It has been an incredibly busy summer and here autumn is in full swing. Homesteading here is a pleasure and our first farming season was wonderful. In June, I was terribly discouraged, even considering giving up. I had started gardens six times bigger than any of our previous homesteads and was upset that I wasn’t able to keep up by myself.
Enter angels in cars and vans with backpacks and stories and ideas and joy and youth. Becoming a WWOOF host has been great fun. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an amazing program; “The new backpacking across Europe,” according to my husband. A woman in her thirties with a master’s degree and a desire for a new career, new life, searching for herself (and a liberal cowboy). A young woman fresh out of college, feeling the peer pressure of starting a career, but really wanting more freedom and a homestead, fulling embracing her apron strings. A young man straight out of the military with some serious soul searching to do. A nineteen year old with ambition and wisdom beyond her years, with a great desire to change food deserts and start a farm. My last woofer is here now, a 6’7″, hungry, twenty year old basketball player. He is here for two weeks helping me put the gardens to bed and to prepare the homestead for the colder months. We will then have our house to ourselves again, and then will welcome more young, future homesteaders here in the spring. We have a greenhouse now, are adding extensive raised beds, and are putting in a vineyard with fifty-five vines. The help will be most welcome! I am eternally grateful to all of them. http://wwoofusa.com
I remembered exactly why we put up food! After a few years of slacking, the empty grocery store shelves of early spring reminded me. This year we put up over four hundred jars of food, have a full freezer, and root cellar vegetables. Our garden is still filled with root crops. Medicinal plants fill the front garden. All of these gardens were prairie and shale. I am enjoying teaching my techniques to create prolific gardens. A book is in the works.
So many projects planned! Rain barrels, greenhouse beds, raised beds, and a modern root cellar addition to the house.
Baby lambs will be born any day now at our friend’s farm. The same gal we got two from all those years ago before we lost everything. Here, everything is restored. All things that are taken from us will always be restored. I have started weaving and will be selling my work. I work at a local winery on Saturdays as their in-house sommelier, and I just love it. I have visions of making our own wine from our own vineyard and using the pressed off wine grapes to dye our own wool from our own sheep and then spinning it into lush yarn to weave my own creations. Homesteading allows so many opportunities for creativity and peace.
Coming upon my eight year anniversary writing this Farmgirl School blog, I contemplate our journey. From farm to rented farm to apartment to urban farm to here- this beautiful spot on earth, and realize that in the craziness of the world, and elections, and pretend pandemics, and social media…there is no place like home. And may that home always be a homestead.
6:30 am: The wind howled at fifty miles an hour all night, folding pieces of the greenhouse and threatening loose objects. My wwoofer, Maycee, and I rapidly pick green tomatoes, filling two large canning pots, saving all we can. The tarp and blankets only cover 15×4 feet of tomato plants. We cover the zucchini and bid farewell to everything else in the gardens. All of the beautiful flowers at their peak. The beans nearly ready, but not quite. The squash and watermelons and peppers and dozens of other vegetables that won’t make it through the sudden cold front that is upon us. Tonight the freeze starts and the snow will come, heavy and suffocating. And cleansing. The fires here in Colorado have been awful and the dense moisture will lower the smoke, clean the air, and usher us into another season.
I mourn the plants I am not ready to see fold back into the earth. This freeze is a good month earlier than expected. Autumn has been sneaking up slowly though. We watched the corn change to crisp seemingly overnight. And birds in masses gathering frantically. The grapes brought in to the winery for crush a month early, as are the pumpkins we brought in the other day. Yes, the seasons change in our lives without us being ready and all we can do is flow.
8:30 am: My friend Annie that used to live with me (the one who grew up with my children and comes to help me can on the weekends, the one who is now hooked on homesteading after living with me!), she sends me a photo of her new pressure canner with excitement. This lifestyle is captivating. It is addictive and satisfying in a way that is hard to explain. The young people are often just now being introduced to it. And that is good. Our world needs more self sufficient people. More homestead/community minded folks.
10:30 am: The fire is stoked and the heat carries through the house. It seemed strange to be hauling wood in yesterday. It was nearly a hundred degrees outside. The clouds float towards us over the mountains. I look brightly at my shelves, filled with well over three hundred jars of vegetables and preserves for winter. Our friends came to visit us yesterday and stayed for lunch. They brought us a lot of frozen wild meat. We don’t often eat meat because we despise the factory farms of the world. But these items along with what other friends have gifted us, feel like bundles of sustenance, waiting for the dutch oven upon the wood stove. They feel like amazing gifts for winter.
