It’s A Podcast!

I’ve been wanting to get a podcast going for sometime now, but haven’t had the gumption until recently. Presently there are only two episodes available – and the first is just a pilot so… – but new episodes will be released on Tuesdays.

As you might imagine, the podcast will interview individuals involved in the homesteading and homeschooling movements in an attempt to gain insight into how others run their micro-programs so that we can all learn from each other. I have recorded a good number of episodes and I can tell already that my interviewing skills have started to get better, so stick with me and give them a listen.

Each episode will start out discussing an article from the internet, or some sort of interesting, unique, informative website or program that homesteaders and homeschoolers might find useful or informative. After that we will get into an interview. My first interview was with Miss Elizabeth Melton of Sixpence Farm. Check out the show notes for all the details, and put the rss feed into your podcatcher to subscribe to all future shows. (The show will be on iTunes soon, but as of writing, Apple is still in the reviewing process.)

RSS Feed: https://homesteadsandhomeschools.libsyn.com/rss

Fermented Fridays: Carrots!

After college, I was not sure what to do in terms of a job, I had not applied to graduate school, so I started to peruse the Yahoo! Jobs section. Long story short, I ended up in South Korea teaching English for a year. It took me a while, but eventually I fell in love with that pungent, spicy dish we call kim chi. When I returned home, I struggled to find authentic kim chi the way the ajumma’s in Korea make it. The stuff in the jar at the grocery store was passable, but by no means a substitution for what could be found at any random Korean restaurant. I then started to venture into making my own kim chi, and sadly, was never able to make it right. (I think a fair bit of it has to do with getting authentic go chu jang powder – this is probably the best.)

Despite not being able to make truly authentic kim chi, I experimented with some other vegetables and eventually – with some assistance through Sandor Katz – found the world of fermentation. Really, you can ferment anything, especially if you go the lacto-fermentation route; granted some things taste better than others, but it’s always fun to experiment and see what happens. Sometimes you get a winner, and sometimes you made some chicken food.

This past winter we had a spectacular carrot harvest. We froze some, and kept a supply in the refrigerator, but we still had plenty left over. (Unfortunately, here in Georgia, it would seem that no one has heard of a basement or a root-cellar so we have no ideal place for storage.) Rather than just chuck more carrots in the freezer, I decided to lacto-ferment a few and see what happened.

We don’t use pesticides or chemicals in our garden, so I have no concerns about eating the skins of our vegetables, so before cutting the carrots into spears I gave them a good scrub, but left the skins on. I’m a big fan of garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, so naturally, they were part of my supply list as was a jar that has a slight taper towards the top with a rubber gasket – and of course sea salt. My wife got this jar a long time ago for storing dried goods, but the slight taper allows me to pack things in, and then the pressure keeps vegetables submerged without needing any sort of weight to keep them down.

Dragon Carrots, purple on the outside, orange on the inside.

Lacto-fermenting is really one of the easiest ways to preserve food. I peeled a couple garlic cloves and cut a couple big chunks of ginger up before tossing them into the bottom of the jar and adding a healthy dose of hot pepper. I cut the tops off the carrots before slicing them lengthwise into quarters – sixths for the bigger carrots – and then shoved them in lengthwise packing them tight. When I could fit no more, I used a measuring cup, keeping track of how much water it took to fill my jar about half an inch above the top of the carrots. I like to use a ratio of 1:1, tablespoons of salt:cups of water, so I ended up needing just under two tablespoons of salt. I added the salt and used a chopstick to wiggle the carrots around which helped the salt sink down, but who’s real purpose was to allow any trapped air bubbles to escape. (If you trap air bubbles, you defeat the idea of lacto-fermentation and you’ll get inedible rot.)

carrot topWhen my salt, carrots, spices and water were added, I shut the lid and put the jar in the closet of the warmest room in our house. By about day two, I noticed little tiny bubbles rising to the surface, on day three I burped the jar, but probably did not need to as there was no pressure to speak of. (Secretly I wanted to give them the sniff test and it’s really hard to leave them alone.) At this point you don’t want to agitate the carrots any. The carbon dioxide – a byproduct of the lacto-fermentation process – is heavier than air and will sit on top of your ferment, keeping the nasty oxygen away from your vegetables and preventing contamination.

How long you let your carrots sit is really up to you. It depends on how warm the ambient air temps are, how big your ferment batch is, and how tangy you like your veggies. I left our carrots for five days. As this was the first time trying to ferment carrots, I wasn’t really sure how they would come out and part of me was ready to march straight away to the chicken coop – my wife has disallowed me from keeping ferments in the fridge that I “might” eat “one day” – but much to my surprise, they were delicious – crisp and slightly reminiscent of relish, but with that lacto-fermented-almost-kim chi- flavor I’d been searching for. Next to some radish kim chi I made a few years ago, this was the closest flavor I had come to that reminded me of that spicy goodness every capable Korean grandmother creates. And, as a bit of a surprise, the red-purple coloring from our Dragon Carrots leached into the water giving it a red hue. Give it a shot!

