Monday, December 10, 2012

This blog is no longer quite  what I want in a  blog, so I have created a new one.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Storing potatoes the wrong way

I thought that by leaving my potatoes in my dark, cool basement would do well with them.  Apparently not.  I'm not entirely sure what the problem is, but these things seem to have grown all winter.  I tend to think that the issue in my basement was that it got too light down there.  There are some windows, but I didn't think that it got too light.  A few of the potatoes also looked a little bit greenish, which is what normally happens to potatoes when they are growing and get exposed to too much sunlight.  Regardless, the potatoes will not go entirely to waste, I can make some sort of potato soup.  This year my potatoes will be in pitch black however I achieve that.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why use "lasagna" no till gardening?

I have already talked all about how wonderful compost is for your garden.  For some people, including myself, there is just not enoughroom in your yard to have enough compost piles to feed your wholegarden.  So why not just turn your whole garden into a compost pile?
Lasagna gardening or a no till garden does just that.  You build up your garden with the same layers of browns and greens that you would in acompost pile and just leave it there.  When done well, you can plant your garden right into these piles of compost with little further effort.  You don't need to till because the materials will compost and turn into a nice, soft bed for you to plant your garden in.  You don'tneed to fertilize because your garden is going to be built out of fertilizer.  You don't need to weed as much because the thick layers will block the weeds from growing where they would normally grow.  You don't need as much water because the organic composting materials hold much more water than standard garden soil and the water is there waiting for your plants to drink it up.  The layers you add on to the garden may even prevent some of the diseases and pest you have had in the past from being able to return to your garden for another year.  
I think this coming year I will dive right in and set up my garden this way.  Starting when I do my fall clean up.  The hope is that I walk out to my garden in the spring and throw the plants in the ground and they are already fed and watered for the majority of the summer.  That and I won't have to do much weeding.  We will see how this works out.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Refrigerator canning for hot peppers

Hot peppers in vinegar
If you have plenty of hot peppers and want to preserve them so that they stay nice and crunchy, this is something you should try.  I advise either wearing gloves or washing your hands really, really well afterwards by the way.  First cut up your peppers removing the stems and seeds.  You can leave them whole or you could cut them into strips.  Put them all into a mason jar and then cover them with vinegar.  Let the peppers soak in the vinegar at least overnight so the vinegar can do its work.  What the vinegar does to the peppers is kill the bacteria in them so that they will last a long time rather than rotting.  The next day dump the vinegar off of the peppers.  I haven't figured out what to do with this spicy vinegar yet, but I'm sure there is a use for it in some delicious recipe.  I'd love some input from someone on that one.  Next cover the peppers with olive oil.  Be sure that the peppers are totally covered in the oil.  Put your jar into the refrigerator.  I am told that you don't have to keep these in the fridge, but they will last longer if you do.  I guess it depends on how much space you have and how quickly you will use the peppers.  I am going to try both versions and see what happens.  This recipe can also be altered to make peppers stuffed with prosciutto or something like that.  This is actually where I got the idea from.  When you finish with the peppers you will also have a lovely spicy olive oil to cook with.  It will probably be very hot, so be careful!

I went looking in my fridge for the peppers I had stored previously to take a picture of for you, but there was a little problem.  I didn't take into account that oil solidifies in the fridge.  All this means is that you should probably keep at least one jar out for use.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How to care for your compost pile

Once your pile is built, the only maintenance it needs is water and aeration.  The bacteria you have working for you are just like most other creatures on earth.  They need water and they need oxygen.  If the pile dries up, the decomposition will just slow way down.  If there is no oxygen, then the anaerobic bacteria will get to work.  These are the bacteria that don't need the oxygen to work.  If this is what you have going on, your pile will smell really bad.  This is not what you ideally want to have going on.
If you chose a good location, you may not have to water except on the really hot spells.  Compost is good at holding water so if it rains often enough, the pile will hold an adequate water supply and won't need much help.
If you keep the size of your pile about a 3 foot diameter, that helps greatly with the aeration of the pile.  If it gets much bigger, the surface area to pile ratio is greatly reduced and there is less available oxygen for your pile.  Either way you will need to aerate your pile to some extent.  The smaller piles are less material to move around and are therefore easier to aerate.  The most common method of aeration is a pitchfork.  Dig in and throw your pile around.  Try to get all of the drier outer material closer to the inside so it can start breaking down too.  They do make fancy tools to aerate your compost, but I have found that those work well for a bucket composter or for the edges only of your pile.  They don't get the heavier innards of your pile very well.  A good old fashioned pitchfork will do the trick perfectly.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mead making part three

Step three is very simple.  Take your siphon, which you have cleaned well, and siphon the liquid you have from the bucket to the appropriate carboy which you have also cleaned well.  If you can get past my ugly kitchen floor in the picture, you'll notice that the carboy is not full.  You want to top it off with water, but not too full.  It will bubble up nicely unless something is wrong, and then overflow out the top of the airlock.  Yes, I have had to clean up this mess as well.  You can add more later if you need to, but you can't really take any out other than what overflows.  Once the water is in, put the half full airlock on top and wait.  You can wait three months and  rack it, then wait three more.  Or you can just wait six months and rack it.  I will likely wait six months because I make an effort in the beginning to not get much silt into the carboy.  This means leaving some extra liquid in the bottom of the bucket.  That is ok.  One more thing, this picture is cantaloupe mead, not the watermelon I have been showing you all along.  I made two batches at the same time and just happened to have taken the picture of this one.  That is why it isn't pink like the other pictures.  See you in six months!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No dig potato harvest

If you have been wondering about my no dig potato experiment went, I'm pretty disappointed.  I only got a small bucket of salvageable potatoes.  The rest were so tiny
that there was no point in picking them up.  Many of them were also pretty large but rotten and partially eaten.  I'm not entirely sure why this was, but I'm going to do some research and figure out what I need to do differently and try it again next year.  It wasn't a total failure, I did get some potatoes and I learned that I can't do things quite how I did them this year.  I also knew going in that I had not made any amendments to the straw I used and that there may not be enough nutrients for the potatoes.  I like to try things out bare bones first to see if they can be done that way.  This doesn't seem to be one of those things.  There were also many potatoes that could potentially have grown bigger had I let them go longer.  However, many of the potato plants were ready to be harvested, so I harvested them all.  The one thing I did get out of this garden bed was good, healthy soil full of good bugs .  If you look at the picture above, you can see how rich the soil is that was left behind.  Not a waste at all.
 Either way this was a learning experience.  I started this blog when I did, before I have my future homestead, because I wanted to share these learning experiences with everyone.  I like to learn as much as I can now, before I am on my own homestead so I know more of what I need to do when I get there.  Not that things will be perfect, but I will know more than I would have if I chose to wait for the real thing.  That, I believe, is the most important step I can take to being successful at homesteading.  I hope I am right, we'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Worm bin or not?