11:30: A large basket of beans was brought in to further dry and to shell in the week ahead. The tomatoes will be set out to turn red. We are full from Kleinur (Icelandic beignets) that I fried this morning. Hot cups of coffee warmed us after scurrying around the farm gathering vegetables and unhooking hoses, checking on the animals, and we are now settled by the fire.
The children are coming for a harvest festival here on Saturday. It will be gloriously autumnal by the end of the week with temperatures in the seventies and eighties. We will still have a lot of work to do- with cleaning up the farm, setting up the trellising and posts for the vineyard, fixing the greenhouse, cleaning up garden beds, and canning the rest of the tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkins. There is sauerkraut on the counter that will be ready to can next week as well. The season comes to an end then we will be vacationing in Colorado wine country and visiting friends.
I will then settle in with my loom and create new pieces. Work at the winery on weekends. Enjoy the fruits of our labor of summer. Bid farewell to wwoofers and intense heat, and welcome in fall. Everything has a season.
My friend, Lisa, is studying homeopathy and had an interesting solution to get rid of grasshoppers. You tincture them, dilute them, then apply it to the garden. I also heard of chopping up grasshoppers in a blender, diluting them, then spraying them in the garden. I am an herbalist so Doug and I had a funny image in our heads about what people would think when seeing a quart jar of grasshoppers suspended in liquid next to the dozens of quart jars of herbal medicine.
“We’ll place it next to the eye of newt,” Doug declares.
We caught three. About three thousand to go. Same with the squash bugs. I armed myself with tweezers, tongs, a jar of soapy water, and a maniacal laugh and sought them out, drowning them as Doug destroyed the eggs off our precious squash plants. Organic gardening is equal parts manual destruction and compassion, as we save honey bees and other beneficial insects (and ourselves) by not using commercial pesticides. Doug looked into nematodes and wants to order some. They sound great. Has anyone reading this ever used them? My fear is always that once you release something, you can’t take it back. We also cannot watch our garden fall to Exodus-style plagues.
There is a certain amount of surrendering that needs to happen this time of year. What is going to be planted has been planted. What has come up will come up. What will survive will survive. And we can try our darndest to get a reasonable harvest for all the hard work and first year financial output, but in the end, we must learn to surrender and focus on the positives.
Lots of plants never germinated, came up and fried in our desert shale, or were quickly taken out by late frost or flea beetles. C’est la vie. Lots of plants are doing wonderful. The tomatoes have small green fruits on them, the potato flowers are beautiful. The corn is tall, the pumpkin and squash plants are taking over, the soup beans growing wild. The root vegetables- though stunted from the limestone beds beneath the soil- are growing well. The herbs are surviving or thriving. There are lots of positives. I was certainly getting myself depressed over the hundreds of dollars of dead trees, bushes, and wasted seeds. Part of being a farmer is surrendering and seeing the positive. Next year we will have more raised beds and older trees put in. In the meantime, I need to see the garden as half full not half empty!
How to save seeds:
As the spring crops go to seed, we want to save them to replant in the spring. As the plants go past their prime, they will shoot up beautiful flowers. From these flowers will come seed pods. Keep watering the plant until the seed pods are fully formed. Then clip the seed pods into a paper bag and label. In a few months, when they are fully dry, transfer to a sandwich bag or small canning jar.
I had a huge bundle of shiso greens drying on my porch a few years ago. I should have put them up but I got distracted and the chickens got into them and ate them all! I cannot find seeds for that plant anywhere now. It is always wise to save as many seeds from your plants as possible. In order to do so, order heirloom seeds. There are some hybrids you can save but you will have the best luck from heirlooms.
There are many things that we are having to buy from a farm forty minutes east of here to put up. One day we will grow it all! For now, we will enjoy the process and the farm as it is in this moment. Surrendering to all the beauty around us.
Five pounds of smoky, rich local coffee beans are a comfort to have. We still have 3/4 of a fifty pound bag of organic, unbleached flour. We have lots of wheat gluten and jars upon jars of pulses, like barley, rice, and pinto beans. Did we know that there would be a worldwide pandemic? Yes and no. We knew there would be something, and it is just a smart way to live. To be prepared. It is as comforting as a big cup of hot coffee on a cool spring morning.
