounds to make exactly 10 quarts of potatoes. You’ll notice that I didn’t bother peeling the potatoes before processing them. My reasons for this are two-fold. For one, I’m lazy. Peeling takes work. Two, the peels are where half of the nutrients are located! Why would I chuck them when they’re so good for us? Did you know that half of the fiber in a potato is in its skin? They also contain potassium, B vitamins, and calcium.

Tomorrow I’ll finish processing the red potatoes. For now, they’re sitting in my big, metal bowl on the counter. We brushed the dirt off with our fingers as we picked them, but I won’t wash or scrub them until I’m ready to process them. Dirt is full of nasty bacteria – I don’t need to introduce that to the flesh of the potato by accident.

DSCN0704

 

Thanks for stopping  by to see how I process my potatoes!

I was just forwarded this fantastic story, and wanted to pass it on. Take a few minutes out of your busy day to wish this little guy a happy birthday!

birthdaycards

Screenshot from http://www.8newsnow.com/story/26071062/terminally-ill-5-year-old-wants-one-thing-for-his-birthday-cards

 

Today I am thirty years old. Yep.

Other big news on the homestead – my husband has worked hard nearly every day until sun down on the shed. It’s pretty much done now, just needs some paint. The picture was taken before he got both doors up. It’s nice to have a place for all of our tools and equipment finally. Good job, honey!

DSCN0582

 

The garden is growing, growing, growing! Potatoes are nearly ready to turn over and harvest. There are hundreds of green tomatoes waiting to ripen, the strawberries are giving us a bowl a day, and the peas are just starting to flower. My rice took an initial hit in the paddy after a rain storm, but some of it looks to be bouncing back. I’ve harvested peppers and basil by the buckets already. I took our first broccoli the other day. The 3 sisters that I planted nearly two weeks after I planted the rest of the corn, beans, and squash are now twice as large as the individually planted ones. I never would have guessed 3 sisters planting was THIS MUCH better! It’s blowing my mind.

DSCN0586

DSCN0591

DSCN0583

DSCN0596

DSCN0598

Aside from working in the garden and cleaning up, I’ve also been working on finishing the chicken coop. The chicks are all feathered out and growing like weeds. Just look at how big they are already! They’re nearly the size of a normal chicken. I wish I had a scale I could weigh them on. I’m guessing they’re around 6-7 pounds, which is about half of what their final weight should be. I can tell the cocks by their forming wattles, and by the fact that they are already starting to size each other up and do the little jumping-neck-stretch-poofy-feather thing at each other. No crowing yet. They are enjoying being let out into their run every day to catch bugs and eat greens. They’ve got little paths all throughout the tall grass. While they play outside, I have insulated and boarded over half of the walls. Last night I put up a large roost for them. Even the guineas were coming up to me and peeping lovingly after they tried out the roost – and they NEVER act friendly, the skittish little goofs. Guess that means they like it.

DSCN0606

As I look back on the last four years of this blog, I realize how far we’ve managed to come. We have realized so many of our dreams! We have paid off our debt. We have bought land. We have built a house. We have chickens. We have one HUGE garden in full swing. We have an orchard. We have wood aplenty to heat our home with. We have learned skills like building, baking bread, sewing, hunting, canning, home maintenance, and pantry rotation. We have accumulated many of the tools and supplies necessary to a homesteading lifestyle: a lawn tractor, a dehydrator, a grain mill, a full wood working shop, a pressure canner and waterbath canner, tons of canning supplies, every garden tool I could think of, a rototiller, a snow thrower, an enormous trailer, a woodstove… and so much more!

So what is left? What more could we possible want?

More.

Yes, the house is nearly finished, but we already have expansion plans that we hope to put into effect next spring. My husband searched high and low for inspiration, and ended up finding this gem. We love everything about it, but instead of a plain old fireplace we’d do a baker’s oven, maybe with elements of a rocket mass heater thrown in. A heated bench would be lovely on crisp fall days. I’d also like to do an outdoor kitchen on the porch – just a small strip of cabinets with a stove-top on the counter. Canning inside in the middle of summer heat sucks. It sucks hard. Canning on a screened-in porch outside? Sign me up!

