How to Be a Homesteader- Canning

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

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I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

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This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

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I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

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FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

Journey To Our First Farm-A Love Story (Arrived)

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First things first, chickens.  A few short weeks after moving in Andy came to spend the weekend.  He went with me to the feed store a few blocks away and helped me pick out the cutest, fluffiest egg layers we could find.  We chose ten one day old chicks.  We had never held chicks before.  They are absolutely precious.  Their small, soft bodies cradle perfectly in the palm.  Their innocent chirping and small frames bring out the mama in anyone.  We brought them to our new farmhouse and set them carefully in a large plastic box with a heat lamp in the crooked chicken coop.  We kissed their heads.  We cheered them on.

Each child and adult in the household went out to the crooked chicken coop several times a day to give kisses on the head, and to see what the chicks were up to.  We held them close, we named them.  These were not going to be eatin’ chickens.

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We were sad when two passed away.  We were told that was normal.  Laverne and Shirley were our Jersey Giants (at two inches tall, this was hard to believe), Lucy and Ethel were our California Whites, and Mahalia, Peep, Violet, and Daffodil were our Golden Buffs.  Their personalities began to emerge.  Peep would stop in front of you to get picked up and loved.  Lucy and Ethel were, as their monikers suggest, always into mischief.  But, they were lovable little white chickens.  Violet kept pecking at my toe nails which quickly became unnerving.  Her antics made her stand out as the constantly in detention chicken.  She was ever protective of the flock.  The Buff girls were all sweet.  Laverne and Shirley with their blue-black feathers and lovey personalities won us over.  We saved Shirley’s life by applying a cotton ball neck brace around her tiny neck and letting her watch television with us.  She survived her injury and won our hearts.

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We ignored the boards falling down around the raised beds (we are still overlooking them) and added in compost.  We planted all of the beds and waited patiently for fresh greens, tomatoes, and farm fresh eggs.  Homegrown food was becoming an obsession and we wanted to be able to provide as much of it for our family as we could.

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The store was still busy and we were doing farmer’s markets as well with our herbal medicines so the garden was somewhat neglected but we did get some produce out of it and the eggs we were getting were the best we had ever had.

One warm autumn evening, the Broncos were playing so the game was turned up high.  I heard Bumble barking hysterically from outdoors.  Bumble doesn’t really bark.  I went to the back door and looked outside and what I saw seemed unreal.  A horror movie of sorts.  A medium sized dog was running around playfully, slightly mad, with Violet in his jaws.  Feathers were everywhere.  A dead bird lay in the doorway of the coop.  A small child, not more than four, stood in the fenced in area for the chickens, a scratch across his face, a blank look in his eyes, kicking a white chicken viciously as she struggled to get away, convulsing to her death.  I began screaming.  I’m not sure who was the more crazy.  Me, the dog, or the child.

I swung over the fence with ease in my delirium and approached the young mother.  She could say nothing but sorry and blamed the dog.  I continued to scream and cry for another two hours in my yard.  Into the night we searched for missing chickens.

Lucy died, after struggling.  Violet was already stiff with rigor mortis.  And little Shirley, who had survived an injury and won our hearts, lay dead as well.

We found Ethel running around desperate to get into the coop early the next morning.  The other chickens avoided the horrid fate.  I wondered if I was cut out for this.  I have such an intense love for animals.  Perhaps farming and animals was not right for me.  We have had no other predators since then, thankfully.

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I still wonder at times if we are cut out for this.  If Katrina delivers a baby that dies, Doug and I would be heartbroken.  We do not want to lose any of our animals.  But, that is what makes us cut out for having farm animals.  These animals live very good lives.  Spoiled, and well loved.  Well fed, and even if we sell the babies or lose chickens, we will have given them a great life until then.

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The next spring we got more chickens and dug up the entire yard to make a quarter acre of growing space.  These events I have written about.  Our farmer’s market folks started to taper off at the store.  No one wanted to drive that far and if you aren’t directly in front of people, they forget you.  New folks that walked the street looking for antique stores literally looked at our sign and hastened their pace by us.  One woman walked in the store, looked around and slowly backed out of the store.  I told Doug I was going to set up a giant cauldron with dry ice just for laughs our last day open.

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Turns out it was the best thing to close the retail shop.  We are more available to folks when they need us when there aren’t set store hours.  I have many herbs on hand growing in the yard.  The farm is taking shape with its alpacas, goats, chickens, a rooster, and whimsical pumpkin patch out front.  This year we will add many more medicinal herbs, plant more intensely, and hit the farmer’s markets as farmers and herbalists.  Our lease is up next year and at that point we may search for a bigger farm.  Baby steps.  We have about mastered this practice farm.

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We are farmers.  When a passion is so strong that you cannot stop talking about it, can’t stop dreaming about it, it is your calling.  Doug’s passion is people, animals, farming.  Mine is educating, children, animals, farming.  We want to not only bring people fresh food but teach them how to do it.  Not just heal people, but teach them how to do it.  We want to leave a lighter footprint.  Lead a simpler life.  Lead a happy, peaceful, sometimes difficult and heartbreaking, but rewarding life.

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I know I could farm on my own.  I could fulfill all of these dreams alone.  But, I am so thankful to have found the love of my life to farm with.  To follow this journey with.  Each day we turn the pages of our joint chapters together, the next book to come.  Fourteen years ago this Valentine’s Day I met my future.  Together, we are making a difference and falling in love each day with each other and with this farming life.

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This is a love story.  Not just a romantic one, but a love story about the smell of fresh soil, the taste of cherry tomatoes straight off the vine, the warm sun on your face, the smell of roses in bloom, the sight of chickens running through the back yard, of fresh food, friends, family, community, and following your passions.  I’m in love.