It seems to me that a worm bin is one of those things that you are supposed to have when you are living on any type of organic farm.  I built one a couple years ago and I'm not really sure if I want to keep it or  not.  It seems to me that it is extra work and extra space that is just not necessary.  I do get good castings and good compost tea, but in small enough quantities that I can't really do much with it.  I could build a much larger bin, but I'm not sure I could then feed it well enough.  There are only three of us in the house right now so we really don't produce much scraps.  Every time I feed the worms, I have to put all new bedding down which does take up some time as well.  I think that throwing all my kitchen waste into my kitchen scrap composter is far less work and I seem to get just as good fertilizer out of it.  I also get it in much larger quantities when I go to use it because the can is much larger.  If you lived in a place where you didn't really have much yard space, a small worm bin could be ideal, but I think I'm going to just stick to a bigger, "lazier" type composter for my house.  Half of the idea of permaculture seems to be less work for more gain anyways.  Set things up so that they are efficient and mostly function on their own.  The worm bin doesn't do that for me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seed saving: Squash and Pumpkin

Saving seeds for squash is basically the same for all different kinds.  All you have to do is pull the seeds out of the squash before you eat them.  Don't cook the squash first because it will kill the seeds.  The squash should be nice and ripe before you pick them as well.  The best way to be sure that the seeds themselves are nice and ripe for saving, leave the squash to grow on the vine a little longer than you normally would for eating.  You can still eat the squash, it just may taste a little different than the ones you pick nice and small.
Once you remove the seeds from the squash, get rid of all the squash pulp attached to the seeds.  I put the seeds into a colander and rinsed them off really well.  If there is a lot of pulp, you can soak the seeds overnight first.  The smaller seeds and the flat seeds aren't the ones to save.  You can roast and eat these.  The nice, big, plump seeds are the good ones.  Once they are clean, let them air dry really well.  Store in an air tight container like a glass jar.  As with any kind of seed, try to save the seed from multiple plants, not just one.  That way you have a good variety of seed to plant.  That's it.  Seeds all ready for next year (for free)!
I have to add that after my seeds dried I noticed that most of them were pathetic, flat, non viable seeds.  This is because I picked the squash too early.  I figured that this could be a problem, but figured I would try anyways.  Next time I won't bother.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mead making part two

Now that your fruit and water mixture has been sitting for 7-10 days, its time to strain it and
add the honey and nutrient.  I take a large bucket and put a strainer across the top.  I then put a piece of cheesecloth over the strainer so that all the little pieces get strained out of the liquid.  Once I dump all the liquid through the strainer, I let it sit for a couple hours to be sure that all the juice gets out of the pulp.  Next I add the honey.  The recipe calls for 3 lbs of honey per gallon of the final amount of mead.  Since this is going to be a 5 gallon batch, I would use 15 lbs of honey.  However, since watermelon is very sweet, I'm going to try to only add 2 lbs of honey per gallon for a total of 10 lbs.  This should make the mead more flavorful and less percent of alcohol.  This should still be
plenty strong enough because the standard 3 lbs per gallon makes fairly strong alcohol.  I have yet to actually measure the alcohol content of my mead, but it is obviously quite potent.  I like to add the honey when it is slightly warm so that it blends in well.  It shouldn't be hot because it will kill the yeast.  The next thing you add is the yeast nutrient.  The kind I have says to add 1/2 teaspoon per gallon, but a different kind may vary in amount needed. Mix this all up really well and put the lid on the bucket with the airlock in place.  At this point you do not want any bacteria getting into your mead because you could end up with vinegar.  Let this mixture sit in the bucket for another 7-10 days and stay tuned for the next step!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harvesting zuchetta

young rampicante
Zuchetta rampicante is a unique type of squash.  It can be harvested and used as a summer squash or as a winter squash.  I picked this squash in the picture when I took the picture.  I used it as a summer squash and sauteed most of it for my lunches.  It lasted me quite a few lunches as it was at least two feet long.  I would cut off a hunk of the squash and it would ooze a little and then seal over until the next time I wanted some.  I stored it on the counter for two weeks like this as I ate it.  Once I hit the seeds in the bulge at the end it when it did not store any longer.  I ended up with a mold spot the day after I got to the seeds.  I cut that part off and put the rest in the fridge.  I did notice that many of the seeds were pretty immature, and I would like to save seeds, so I will be sure and let at least one of these squash grow on the vine much longer.  I can use that squash as a winter squash.  As the squash get older on the vine, they develop a thicker skin like a winter squash would.  Apparently, the squash picked when they are older can store quite a while just like a winter squash.  I plan to test that theory this year.  I will continue to grow this kind of squash either way because it has proven itself to be a valuable addition to my garden and my kitchen so far.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My vegetable garden: Trail of Tears, dry pole beans

I grew pole beans last year and did not like the taste at all.  I talked to a few other people and it turns out, no one I could find really liked the taste of pole beans.  I really like the idea of growing vertical for saving space, so I was disappointed that the beans I could grow vertical weren't really all that good.  
Then I discovered Cherokee Trail of Tears beans.  They were dry black beans that I could trellis.  I am hoping that because they are on a trellis, that they can dry on the vine without getting moldy like many of my dry beans did last year.  We had a rainy spell just before the beans were ready for harvest and I ended up loosing some of the beans.  So I looked around to see if there were any other kinds of dry beans to trellis, but there were hardly any others.  Variety would be nice, but this is a start. We will see how they are doing when it is time to harvest.
The interesting name of these beans also comes with a sad story.  The "trail of tears" was the relocation march that the federal government forced the Cherokee people on in 1839.  It went from Tennessee to Oklahoma and was a horrible march that lead to much suffering and death to thousands of Cherokees.  One of the things these people managed to bring with them was these vining black beans.  They were originally called just "bean" but were renamed by the Cherokee people once the march was finally over.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cooking in season: Garden Chili

