My Homestead Kitchen and Root Cellar

 

20170927_161036This is always a happily busy time of you year in my homestead kitchen.  There are lots of things being canned, lots of frozen items, lots of dried items, lots of staples.  Colorful eggs decorate the counter.

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We could walk to the grocery store.  Everything I need is already canned and frozen there.  We went from five plus people to just two of us here, why so much food?  Potential weather disasters, power outages, sh*t hits the fan, just in case, lots of reasons, but my grocery bill was only $36 this week, and that’s pretty great.

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I also love to cook.  I am rarely happy with restaurant meals or packaged foods.  I like my own sauces.  I love creating my own pickles, red chile sauce, sauerkraut, but also having lots of really fresh vegetables canned swiftly in glass containers.  No preservatives.  No Monsanto.

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We are busy folks.  It is nice to come home and have everything at the ready to make an amazing meal.  I enjoy the methodical time putting up the food and the pride I feel looking at my humble root cellar.  215 canned items.  I still have a bit more to do.  I will just leave the pressure canner upstairs this year.  That way I can quickly can more broth, beans, or soups as I go.  There is no real “end of the season”, homemaking pleasures continue through the year.

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If you had walked through my warm homestead kitchen this last week you would have smelled the cinnamon apples being canned, watched the apple cider vinegar and kombucha brewing.  Thick halves of pumpkins baking to be put up, their seeds washed and drying on the counter to plant next year.  A wheel of farmhouse cheddar was being waxed.  Sauerkraut fermenting.  Frozen meat from friends’ ranches.  Lots of beans and whole grains and spices.  Just need more flour, sugar, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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There is still much more in the garden.  I was pleased to unearth a sweet potato, something I haven’t been able to grow in higher climates.  More tomatoes, winter beans, burdock, carrots, beets, kale, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes all await our autumn meals.

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Donning a cute apron and working quietly in one’s own homestead kitchen brings a peace I cannot even describe.  Food security, health, and peace of mind permeates the air along with the smells of chilies and pumpkins.  This is the life for me.

Sunchokes (food security,beauty, and preservation tips)

We were back at my beautiful great aunt Donna’s house gathering sunchokes.  I wrote about these gems last fall.  Their other name is Jerusalem artichokes.  I write to you seasonally so the last thing that was available and the first thing that is available seems to be sunchokes!

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These lovely tubers are much like potatoes with a satisfying jicama crunch.  They can be nibbled on plain, sliced and put into salads, or roasted along with carrots and potatoes under a whole chicken in a Dutch oven, which is what I served on Mother’s Day.

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This beautiful flower/food promises food security as well.  During summer and fall their sunflower heads show protectively and regally over the garden beds.  In the spring and fall they provide delicious foods at their roots.  In aunt Donna’s words, “You will never get rid of them!”  Oh, I hope not.  They are such a delight.

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Last fall when I wrote you about these vegetables I placed a few in a sandwich bag.  Then forgot about them.  They went from David’s house to our apartment.  From one vegetable drawer to another.  Seven months later I pulled them out and they are just as fresh and crisp as they were when I harvested them.

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So, to preserve (though I think you can store them in a root cellar just as you would a potato) scrub clean, place dry in gallon freezer bags and store in the refrigerator.  Then you will always have some on hand for cooking, mashing, roasting, slicing, and for summer salads.  Most certainly a great food for any homestead.

What to Plant Now (4 weeks before last frost. Hallelujah!)

It’s approximately four weeks before the last frost date.  As I sit here rather cold this morning again, I am sure post-frost date is going to feel pretty darn good.

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I used to plant everything May 12th.  Which of course endured one last frost.  I planted all the seeds for cold crops and summer crops.  No succession planting, no spring, summer, and fall plantings, just all in one shot.  Now I know a little better.  Still learning, I assure you, but I know in order to get those cold crops to finish growing they need to be planted strategically.  And anything under the ground loves a little time in the spring to get started.

Here is a modest list of what you can plant now.  Remember, only cold crop seeds and underground crops can be planted now.

4 weeks before: radishes, parsnips, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Alaskan or English peas, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus.

This year I started the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in a greenhouse to see if they grew any faster this year (we have a rather short growing season) so they cannot go outside until after the frost date now.

2 weeks before: herb plants, flower seeds, herb seeds, strawberries, lettuce mixes, and more of the above seeds to stretch your season!

May 15thish plant the rest!  In July plant everything above again for yummy fall treats.  You’ll miss radishes by then!

Creating Your Own Mini Greenhouse to Start Seeds

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Getting a jump start on the season is always a good idea.  I have had my trials and errors with seed starting over the years and have often ended up purchasing large tomato and pepper plants to put in the ground.  This year I am going back to the way I used to start seeds a long time ago and that always worked well for me.  I had given it up because of my lack of success transplanting them (that was before I knew you were supposed to water more than once a week!) and went on to more professional ways of seed starting, none of which worked for me.

