Posts Tagged ‘Old Ways’

Lammas, or August 1, is the first of the harvest festivals. You’re probably picking more than you can eat all at once starting now.


For me (Alexandra), Lammas marks the moment when the gardener is forcibly reminded that she is not actually in control. Plants go wild, as if they know (and I suppose they do), that summer is coming to an end, and they better get all their growing done!




When ever I (Sincerely, Emily) visit my parents up in Minnesota this time of year, I am always amazed at the lush, full, green garden. In our area we are starting to plan our fall planting. I cut back my tomato plants a few weeks ago and they are growing, but I don’t seem to be harvesting much or anything. The Armenian cucumbers are still growing well and the okra is starting to produce. Just patiently waiting for some cooler temps so the pepper plants will start flowering again.

Star of David okra

Star of David okra


What are you harvesting?

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apple swirl

Having recently prepared apple cider and frozen apple slices, it occurred to me that I should give brewing cider vinegar a whirl. After all, I’ve brewed plenty of wine and soda pop and both could unintentionally turn into vinegar… why not do it on purpose?

Cider vinegar has been touted for its health benefits. Years ago, I recall my great-uncle consuming it every day to help with his cancer therapy. My father-in-law takes a capful each morning to help with his IBS. It’s claimed that cider vinegar can help with everything from acne to yeast infections. It helps make hair shiny, it can be used as a cleanser, and it adds a great tang to salads.

So I looked into multiple recipes. Some called for adding sugar, others yeast. Wanting to keep my vinegar as organic, natural, and healthful as possible, I avoided those recipes and combined two recipes to suit my needs. The originals can be found at wikibooks.org and at Ultimate Money Blog. So you may ask why did I change the recipes? For simplicity and for eating “nose to tail” so to speak. I’ve had so many apple scraps that are happily going to my compost pile (and in turn into my chickens’ bellies as they scavenge) but I’d rather make a better use of them for immediate consumption. Also, Autumn apples have plenty of sugar to spare. Finally, I want to capture a “wild yeast” instead of using a winemaking or bread baking yeast in order to keep it as beneficial as possible. So this is what I came up with:

apple scraps


Apple Cider Vinegar

  • Apple scraps: peels, cores and flesh – cleaned and removed of dirt and bruised areas.
  • Chlorine-free water to cover fruit, preferably filtered or boiled.
  • Food-grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers. Vinegar can corrode some metals.
  • Campden tablet (optional)
  1. Put fruit scraps into your containers and just cover with water. Add a campden tablet if desired to kill any bacteria or yeast that could interfere with your desired wild yeast. Leave plenty of air space to encourage circulation and give room for bubbling. Cover with some cheesecloth or another fine cloth to keep fruit flies out, yet allow fresh oxygen (and wild yeast!) to enter. Keep your container out of sunlight and in room temperature (about 65F to 70F).
  2. Encourage the fruit to break down and fermentation to work its magic by mixing the solution every day for two weeks. After two weeks, remove the fruit scraps.
  3. Allow fermentation to continue. Once the bubbling slows down siphon the solution into a clean container, avoiding the sediment and foam. This may need to happen the day after you remove the fruit scraps depending on how quickly the process is working for your individual solution. Don’t do it the same day as removing the fruit scraps will stir up any sediment – give it a day to settle.
  4. Let this second container do its work for another 2-3 months. It should develop a white film on top – the vinegar mother. You want to keep this mother so you can continue to brew vinegar year round! You can now remove up to two-thirds of your vinegar for use. Refresh your mother with fresh, clear cider and you will have another batch of vinegar ready in about two to three months.

Please note that unless you can verify the acid levels (5% acetic acid) you should not use this vinegar for preservation, especially in canning. Canning goods requires a specific acid level in order to keep out harmful bacteria and keep food fresh.

Over the next couple of months I’ll update my progress with my first batch of vinegar. Have you ever made vinegar before whether intentionally or not?