The first step to make garden chili is lots of tomatoes.  I'm not too picky as to what type of tomatoes, I just throw in what I've got.  If you use a lot of sweet tomatoes, your chili will be sweeter etc.  I take the fresh tomatoes, cut them up, and throw them in the crock pot on low all day.  I will turn them off late tonight before I go to bed.  While the tomatoes are cooking, the beans are soaking.  Most people seem to use kidney beans.  I prefer black beans or even white beans. I have a lot of leftover great northern beans, so that is what I'm using today.
First thing the next day I will turn the low heat back on the tomatoes and cook the beans.  Bring them to a boil and them simmer for about an hour.  While the beans are cooking, chop up the rest of your vegetables.  You can add whatever you have laying around really.  I am going to add onion, peppers (hot and sweet), garlic, zuchetta, and some eggplant.  I also add chili powder and bulgur wheat.  I can't really tell you how much of each I add, I just throw in what I have and then taste as I go to see how the spices are.  You can always add more so don't go too crazy initially.  Let this cook in the crock pot until dinner time.  Be sure to give it a mix occasionally throughout the day.  Other vegetables that are good in this chili if you have them are: corn, carrots, parsnips, turnips, spaghetti squash, or anything else really.  Just remember when you are adding things that your chili will be different every time, but that is half the fun of making it in season.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kill mulch for bittersweet and ivy?

Around the edges of my garden seem to be a little out of control.  I have bittersweet, ivy, and some weird sort of mini rose that are just growing out of control.  I considered going crazy one day and digging it all up, but I am about six months pregnant right now so that just isn't going to happen.  I have been collecting large cardboard boxes to lay down in the pathways of the garden but I think I could probably use them as a kill mulch for these weeds.  I'm not sure that the weeds aren't too much for this sort of a thing, but I am ging to give it a try.
The spots I am trying to fix are along the side of the house and along the side of a retaining wall.  What I did was to dig along the edge of the concrete and bury about four inches of the edge of the cardboard perpendicular to the ground against the concrete.  Then I folded the cardboard down so that the rest lay flat on the ground.  As the fall comes along I will bury the cardboard with leaves and other yard waste to weigh down the cardboard.  Hopefully this will smother all of these weeds and I won't have to spend time cutting them down all next summer.  Tune in this spring to see if it worked.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saving seed: Tomatoes

Saving tomato seeds is a very easy seed to save.  When you pick a tomato to save seeds from be sure it is a healthy tomato from a healthy plant.  A small plant that didn't grow is not healthy and could produce more small unhealthy plants.  Tomato plants can cross pollinate so choose a tomato off a plant that is not near another plant of a different  type of tomato.  Also save seeds from more than one tomato plant.  Variety is always a good idea.  Once you pick out tomatoes to use, cut the tomato in half and squeeze out the seeds.  Put them in a jar and cover them with water.  Let them sit there for a few days and a little mold layer will form.  This grows from the slimy substance that is no longer on your tomato seeds.  Now your tomato seeds are clean so go ahead and pour off the water and the seeds that may be floating on the top.  Those seeds won't sprout anyways.  Then lay the seeds out to dry on a paper bag or something like that.  Once the seeds are dry after a few weeks, you can store the seeds in a sealed jar.  The seeds should be good for at least a few years.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dehydrating hot peppers

Dehydrating hot peppers was a very simple process minus one small factor.  Hot peppers contain capsaicin.  This is what is in the peppers that makes them hot.  When you are cutting the peppers, DO NOT touch your eyes without scrubbing your hands first.  You may know this already, but do you also know that when you dehydrate the peppers the fumes can burn as well?  Move your dehydrator to a very well ventilated area, even outside, before you start.  That being said, the rest is really basic.  Cut your peppers up and remove the seeds.  Lay them out nicely, not overlapping, on the dehydrator sheet.  I set mine to about 110 degrees and it took somewhere around 12-14 hours.  You can turn the heat higher and it won't take as long, but I prefer to use a lower heat.  The reason being that at a lower temperature you kill less of the good stuff, like enzymes, in your peppers or any vegetables or fruits for that matter.  I'm not sure this works with meat as well, so do your research before trying the low temperature on meat.  When they are nice and dry, store them in an air tight container, preferably a glass jar.  That's all there is to it.
What do you do with hot dry peppers?  I was wondering that myself and so I did some looking around online to see if people actually stored hot peppers this way.  Lots of people do apparently.  Dried hot peppers make an excellent spice.  Depending on what kind of peppers you dry, you can make things like chili powder or crushed red pepper to season your meals.  Never have to buy these spices from the store again!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My flower garden: Marigolds

Marigolds are one of those flowers that has so many reasons to plant it.  It is an excellent companion flower all over your vegetable garden.
They are cheap flowers to buy and very easy t grow and maintain.  I am not good with flowers at all.  I kill them most of the time.  The only flowers I can grow from seed and get to survive are marigolds and nasturtiums.
There are some types of marigolds that are edible.  Therefore you can grow them and add them to a salad to make it pretty.  Some people also use them to make things like vinaigrette or even wine.  I have yet to taste one myself.
Marigolds grow from spring to fall.  They add color and beauty to your garden for until the frost finally kills them off.  This also means that you are attracting bees and butterflies to your garden for three seasons with just one type of flower.
The reason I plant marigolds in my garden is that they can be used to deter many types of problematic insects like tomato hornworm, Mexican bean beetle, nematodes, thrips, whiteflies, and squash bugs.
There are many types of flowers you can grow to do the things that I have listed above.  One of the more important concepts to keep in mind when setting up something like a permaculture homestead is that many things can have many different purposes.  Why do many things that each only serve one function when you can do one thing that can serve many functions?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mead making part one