We homestead for many reasons. Everyone knows that the power can go out at any time. Job losses and lay offs happen. Natural disasters happen. People get sick. But we don’t just homestead for disaster preparedness; there are other reasons too.
We homestead to save money. A five pound bag of organic coffee is $60, recently roasted locally and the beans are sourced sustainably and fair trade. A fifty pound bag of flour is about fifty bucks. That is a stellar price for organic, unbleached flour. Organic is very important to us and we would like items that we can’t produce ourselves to be fairly and sustainably grown and sold.
We also save money by preserving our own food. I save scraps from vegetables, the ends of onions, carrots, celery, leeks, mushrooms, veggies that are just turning, and make them into savory jars of broth. I make fourteen jars at a time for free, basically. I guess the lids cost a couple of bucks. A quart of organic vegetable broth in the store is a minimum of five dollars. I have jars of broth at the ready for cheaper than a Walmart special.
By having pulses and foods on hand, we eat out a lot less because we have food here. It is all displayed in beautiful canning jars and is easy to see and be inspired by.
We homestead for better food. By growing our own food, we control what is used to produce it, how it is handled, when it is harvested, and its freshness. And to have food. I suppose a lot of y’all are going to have a garden this year after seeing so many empty grocery store shelves! We have fresh eggs (we are vegan outside of that), plenty of grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables canned and frozen.
We have candles, lamp fuel, water in jugs, cleaning products, a bag of homemade soap, and craft projects for days. But here is what I have learned from this quarantine.
We need to save more money. Well, we need to save money period. All our bills are paid and we have everything we need but in these situations, an emergency fund would be more of a comfort than a cup of coffee.
We need to preserve more food. Last year we moved before harvest time. The year before I started a shop that promptly closed, but took up all my time during harvest season. Luckily I had canned a lot before that, but geez, no more slacking! I usually put up a couple hundred jars of food a year. This year I have a lofty goal of over five hundred jars of food and several gallon bags of frozen vegetables. I am also growing and/or buying a lot of things to dry and dehydrate.
We need to figure out how to save more water. We will look into rain barrels and ways to save drinking water this year in case of emergency. Right now, with our animals, we have maybe two day’s worth saved. Not enough!
Homesteading is an adventure. One can do it from anywhere. Joining a community garden, buying produce from a farmer’s market, canning in an apartment, saving jugs of water under the bed, learning to sew, getting a few oil lamps, buying second hand; the ways are endless. We gradually improve our ways of homesteading by experience. This year will be our most ambitious farm yet and this quarantined time has showed us what we need to focus on. I hope something good will come out of this time for all of you out there. How are you homesteading? What skills will you learn this year?
This was hard to narrow down, because in each area of homesteading, there are many great tips available. I wanted the most useful tips for this article; the ones that I use all the time.
1. Steaming Eggs- even following a plant based diet, we have happy chickens that lay a lot of eggs. Not ones to let things go to waste, and knowing that it isn’t harming anyone, we do enjoy our farm fresh eggs. Now, how to hard boil them so that peel without exhaustion, frustration, or loss of all the white part! The best tip I learned was to steam the eggs. Place the eggs in a steamer basket above boiling water, covered for 30ish minutes. Perfect every single time.
Last year, I asked my granddaughter, Maryjane, if she wanted to color Easter eggs. “Grammie, the chickens already colored the eggs!” The Araucanas are her favorite chickens with their beautiful blue eggs.
2. Freezing Greens- we grow a lot of greens. How I love curly kale, lacinato kale, 5 Silverbeet Swiss chard, spinach, and wild greens. But, how do you preserve them? Jars of mushy greens turns my stomach. They won’t stay good forever in the fridge. A great tip I learned from an old timer’s homesteading magazine was to stuff all the fresh greens tightly into a freezer bag, seal, and place in the freezer. A few hours later, or so, as the greens freeze, quickly use your fingers to crush up the greens through the bag. Don’t let them defrost. Keep doing that occasionally until you have a whole bag of crushed frozen greens. To use, just sprinkle a handful into soups, scrambled eggs, or stir fry. It is a delicious way to preserve excess greens.
My favorite recipe for frozen greens comes from my friend, Rodney. It is a rough recipe that we alter every time we make it. It is a delicious soup of potatoes, garlic, onions, greens, veggie sausage, and lots of white wine.