You can also find Jennifer at Unearthing This Life where she blargs about living in rural Tennessee.

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September collage
So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule plus or minus two weeks or more.


September is the time of year that we begin to feel the crisp air of Autumn moving in. Evenings are chilly even though afternoons can be very warm. Autumn fruits are beginning to ripen and the thought of spiced cider seem to warm spirits. September is the time for clear skies, bonfires, and wrapping up Summer’s last duties. It’s a big month for tidying up the garden, so hold back those nesting instincts for another month and enjoy the clear, bright skies and cool air.


  • Be sure your root cellar is ready to accept produce. If you’re using boxes with sand or sawdust make sure they’re clean, sanitized, dry, and critter-proof.
  • Be sure your deep freezer is cleaned out. Remove past date items and make room for Fall’s harvests.
  • Complete any chores that require you to keep your windows open. Painting, cleaning carpeting, cleaning ovens and so forth should be finished before it gets cold during the daytime.
  • Wash items that require long, outdoor drying times or those that can only be taken care of outside. Litter boxes, garbage pails, sanitary pails, area rugs, pillows, and so forth should be washed while the remaining warm air can help with drying.
  • Air out winter clothing, blanketing, and other items you may have kept in storage over the warm seasons.
  • Be sure your fireplaces are in working order before you need them. Check that wood stacks are staying dry and are easy to get to.
  • Check fire and carbon monoxide alarms before lighting up your furnace or fireplace for the first time.


  • Be sure your cold frames and greenhouses are airtight and ready to go for the cooler nights. Daytime temperatures can become very hot in these locations, so be sure to open and close windows as needed. Consider investing in a self-opening elbow for your windows. They can save many trips back and forth throughout this fickle weather.
  • Leaves will begin to fall soon. Make sure your compost bins or piles are ready to accept fresh materials.
  • Give one last inspection to your windows and doors in case you didn’t get to them last month. Be sure that they’re air tight and sealed before cold weather really sets in.
  • Change air filters on furnace.


  • Herbs can be cut and dried for saving. Remember to bring some in to create a window garden for a fresh Winter source of Summer’s flavors.
  • Seed saving and dead-heading can begin once again. Remember to allow some of your perennial seeds to self-sow by leaving only a few “dead heads” or by sprinkling some seed. Save some seed for finches (they adore Echinacea) and other seed lovers. Too many dead heads can lead to disease.
  • Don’t prune rose hips yet if you plan on saving them for jellies or medicinal purposes.
  • Bring in your more sensitive plants as the nights get cooler. Stevia, ginger, and other tropicals don’t like colder weather. Many other herbs can stay outside until the first frosts.
  • It’s a good time to take cuttings of woody plants and shrubs.
  • If you’re planning on dividing or planting bulbs for next year now is the time to do it! Also divide shrubby herbs like lemon balm, oregano, mints, sage, fennel, tansy, and marjoram.
  • Harvest frost-sensitive plants and Winter keepers before your first frosts. Put green tomatoes in paper bags to ripen slowly and use later. Potatoes, onions, and other keepers should be kept in a cool dark place.
  • Cut back dying foliage. Burn diseased foliage as soon as possible. Healthy plants can be put into compost as long as they are seed-free. As fun as it is to have a surprise potato plant sprout from the compost bin, you don’t want those plants (or weeds) to use up all that energy you’ve been saving for your garden!
  • Green manures for cool seasons can be sown.
  • Strawberry runners should be rooted and transplanted by the end of the month.
  • Shrubs and trees, fruiting or not, can be planted now that the cool weather is setting in. Fall is an excellent time for transplants since most trees are storing or spending energy in and on their root systems.
  • Speaking of fruiting trees and plants, remove mulch and prune those that need it.


