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Posts Tagged ‘self-sufficiency’

In general, homesteaders tend to drive toward self sufficiency, limiting their need for and use of mainstream / commercial ‘stuff’.  We are not at all hardcore about it, and we buy plenty of things, but we do try to only buy what we actually need, or things that will measurably improve our quality of life, like amazing art.  We also tend toward the non-brand-name and the second-hand.  Even with all of that, many homesteaders would probably look down on us a bit because we don’t always grow all of our own potatoes or make our own butter.  That’s fine…it’s something to strive for.

 

However, there are limits to how self-sufficient I really want to be.  Our little guy got a nasty infection this week, and we’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, and I have to say…I really value modern medicine.  And, for that matter, Canadian health care.  We took him to the doctor Monday afternoon, got in without an appointment, and were sent on to the emergency department at the hospital, where the pediatrician met with us in what I would call record time, for an emergency department.  He saw us again twice more in five days, to follow up and make sure the antibiotics were working.

 

Have I mentioned that antibiotics, when truly necessary, are nothing short of miraculous?

 

While it’s fun to play at self-sufficiency and primitive living, to a point, there are things about modern life that are truly incredible, and I, for one, am not interested in avoiding them at all costs or giving them up.  Had it been 1840, my little boy could have died.  In 2014, he had a rough week and some not-so-tasty medicine.  I know where I would rather be.

 

 

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We did not have much of a garden in 2012 – everything kind of conspired against us.  Me being hugely pregnant, Baby M’s birth being so traumatic, his allergies (and constant screaming), and that big storm in late June that knocked over an awful lot of our little plants.

 

However, we did manage to harvest a significant amount of carrots (maybe forty or fifty pounds) about the same of potatoes, and a lot of onions (we planted 500 sets).  In the autumn, we bought some cabbages, beets, and turnips in bulk, and also we picked up some pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the farmer’s market to round out our winter vegetable supply.

 

In 2011 / 2012, the root-cellared carrots were done by mid-February.  This year, however, we’re still eating them from our root cellar.  Some have rotted, and the texture is not as crisp as when they were harvested, for sure, and there is some fuzz on some of them – we peel them now, instead of just scrubbing them – but we ate some in our soup tonight, and they are still entirely edible.  The potatoes are also fine, and the cabbages as well, though you have to peel off several layers of dessicated leaves to get to the good stuff.  The beets, like the carrots, are softer, but still edible.  The squash is fine.  Squash lasts forever.   Some of the onions are starting to sprout, but the rest are still as good as the day they were harvested.

 

The difference between this year and last year, for the carrots at least, is that we managed the humidity better.  Last year, some of the carrots got dried out quite early in the year, and got too dried out and bitter to eat much earlier than they should have.  Others of our storage carrots last year were too damp, and rotted early, as well.  This year, we kept the carrots in a plastic Rubbermaid tub, with a plastic bag draped over top, which we adjust when we’re down there – pull it off a bit if things seem too humid, or pull it more closed if things look like they might be drying out.  It appears to be working quite well, considering we’re still eating last September’s carrot harvest, on May first.  While the root cellaring books I have read suggested storing them in damp sand or sawdust, we haven’t found a good supply of either of those things, and are happy that our rigged system appears to suffice.  I am quite delighted to be eating our own local produce, eight months later!

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Well, another new month, another fact-finding trek down to the root cellar!

 

As of today, a few of the potatoes are starting to go a little soft, but the majority are still firm and basically perfect.  Potatoes are amazing.

 

The beets are mushy, and pretty much done.

 

The cabbages are still firm, but have developed some white mold on the outermost leaves.  They are still fine to eat, once you peel off the few outermost layers, however.

 

The onions are still fine, but there are not many left, and we will be running out soon, despite our efforts at conserving.

 

The pumpkins all went mushy in the last couple of weeks, though the spaghetti squash are still going strong.

 

We are starting to go through the canned fruit more now, as we’ve run out of frozen.  It got to the point that I am now buying any fruit that is on sale at the store, and chopping and freezing it, as I still want my smoothies, but I struggle with paying $7.50 for a little baggie of frozen peaches.  Unfortunately, this totally blows our local eating thing; the six pounds of strawberries I cut up and froze last week were from California. This is not going to stop me from doing that, however, or from buying other long-distance fruit (fresh or frozen), as I am not willing to run any risk of compromising baby’s health over a matter of principle.  We will plan better (or at least put more fruit in the freezer) this summer and fall, and chalk this up to a lesson learned.

