Sunday, February 27, 2011

Late Winter Pruning

I appreciate the responses I've gotten so far about your favorite can openers. Keep them coming! It seems like everybody has a different favorite.

Before Hubby Dear and I even closed on the property I call the Harried Homemaker Acres, we started planning an orchard. It was going to be a large orchard because we were going to own five whole acres, which seemed like a lot to us at the time. Now, of course, I wish we had more like 20 acres. We got a bunch of catalogs and selected all the different kinds of fruit and nut trees that we were going to plant. Of course we were going to have at least two trees of every species that will grow in our climate! We made a scale drawing of our acreage and planned the location for each tree, allowing for ideal cross-pollination, protection from frost, and shelter from winds.

The reality? Nearly four years later, we have a grand total of one fruit tree and a handful of berry bushes. Our harvests have been scant to none, and it is mostly our own fault.

Granted, I have popped out a couple more babies and Hubby Dear's work schedule is more hectic than either one of us would have imagined four years ago. The major problem, however, is that we have been guilty of the crime of not-so-benign neglect when it comes to garden matters.

We're turning over a new leaf in 2011 and today we did a very important garden chore - pruning.

Why do you prune fruit trees?

According to the North Carolina Extension Service:
  1. If you shape your tree to develop a strong structure, it will prevent breakage due to wind or a heavy fruit crop.
  2. You'll remove dead, diseased, or otherwise poor quality growth, improving the overall health of your tree.
  3. You can shape the tree to insure that light can get to the center of the tree. More light = more fruit!
  4. All this pruning will keep air flow moving throughout the tree, discouraging diseases that thrive in moist conditions.
In other words, pruning will give you better quality of fruit and even cause your tree to bear earlier and live longer. As long as you do not remove more than 1/2 of the tree's branches in one year, you really cannot prune too much.

What tools do you need to prune?

Depending on the size of the tree you're pruning you may need any or all of the following:
  • Secateurs- Hand-held, scissor-like pruners for small branches and twigs
  • Loppers - For thicker branches, say 1/4 to 1/2" diameter
  • Pruning Saw - For the thickest branches
  • A ladder if your tree is tall.
Most pruning should take place in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant, which is why Hubby Dear were working outside while it looked like this:

Fog enveloping the hills

Our first victim subject was our dwarf Montmorency sour cherry tree. We got it as a freebie when we ordered our blackberries and raspberries back in 2007. Honestly, I never expected it to live. We did pretty much everything wrong when we planted it and I thought the combination of our own ineptitude and clay soil would do it in. Despite the odds, it has survived.

"Before" Cherry Tree

Before we began, we read a few of the references we have on hand. I recommend The Backyard Orchardistby Stella Otto as a good starting place if you're new to fruit trees. You should also do an online search for your state's extension service. Ours has a host of PDF files available with information tailored for the varieties that thrive in our state's climate. We've printed off hundreds of pages on crops we grow or will likely grow and I store them behind the "gardening" tab of my preparedness binder.

Our goals in shaping this particular tree was to:
  1. Define a central leader - a central branch from which the other branches grow off. Trees like apple, cherry, plum, pear, and apricot generally are pruned using the central leader method. Others, such as peach, use another method called open center, which is just like it sounds.
  2. Define scaffold branches. These are the smaller branches that grow off the central leader. You want them to be distributed on both sides of the tree and be spaced well apart.
  3. Remove any branches that cross or rub against each other.
  4. Remove anything dead.
Here's the "After":

"After" Cherry tree

Hopefully, the tree will appreciate the TLC and produce a bountiful crop of cherries. Ideally, the angle between the scaffolds and the central leader should be between 60 and 80 degrees. We need to think about using elastic or limb spreaders to achieve this.


Small fruits like raspberries (depending on the variety) and blackberries also benefit from some winter pruning. We currently grow two types of thornless blackberries: Chester, a semi-erect (bushy) variety and Triple Crown, a trailing (requires trellising) variety. All the pruning for trailing blackberries is done after harvest time in late summer/early fall, but we needed to work on the Chesters.

Here's the Chesters "before":

"Before" Blackberries with our square foot garden in the background

We thinned out the extra canes and cut back the lateral growth. Much like the cherry tree, our berries have suffered from neglect and having to compete with weeds.

Here's the "after":

"After" blackberries

If you have fruit in your garden, be better than me and don't wait three or four years to begin to be a good steward. If you're thinking of planting an orchard or berries, keep in mind that it's not all pie and jam. There is a fair bit of maintainence that is required. But think of the rewards!