I bought peat pots (good bye $100), I bought seed starting kits with mini green house lids, I bought grow lights (which mysteriously disappeared from my garage and is probably being used to grow pot by one of the neighborhood kids).  I bought seed starting medium, I took classes, I watched each seedling meet its untimely and sad little death.  And after all that money was spent, I had to find more money to go buy grown plants.  I should have stuck with the tried and true for me.  And that was creating little mini green houses on the cheap.

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Here’s how:

You will need organic potting soil, some Styrofoam cups, rubber bands, and sandwich bags.  So far I am fourteen dollars into this venture.  Yesterday I planted eighty-nine tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds and still have plenty left to start more.

Organic potting mix is a must!  You don’t need extra chemicals in there promising twice the growth when you may end up accidentally poisoning wildlife and bees.  Everything needs more water here in Colorado so I have found that the seed starting mediums don’t hold enough water.

I know, I know, Styrofoam?  How unsustainable.  But they don’t fall apart like newspaper, peat, or paper cups. You need several weeks to get these started and I have had pots positively decompose before I could even plant them!  I reuse the cups year after year.  If one breaks it can be added to the cold frame or between two boards in the chicken coop for added insulation.  It can be crushed up and added to the bottom of a pot before adding soil to make it lighter.  And the plastic one-time use trays don’t seem to be much better from an environmental standpoint.  We’ll just keep giving them new lives.

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Fill cup with soil and mark outside of cup with variety name with a permanent marker.  Believe me, you think you will remember, but you will not!

Water soil, don’t make a lagoon, just make sure it is uniformly wet, about a quarter cup in a twelve ounce cup.

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Add two seeds.  One to grow, and one for insurance, but no more than that or you will have to cut a lot of little seedlings out and waste seeds.  And organic seeds cost a bit!

Add just a bit of soil to cover the seeds and add about a teaspoon of water.

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Place the opening of a sandwich bag around the rim of the cup and secure with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse.

These can be placed in a very sunny window sill.  This year I put mine in the green house.  Seeds need sun and warmth to germinate along with humidity and water.  That is what we are creating in this environment.

This will self water for about a week.  You will see the condensation rise and fall off the sandwich bag.  Once it is not as humid in the bag, remove the bag and water with a spray bottle until seedlings are well established.  You can replace the bag as long as the seedlings are not too tall.  Don’t let the cups dry out (it is harder to without drainage holes) but don’t make it too wet either.  Just moist.

This makes a great homeschool project and is an excellent way to provide your family with more food security by starting your own vegetable seeds.  This will be a tasty summer!

Canning Sweet Corn

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn to can.  It seems that it skipped a generation and very few people my age even know how to can.  Folks think it is easier to buy food from the store.  I disagree.  How many hours does one have to work in order to buy food?  I would rather spend those hours in the garden or at the farmers market.  In just a few hours one can turn an entire bag of corn into several jars of delicious sweet corn, summer flavor locked in, to enjoy all winter.  It is a rather nice task with huge rewards.

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Not only do you know where your food is coming from, how it was raised, how long ago it was harvested, how big the footprint is, and if it is organic, but you also provide yourself food security.  Big snow storm?  No job?  Car broke down?  Can’t get to the store?  No problem.  The grocery store is in the basement.

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I am not growing enough to can yet.  Each stalk will produce 1-2 good ears of corn.  I got a big bag of corn from Miller Farms (they are not certified organic, but I know for a fact that they do not use pesticides, fertilizers, or any kind of herbicide.  They also use non-GMO corn) and went to work.

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1. Shuck a big bag of corn and cut corn off of cobs with a sharp knife.  Give cobs to chickens and ducks.  They love corn day!  Give the outer leaves to the goats.  They love them!  Save the corn silk in a paper bag for healing up urinary tract infections.  Just make into tea with a handful of cranberries and juniper berries and honey.

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2. Fill warm jars with corn to half an inch from the rim.  Add 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt to pints, 1 teaspoon to quarts.  Fill jars to 1/2 an inch from rim with a kettle of hot water.  Wipe off rim and put on lid.

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3. Fill the pressure canner with three inches of water.  Put jars in canner.  Attach lid.  (Note: the new pressure canners are inexpensive and not our great-grandma’s pressure canners.  They do not blow up!  There is no fear using one!)  Turn on high and when the shaker starts shakin’ and it sounds like you ought to be belly dancing, then start timing.  55 minutes for pints, 85 minutes for quarts.  For high altitude canning, always use all the weights.  For the rest of the world use 10 lbs of pressure.

A burlap bag 2/3 full made 10 pints of corn and 3 quarts of corn.  I need thirty jars to get through winter (we love corn) so I’ll need another bag!