Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CSI: Harried Homemaker Acres

We finished our big garden renovation in late March and began planting cold hardy vegetables. It was so exciting to be done with hauling dirt and filling boxes and to finally begin growing things. I could almost taste the crunchy radishes and crisp lettuce we would soon harvest.

Our garden, however, remained mostly empty over the next couple of weeks.

Hello, peas? Lettuce? Where are you?

At first we thought that seed germination had been slowed down by our schizophrenic weather. This, however, wasn't so much a slow down as it was a complete and total breakdown. Next, Hubby Dear hypothesized that we hadn't mixed up our soil well enough and that was the cause of all our troubles.

Any peas? Nope, just holes where peas should be.

What on earth could be causing all of this? My theory was rodents were eating the seeds. Hubby Dear disagreed, saying that no mouse is smart enough to dig perfectly round holes, retrieve the seeds, and disturb nothing else. Personally, I have the utmost respect for the cunning of rodents. I've even heard of a mouse that runs a theme park in Florida.

Our crime scene investigation finally came to a head last week. Hubby Dear was planting our Yukon Gold potatoes when a mouse popped out at him from the garden bed. I told him so! We researched various ways of getting rid of rodents in the garden, but didn't find anything that appeared to be more effective than traditional traps. (And before the tender-hearted among you ask, no, we didn't consider catching Mickey and his friends and releasing them in the country. We are in the country and we don't need any more mice!) We laid out several mouse traps baited with peanut butter and caught seven mice.

And what about our garden? In the last week, it has rebounded nicely. We replanted some things and have everything from peas to beets to two types of lettuce coming up. There has been no further evidence of rodent damage.

Gardening isn't easy. Just when you think you've got things figured out, a new challenge arises. Looks like we need to keep a large stock of rodent traps as part of our preps and gardening tools.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hybrid, Heirloom... Huh? A Quick Run-Down of "Survival Seeds"

One of the items I had on my prepping plan for this month was to buy some survival seeds. Everyone knows that gardening is a valuable skill both pre- and post-TEOTWAWKI, but what makes a seed a "survival seed"?

If you go to your local garden center, you'll find an overwhelming array of seed packets. If you were to select a few packets, store them in a sturdy container packed with moisture absorbers, and keep them in a dry, cool place, they would stay viable for a long time. In a time of need, you could take the seeds out of storage and expect a reasonably good germination rate. Your family eats and you're the hero of the day due to your foresight. Voila! That's survival seeds.

What types of seeds should you store?

That local garden center of yours and seed company catalogs offer a stunning array of seeds complete with what I affectionately call "scientific plant people lingo".

I've read a couple of books recently that have given me a deeper understanding of the scientific plant people lingo and where our food comes from in general - Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. If you haven't read either of those two books, get thee to a library and check them out. They are fascinating and thought-provoking. You'll learn something and like it, I promise! Here's my attempt to distill the pertinent bits when it comes to survival seeds.

Heirloom - Heirloom plants are open-pollinated, which means they take care of their reproductive business without people needing to be involved. If you plant seed gathered from an heirloom plant, you can expect that the baby plant will be like the mom/dad. Many heirloom varieties have been passed down from generation to generation and are time-tested.

My Dad's favorite variety of corn, Golden Bantam, is an heirloom variety. Our local garden centers no longer carry Golden Bantam in bulk, much to his displeasure. When he asked about it at one garden center, they told Dad that "Only old farts plant Golden Bantam any more." You should've seen the scene that ensued! What the local garden centers do carry is hybrid corn.

Hybrids - When people get involved in plant reproduction, some interesting things can happen. A hybrid occurs when you cross dissimilar varieties of a plant. The good thing about hybrids is that they often have something called, remarkably enough, "hybrid vigor". Hybrids can be especially healthy, disease resistant, or have other desirable characteristics. Sounds great, right?  It is, until you try to plant the seeds harvested from a hybrid plant. The next generation will not be anything like the hybrid and will probably give you very poor results overall.

Seed companies love hybrids because you have to purchase seeds over and over again. That's fine and dandy... unless it's TEOTWAWKI and you need to save seeds from your crop in order to have something to grow next year.

Another category of seeds that I will mention briefly is genetically modified (GM) seed. These seeds can only be created in laboratories. Geneticists are able to combine genes from a wide variety of organisms - plants, animals, and even bacteria. Many people have issues with that in general, and GM seed is definitely unsuitable for survival seed. For one thing, seed companies hold patents that make it illegal to save your seed. Saving seed would probably be fruitless, anyway, because they often splice in genes that interfere with reproduction.