Hubby Dear and I have made a commitment to make our garden a priority this year. If all goes well, we'll unearth that fabulous orchard plan and get to planting in 2012.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ask the readers: Your Favorite Can Opener

If you are a prepper, chances are you store a lot of canned food, be it from the Piggly Wiggly or an LDS Cannery. If the only can opener you own is electric or a dinky one attached to a faux Swiss Army knife, you need a good manual can opener, stat!

Can you imagine if TSHTF and you didn't have a way to open your cans? You'd be a little frustrated, just like the cat in this video.

Sesame Street was so much better back in the day. "Elmo's World", which seems to take up most of the current incarnation of the show, makes me want to gack.

Oxo Good Grips Can Opener. Image from

I own a pretty decent manual can opener that I use all the time, an Oxo Good Grips Can Opener. It is very easy to turn and cans open smoothly. I have noticed that the plastic around the handle appears to be breaking down a little bit after a year of continual use. I definitely need to develop some redundancy in this area. I think we should have three manual can openers, minimum, to be safe.

So, I'm asking my readers: do you have a favorite, rock star manual can opener? What's your go-to device for opening TEOTWAWKI eats?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Month Nine in Review and Month Ten Prepping Plan

It's been a very productive month here at the Harried Homemaker Acres. I'm very pleased with what Hubby Dear and I have accomplished.

In Month Nine....
  1. I got a FoodSaver and used it to vacuum seal dry goods like nuts and chocolate as well as meat for the freezer. I'm very happy with my purchase and I'll keep you posted about just how long it extends the shelf life of my stored foods.
  2. I made a first aid stockpile plan and purchased quite a few items on the list.
  3. I'm learning how to sew using the antique sewing machine that was gifted to us. My first sewing project - cloth pads - is coming along very slowly. I definitely am an inept seamstress, but I'll keep plugging away at it. I'll let you know how my handcrafted feminine items work after they get put through their paces.
  4. I bought some more food storage items, including dry milk, snack foods (Nutella!), and miscellaneous canned goods. I also canned more ground beef and chicken.
  5. Hubby Dear and I did some work outside in the garden in preparation for the spring planting season. We made our seed and berry orders and we'll be ready to go next month. I hope. We still have a lot of Mel's Mix to prepare and garden boxes to fill and we're going to get blasted with up to 6" of snow.
  6. Most of our seeds and some new garden goodies arrived today
    6. I finally got a shelf for the top of my Shelf Reliance Harvest 72" can organizer. One of my fabulous readers pointed out to me that Shelf Reliance actually does sell a top shelf (separately) for their food storage systems. I decided not to add to Hubby Dear's workload by having him make one and just ordered it. It cost $26.48 (ordered through a consultant, including shipping) and it will support up to 150 lbs.
The gray metal grid on top is the new shelf. It is sturdy and will be very useful.
In Month Ten:

  1. I'm going to add to my EDC, which stands for Everyday Carry. These are survival items you carry with you everywhere. I'm going to add some things to my keychain and purse to help me be prepared for a wide variety of situations.
  2. The majority of my prepping budget is going to be spent on food storage. In fact, the news articles about the looming food shortage/inflation problem that I've shown Hubby Dear have convinced him that we need to build our food storage more quickly. He thinks we should double our monthly prepping budget for next month and spend it all on food storage. Is he becoming a prepper or is he just trying to shut me up? ;0) I'm thinking our purchases through carefully so that I spend this money wisely. I'll definitely keep you all know what I end up buying.
  3. We need to finish putting soil into our garden beds and begin planting at the end of the month. Our strawberry plants should arrive in late March and we'll also plant peas, potatoes, and lettuce around that time.
  4. Hopefully, I'll finish my cloth pad project.

What have you done to prepare recently? What preps do you have in store for the next month?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our 2011 Garden Plan and February Garden Chores

I realize that most people don't do much in the way of gardening during February, and we're usually right with them. During the last week, however, we have had such wonderfully moderate temperatures that we've been able to get outside and get some work accomplished. Spring is such a busy time in the garden, so we're really thankful if we can get some of our chores out of the way.

The hills are not exactly alive - with music or anything else - but they are slightly thawed

The first thing we accomplished was mowing down our Heritage raspberry bushes. That is something we do in the late fall or winter every year. Normally, Heritage raspberries will give you two smaller crops in June and September. If you cut them down to the ground, they produce one, larger crop. This is much better for canning and freezing purposes.

