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.