Buying your own adult beverages can be expensive and they are generally full of extra stuff that may not be all that good for you.  Just like anything else you buy in the store.  I looked in to many different options as to what I might want to make and I have found that the easiest seems to be making mead.  It is also very tasty and you get a lot of bang for your buck.  This is my third year making it and I have yet to have a batch fail me.  I am having plenty of fun altering recipes and trying different fruits.  I am going to show you the very basic recipe that I use to make delicious fruit mead or country wine or whatever you might like to call it.
You will need:
A large bucket
A glass carboy
An airlock
A siphon or hose
Wine bottles
A cork inserter
3 lbs of fruit per gallon
3 lbs of honey per gallon
1 packet of yeast per about 5-6 gallons
Yeast energizer
This should be everything that you need for the entire process.  I am just going to discuss the first step today as I start my own batch and follow up with the other steps when I do them for my mead.
First clean your large bucket really well so that you would eat out of it.  I don't sterilize mine, but some people do.  The bucket should be about one gallon larger than your carboy.  It doesn't have to be, but I found that it is less messy this way.  Add about 3 pounds of fruit to the bucket per gallon of mead you want.  Strong tasting fruit does not require as much and mellow fruit may require more.  Mash it really well.  The picture is my mashed up watermelon in the bucket.  Add boiling water to cover the fruit.  You want plenty to keep the fruit covered but not so much that the bucket is full.  It will overflow once the fermentation starts and there will be a large mess and many fruit flies.  I know this from experience.  You also want a little less than will fill your carboy for the same reason.  You can add more water as we go.  Once the water cools to room temperature, add the yeast.  Too hot and the yeast will just die.  Too cold and they won't be as active.  Then we wait about a week.
The specific recipe that I did is as follows: 15 pounds of watermelon in a 6 gallon bucket.  I added 2 gallons of boiling water.  Later tonight once the water cools I will add one packet of montrachet yeast and mix it up really well.  Most likely next Sunday I will go on with step 2.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Saving seed: Nasturtium

Nasturtiums are highly beneficial to your garden.  I plant them year after year and they always have grown well for me.  However, I have also had to buy seeds every year.  This is a shame because nasturtiums seeds are very easy to collect.  I hope to never need to buy them again.  I have a vining type nasturtium growing in the garden now, and the seeds seem to be all over the place.  Many of them fall right off of the plant and I just have to go out and pick them up.  The picture shows a seed still attached to the plant.  Just pluck it off.  You will generally find these seeds in sets of two, but one must have already fallen off here.  If they do fall of and you don't get them, they should just grow for you next year.  Once you have your seed collection, leave them out to dry.  They will shrink up a decent amount and probably won't be as big as the ones you would buy in a seed packet, but then most things you buy look very different then the ones you collect in a garden.  I have yet to try growing my saved seeds, but next year will be the year.  They are all healthy plants, so I don't see why they wouldn't grow for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Growing grain: Amaranth

So I decided to try my hand at Amaranth this year.  This picture is the whole crop.  If you look hard you can count five plants.  They are so few in number that I wasn't totally convinced that they were even something I planted.  I had to actually look up online to see what the plants were supposed to look like.  Either way, I hope I can at least harvest enough of the seed to plant more next year and maybe get a better crop.  I may attempt to start some of the seeds indoors.  They are very small seeds and therefore can be easily washed away by rain so it may work out better to try it inside.
What is amaranth anyways?  Amaranth actually has a few different reasons to grow it.  If you get the leaves when they are young and tender they are good for salads.  They are also supposed to be good as a steamed vegetable.  I didn't get to try it this year because I wasn't convinced that the amaranth I planted was actually growing.  The little red plants didn't sprout until long after I planted them.  The beautiful, bright flowers are excellent for attracting bees and butterflies to help pollinate your garden.  Some people use these flowers in bouquets or dry them for other decorations.  I grew amaranth this year as a potential grain source.  The seeds this plant produces can be ground to make a flour that is high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and iron.  They also contain vitamin E and lysine.  I had tried growing wheat in the past, but the effort to gain potential was too low for me.  Amaranth seems to be less effort for a far richer grain source.
I specifically grew Hopi red dye amaranth.  As you can see, the whole plant is that beautiful red color.  The Hopi indians used this grain to make a ceremonial red cornbread.  The plants brilliant red color can be captured in a red food dye.  There are many other types of amaranth as well, this is just the one that caught my attention.  If this pans out as a good grain source, I will likely try other types.
My plans for this year are just to harvest the seeds from the few plants I got and then to plant them next year.  I will likely start them inside and work a little harder at getting the plants off to a good start.  Hopefully, these plants will be as valuable as I think they may turn out to be.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Volunteer butternuts

While looking through my cucumber plants and fixing them to the trellises, I noticed a funny looking cucumber plant.  It had very large leaves and very large flowers.  I thought it may have been a vine off of my zuchetta, but it had a base right in the middle of the cucumber patch.  As I continued to check it out, I noticed that there were some small fruits on the vine and that they looked an awful lot like butternuts.  I don't plant butternuts in my garden because the squash vine borers always decimate any squash or zucchini I have ever tried to grow.  I pretty much have no idea how they got there.  They were able to start growing with my noticing because when they are smaller they looked enough like the cucs to go unnoticed to a busy gardener.  It wasn't until we got a good rain recently that they started to grow so wildly.  I assume the seeds got there from the compost I spread all over this area at the beginning of the season.  So really, they could be any weird kind of squash that I may have bought from a variety of places.  Either way, I have fruit on the vine so it will just be one more winter squash that we have to eat.  You can never have too much winter squash!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zuchetta (trombino) progress

The zuchetta have finally started growing up to speed.  They did start off slowly, as I read they would, and now they are going crazy.  I have had to go out and wrap them around the trellis a time or two and they don't really seem to like it.  They don't want to stay there and there are root buds all over the place.  I did a little more reading, and it turns out that if you let them grow on the ground, they will be more productive.  I decided that I would let the vine at the middle of the trellis drop down to the ground and see what happens then.  I had seen quite a few 
fruits starting at one point, but I can't seem to find them anymore.  I'm not really sure why, but I am getting a few large fruits so I'm not too worried.  I will be going out to give the squash some compost this week, so maybe that will help to get me some more fruits.
I have been inspecting the plants almost daily looking for the vine borer damage that I am hoping to avoid by growing the zuchetta.  I have found a couple of suspicious spots, but upon further inspection can find no borers.  There are a couple yellowing leaves at the bottom, but the stem of the plant seems untouched.  A couple of the leaves even had that vine borer sawdust type look that I have seen so many times before but the spots aren't where I would expect them to be normally.  I have cut this part of the leaves open and found nothing.  So far it seems that the borers have not touched my zuchetta.  I'm not sure if this is just because they are zuchetta or because I got them in the ground a little late.  I have yet to notice any vine borer damage on my other squash, so who knows.  Either way, I get to have some squash from my garden this year.  Finally!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dehydrating zucchini and summer squash