 

I don’t imagine we’ll have much left by next month, but I sure am curious how long those darn potatoes are going to keep on keeping on for…

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Continuing from January and February, our monthly food storage report:

 

The root cellar is starting to look a little more bare.

 

The carrots are now completely done; actually, they did not make it past the first bit of February before we weren’t really able to find non-bitter carrots.  I didn’t mind them being wrinkly, especially if we were using them in soups and stews, but I don’t tolerate bitter very well.  The goats are enjoying them as treats we dole out, however, so it is not a total waste.

 

The cabbages still look more or less fine.  As in last month, the outer leaves have dried out and discolored, but the heads themselves are still firm and tasty.

 

About half the remaining beets are fine – still firm and not sprouting too much.  The other half are starting to go soft, but are still completely edible.

 

The potatoes are fine.  I am still amazed by the potatoes.

 

The onions are going strong, but we are running out.  We are down to the little ones that are a pain in the butt, because you need 3 or 4 for a recipe.  Next year, we plan to plant 50% more – 600 sets, instead of 400.  It does not appear that they will rot before we can use them up, even the tiny ones, which is great.

 

The squash seem to have hit a wall this month.  About half of the remaining pumpkins, as well as a couple of the spaghetti squash, sprouted black gooey spots and mold in late February.  I am not certain if they just hit their ‘use by’ dates, or if it had something to do with us moving them into a different room of the house (they had to be moved, as we were painting the room they had been in).  The new room is just as cool as their former location, but may have had higher humidity.  Also, they wound up being more bunched together, rather than being spread out on the floor, simply due to the fact that we were putting a lot of stuff in that room in order to be able to paint the other room – air flow may have been an issue, as well.  At any rate, they were not a total waste, as the chickens really appreciate the squash, so we cut out the black and mushy bits to compost, and fed the rest to the poultry.

 

So as far as veggies go, we’ve already started having to buy carrots, and will be buying onions soon.  We’re fine for potatoes and cabbage, and the beets are so-so.  Suddenly, I am really noticing how well-suited the basic Ukrainian diet is for this region – perogies are flour dough, potatoes, onions, saurkraut, and cheese – things that store well here.  Same with borscht – beets and cabbage and sour cream.  Something to keep in mind when you’re planning your winter meals, anyhow.

 

As far as the other food storage goes, we’re starting to run out of some things.  I made too much jam and jelly this year, or did not give enough away, or something, but those shelves are still quite full.  We have not used any of the fruit syrup we made, though we’ve given some away, and it was very appreciated.  We still have lots of pears, peaches, and raspberries, but those are ones that always last fine through the winter and disappear in a flash come hot weather.  Salsa, however, we’re rationing, as we’d rather not have to buy it – it’s expensive, and not nearly as tasty from the store.  I should can several times as much this fall (if I can find the energy!).

 

The frozen stuff is much the same.  We have plenty of some things (corn, peas), too much of others (wax beans), and not nearly enough of a few things (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes).  I don’t think I miscalculated that badly on the fruit; I just seem to be having smoothies a lot more often than I used to.  I blame it on the pregnancy – I crave cold stuff frequently, but don’t want to load up on ice cream, so I make a nice, healthy smoothie, instead…almost daily…and have decimated my frozen fruit supply in the process.  Next year, we’ll put up extra, especially with the extra freezer downstairs, although it is fairly full with chicken, right at the moment.

 

Overall, we’re doing not bad.  I am not too happy about the squash crashing like it has, and we’re spreading them out better in an effort to get better air flow to the survivors.  I suspect that squash could store a whole lot longer, anyhow.  I’m still very happy with the potatoes, cabbage, and beets, and I have some ideas for how to stretch the carrots next year.  Onions – like I said, we’ll be planting a lot more come spring.  And we’ll adjust what we plant for the freezer (more peas, fewer beans) as well as making more of an effort to get fruit in the freezer, and spending maybe a little less effort on the jams and jellies.  We’ll get it all figured out eventually!