Are you still with me? Good.

What's the bottom line?

You can choose to store hybrids, but do not store only hybrids. The bulk of your seed storage should be heirloom varieties. That way, you can gather your own seeds and perpetuate your crops from year to year.

It goes without saying that gardening is hard work and you can't pick it up post-SHTF and expect to suceed. Start practicing now.

Our Choice for Survival Seeds:

I seriously considered building my own survival seed kit, but there are lots of companies out there that sell pre-made kits. Quick and easy? I'm all over it. I chose Everlasting Seeds, a company that sells canned, organic, heirloom seeds.

I ordered their Garden in a Can, which is a #10 can full of 79 types of seed. I was attracted by the sheer variety - it has everything from asparagus to cucumbers to wheat to catnip. Included inside each can is a garden guide that gives planting and harvesting instructions.

Garden in a Can

Contents of Garden in a Can

Everlasting Seeds accidentally sent me their Vegi-Max and Herbs in Can instead of the Garden in a Can. They quickly remedied this and sent me what I ordered, but it gave me an opportunity to check out these products as well. As much as I could check it out without opening it, anyway!

The Herbs in a Can is the size of a can of soup. It has all of the same herbs included in the Garden in a Can.

Herbs in a Can

Vegi-Max is in a #10 can. It has fewer varieties of seeds than Garden in a Can, but in greater numbers.

Vegi-Max Contents

Everlasting Seeds also carries Crops in a Can and a Medicinal Herb Garden Collection.

If I had to do it again, I would probably order the Vegi-Max instead of the Garden in a Can. In a crisis situation, it would be better to have a greater quantity of more sustaining vegetables than to have a few each of wide variety. 

According to the Everlasting Seeds website, if you store their seeds between 66-70 degrees, they will last between 5-9 years. If you refrigerate them, you extend their life to 10-15 years.

The seeds contained in the cans are fine for my particular climate. They even include my Dad's favorite Golden Bantam corn seed. If you live in, say, Texas, Maine, or Hawaii, you may need to check and see if these seeds are optimized for your climate. If not, find another purveyor or make your own can of survival seeds. Research the plants that work best for your area and store them in a ammo can or similar container. Throw in some dessicants (You can read on the Everlasting Seeds site about dessicants vs oxygen absorbers) and store it in your fridge. You've just bought your family some extra food security for the next decade.

However you decide to do it, think about storing some seed. How are you going to eat when your food storage runs out?

Friday, April 22, 2011

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

I'm still prepping and my Internet is perfectly functional. I just haven't had ANY free time, much less time to blog.

Baby Dear is going through a trying phase. He's got a molar coming in, which means he thinks his head is imploding and he's letting us all know about it. None of my three girls ever acted this way when they teethed. Baby Dear's got that pesky Y chromosome, which means that every ailment is very serious.

Baby Dear won't nap unless I hold his feverish (not really) little head against my shoulder, rock him, and sing sweet lullabies. It's a good thing he's so cute and cuddly or I'd really resent having all my free time consumed with snuggling a toddler.

I have bunch of things I'd love to discuss with you all, including survival seeds, sugars for storage, and water filtration. Stay tuned because when I'm finally able to peel Baby Dear off me, I'm ready to roll out some posts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Using Your Food Storage: Pioneer Woman's Chicken Spaghetti

One of the blogs I have followed for years is that of Ree, the Pioneer Woman. She's famous now, having a cookbook, romance novel, and children's book to her credit. Reese Witherspoon is even reportedly signed on to play her in a movie based on her life. I feel proud that I found and loved her long before Hollywood beckoned. It's a sign of greatness on my part, don't you think?

One of her recipes that I make is a casserole called Chicken Spaghetti. It's pure American comfort food. I made a huge pan of it for my neighbor after she had a baby and amazing things started happening. Bags of produce fresh from their garden began to show up at my front door. Neighborly acts of kindness abounded. It was a good thing. The Chicken Spaghetti started it all.

The key to the goodness of Chicken Spaghetti is the copious amount of sharp cheddar cheese in the recipe. Did you know that you can easily have cheese in your food storage? If not, take a look at the following video:

Cheese is such a major part of our diet that I intend to store a lot of waxed cheese. You can read more about waxing cheese yourself  here.

Chicken Spaghetti and Green Beans Amandine - all from food storage!