Porch

 

Of course there will be a bigger garden in our future. I am pretty set on turning most of our south-facing hill into an earth-bermed green house, if not this year then next. My husband found a source for patio door glass at $3 a sheet. Score! He’s also drawn up plans and priced out all of the materials. We can afford it, but I’m not so sure we can afford the time to finish it before winter hits with everything else we’re working on. In case you’re curious what it will look like, I just drew up this quick sketch in Paint.

greenhouse

When the greenhouse is in, I’ll build raised beds in front of it to house a small herb and flower garden. At the bottom of the hill is where I eventually plan on raising our own grains like wheat, rye, and oats. The bottom of the hill is super fertile. Crazy fertile. The grass down there grows twice as tall and thick as it does anywhere else on our land. It should be a great place to grow grains.

Our orchard might grow by a few trees, but not too many. We are at 21 trees now, since four (two peaches, two cherries) have perished. I would eventually like to fence in the orchard to run geese. At the bottom of the east side of the hill is a low, soggy spot. If we could clear it out, it would probably make a decent small pond. This year when we start cutting wood I hope to take down the birch that are growing in this soggy area.

We have been discussing getting back into raising bees again, this time with our own equipment. We’ll order the pieces for two hives this winter and get those put together. Next spring, we’ll get some bees to fill them. A homestead isn’t complete without those buzzy girls roaming all over the place.

We also talked about raising rabbits for meat and fur. No concrete plans there yet. Pigs and some sort of dairy livestock are also on our wish list, but we need to work on fencing in some pasture first.

Our neighbors in Michigan have the Cottage Foods laws that allow them to sell any baked goods made in their home kitchen, but we folks in Wisconsin need to have an annual license and all food items must be produced in a commercial kitchen. Here is a pdf file that shows the hoops we have to jump through in order to create a commercial kitchen that will pass inspection. My husband and I have talked about this a few times. I think I am a pretty good baker. I know for a fact that my cookies, muffins, and bread would sell because we have friends, family, and neighbors request these items from me. Maybe if we build a large pole building someday, we can dedicate one corner of it to a small commercial kitchen for my baking. I already have a name picked out for it. 🙂

If we build the pole building, a kitchen isn’t the only thing we’ve talked about. My husband had a lot of fun creating things on a plasma cutting table when he was overseas. Giving him a workshop is high on the list, especially since it would mean our basement space could be used for storage or another bedroom instead of a workshop.

When I was in college I really got into ceramics. I would love a little shed with a wheel, shelves, and small kiln so I could make pottery again. I got to where I could make a complete mug in about seven minutes back then. I bet I could get back into it and be even faster, more productive. I have yet to meet anyone local who putters around with clay – yet another niche that I could use to my advantage. I still have no idea where I would get the clay from. Probably order it online. We have some on our land, but not enough to go through the trouble of digging all the way down for it and spending all the time to process it.

Other projects that are in the back of our minds include building a rain-catchment system with a cistern and mulch pits around the trees in our orchard. My husband drools at the thought of having our house off of the electrical grid, but I’m not so sure we could afford the start-up costs any time soon for solar. The acre pond out back desperately needs to be re-dug. It was last cleared in the ’60’s. It’s completely choked with cattails, weeds, and cottonwood saplings. I don’t think it will be deep enough to raise fish in unless we provided a heat and aeration system, but digging it out would at least give wildlife and our future livestock a clean water source. And I might be able to raise rice and water chestnuts without having to build a permanent paddy up by the gardens.

Oh! I haven’t showed you my little temporary paddy yet. I got it all set up and filled. The rice is planted, and several fish are swimming around in it to keep the mosquito larvae down. A frog has even taken up residence in it. My next post will have to be a pictorial update. In the next couple of days. I’m busy weeding and mulching to get it all looking good for some company we’ll be having this coming weekend.

 

iwantyou

Tired of homesteading groups/forums that constantly dissolve into political or religious battles between opposing belief systems? Come join me in a new facebook group titled Secular Homesteaders. It will be a safe group where anyone can share pictures, ideas, and stories about their own homesteading adventures without the bother of senseless bickering over non-related issues.

I started this group this morning after seeing what several other ambitious homesteading groups have become. I have a low tolerance for pettiness, for unsubstantiated woo, and for drama. There will be just as much religion as there will be anti-religion – none. People of any background are welcome so long as they can focus on homesteading and leave their personal religious and political baggage behind.

Thank you for your consideration. Hope to see you there!

July 2014
M T W T F S S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Blog Stats

  • 53,710 hits