Zucchini and summer squash are a simple vegetable to learn how to dry with.  These squash are all sliced to about 1/4 inch and spread out nicely on the dehydrator tray.  Then all I did was set the dehydrator to the vegetable setting (about 120 degrees) and then set the timer for about 8 hours.  Very simple process.
So what do you do with dried zucchini and summer squash?  You could eat them like chips, but I didn't really love the chips.  I plan to store them away for a cold winter day and throw them in a lovely vegetable soup.  They will reconstitute very nicely and make a lovely addition to my soup.  Just remember that when you add them to your soup that dehydrated vegetables are much smaller than their reconstituted counterparts.  They will soak up water and get much bigger so don't add too much!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Great Purge

1st Goodwill run
A big part of homesteading is living simple.  Living simple means not having so much stuff.  I am much too much of a stuff collector which is a trait I inherited from the generations before me.  So, after weeks of sorting through and making a piles and piles, today is the day it all left.  What an amazing feeling it is to see all the stuff gone and the space empty out.  This is an essential step to us moving out of
2nd run
the house we are is and into the likely smaller house out in the middle of nowhere.  Clothes, decorations, furniture, appliances, toys, etc.  The only thing that remains safe is tools.  I can't see any reason to get rid of any tools.  I am donating everything I can to Goodwill so not much is going in the garbage.  After these pictures were taken, the man made two more runs with the truck that were full of furniture we had been saving just in case we needed it.  I can't imagine who would ever need 3 coffee tables.  I also gave a few things away to friends who could use them.  Hopefully I can get rid of more stuff soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why compost and not chemical fertilizer?

If you have read all of the previous posts on composting (why, what' happening, what goes in, and where to put it), you may be wondering why you should compost and not just use fertilizer.  Have you ever tasted the difference between a tomato you picked off the vine and ate right away verses a tomato you bought at your local supermart?  That is probably the difference the plants "taste" between compost and chemical fertilizer.  Compost is fresh and alive, teeming with life.  It smells good and feels light and fluffy.  It holds on to water and feeds it back to plants that are so happily living in it.  It becomes part of the soil and bring nutrients and life to anything that grows in it.  Chemical fertilizer is stale and dead, having nothing alive about it.  You can't smell it or touch it with bare hands because it is poisonous to people.  It washes away when it rains and flows down to local lakes and streams and poisons them.  You don't notice it's poison because you think it's helping your plants grow big and healthy.  But what is really doing is stripping the soil of all its nutrients so that you have to buy and apply more and more every year.  When you apply compost, it  works in to the soil and just gets better and better.  You should still add more every year, but if you don't, there is still good stuff left over from before.  If you use chemical fertilizers, there is actually less than what your soil started with.  Nothing left from the year before, it all washed away rather than incorporating into the soil.  In addition, if you throw mulch, like fall leaves, on top of your compost, that will also turn to compost giving you the benefit of both the mulch and later the compost.  Happy plants and happy gardeners!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Who is eating my tomatoes? Hornworms.

Ever gone out to your garden to find the tomato you were hoping to eat with a large bite taken out of it?  I have lost about eight tomatoes so far this year to this pest.  The large

bite is actually many little bites taken by a tomato horn worm.  They creep around on your tomato plants and eat just enough of your big beautiful tomato to cause it to fall off of the vine and rot on the ground before you can eat it.  They blend in fairly well so unless you are aware that they are around you may never see them.  I found this one while picking cherry tomatoes last night.  It was just sitting there not moving so I guess
that night time is a good time to find them.  I have also gone out in the morning to find them and if you are quiet enough you can actually hear them crunching away on your precious tomatoes.  If you look at the picture to the right, you can see the bites taken out of the unripe cherry tomato.  I snipped the branch off to dispose of this nasty thing before it got to anymore of my babies.  I also found one other horn worm
 tonight.  It, however, has succumbed to organic pest control. The little white things hanging from this worm are parasitic wasp eggs.  When the eggs hatch, they will eat the horn worm which means that the horn worm can no longer eat tomatoes. All you need to do to get the parasitic wasps to come to your garden and eat your caterpillars is to feed the adults.  They need flowers that their tiny little heads can get to.  Yarrow, mallow, parsley, angelica, and marigolds are all good potential food sources for parasitic wasps that I have in my garden.  Other good options are dill, cilantro, fennel, alyssum, and queen anne's lace.  If you find a hornworm that looks like this one, loaded with parasitic wasp eggs, leave it in your garden.  The one I found without any eggs I got rid of, but you want to keep this one.  Once the eggs hatch, they will turn to adult parasitic wasps and they do a much better job finding caterpillars than you ever could.  I doubt they can do too much more damage once they are infested.  I was very excited to find this in my garden. I would have been more excited to find ripe tomatoes I could eat, but at least the problem was being dealt with.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My flower garden: Nasturtium

Nasturtiums can be grown for many reasons.  You can grow them because they are pretty flowers that are easy to grow.  You can grow them to eat both the flowers and the leaves.  I grow them because they are beneficial to the bug population that I want to have in my garden, or not so beneficial to the bug population I don't want.
There are many different types of nasturtiums you can grow in your garden.  Some grow like bushes, some grow like vines.  The colors range from yellow to red to shades of purple.  They grow well in not so good soil, so they can be planted anywhere there is full sun.  You pretty much just plant them and they grow.  I plant mine when I plant my beans and they bloom throughout the summer all over the garden.
Nasturtiums have a sort of peppery taste to them.  They are related to the cress family and are often added to salads both for their flavor and for their decorative qualities.  You can even use the seeds in pickling for an interesting taste.
I grow nasturtiums because they are known to ward off bad bugs.  An excellent form of organic pest control.  Cucumber beetles and squash vine borers dislike the peppery smell they emit.  Good places to plant them are among cucs, pumpkins, squash or anywhere you have room really.  Aphids, slugs and white cabbage butterflies like nasturtiums so they can be planted near other plants these bugs like so that they will go after the nasturtiums first.  I personally don't like this idea, but some people do use it with success.  Most flowers also attract pollinators to your garden.  Bees and butterflies are always a good thing to have around to help pollinate your crops.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sprouts for good health