Give this recipe a try and tell me what you think about it!

Pioneer Woman's Chicken Spaghetti, Food Storage Style

1 or 2 pints or cans of chicken, shredded  into medium sized chunks
1 lb spaghetti, noodles broken into thirds
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided  (fresh, freeze-dried, canned or stored waxed cheese) 
¼ cup finely diced green pepper OR about 2 T. dry peppers, rehydrated
¼ cup finely diced onion OR about 2 T. dry onion, rehydrated
1-4 oz. jar diced pimentos, drained
1 can of chicken broth OR chicken bouillon prepared to make 2 cups of broth
1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
⅛ -1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Salt And Pepper, to taste (Hold off on the salt if you use bouillon)

Cook spaghetti until just al dente. Combine cooked spaghetti with remaining ingredients, reserving 1 c of the cheddar cheese. Place mixture in a greased 9 x 13" dish and top with the reserved cheddar. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Way to Go, Emergency Essentials!

I've complained for months about preparedness companies plastering their boxes with gigantic logos. We're supposed to maintain a low profile, which is difficult if the Fed Ex man, UPS guy, and your mail carrier get an eyeful from your parade of boxes. I'm sure my delivery men think I'm a complete nut. I guess that's not too far from the truth! ;)

Well, I just placed a small order with Emergency Essentials and found that they now give you the option to have your order shipped in unmarked boxes. Simply type "unmarked boxes" in the comment box on the order form as you check out.

Way to go, Emergency Essentials! I hope many other companies follow their lead.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Review of the NutriMill Electric Grain Mill

I've had the chance to put my new NutriMill Grain Mill through its paces over the last couple of days. Here's what it looked like when I took it out of the box.

The NutriMill is larger than I expected it to be. It's nearly as large as my Kitchenaid stand mixer.

You load the grain in the top of the mill. Experienced users of the NutriMill will note that I had the ring of the hopper installed upside down in the following photo. Oops! As you can tell, I have giant amounts of mechanical aptitude.

The hopper prominently warns against grinding oily seeds. There is an extensive list of banned items in the owner's manual, including oatmeal of any kind, nuts, and sprouted grains/seeds. Luckily, my Wonder Junior Deluxe's sets of steel burrs and stone heads will work just fine for those materials.

When you turn on the NutriMill, you might be surprised by the noise. Picture, if you will, a Shop Vac.
Imagine the noise that would ensue if you attempted to vaccum up a pack of yowling feral cats with said Shop Vac. That is pretty much what the NutriMill sounds like.

Should that discourage you from buying a NutriMill? Well, that's up to you and your tolerance for yowling feral cats. The good news is that the NutriMill works quickly, so you don't have to listen to it for very long. In 60 seconds, I had ground enough wheat to make a loaf of bread. That would have taken me about 7 minutes of constant grinding with the Wonder Mill Junior. I enjoy the sound of the Wonder Mill Junior, though. There's something therapeutic about hearing those stone heads grind against each other. The NutriMill's yowling? Not so therapeutic.

The freshly ground flour is collected in the bowl at the bottom.

I set it to grind on its finest setting. The end result was indeed finer than what my Wonder Junior can achieve. I made both a loaf of bread and a batch of pancakes with the flour and they turned out wonderfully.

The only issues I had during my experimentation occurred when my legendary mechanical aptitude got involved. The manual instructs you to first mill 2 cups of grain and discard it. I dumped out my test batch of flour and got ready to grind more wheat. The problem was that I forgot to put the flour bowl back in before I turned on the mill. Flour sprayed everywhere! That flustered me enough that when I finally did get the bowl installed, I didn't slide it in all the way. By the time I cleaned up the resulting flour-fest in my kitchen, I more resembled a powdered donut than a happy homemaker.

My personal issues aside, the NutriMill does a great job. It is noisy but quick, and it produces very nice flour. I recommend it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Honey Loves Me

How can I tell?

He got me this as a combined birthday/Mother's Day present.

A NutriMill !

Isn't he thoughtful? (Nevermind the fact that I told him exactly what I wanted and in fact I ordered it myself.) He's a total gem, isn't he, ladies?

After the great electric grain mill disappointment of 2010, I've been making do with my Wondermill Junior Deluxe. It's great and all, but I only pull it out of storage every so often. Between changing diapers and homeschooling, grinding grain by hand is low on the list of things I need to do every day. I'm sure I'll use it a ton. Thanks, Hubby Dear!

Coming soon: My Review of the NutriMill