I promise there were raspberries here!

We've also started work on our new square foot garden boxes. As I shared previously, we're converting our entire garden from a traditional row garden to a square foot garden. Here's the plan for our new garden. It is color-coded by planting date for our area.

*If you've read this post before, you might have noticed this plan has changed a few times. That's because Hubby Dear keeps tinkering with it. I think it's set now.

We're allowing our two oldest children, The Thinker and Mini Me, to plan, plant, and maintain the single 4x4' box that is furthest west on the plan. They've chosen an eclectic mix of cabbage, carrots, lettuce, beets, peas, peppers, and strawberries. That should be interesting, to say the least.

We made the boxes, covered the ground with weed cloth, and put the boxes in place during the fall. Now we have to make A LOT of Mel's Mix to fill the boxes.

Everytime we go to the "big city", we're filling the back of the family mini van with vermiculite, peat moss, and all the different kinds of compost we need to make Mel's Mix. We'll work on filling the boxes with Mel's Mix over time. Otherwise, it would be an overwhelming task.

Hubby Dear's Garden Plan lets us know which boxes are going to be planted first, so we're filling them in order.

This box is double deep for potatoes and still needs another batch of dirt added to it

The only problem is, yes, it is very pleasant outdoors, but it is w-i-n-d-y. We live on the top of a hill, so we are naturally more windy anyway, but when we have unseasonable temperatures? Your hat better have a stampede string. Mine doesn't, so I spent some time chasing it around the yard.

Even though we knew better, we decided to try and make up some Mel's Mix. We mixed the components together in our garage and all was well until we tried to dump it into the garden box. I could probably use some dermabrasion, but I hadn't intended to get it from a tornado of Mel's Mix! So much for that project. Hopefully good weather and Hubby Dear's work schedule will coincide again soon. We have to make 17 more batches of Mel's Mix and lay down pea gravel to cover the pathways between the boxes.

We did successfully make a bunch of garden purchases. Here is the list of the seeds we ordered from our favorite seed company, Johnny's Selected Seeds:

Green Bush Beans - Provider
Carrots - Nelson
Corn - Mystique Bicolor
Cucumbers - Alibi
Lettuce - "Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix", Winter Density buttercrunch
Onions - Copra storage onion
Peas - Caselode (shelling), Sugar Sprint (snap)
Potatoes - Yukon Gold
Pumpkin - Baby Pam
Radish - Cherriette
Watermelon - Little Baby Flower
Beets - Red Ace
Cabbage - Farao

We also bought inoculant for the beans and peas. This year, we're planning on buying tomato and pepper plants from a local nursery, but in the future, we hope to start our own seeds at home. Also missing from list above is cantaloupe. We'll buy seeds of our favorite variety (Minnesota Midget) from the same local nursery.

We're getting our strawberries shipped to us from Stark Bros. in late March. We ordered 75 plants of Earliglow (a June-bearing variety) and 25 of Tribute (an Everbearing variety). We also ordered a few more raspberries to fill out our row. We're going to plant a couple of pecan trees but Stark Bros. won't have those in stock until fall, so I guess that's when we'll be planting them.

Something else we bought that I think will be a real help is this Tractor Scoot from Gardener's Supply Co.

Image from

It is small enough to fit through the aisles of our garden. We can sit and weed or harvest at our leisure. It's kind of a luxury purchase and, frankly, probably intended for the senior citizen set, but I think we'll really use it a lot. Maybe it will encourage me to get out and weed more often since I won't resemble one of those kitschy garden ornaments:

Our neighbors and the cows in the pasture next to us will appreciate it. They still send me thank you notes for installing better blinds in our master bedroom.

And that's what we've been doing to get ready for the growing season.

Are you planning on gardening this year? Have you been busy getting ready for spring?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Starting our First Aid Stockpile

One of the ways I spent my prepping budget this month was on a bunch of first aid supplies. We already had a pretty good selection of Band-Aids and OTC meds, but we definitely fall far short of where we need to be. In a survival situation, "boo-boos" can turn into life-threatening injuries if they are not treated appropriately. Your doctor or the ER may not be available. If you're into frugal living, there are lots of conditions that may be safely treated at home if you have the proper supplies and know-how. I happen to live with a certain medical professional who would be very happy if everyone kept their butts out of the ER for trivial stuff. (Such as, but not limited to: sore throats you've had for less than an hour, hayfever, and dandruff. All true stories.)