There are many great reasons for you to eat sprouts.  They are very nutritious and come in a wide variety of flavors for you to add to any dish you like.  You can sprout anything from the standard mung bean to onions, garlic or radish for some extra kick.  It is a pretty easy process depending on which seeds you choose to sprout and they benefits are huge.
By taking grains, beans, nuts and seeds and sprouting them, you are actually making them far easier to digest and absorb the nutrients from them.  When these seeds are in the sprouting stage, they are packed with nutrients that are easily accessible to your body.  These sprouts also have a lower glycemic index and have increased levels of vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids and essential fatty acids.  The proteins in the sprouts are a much higher quality and there is a much greater fiber content in the sprouts than that of just the seeds.  If you think about it, a seed is a lot like an egg.  It has a protective coating, a center part which will become the new life, and between the two there is a layer of nutrient waiting there for the new life to feed on as it begins to grow.  None of which does you any good when you just munch on seeds because you can't get to the nutrient part.
For some additional info, click here.
Sprouting is also a very easy process.  Some seeds are more difficult than others, but the steps are pretty much the same.  First, make sure that the seeds, nuts, grains, or beans are completely raw and not treated in any way including salted.  In general, I soak the seeds overnight in a glass jar in good clean water.  After they have soaked, I put them in my sprouter until they start to look like the ones in the picture.  Make sure that they don't dry out or they will not sprout.  Some seeds take longer than others, and some needs more specific conditions than I have just mentioned.  It all depends on what it is that you choose to try.  You can store your sprouts in a sealed container in the fridge for a couple days.  The fresher they are when you eat them, the better the nutritional value.
I should also mention that you will often find things like mung bean sprouts cooked in a stir fry.  Cooking your sprouts kills much of the nutrients you have just created by sprouting them.  You can do it, but it is much, much better to simply eat them raw and fresh.  Really, all vegetables and fruits cooked are less nutritious than eating them raw, but not everyone has the palette for raw foods.  I will often make a stir fry and just lightly cook my vegetables and then throw in the sprouts uncooked to the warm stir fry just to warm them a little.  I eat them right out of the sprouter, so they generally aren't cold anyways.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Planting for a fall crop

This picture is taken underneath the area in the garden where the beans and tomatoes are growing.  They form this great shaded area where moisture is retained in the mulch well enough for mushrooms to grow.  The grey thing towards the middle is actually a little volunteer mushroom.  This means to me that I did a good job with the mulch and the additional help from the shade layer is retaining plenty of moisture for my plants.  Hopefully, this should also be enough moisture for me to plant a fall crop among these plants.  I have always failed in my attempts at growing a fall crop in the past because I'm not good about remembering to go out and water the new seeds.  If fact, I rarely water my garden at all.  That is why it is important for me to use as many methods as possible to retain water.  It looks like this year there may finally be a good set up for my fall plants to be able to sprout.  I planted radish, turnip, lettuce, spinach, and kale.  The plan is to throw the seeds around with a little soil cover and then wait and see if I set things up for them well.  I also planted quinoa among my corn and nasturtiums.  That may have a harder time since the corn doesn't provide as nice a shade layer as the leafy tomatoes and beans.  As the plants start sprouting and the beans are finishing up providing, I will slowly cut them back so the strong plants underneath can get the sun that they need.  The bean plans I cut will be spread on the ground around the fall crop to continue retaining water for the new plants.  The roots of the beans will stay in the ground to break down and provide organic matter for future plants as well.  Bean roots are extra nice because they have the nitrogen nodules on the roots that are so good for the future plants as well.  Well this all sounds good in theory, we will soon see if it is going to work well or not.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Food Storage: Drying

At the end of season you will likely find yourself with an abundance (hopefully) of some vegetables that will need to be put into storage.  Actually, your goal should be to have way too much of everything so that you can have plenty to put into storage for the year.  So what is the best way to store some of this overstock?  Well, it depends on what type of fruit or vegetable you want to store.
Drying is one viable option for many kinds of fruits and vegetables.  There are many good reasons to use drying in some form for much of your stash.  The most important reason to use drying is that it retains most of the nutrients in your food.  When you can foods, you cook them and therefore loose valuable nutrients.  Drying uses a lower temperature to remove the water from foods so that the nutrients are able to remain there in your food.  A very healthy option.  Without water in your foods, microbes cannot grow.  This growth is what would cause your foods to spoil so this is actually how they are able to be stored.  Sometimes when you store foods you can also loose some of the flavor.  Dried foods are actually a concentrated form of the foods so that they are actually full of flavor.  Many people do not like banana chips because the flavor is too strong.  Don't forget the best part: drying foods is usually very easy to do.  You can get complicated and make fruit leather and jerky, but you don't have to.  You can slice foods and throw them on the trays and set the dehydrator.  It's that simple.
There are many ways to dry your food as well.  Simply leaving foods on the vine they grow on and letting them dry out like I discussed with amish snap peas is the best way to save peas, beans, lentils and things like that.  Herbs are dried by either hanging them up somewhere or putting them in a brown paper bag.  Many fruits and vegetables can be dried in the sun.  Anything that needs more constant heat like meats can be dried in a dehydrator.  Most anything can be done in a dehydrator because it is set up to regulate the time and temperature to get exactly what you need.  If you want to buy a dehydrator, here is an article to read.  I had originally bought myself a cheap version of a dehydrator and after using it twice I gave up on dehydrating altogether because it was so bad.  Don't waste your time and effort on something cheap if you have a garden that will provide a decent amount.  Buy a good one right away or build a good one.  I currently own an Excalibur and now have a renewed sense of why I wanted to try a dehydrator in the first place.
Drying foods has become a common practice this year in my household.  After learning how to do some new methods and getting a good dehydrator I'm going to have a decent stash of dried foods and herbs for this winter.  Not enough to live off of yet, but you have to start somewhere.  I have even learned how to use the dehydrator to "cook" some dinners.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shiitake logs part two