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Last month, I posted about how our stored garden produce was doing.  I’ve decided to update things:

 

As you may recall, we harvested most of our garden in the second week of September, due to frost.  So we’re now at the five-ish month mark for our produce.

 

In the root cellar:

 

The carrots are still hanging in there…barely.   They are getting pretty shriveled, and you have to dig through the baskets to find the good ones.  We may or may not still have any truly edible carrots by the end of the month.  We planted two different varieties of carrots – Red Cored Danvers and Scarlet Nantes Coreless, and we have not noticed any difference in how well they keep.  As I mentioned in January, we have had issues controlling the humidity, and that probably shortened the storage life of the carrots significantly.  However, five months is decent, all things considered.

 

The beets are now starting to soften.  They are still completely edible, and are showing no signs of rot, but they are not at their peak, anymore.

 

The potatoes are still in great shape.  They are not quite as crisp as when they were harvested, but they are in no danger of going bad.  The store-ability of the potatoes is impressing the heck out of us.  We have four different varieties in storage, and so far there is no variability between them; they’re all doing very well.

 

The cabbages that we purchased sometime before Halloween also continue to do well.  The outermost leaves are dry and papery, but the heads themselves are still solid and edible.

 

The non-root cellar crops are also doing quite well.   We went through all of the squash, which we have been keeping in a spare bedroom that we had closed the furnace vent in.  About five squashes (four pumpkins and a turk’s turban gourd) had moldy spots, so we cut out the mold and fed the rest to the chickens.  All of the spaghetti squash are still fine.  The acorn squashes are starting to go orange, which I think is a sign of being over-ripe, but they show no signs of mold or softness.  In all, we removed about 10% of the squash (from our original harvest of around 50 squashes of various types).  We are pretty impressed, given how little attention we have devoted to storing and managing the squash.

 

The onions are also going strong.  We have found a few that needed to be discarded, but they represented a very small percentage, overall.  We have been storing onions in two different locations, to test what works best:  we kept a large basket of onions in the cool, dry spare room with the squash, and a couple of braids in a warm store-room.  Both groups seem to be doing fine, though the onions in the warmer location have fared somewhat worse, with a couple of rotten onions out of maybe twenty, versus a few rotten onions in a basket of a couple hundred.  We planted 400 onion sets last spring, and, surprisingly, are starting to be in danger of running out.

 

Next year, we will do a better job of managing the overall humidity in the root cellar, as that seems to be what has done in the carrots, and, earlier, the turnips.  However, in all, it does seem to be viable to expect to be eating at least some of our own root-cellared produce right up until spring, even with our inexperience and imperfect storage conditions.

 

 

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Yesterday, for some extremely odd reason, I woke up early, with lots of energy.  So I cleaned out the pantry.  I’m clearly crazy.

 

It got me to thinking, though, that I have not really talked a whole bunch about our successes (and failures) with storing our produce from the garden.   With time on my hands, this morning, it seems like a good time to share that information.

 

As you may recall, I canned a lot of jam, jelly, salsa, and fruit this fall.  Most of it is still there.  The jam and jelly and salsa we have been using a bit at a time, but we make tons extra, and give it away as gifts, so I don’t have a set amount to make each year.  We don’t seem to eat a lot of canned fruit through the winter – when we really enjoy it is in the spring and summer, eaten with a spoon in lieu of a meal on a hot day, or served over ice cream.  I did discover, however, that while it is fine to leave the skin on the pears and the nectarines, it is truly essential to skin the peaches prior to canning – the fuzz on my tongue makes me feel like I’m trying to eat a cat.  At any rate, the canning pantry is still quite full, and that’s about what we expected for this time of year.

 

The root cellar has been a mixed success.  We harvested mid-September through mid-October, but there were still a lot of warm days after some of the crops were pulled in.  However, some of the roots (like beets) don’t like frost, and our first frost came mid-September, so Nature set our harvest date for us.  We were expecting a hard freeze and even heavy snow by Halloween, which would be normal enough for this area, but in fact, we did not get real cold and snow until mid-November.  Oh, well.  Better to harvest a little early than to lose the harvest entirely!