I have organized our nascent stockpile into four layers:

1) Everyday ills

First aid, adult, and children's boxes form layer one of our medical scheme

I have three plastic tubs for adult, children's, and general first aid items.These are stored in a handy location in the kitchen and we use the contents frequently. This layer includes commonplace items like thermometers, Band-Aids, children's pain medication, Tums, current prescriptions, etc.

2) Redundance

One bottle of Advil isn't nearly enough. I'm trying to get a year's supply plus of all essential medicines and supplies. All my extras as well as anything that might be especially temperature sensitive (My storeroom is at a constant, cool temperature. The kitchen, not so much.) are stored here. I'll rotate these into use just like we do our food storage.

3) Minor medical emergency supplies - These are to treat things that you might visit an urgent care clinic, your family physician, or an emergency room for. Small burns and wounds that are too deep for a Band-Aid but don't require stitches are two examples. You need to have the knowledge to discern what you can safely treat at home.

The middle shelf holds my minor emergency stuff
 Ignore the contents of the top shelf. My trusty ice cream maker doesn't count as first aid, unless it is making chocolate ice cream! ;)

4) The Big Guns - Things you really hope you never have to use, such as surgical kits and compression bandages. I haven't ventured very far down this path yet. Scary stuff that DEFINITELY needs training to use.

With these layers in mind, I created the following list of items that I think are necessary for a well-stocked family first aid stockpile. This is a work in progress, so if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

I hope to cross each item off this list over the course of the next year or so.

Prescription Medications:

1) Build up a one year supply of my prescription. Check your insurance to see how often you can fill your prescription. If you can get it filled every 20 days, do that and you'll gradually build up a supply.

2) Build up a supply of antibiotics. Read this, this, and this on SurvivalBlog to get some ideas of legal ways to do this and see where I'm coming from. You don't have to break any laws or cross into Mexico to do it and it could be life-saving.

3) Possibly get some Tamiflu.

OTC Medications:

1) Ibuprofen (adult and children's)

2) Acetaminophen (adult, children's and infant formulas)

3) Aspirin – This might seem like pain reliever overkill, but there are certain things that aspirin does that nothing else can, such as save your life during a heart attack.

4) Benedryl (adult and children's formulas)

5) Zyrtec or Claritin (adult and children's formulas) - Mini Me takes Zyrtec regularly.

6) Imodium (adult and children's)

7) Pepcid Complete

8) Tums

9) Hydrocortisone cream

10) Anti-fungal cream

11) Pedialyte

12) Salt substitute (for making electrolyte drink – read this)

13) Your drug of choice for constipation: Miralax, Fiber supplements, etc.

Wound Care:

1) Betadine

2) Alcohol wipes

3) Hydrogen Peroxide

4) Bacitracin ointment

5) Dermabond skin adhesive

7) Sterile gauze – different sizes

8) Non-stick wound dressings

9) First Aid Tape

10) SteriStrips/Butterfly wound closures


1) Ace bandages

2) Eye drops

3) Lip balm

4) Diaper rash cream (Balmex, Desitin, etc.)

5) Burn kit

6) Moleskin for foot blister treatment/prevention

7) Bleach (unscented)

9) Disinfectant Wipes

10) SAM Medical Splint

11) N 95 Masks

12) Exam Gloves

13) Q Tips

14) Cough Drops

15) Sphygmomanometer (Blood Pressure Cuff)

16) Stethoscope

17) Otoscope

"More Serious Stuff" - You'd better learn how to use it ahead of time:

1) Israeli Battle Dressings - Did you read how these amazing devices saved lives during the horrible shooting in Tucson?

2) Israeli Abdominal Emergency Bandage

3) Quikclot Gauze

4) Dental Kit

5) Suture Kits

6) Medical Trauma kit (IV supplies, surgical instruments etc.) See Analytical Survival's YouTube video, Part One and Part Two for an example of what I'm talking about. Warning: the videos I linked have a high testosterone content. ;)

7) Childbirth Kit (although if we need this, Hubby Dear's urologist is going to have some explaining to do...)

Essential Literature:
1)  Where There Is No Doctor

2) The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy

3) Where There Is No Dentist

4) First Aid -- Responding To Emergencies

What do you think? Do I have any glaring omissions? What's the status of your first aid preparedness?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mainstream Media Wakes Up

My third child, Sweetie Pie, has a mild obsession with Brian Williams, thus we always watch the NBC Nightly News at our house. Today they presented a story about sharply rising food costs across the globe. Wow, finally a mainstream news source saying something that preparedness-minded folks have been warning about for a while.