The left hand side is the drilled hole, the middle is the
dowel before it is hammered in, and the right hand side
is the dowel in place.
 After properly soaking your oak logs, now we move on to step two.  Be sure the logs haven't soaked too long because they will inoculate with something other than shiitake.  I forgot about my logs at one point and then found them with a fuzzy layer.  These logs are probably not any good.  I also need to add in that I did this step for most of my logs a long time ago.  I ended up having extra logs and had to buy more spores for them.  This is not the ideal time to be doing these logs,
Wax over the dowel.
 but the spores could die if they sit around for too long.  Either way, the next step is to fill the dowel holes you drilled in the logs.  Each dowel inoculated with spores is for each hole in the log.  Simply hammer them in to place.  Once they are in place you can recess them a little with a nail set, but this didn't work well for me.  The dowels are very moist and they just squashed when I tried to set them.  Some of them ended up squashed
anyways.  Once they are all in the logs, paint over each one with some beeswax.  You can use other kinds of wax as well, but beeswax is the best option because it is safe for food.  I used an old soup can in a pot of hot water to melt the wax, and then an old paint brush to apply the wax.  You can also wax the ends of the logs to help ensure that the logs are not inoculated by anything else.  Stack your logs in a shaded place and wait.  Don't let them dry out too much because it will kill all of your spores and you won't get anything from the logs.  If you need to water them in the heat of the summer, you should do so.  The earliest you should expect anything is 6 months from when they were set up.  It could take a full year, so don't get discouraged too quickly.  Once they become active, they should last a few years.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Garden stepping stones

 At my house we don't really celebrate all of the traditional holidays.  Me and the man come from different religions, neither of which ever really felt quite right to either of us.  Therefore the holidays tend to not really have much meaning to them other than "spend money."  So what we decided to do was pretty much to make our own holiday/traditions to celebrate that had meaning to us as a family.  This particular celebration we got together to make stepping stones for the garden.  The garden is going to obviously provide the family
with food, but I would also like it to be a place that we can enjoy as a family.  By everyone contributing to the decorating of the garden, I am hoping to make it a place that we can walk through and enjoy the creative work that we have all done together.  By making a few stones each year there will eventually be a long winding path of our journey as a family over the years.  The other part of this sort of holiday that I think is so great is that rather than spending
money and receiving gifts, we all sit down together and work our creative magic.  Everyone brings something different to that table and we all combine the different parts to make our own beautiful designs.  And we will have these for many years rather than some toy that the kids get and grow out of in a year or so.  Plus the adults have as much fun as the kids.   So how do I make my own stones you ask??

Mix one 80 lb bag of regular concrete and divide among 6 molds.  You could probably get twice as many stones out of this much concrete, but we opted to have really thick stones so they would last longer and also because we really didn't have anything else to do with the leftover concrete.  Also don't use quick setting concrete because it takes time to put your design in place.  You don't want it to set in five minutes and your design be incomplete.  Some concrete is also very
coarse which would not be as easy to work with when trying to lay out a design.  Once you have the concrete in the molds start putting your design into place.  When we were doing ours, we noticed a lot of water on top of the concrete. We thought that the concrete must be really soupy but it wasn't at all.  The water just was sitting on top.  We sopped it up with a paper towel and were just fine after that.  It all soaked in eventually anyways.  You can make your design
out of whatever you like.  I used my baby's feet to make impressions and surrounded them with stones.  We also smashed a plate and used the pieces (be careful of sharp edges).  You can get all kinds of glass rocks, marbles, stones and even beads to decorate with.  Be sure to push the pieces in to place so that they stay put once the concrete dries and you start walking on them.  Now just wait for them to dry and put them in your garden path.  Enjoy!
The other project we did as a family was making birdhouses. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cooking in season: Pasta-less zucchini primavera and Raw cucumber appetizer

Pasta-less Zucchini Primavera
1 large zucchini, shredded
1 large tomato, diced
1 handful of green beans, chopped
1 sweet pepper, diced
2-3 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for sauteing
(any other vegetables you may have should work)
In this recipe, the zucchini will function as the pasta to make it a low carb meal.  If you want pasta, use pasta.  It will be good either way.  Put garlic and olive oil into a saute pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until garlic browns.  Add in the rest of the vegetables and continue to saute until the vegetables reach your desired texture.  I cook mine for about eight minutes to keep them on the crunchy side.

Raw Cucumber Appetizer
2 cucumbers, sliced
1 baguette or skinny loaf of italian bread, sliced
(a big loaf won't work)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped
16 ozs cream cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
Combine cream cheese, garlic, cilantro, and dill.  Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture on each slice of bread.  Top with a cucumber.  

My flower garden: Chamomile

Chamomile is a pretty little daisy like flower that is commonly known for herbal tea.  They are also very easy to grow in your garden.  You can get German, which is an annual, or Roman, which is a perennial.  Either kind should spread and form a nice ground cover that you can walk on without hurting the plants.  They smell sort of like apples and are calming and relaxing.  They will continue to bloom throughout the summer providing you with tons of flowers to keep you busy harvesting.
I grow Roman chamomile in my flower garden because then I don't have to replant it every year.  I find that growing it from seed is a little difficult because the seeds are so tiny and delicate.  I ended up buying a few plants and they have spread like crazy and I probably won't ever need to buy any more.
I grow chamomile for the herbal tea.  Sometimes you come home from a hard day at work and you just need something warm and relaxing.  By harvesting the flowers all summer, you will end up with quite a stash for the winter.  I have about four plants in my garden and it provides for two of us pretty well.  I will likely get a few more when I have the room though.  In addition to being relaxing, chamomile is also a good anti-inflammatory and good for toothaches, allergies, burns, anemia, fevers, and indigestion. All of these great uses make it worth the effort it takes to harvest the flowers.
Harvesting can be quite tedious.  They are little tiny flowers that bloom all summer so you are never done harvesting them.  I harvest mine currently by cutting each bloom with scissors and dropping them into a paper bag to dry.  I am looking into some of the contraptions they make to harvest with and will likely try one out next year.  They are just like the rakes used to harvest blueberries I think.  Either way, it really is worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homemade firestarters

 Looking for a good way to get a fire going without using gasoline and use up some junk you have laying around the house?  Of course you are.  Grab an empty cardboard egg crate.  Add a piece of dryer lint to each compartment.  Then add a stick, a dry leaf, maybe some saw dust depending on what you have.  Drizzle whatever wax you have from candles that burned out over the tops of this little pile you have created.  That's it, homemade firestarters.  When you are ready to start a fire, break off an egg compartment
or two if it's a big fire.  Light the starter and put it into the kindling you have ready to burn.  It should start right up very nicely.  These are safe to use for your grill or for an indoor fireplace because you made them up without any chemicals at all.  Happy burning!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kitchen scrap composter