  • Put in your orders for Winter supplies of food, straw, and hay.
  • Give a good cleaning to coops and barns to try to avoid housing mice and other small, unwanted critters.
  • September and October are good months for building. If you’re planning on adding to the animal family next year, consider any outdoor units that may need to be added.
  • Repair coops, lean-tos, stables, and other shelters before cold weather sets in. Keep your animals happy and warm at night.
  • Start considering mating sheep and goats for Spring kids and lambs. They’re both on about a 150 gestation cycle so a late month conception would lead to a late February birth.
  • With birth also comes death. Start planning for cold weather slaughters. Animals are best harvested when the weather is below 40 degrees. The cooler the better, especially if you’re inexperienced or have a lot of work to do. Research your product and begin gathering needed items. Mise en place. Have stock pots, seasonings, casings, sharpening stones, recipes, packaging, and tools all ready prior to harvesting.


  • Continue to feed your hummingbirds and other songbirds. Migrations will begin this month and you may have a few unusual visitors to your feeders.
  • Like us humans, wild critters are beginning to stock away for the colder seasons. Allow seed heads to remain on natives and refrain from too much tidying up of acorns and other nuts, seeds, and berries. Skunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other small animals need to fatten up to keep warm through the Winter.

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homemade ginger ale

In spirit of those of you that have not the taste for alcoholic beverages (hic!) I’m here to share some basic recipes for making soda pop at home! What could be better than a frosty ginger ale to help cool off during these hot summer days? If ginger’s not your thing, how about a lemon-lime soda or an orange-ade? The combination is unlimited so long as your imagination is put to good use. The best part is it’s all homemade so you’re avoiding massive doses of sugar, artificial flavorings, and caffeine.

Do note that some of these recipes contain yeast, and as yeast feeds on sugars it releases alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products. Because these recipes aren’t aged but a few days, the amount of alcohol is extremely minor. I personally feel comfortable allowing my own daughter to drink beverages made from these recipes without any worry. It should not be enough to cause intoxication for even our small samplers. If, however, you avoid alcohol for personal or medicinal purposes I recommend sticking with the recipes that don’t include yeast.

ginger pulp

Ginger Ale

Mildly sweet and spicy with a hint of lemon

(prepare 3 days prior to drinking)

  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 inch portion of ginger club, grated
  • 1 lemon, juiced and grated for zest
  • 1 small piece sassafras root (approximately 1/4 tsp) *optional*
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 gallon water
  1. Boil water. Add all ingredients except yeast and let steep for 2 hours.
  2. Once water is between room temperature and 100F, add yeast and stir.
  3. Cover liquid and let rest for one day.
  4. On the next day, strain liquid with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.
  5. Pour liquid into clean, sterile bottles and close tightly.
  6. Store in cool, dark place for two days.
  7. Chill to stop fermentation and enjoy over ice!

**sassafras contains safrole which has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats when consumed in high doses. You can purchase safrole-free sassafras extract or use the leaves which do not contain safrole if you have concerns.

Lemon Lime Soda 

Like a liquid SweeTart

(prepare 3 days before drinking)

  • 1 lemon, juiced and grated for zest 
  • 2 limes, juiced and grated for zest 
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 gallon + 2 cups water
  1. Boil water and add all ingredients.
  2. Simmer over low for one hour.
  3. Add yeast after water has cooled.
  4. Let rest overnight.
  5. Strain, bottle and cap tightly after one day.
  6. Allow to rest two days before drinking
  7. Chill to stop fermentation, then serve

Summer Refresher

Perfect for a hot day in the garden

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
  • 1 lime, bruised and sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint or lemon balm
  • 2 liters of carbonated soda water
  • *add fresh aloe or 1 cup aloe water for additional health benefits
  1. Mix all ingredients in a pitcher and cover. Allow fruits to remain in pitcher.
  2. Store in refrigerator and serve when chilled.

soda ingredients


Fun for the kids, best prepared over a sink or outdoors

  • 3/4  cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 3-4 oranges, juiced (substitute limes or lemons if desired)
  1. Boil sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Chill syrup until very cold.
  3. Stir in baking soda.
  4. Prepare room for overflow!
  5. Add sugar syrup to iced glasses.
  6. Just before serving, add orange juice to each glass. The citric acid will activate the baking soda. The kids will adore this one!