Food costs reach crisis proportions

It sure makes me glad we're building our food storage!

Using Your Food Storage: Quick Red Bean Stew

Stew simmering away
 Hubby Dear had a very long, hard day at work yesterday. His job is stressful on the best of days, but he got in a heated situation with a difficult colleague and it ruined his day. (Editorial comment time: I don't understand why some women want to be treated as equals in the workplace but demand special treatment and privileges because they are a woman. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, buttercup, and do the job you were hired to do. But what do I know? I'm "only" a stay-at-home mom...) When he came home depressed and discouraged, I knew just how to cheer him up. How about a bowl of warm, savory stew seasoned with the essence of summer?

My Quick Red Bean Stew uses food storage-friendly ingredients and gets its delicious flavor from the addition of a generous dollop of basil pesto. I make and freeze pesto from my garden every summer. I cannot describe to you how wonderful it is to have the goodness of fragant basil captured for use in the dead of winter! I freeze my pesto in ice cube trays; one batch of pesto fills 5 cubes. I store the frozen cubes together in a ziplock bag and simply pull out what I need for a given recipe. I use two cubes for this recipe.

My kind of frozen assets

Unfortunately, it appears that it is not safe to can your own pesto. Bummer! I'd love to be able to make my pesto shelf-stable. The stuff you can buy at the store is OK, I guess, but it has a bunch of fillers added to it and does not taste remotely as good as homemade.

I think the stew helped to get Hubby Dear out of his funk. The chocolate ice cream he chased it down with might also have had something to do with it, but I'd like to think it was mostly the stew!


Quick Red Bean Stew, based on a recipe published in Cooking Light magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms OR about 1 1/2 c. dehydrated mushrooms, rehydrated according to package directions*
1 cup diced carrot OR about 1/3 c. dehydrated carrot dices, rehydrated according to package directions*
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained OR about 2/3 c. dry kidney beans, cooked
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14-ounce) can beef broth OR beef bouillon prepared to equal 2 cups broth, according to package directions
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons pesto (homemade, homemade frozen, or commercially canned)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (fresh or the sawdust variety in the green can that lasts forever)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and carrot; sauté 4 minutes. Adjust sauteing time as necessary if you're using rehydrated products (you don't want your veggies super-crunchy or mushy). Stir in water and the next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta; cook for 10 minutes or until pasta is done. Stir in pesto; if you are using frozen pesto, stir it around a little in the stew and give it some time to thaw before serving. Sprinkle each serving with cheese. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups stew and 1 tablespoon cheese)

*Here's a helpful reference when converting your recipes to use dehydrated vegetables:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cloth Pads, Take One

Whew... I worked for about three hours last night on my first sewing project.

I used the material suggestions from Feminine Essence  (quilting flannel top layer, terry cloth inner layers, and fleece for a semi-waterproof bottom layer) and the basic pattern and instructions from  I enlarged the pattern with my printer so that it was both longer and wider, cut my fabric, and got to work.

I encountered a lot of problems. First, there's the issue of threading the machine. Can you see how many doodads and whosits I have to put the thread through?

It's like playing a miniature game of cat's cradle every time you thread the needle.

And then when I was sewing, the thread kept coming out of the needle. I'd be happily sewing along and accomplishing exactly nothing. Or I'd forget to lower the presser foot and even more nothing would occur.

Next, this happened:

I don't even know how I did that. I pulled the whole tangled mess apart and tried again.

Why wouldn't it sew properly with the thread like that? LOL!

Finally I managed to sew my layers of terry cloth together and then sew them onto the flannel layer. You can see that I had some issues maintaining a 1/4" seam allowance when I sewed the flannel top layer to the fleece bottom layer. Look at that top wing! Mini Me lurched out of her bedroom and told me she was going to vomit when I was sewing that part. Thankfully she didn't, but it was a little distracting!

The end result was a pad that looked more like a baby-sized potholder or a strange puppet.

"Hi! My name is Flo..."

So I pulled it apart (again) and redid it.

Much better the second time through! Not perfect, but functional.

I still have to set the snaps, but I think this will be a useable product for light flow days. In general, I would like the pad to be longer, so I will have to enlarge the pattern for my subsequent efforts. I used two layers of terry cloth and I think I'll try and add a third so for an overnight-type pad.