This is a picture of my kitchen scrap composter.  They do make expensive, fancy versions that are probably nicer to look at, but mine only cost about ten dollars.  I chose a garbage can with wheels so that I could move it and a locking lid to keep critters out of it.  Next I drilled holes all around the sides and bottom for aeration.  That's it.  All finished.  When you start filling it up with kitchen scraps, it is a good idea to remember to brown vs green ratio.  I throw newspaper or cardboard in with the scraps to try to maintain the mixture.  By adding just kitchen scraps, you end up with a stinky wet sludge pile that becomes a solid mass that can't compost, so don't forget the browns.  Every now and then you should give your compost a good mix.  I tip my garbage can on its side and roll it around a little bit.  Be sure the lid is locked on tight before you get to rolling it or you may have quite a mess on your feet.  Not everyone may feel the need to compost kitchen scraps separately.  I do this because it keeps the critters away and because I can't get to my compost pile when it's snowing.  During the winter, when the compost freezes, I had the garbage can rolled right up next to the door for easy adding of my scraps.  It won't smell or anything because it is frozen solid.  Just be sure to move it away from the door as soon as things start thawing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My flower garden: Echinacea

Also called purple coneflower, echinacea is a beautiful and very useful flower to add to your garden.  I'm sure you have heard of taking echinacea as a vitamin for good immune health, but there are many other uses.  You don't need to go out and buy supplements either, just grow the flower in your own garden.
Echinacea is a wonderful flower to attract pollinators to your garden.  Butterflies and bees love the flower and I often find them all over mine out in the garden.  They attract many types of beneficial insects to your garden which are vital to maintaining an organic garden.  The seeds are also loved by finches, which eat the seeds and the bugs in your garden.
Echinacea root is loaded with antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.  Western societies use echinacea as an immune system stimulant while traditionally, echinacea is used to treat acne, blood poisoning, cuts and sores, and fever.  The leaves have some of these properties as well, but the greater concentration can be found in the roots.  The roots and leaves are both fairly simple to harvest and store so that you will have plenty you can put in storage to last you all year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seed saving: Amish snap peas

The easiest kinds of plants to learn to save seeds for is peas and beans.  If you already save dried peas or beans, do exactly the same thing but save the beans or peas to be used as seeds.  If you are unfamiliar with this process, it is very easy.  The pea pod in the picture is an Amish snap pea.  As the season for them passed, I left quite a few pods on the vine to dry.  Once the vines are completely dead and the pea pods are dried, then collect them.  This may be a month or so after you would normally harvest them to eat.  Then all you need to do to get to the seeds is simply pop open the pod without sending the peas flying everywhere.  Be sure that the peas are completely dry and store in an air tight glass container.  These seeds can store well as long as five years.  Beans and other kinds of peas are saved exactly the same way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My vegetable garden: Zuchetta rampicante (trombino squash)

My garden has a horrible squash vine borer infestation.  I have not been able to grow and kind of squash or pumpkins in at least three years.  I have tried all the methods of getting rid of these pests, and none of them really did any good.  I split open vines and killed the borers one by one.  I started two rounds of squash using one as bait that I pulled out and burned with the intention of leaving the second batch in safety.  I tried row covers.  Then I gave up.  No squash at all last year.  This past winter I learned about zuchetta rampicante.  They are supposed to be naturally squash vine borer resistant.  This is plenty of reason to plant them for me, but they also have many other good reasons to plant them.
Zuchetta is a summer squash that vines and stores like a winter squash.  Rather than growing in a bush like most summer squashes, it is a vining plant grows up trellises and fences.  This may help in its vine borer resistance.  When you pick them, they have the soft skin of a summer squash, but the skin can harden so that they can be stored like a winter squash.  They apparently store so well that you can cut off one end and the cut piece will form a sort of seal so that the rest wont go bad.  The fruits can get up to three feet long and one plant can produce 20 squash.  I read that they taste similar to zucchini, but haven't been able to taste any just yet.  The vines themselves started fairly slow, but are beginning to take off quite quickly up my old grapevine arbor.  I did help them up it a little by tying them to it since there aren't any places for them to grab on the arbor.  I will post an update when I (hopefully) have some squash to show.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Structure for your compost pile

There must be a hundred different structures you can build to house your compost pile.  You can get from very simple like a pile with no structure all the way to a three bin rotation system or a large barrel mixer.  Some people go for the expensive fancy systems because they are nicer to look at or because they don't want to get too dirty.  Others don't care what they look like and even like to play in the dirt, so they go for the simpler no structure or simple structure type of a pile.  Sometimes, you need something more complicated if you have a lot that needs to be composted.  Currently, I have 2 composter types at my house.  A pile of leaves that sometimes has a wire cage around it and a garbage can with holes drilled into it for kitchen scraps.  Very simple, easy to build and easy to manage.
I like the pile because as I work I can just throw everything right there into the pile with no effort, rhyme or reason.  I do have to go back and mix it up as it composts, but not too much.  The wire cage helps to contain the pile somewhat so that it doesn't go everywhere or blow away.  It goes up when there starts to be too many leaves to keep in place in the fall.  When the cage is in my way, I just open it way up or take it down.  This usually means that I am mixing the pile or it's time to throw it on the garden.  Just about every time I have taken the cage down, it goes up in a totally new spot.  That is just one more reason why I like it being so simple.  I can change my mind as to where the best spot for it is whenever I need to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Solar Cooking Fail

This picture is my attempt at cooking acorn squash in my solar cooker.  I bought nice dark colored squash thinking that this would be best for absorbing the sunlight.  I also thought that at 2:00 in the afternoon there would still be enough sunlight to cook this squash.  I was wrong on either one or both of these ideas.  I'm not sure which, but if I had to guess, the fact that I waited until two to put the squash out was the biggest problem.  Squash like this takes a long time to cook and the sun isn't really that hot much after 4:00ish.  I should have started this between 9:00 and 10:00.  I would think that six hours of cooking is what it needed.  I'm not entirely sure how much effect the lack of pan had on my poor results as well.  I noticed that the black pans both put off and retain quite bit of heat throughout the cooking process.  I'm sure the dark colored squash would get warmer than light colored squash, but probably not warm enough.  I also need to invest in an oven thermometer so that I can see how hot this cooker is really getting.  Cooking beans and squash it doesn't matter a ton if I over or under cooke them just a little bit.  If I start getting into more complicated dishes then I will need to be more precise.  Oh well, I learned a lot through this failure.