Fermented Friday: Oatmeal!
Fermented Friday: Ginger Bug!
Fermented Friday: SCOBY Dooby Doo!

Homestead Hack #4: Paint Your Tools!

If you’ve had any metal outdoor tool for a while, you’ll know that eventually the shiny factory sheen starts to fade and the metal begins to pick-up a dingy, brown, earthen hue. You might also be wise enough to know that that dingy brown is almost the color as the dirt and leaf litter that covers the forest floor. I’m not sure about you, but if there is one thing that annoys me to no end when I’m out cutting firewood or digging around in the garden, it’s misplacing a tool mid-job because it’s lost among the leaves and dirt. And, as an aside, it can also get a little expensive. So how do we fix this issue? (Other than being overly pre-cautious and slowing the whole process down to put tools in the exact same spot mid-job…). Spray paint! A sweet bright vibrant splitting wedge will ensure you’ll have a hard time loosing it ever again. It works well for garden tools like shovels and hoes, and don’t forget the the always necessary but ever so small chain saw tool!

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Brighter is better!

Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!

Push the Little Daises!

While some parts of the country are still locked into frigid temperatures and snow, the south has managed to climb it’s way to spring. The nights have warmed into the 40-50°F range. The skies have turned gray and the waters have started to fall. Some of the field grasses have started are beginning to pick up a slight green hue. The dock is unfurling fans of worship. Undoubtedly, we will still have a haunting of the ghost of winter-past, but spring is here. And with spring comes seedlings.

It wasn’t long ago we received our package of seeds from Baker Seeds and some new seed trays from Amazon. They sat for a few days on the foldable tables in the guest room we use for as a make shift greenhouse, longing for some soil and a bit of life. They got their wish last week. It’s still early, but it’s not too early. When I lived in Upstate, NY, I would plant tomatoes and peppers at the end of February and by the end of May, I would have sturdy little seedlings, ready to go as soon as they got in the ground. If we followed the same schedule here, our season would no doubt be cut short as the heat sets in and causes the flowers to abort. Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants – like it warm, but extended periods of daytime temps in the upper 80°F’s and nighttime temps in the 70°F’s will cause flowers to abort, and in the south, those temps come by June. In truth, we may have been able to get some of our pepper and tomato seeds in a little earlier, but too long inside and they start to get spindly, and really need to be repotted more than once. As it is, we submit to transplanting once, twice doesn’t seem worth it.

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Empty tubes.

Over the years we’ve saved our plastic six pack seed planters, many are split down the side and crumpled miserably from poor storage and abusive removal. I was planning on reusing them this year, but not two days before I was about to start planting, my son filled all but a handful with chives he dug up from the yard and is now attempting to sell at the end of the driveway, and while I should have quashed his dreams and taken back my six-packs, I didn’t. I had to find something else.

I had seen on Instagram – not sure where – that someone cut and used paper towel tubes. So that’s what I did. I cut a bunch of paper towel, toilet paper, and wrapping paper tubes (we collect them for home school crafts) into 2-3” pieces, stuffed a square of brown paper grocery bag into the bottom and filled them with dirt. They paper bag holds the dirt in, and the cardboard acts like a peat pot and wicks water up from tray keeping seeds and soil moist without soaking them from the top. When it comes time to transplant, we should be able to just drop the tubes into new pots and not have to disturb the seedling roots at all. (As a side note, it seems like the toilet paper tubes kind of unroll

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Paper towel tubes can be difficult to separate when you have different varieties, but there are ways.

when they get wet – not so much with the wrapping paper and towel tubes.)

With the arrival of out foster kids, we were unable to get our fall garden going on time, and with a couple of really prolonged cold snaps, everything but the carrots, brussel sprouts and cabbage died. That included all of our cauliflower! So along with our tomatoes and peppers, we have a few cauliflower six-packs. The literature says we started them too late and they won’t mature before it gets too hot, but we’re going to try. If nothing else, we’ll be able to eat the greens like collards.

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Thought not a lot, this room gets the best light.

It’s an exciting time. Everyone loves the turning of winter to spring; the cliched rebirth of the world, but for me it’s the planting of the seeds that gets me excited. All winter the ground has been too cold to work and sometimes buried under snow. Planting seeds gives a reconnection. It lets me get my hands dirty. It fills the room with the smell of dirt. And it reminds me to get going and plan out the garden.

Picking a Bean

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

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Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It’s a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We didn’t have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans I’ve grown when it came to cold nights.

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Soaked, sprouted, and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We’re able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We’ve tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?