I'll keep y'all  posted about the rest of my adventure. :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Psyching Myself Up

I did a lot of research and finally gathered all the supplies I need to embark on my first sewing project. I even remembered to wash all the fabric ahead of time so that it wouldn't shrink after I sew it.

I printed off a pattern and enlarged it to the size I wanted to make. I've read through the instructions and the sewing machine manual so many times I've practically got them memorized.

I think I'm ready. So why am I feeling intimidated by a sewing machine?

Time for a self-affirmation:
"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, this sewing machine will not get the best of me."

With a little luck, I'll get my little project done and have something to show you all later this week. Keep your fingers crossed!

I've got to read again how to wind that bobbin...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Food Storage Savior or or Expensive Failure? : A Review of the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System

You might have seen the cheesy infomercials on late night TV. The FoodSaver is a device will keep you from "throwing your cash in the trash". Simply place your food in one of their handy-dandy plastic baggies, push a button, and the FoodSaver will suck all the air out, thereby extending the shelf-life of your fresh or frozen foodstuffs. Can you tell I've been up with fussy babies in the wee hours and watched that infomercial a few times?

That's all fine and dandy, but it was only when I read about using a vacuum sealer to seal canning jars full of dry food storage items that it really got my attention. Beans, rice, dehydrated vegetables, chocolate, candy, etc. - you can store them in canning jars for greatly extended shelf lives. Sounds great, right? (I should point out that this isn't a replacement for canning; you're not going to be able to vacuum seal soup, for example, unless it is dehydrated soup mix.)

The only problem was that I was a little worried about the mixed reviews the newest incarnation of the FoodSaver had on, but I decided to take the plunge anyway. A smarter, more thrifty woman would have found a used FoodSaver at a thrift store or garage sale. I am not that woman. I channel Veruca Salt in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" because I want everything RIGHT NOW!!

Anyway, my FoodSaver arrived and I got straight to work.

FoodSaver and Wide Mouth Jar Sealer

If you're going to use your FoodSaver for vacuum sealing jars, you need to buy a jar sealer, which is a plastic gizmo that looks like this:

There are two sizes of jar sealers - wide-mouth and regular. I only bought the one for wide-mouth canning jars, since that is what I mainly have on hand. Some might say that was appropriate for me! ;)

You place your food inside a clean canning jar and then put on a clean canning lid. You do not have to use new canning lids, which is awesome. Finally, something to do with used lids! Place the jar sealer attachment on the top and then plug in the accessory hose.

If you are looking at a used FoodSaver, make sure it has an accessory hose. Otherwise, you won't be able to seal jars.

Press the button and then the FoodSaver lurches into action. Vacuuming out all the air takes somewhere between 30 sec- 1 minute and it is a fairly noisy process. The machine shuts off when it is done.

Label with the contents and date. Can you tell I love my label machine? ;)

Most of my jars sealed with no problem. A few I had to fiddle with to get them to seal properly. I experimented with the amount of food in the jar, using a different lid, using two lids, etc. until I got everything sealed up. I used this awesome tutorial on Granny Miller's blog to troubleshoot. (I keep trying to type "Granny Smith" instead of Granny Miller. I must be hungry today.)

I should mention that my FoodSaver manual said to maintain 1" headspace to get jars to seal. I did not find that made any difference to the sealing. If you look at Granny Miller's blog, you'll see she doesn't worry about headspace too much, either. If it's good enough for Granny Smith Miller, it's good enough for me!

I sealed up my entire supply of chocolate chips.

I cracked pecans harvested from my uncle's tree and then sealed them, too.

I even sealed the rest of the can of shortening that I opened last weekend. This will really extend the shelf-life of shortening, which is great because it usually goes rancid before I use it all.

All in all, here's what I sealed up yesterday. I am going to check my supplies regularly to make sure the lids stay sealed, and I might screw on the rings for a little extra insurance.

The verdict:

So far, so good! It was easy to use and only required a little bit of fiddling. Time will tell how durable my FoodSaver is and how long the contents stay fresh once they've been sealed. I'll keep you posted on that. If I should ever come across a used FoodSaver for a good price, I'd snatch it up in a heart beat. Apparently the older FoodSavers did a better job sealing the plastic bags for fresh and frozen food. I'll test out using FoodSaver bags for freezing bulk supplies of meat, but I see myself mainly using this for sealing jars.

If this sounds like something you'd like to try, you can buy FoodSavers lots of places, including't forget to buy the jar sealer attachment, which is sold separately.