blackberry cream soda

Fruit Pop

Make with seasonal fruit

  • 2 cups fresh fruit such as strawberries (rasp-, black-, blue-, huckle-, goose-…), peaches, pineapple, or grapes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 liters carbonated soda water
  1. Boil water, sugar, and fruit to make a syrup.
  2. Strain skins and seeds through cheesecloth or a mesh strainer.
  3. Allow to cool in refrigerator.
  4. Pour syrup over ice, then top with soda.
  5. For a fun twist, add 2 Tbsp half & half and top with whipped cream.

Vanilla Cream

For those that like it smooth

  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cream
  • 8 oz carbonated soda water
  1. In a tall glass, mix extracts, sugar, and cream until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add ice and stir in soda water.


As you can see, the recipes are limitless. Combine different fruits to make a beverage that you enjoy. Don’t forget to top of your soda with a nice garnish made from fresh fruit, basil, mint, or watercress.

Jennifer can be found blarging at Unearthing This Life where she rambles about her daily doings, her crazy chickens, and her quirky family.

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As we look toward a long season of harvesting I find myself excited about what we’ll be making. I wonder if we’ll have good crops and if I’ll be successful at storing food to eat throughout the winter months. The Real Food Challenge proved just how difficult it can be to commit to eating non-processed foods in late winter, especially if one is relying on regional or seasonal foods.

Today I had the opportunity to visit the Amish and Mennonite society not far from my home. They have a rather large community and a fabulous relationship with the rest of the outlying region. My daughter and I drove by all the farms, amazed at all of the produce and canned items they have to sell. Most households offered squash, cabbage, and broccoli, but a few already had some tomatoes to spare. Fresh eggs, fresh milk, homemade butter, roosters and pullets, sorghum and honey – so much to be had.

I found myself wondering how they get through the winter months without canned vegetable Blahs (they keep greenhouses and cellars and plan ahead!). I have nothing but admiration for their culture and I respect their relationship with the earth. I love that they have such a healthy relationship with food. They obviously adore food (which is apparent by the way they treat what they grow) but not one of them is overweight.

That’s seasonal eating for you. That’s a very, very limited access to processed foods. That’s working with the earth.

The Kid and I had the chance to go to the Amish auction. It was thrilling to see green peppers, tomatoes, and even blackberries. I purchased a half peck each of pickles and huge candy onions as well as a large bunch of carrots for only $11. I now have 2 gallons worth of refrigerator pickles working their magic, and we’ve already broken into the onions – onions so sweet you can eat them like an apple. And those carrots! Wow.

I know we’ll visit over and over again during the summer. Our diets will be supplemented by Amish wares. And if my garden doesn’t produce like I hope, well those Amish wares will be what we’ll eat during those late winter months. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this kind of culture, do so! I highly recommend visiting the homes or auction sites to purchase merchandise rather than going to a store that carries “Amish-made” items. Going directly to the site will not only cost you less, but it ensures that the families are getting 100% of the profit.

Do you have an Amish and/or Mennonite society nearby that offers merchandise to the public?


Jennifer can also be found over at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about living in rural Tennessee, raising a precocious yet sweet daughter, and growing her own food.

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After receiving many questions about knowing when the saurkraut is finished fermenting I decided to do a post about it. I finished off my kraut this morning and took a few photos to share. After 2-4 weeks, depending on the temp, you should notice that your kraut is no longer bubbling, or is bubbling much less than it was. I usually notice that the brine starts going down instead of spilling over after 3-4 weeks. The warmer it is, the quicker your sauerkraut will finish fermenting (at 70-80 it will take 2-3 weeks at 60 it will take 4-6 weeks). Mine was finished a week or two ago, and I started mine on October 28, it took about 4 weeks to finish fermenting. You will also notice that your sauerkraut become kind of clear, or loses it’s whiteness.