3. Labeling Canned Preserves- I used to dutifully notate the contents of each jar with carefully written labels. Should the labels get wet, they fell off. Should the labels be of good quality, they never came off. Perhaps the print was smudged or maybe I ran out of labels. A useful way to label home canned goods is with a Sharpie. A Sharpie is a homestead necessity, y’all. Just clearly mark the contents and date on the lid and that will stay put for as long as your have your beautiful jars of food on a shelf. The sharpie can be rubbed off with a little elbow grease, or maybe you won’t be using that lid for canning anymore so it won’t matter.
My new house looks like a show home. It is lovely and comfortable, but not made for a homesteader. The prior owners apparently never put up several hundred jars of produce. There is simply nowhere to store them. The house is undergoing a slight makeover soon with rows of rustic shelving all along the north wall. 60 feet total. Cookbooks, canned goods, pantry staples in canning jars, and this and that, shall grace one full side of the main area of the house. It is not often that folks showcase all of their food, but it is so lovely, why not? A half wall is coming down as well to open up the kitchen to the living room and create more space for visiting and cooking.
4. Unclog a Drain- I had to use this one just the other day. It doesn’t work if it is something like a washrag or huge clot of hair, but it works for slow running sinks. Pour a heavy hand of baking soda down the drain. Top off with a good pour of white vinegar and let sit. It shall bubble and start clearing. An hour later, pour in a kettle or two of boiling water. That should do the trick!
5. Replace Dryer Sheets- should you have to wait for a clothes line until spring as I do, you can create a simple dryer sheet that will leave your clothes smelling fresh and static clear. Take a washrag, dampen it, and shake about 5 good shakes of lavender oil onto it. Throw in dryer with clothes. Brilliant.
Dryer sheets have a lot of toxic (to you and the environment and are very harsh on the skin) ingredients in them and are just not necessary.
6. Bring Back Aprons- if you know me, or you have read my blog for some years, you know my obsession with aprons. I traipse all over town in them. I adore them whether they are vintage and have a story or the ones that were made by a few Mennonite gals for me. Aprons keep your clothes cleaner so you have to wash less. Aprons have pockets for eggs, clothes pins, quarters, a cell phone, a handkerchief, and children’s toys. I cannot wait until mine are holding seed packets again!
7. How to Take Care of Plants- I had the black thumb of death for so many years, it is hard to believe that I can grow plants so well now. Houseplants and garden plants succumbed to fates that I rather regret. A fellow at the garden center said this simple statement that changed how I take care of plants, “Treat the plant as if it is in its natural environment.” Tomatoes are tropical. They need sunshine and lots of water. Succulents and cacti go for weeks without water. My jasmine plant is crawling all over the bathroom because it loves humidity and filtered sun and a good watering once a week. My fine old aloe loves water every two weeks and at least a bit of direct sun.
8. How to Water Plants- this was a big one for me. I assumed one must never over-water the garden! It wasn’t until my friend, an accomplished Master Gardener, pointed out that it is really difficult to over-water in the high desert! For every plant, place a finger into the soil next to it and it should be damp to the second knuckle. Corn, houseplants, tomatoes. It changed the game for me.
9. How to Easily Garden- well, this one I came up with myself, but it is brilliant if one does not want to rototille the dirt driveway (or anywhere else). Dig a hole or a trench. Place a handful of organic gardening soil into it. Plant seeds or transplant seedlings. Cover with garden soil. Water. Place cardboard around plant and top with straw. Do this all over the yard and driveway. Every year the soil gets better and better.
10. Plant Perennials- by planting perennial food crops, one can assure harvest of something year to year. Annuals make up the majority of our food, but perennials create food security. Fruit bushes and trees, wild foods, and annuals that reseed themselves are all helpful on a homestead. Raspberries, burdock, apples, arugula, even lettuce will reseed itself if you let it.
I have learned many things over the last ten+ years, but these ten tips can be used anywhere, on any sized homestead or garden. I hope they make your life a little easier! Do you have a homestead tip to share? Write it in the comments! Happy Homesteading!
I know no one likes to speak of Christmas before Halloween, y’all, but for us that like to make homemade presents, there is a bit of panic in the air. How close are we to Christmas? Nine and a half weeks! That may seem like a long time and there is still plenty of time to pick out costumes and plan Thanksgiving dinner, but I am wondering how I got so far behind! (Oh yea, I moved.)