 

The root cellar started out fairly humid, as the basement had been flooded in the spring, due to a water delivery fellow who did not know where the hole for filling the cistern was, and chose wrong – the dirt floor of the root cellar absorbed a fair bit of water.  However, our furnace is in the basement, and has really dried things out down there.  We put most of the root veggies (except the potatoes) in plastic rubbermaid containers, covered with garbage bags (that we could move on or off to control the humidity), in order to prevent them from drying out too much.  That has worked better for some things than others, and we’ve had occasional problems with mold, as a result.

 

The turnips, most of which had some level of worm damage, had to be disposed of in late November or early December.  Some, we cut the mushy bits off and fed to the goats, but a lot of them just had to be composted.  When they went, it was very fast; a couple of weeks prior, I had taken out a turnip for soup, and had not noticed any issues with the rest of the bag.  If we have bees next fall, we might try cutting out the damaged bits and waxing them, but I’m not willing to dip my food in paraffin, which is a petroleum product, so we did not do that this year.  Apparently, due to the amount of canola (a relative of turnips, broccoli, and cabbage) grown in this area, turnip pests are heavy and endemic, and we have been told we are doing well if we get any crop at all, especially without spraying, so we’re not too disappointed with our results.

 

The beets are still going strong.  They have not gotten moldy, wrinkly, mushy, or otherwise disgusting.  Too bad we did not get much of a harvest, as they look to be one of the big successes in the cellar.

 

The carrots are doing so-so.  We had early problems with rot from too much humidity, but now we’re finding an awful lot of limp, wrinkly roots that taste bitter.  There are still a lot of good ones, but Hubby is saying he does not think they’ll last much into February, at the rate we’re going.  Given that we harvested something in the realm of 200 pounds, we will have plenty of carrots right up until they get too gross to eat.  Happily, the non-wrinkly carrots still taste fantastic.

 

I can see why potatoes are a staple in northern climates.  They are all still fine, almost as crunchy as the day we harvested them, with no special care at all.  We just dumped them in burlap sacks in the root cellar and ignored them, really.  We used the blemished ones early – we assumed that the scars from the digging fork would probably cause them to rot early – but we have not found a single rotten potato yet at all.

 

We bought a 20 pound bag of cabbages from the store in the fall – sometime before Halloween – they were very cheap, and I wanted to know how well they would store.  Some of the outer leaves have gotten dried out, but you just peel off the top few layers, and the cabbage underneath is fine.  They will clearly do well in our cellar.

 

We’ve also been keeping eggs in the root cellar, as we’ve long since run out of room in the fridge – there’s four dozen in the cellar, and two dozen in the fridge, right at the moment.  We really weren’t prepared for winter eggs. The cellar seems to keep them just fine, and we’ve eaten eggs out of there that were several weeks old, and they were as tasty as the ones from the fridge.  I’ve read that you can store fresh, unwashed eggs in the fridge for up to 9 months, or up to 2 or 3 months on the counter, so presumably the root cellar is a fine place for them.

 

We did not keep the onions in the root cellar; they and the winter squash went in an unused bedroom with the furnace vent covered, so they stayed cool and dry.  We had one squash (a very small one, probably immature when we picked it) go bad in December, but the rest are still fine.  We’ve picked out the odd mushy onion, but they are also going strong.

 

The tomatoes were mostly goners in late November and early December.

 

We still have some frozen fruit from prior years, but we are going to have to freeze up quite a lot more this year, as I am absolutely burning through it right now.  We did not put much fruit in the freezer this year, as we did not find the local U-pick operations in time.   Hopefully, the strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries we planted will start bearing this year or next, and we can just freeze our own, though I question if we will really have enough to be able to get through the whole year.

 

We figured out our annual corn quota a few years ago, and we’re on track to have enough again this year.  I wish we’d had more peas to freeze, though.  We’ve got plenty of green beans; probably even more than we’ll use this year, as it has been so mild we’ve not really been making soup, which is where I usually go through the bulk of my frozen beans.

 

We are still buying a lot from the store, especially dairy and fresh fruit and veggies, as, with me being pregnant, we need to keep up eating lots of good, fresh food.  However, our days of buying frozen fruit and veggies from anywhere else are over, and I am impressed with the beets and potatoes.  I don’t imagine the root cellar will carry us all the way through to the early harvests in July, but I am curious how close we’ll get.   All in all, I am happy with these early attempts at feeding ourselves from our own land, though we still have lots to learn!

 

 

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