Another way to decide if your sauerkraut is finished is by smell. If you don’t have a good sense of what sauerkraut smells like, but some and smell it. Warm it a bit on the stove and the smell will become more pronounced. It smells pleasantly sour almost vinegary. You don’t want it to smell “off” or moldy.

Don’t be alarmed if some mold or scum forms on top of your kraut while it’s fermenting. Just skim it off and add some more brine. If your brine level gets low and some of the top layer of cabbage gets moldy, simply skim off that cabbage and add more brine (1T. of salt for 1 quart of water for extra brine).

When your sauerkraut is finished, simply take out the jar/bag that you’re using to weigh it down, top off with brine, throw a lid on it and put it in the fridge or in your cool root cellar. Use 1T. of salt for 1 quart of water for extra brine.

You can can it if you’re worried about the coolness of your root cellar or don’t have room in the fridge (to can process in a waterbath canner for 15 minutes). If you can it you kill all the good bacteria though, so it won’t be a good source of probiotics. I like my sauerkraut cooked, so I occasionally can it. Sometimes, however I just lid the jar and put it in the basement.

Do you have any great tips to know when you’re fermented products are finished?

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I don’t watch a lot of news.  It is too depressing and this time of year I’m way too busy.  But even as someone who doesn’t watch the news I know about the newest flu scare as well as the economic woes our country is facing.   As I was out planting beans in the garden I was mulling over thoughts as to the plight of my family and of my loved ones if there was ever a reason that we could not or should not go into town.

Sweet Girl and I are also in the middle of  ‘The Long Winter’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which as you know will give anyone pause to think about their personal preparedness. 

I know that in this modern age it is hard to imagine having to rely totally on what is in our homes for survival.  But if we had to…could we?  Can the modern family be really prepared to sustain themselves with no outside help…at least for a while?

As a wife and mom what is my personal responsibility to my family in the case of  an emergency?  Could I feed my children in the case of an earthquake, flood, epidemic, or unforeseen tragedy? 

After some serious thought and many rows of beans later I came to the conclusion after doing a mental inventory of my pantry, that yes I could feed my family if I could not run to the local market…in fact I believe that I could feed them for at least a couple of months….but there are some catches!

What I would do if the power was out for a long time and I could not grind the wheat?  I have wondered about this.  I have tinkered with the idea of buying an inexpensive hand grinder but haven’t gotten around to it. 

If the power goes out we are also without water.  I have enough stored for a short time, maybe a week at most.  I need to to something about this….

I could feed my kids but what about my animals?  I usually buy hay and grain every couple of weeks in the winter for the big animals.  We don’t have much hay storage so I would be in a world of hurt if I could not go into town to buy for them.  I also only keep a couple of weeks chicken feed around (mice, bleck!)….another thing to consider!

We heat with wood mainly and cook with propane, but bake with electricity.  Could I learn to bake bread with my wood stove like ma did that long winter?  Another thing to at least do a little research on…

We have oil lamps, but I need more oil, I have candles, but no matches…

The one place that I feel totally prepared is in the garden department, the seeds I bought this year have for the most part a 2 to 3 year shelf life.  I also grow mostly open pollinated so I could do more seed saving than I do.  Being in the Pacific Northwest I could pretty much garden year around with a little protection…at least we could have lots of greens and root veggies all winter.

Then again could I garden without water?

Do I have first aid supplies?  Enough for anything but the big major omgoodness we have go to the hospital situations?  I will have to check on this.

What about personal hygiene supplies…I have too many men in my family to go for months with the deodorant and soap all gone, ughhh!  Toilet paper, I would hate to run out of that!!!

OK…here are my conclusions

  • I need to check to make sure my pantry supplies are adequate for 6 months
  • I need to store more water as well as catch more water into rain barrels (which I have and have not set up yet…bad me!)
  • I need to learn to bake with my wood stove, or at least have some idea of how to.
  • I need to buy a hand-grinder
  • I need to find more storage area for hay and feed for the animals
  • I need to check first-aid supplies and also should take a class to brush up on basic first-aid…its been two years
  • We need an emergency plan since we have kids from 23 to 2…we need to devise a plan of where to meet and how to get a hold of one another.