The sewing machine has taken up residence on the dining room table and will probably stay there on up to Yule. There are lists of yarn and fabric still to get. Things to create. People to make presents for! And as you all know, nine weeks goes pretty darn fast.
It is easy to go pick up something from Walmart, wrap it up, and say, “Here ya go!” But said item may inevitably break, homestead budget rarely allows for elaborate and multiple gifts, and a homemade gift speaks volumes. Wrapped in a homemade gift is poetry and love songs and a recipient can feel the affection from the giver (too romanticized?). A homemade gift is usually useful and deliberate.
So, what can you make?
Do you sew? You can make any number of things, from quilts to aprons. Maybe cloth napkins or place mats.
Do you crochet? You can make shawls, scarves, blankets, candle or cup cozies.
Do you paint? You could paint a wooden box for keepsakes or a painting of a favorite pet.
Do you weld? My daughter’s boyfriend welded together car parts to make me the most charming snowman I have ever seen.
Do you wood work? Crates and boxes and furniture are all amazing gifts.
Do you cook/bake/preserve? Jars of preserves, homemade wine, and bread are wonderful to receive.
Christmas shopping is kind of fun, so maybe get someone cast iron. Cloth napkins with good wooden spoons. Candles or an oil lamp. Antiques that are still useful. Or if all else fails, no one will balk at a gift card to Lehman’s!
I will be thinking of what I am going to dress up as for my friends’ Halloween party but I will also be busy creating gifts. What great gifts do you like to create?
The early morning dawn brings with it the sound of roosters crowing around the village. The smell of wood smoke fills the air as the fire comes alive with a whoosh in the wood stove to start the day. A kettle of water is put on for coffee. Out into the early morn, a scarf pulled around the neck, the chickens are let out. They scurry by and gleefully pounce on scratch being thrown. Next up are the goats, and the sound of “mah”ing brings a smile to the farmer’s face. The sheep try to body check the others out of the way in order to get to the hay first. The sheep are distracted while the goats are led to their stanchions in their turn. The gentle sound of milk hitting the metal bucket methodically starts the day and inspires prayers of gratitude. A sleepy farmer can easily balance their head against the warm side of a goat happily chomping on sweet feed. Back inside, the milk is strained into half gallon jars and placed in the milk fridge. Boiling water is poured over fresh coffee grounds, and the cats and dog are fed and watered. Hot coffee is poured into a mug.
This is the average morning of a homesteader. If one has children, then they are tending to the youngsters as well. This was our life during the first years of our homesteading. For the last four years in the city, we have not been able to have anything but chickens, but here on our new farm, we are happily plotting the loafing shed and the pasture fencing for the “mah”ing of goats and the low “mom”ing of sheep. (Have you actually heard farm animals? It does make you wonder where the children’s books came up with their animal sounds.) We have homesteaded in each place we have lived, from country to city and back to the country. We build the infrastructure of our homestead and farm. The wood stove is coming in two weeks. The fencing this week. The loafing shed in two weeks. The goats and sheep? When we find them. Most likely in the spring. And our hen continues to crow.
The rest of the day for a homesteader is filled with satisfying chores. Keep the fire going. Plan supper. Make bread. Clean the house. Plan what to pack for hubby’s lunch tomorrow. Care for animals. Do laundry. Hang on the line. In growing months, tend to gardens-plan, plant, weed, harvest, preserve. In winter months, catch up on sewing, make Yule presents, craft, crochet, and write.
There is a joyful cadence to homesteading. A well versed schedule of chores, work, play, and rest. Of being present. Immersed in the cycle of life and death, joy and pain, intensely taking part in the life before us, and savoring every bit of it.
Yes, from old fashioned skills come real peace that truly cannot be found anywhere else. We step back from the craziness of the world, and stoke the fire, make cheese, harvest grapes, bake bread. We spend less, save more, have a lower footprint, and a lighter heart. We tend to be heathier, eating fresher food, breathing fresher air, making real connections with neighbors and holding family close. We appreciate and communicate with the natural world. We teach others how to do the same.
The joyful sound of newly canned preserves, their tops popping tight, lining the counter. The smells of manure, hay, wood smoke, coffee, bread, roasted chicken. The sight of mountain views and sunsets and skies of stars and baby goats entering the world. The feel of a sheep’s fleece and how the yarn slides through one’s fingers at the spinning wheel, and a soft kitten’s fur against one’s skin. The taste of really, really fresh, homegrown food and drinks. The sound of the baby laugh when the dog licks her or the squeal of delight as the older child finds the perfect pumpkin in the patch.