I am a very optimistic person by nature.  I am not scared by the new flu or the economy.  But I am also prudent enough to realize that unforeseen things can and do happen and I for one am going to do my best to be ready to take care of my family just in case….

I am also going to get my flu shot next fall!!!


Just for fun here are my pantry must haves…the bare minimum of items I would need just in case!

  • Wheat for grinding
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Rice
  • Salt
  • Honey
  • Oil for cooking and baking (vegetable and olive)
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Whole Wheat Pasta…I need to learn to make this!
  • Dried Beans of all kinds
  • Home Canned Fruit
  • Home Canned Jams and Jellies…ok not a need but a very big want, yum!!!
  • Peanut Butter, crunchy…of course
  • Baking Powder/Soda
  • Yeast…which I actually keep in my freezer but could keep in my pantry if I had to
  • Seeds…actually kept in the garage but I had to include them!

What are the things that you consider your necessities to have on hand at all times? 

What about a generator?  Do you have one?  Then there are those that store fuel, or stockpile guns and ammo, what about having prescription medicine for an extended period of time?  Oh the list could get very long!!!

Are you prepared for the unforeseen?

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seedlings waiting for warm weather

seedlings waiting for warm weather

 To get a jump on gardening we need to be ready, but the weather doesn’t always cooperate.  We start seedlings with the anticipation that the weather will comply, and be dry and warm enough for our tender babies.  But that usually isn’t the case in early spring. 

A great low-tech way to start seeds and keep the seedlings warm during the first tender growth is to use a hot bed.  Common in Europe for market gardens, the idea was readlily adapted to big city market gardens in the US as well, since there was never a shortage of hot horse manure from livery stables in every city.  After the Civil War, Peter Henderson was a very successful market gardener, stretching his growing season using the hot bed method for growing lettuce in the off season, and forcing other popular vegetables for sale in the big city.

On any farmstead there is always manure to be had, and this is one way to squeak one more use out of this precious commodity before it heads to the compost pile.   

hens and hotbed

hens and hotbed

 We have two small 20′ x 20′ greenhouses that we built for brooding chicks when we sold eggs.  To make these user friendly, we planned a personnel area for the humans. It is a great place to store feed and extra bedding and also a warm, toasty area for starting plants and keeping them warm until the weather breaks. 

Hubby built a 2′ x 3′ bottomless box out scraps for my small hotbed.  I fill this with manure and bedding about two weeks before I want to start seeds.  I want the compost to reach its peak temperature, and then when it starts to decline and reaches 80°F, I can place my flats of seeds on top of the compost.  That temperature is a good range for most seeds, if you’re starting tomatoes and peppers, 85°F would be better.  I keep the hot bed loosely covered with a piece of plastic, to keep the humidity up.  Once the seedlings emerge, the cover comes off during the day, unless it is very cold.  At night the cover goes back on in case of a frost.

60 degrees

60 degrees

 I am hardening these brassica and salad green seedlings off now, so 60°F is a great temperature.  I am not covering this at night.  These plants are almost ready to plant out. 

cover on cool nights

cover on cool nights

I also use electric heat mats to start seedlings, but this method is free, using no electricity.  I have two boxes, and to have a succession going, I need to have another box heating up and ready while this one is cooling down.  When the compost gets too cool to start seeds, you can lift off the box, remove the pile and refill with fresh manure and bedding.

If the box does not heat up, you need more manure, or if you are confident you have quite a bit of fresh manure, add water.  Monitor the temperature, if it doesn’t rise in a few days after adding water, you do need more manure. 

With a few scraps and  a wheelbarrow of manure, you can have an effective non-electric way to start seeds and wait out Old Man Winter!

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