Yes, this is why we homestead. It is why we come back to it each time we move. It is truly a good life. For us, it is the only life.
“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.
The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.
I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.
I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!
When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.
Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.
Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.
I came across it while moving. It was hiding amongst the vinegar bottles that look the same. A precious bottle of sparkling, party dress red colored Chokecherry wine.
My blog post on How to Make Chokecherry Wine from nearly five years ago has been my overwhelmingly most popular article. It has had well over five thousand views. I haven’t seen any chokecherries growing in southern Colorado so haven’t made any since. It was fun to open that old memory filled bottle.
Back in my kitchen in Kiowa, about five years ago this week, I poured the half gallon jars of dark, tart chokecherries into a large pot. My tiny one and a half year old granddaughter, Maryjane, had assisted me in picking the chokecherries from the numerous bushes around our old rented farmhouse.
I poured a little wine into a glass so I could see the color. The red had tiny glimmers of orange, denoting age. The aroma was of summer berries. Hints of strawberry came through the chokecherry in the flavor with just a hint of bitter and sweet. And it was hot! I don’t mean temperature, I mean alcohol! I don’t have anything to test it with, but Doug said it was probably the same as rum or other spirits.
In two ounces of chokecherry wine, I added 3 ounces of cold white wine, and 2 ounces of fresh apple cider. It was a delicious fall cocktail. It was quite fun finding the lost bottle of chokecherry wine. I hope you are busy preserving. This weekend I think I will try my hand at making apple wine!
The smell of wet soil fills the morning air as the droplets of rain drip from leaves of trees. The mulberries are formed and will be ready to eat warm off the tree in a few weeks. The peas have flowers that will turn into pods and the potato plants have the prettiest flowers of all. It is lovely snipping leaves of arugula and romaine. The baby ice berg leaves are crisp and delicious. Snips of herbs bring life to salads and soups.
There are more than three dozen tomato plants set out from seed in the gardens. Eggplant and lots of red chilies. We eat fabulously in late spring, summer, and fall, but what about the rest of year? Today we will talk about canning!
Walking downstairs into our “grocery store” is beyond satisfying. Rows of garnet, green, and golden jars of captured summer line shelves. I can a few hundred jars of produce a year. When the kids were home, I canned three times that!
You will need a water bath canner and a pressure canner. Acidic foods, like tomatoes and fruit, only need to be canned in the simple boiling water canner. Foods like green beans, broth, and corn need the pressure canner. Never fear! The pressure canners of today are not your grandmother’s canner (the cause of many a bean explosion across the ceiling). The new ones do not explode. Everything is super easy to use once you get the hang of it.
You will need a canning book. Bell puts out one regularly and there are lots of unique canning books available in book stores and online. I still love my old, old ones. I had a annoying housewife tell me that I would poison myself with it, but I haven’t had any issues, and if it was good enough for the old folks, it’s good enough for me.
You will need canning accessories. They make life amazing! I used to use wooden spoons haphazardly to try and pull jars from the boiling water cause I like to do things the hard way. A funnel, proper jar lifting tongs, and a cool magnetic wand to pick up lids out of boiling water are all included in the box for cheap.
You don’t need to boil the jars. They can come hot out of a dishwasher or simply line them in the sink and pour boiling water over and in them. The idea is to make sure they are clean and hot so the hot liquids and boiling water in the canner doesn’t shock the bottom off the jar. You can reuse jars. Just get a box of new lids. I have noted that the third time I use the jars for canning is usually the time one of the bottoms breaks off.
Try to bring in help. I rarely have help but when I do get a few people together with a stack of corn and a bottle of wine, it all goes super fast and is a lot of fun. Many hands make light work was definitely quoted by a homesteader.
The loveliest part of the whole process is hearing that glorious pop-pop-pop of lids sealing their contents as they sit on a towel after you remove them from the pot. Lining them up on shelves is also fun. Stepping back and watching your own grocery store fill is really great. And not going out in a snow storm because you preserved all of your own (or a nearby farm’s) produce for winter is really nice. It is time to bring back this incredibly important art.
I have zillions of recipes on this blog for canning. I think I have covered everything from pinto beans to beets to corn to broth, tomatoes… Just type in the search “canning ____” and see what pulls up. Happy canning!