Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Yes, I'm Very Much OK...

I've gotten quite a few emails and comments wondering what has happened to me. Thank you all for your concern.

Everything is fine. More than fine, actually. I have so much exciting stuff going on in my offline world that I haven't had a ton of time to spend blogging. I also have been debating how much of my current doings to blog about because I have thus far kept this blog and my personal/professional life separate. That's the way things need to stay.

I have contemplated deleting "The Harried Homemaker Preps" entirely, but I know how much consternation it caused me to have Granny Miller's blog go up and down several times over the past few years, so I nixed that idea. Once I figure out exactly what I feel comfortable sharing, I hope to get back to posting here again.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Create a Grow Heap This Fall For Squash Next Year

One of the speakers who I had the pleasure of seeing several times at the Mother Earth News Fair was Barbara Pleasant. It almost felt like I was listening to an old friend speak since I had read so many of her articles in Mother Earth News.

In her workshop about composting, Barbara talked about how easy it is to grow squash in a Grow Heap. A Grow Heap is basically a giant compost pile that you create in the fall. You can either nestle transplants in the heap in the spring, or simply bury open-pollinated (remember - hybrids will not reproduce true) squash in the compost in the fall. The squash itself will decay into the pile during the winter, but the seeds will sprout in the spring.

Here's where she really got my attention: Barbara said she raised 100 lb of pumpkins this year in one Grow Heap.  That's a ton of food for very little effort, so I knew we had to give it a go.

Our grow heap under construction

When we started to clear our garden of summer annuals as the first frost became imminent, we carried the garden waste over to a 12' x 4' spot that is contiguous to our sunflower patch. We layered brown materials (such as completely dried leaves and sunflower stalks) with luscious green materials (basil, marigolds, borage, comfrey, etc.). We made sure not to remove too much dirt from the roots of the plants we pulled out of the garden because, according to Barbara's book, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, it is best to have about 20% of your pile consist of soil because it will help keep the plants from wilting under water stress. We did not include any plants from the Cucubit family (cucumbers, watermelon, squash, etc.) in the pile because we do not want to introduce any diseases that could affect next year's pumpkin crop.

We also had two compost bins of semi-composted rabbit manure and chicken litter available. We dumped that over the top of the Grow Heap. At that point, the pile stood about 2-1/2 feet tall.

A couple of chickens check out the newly-emptied compost bins. We've started
 filling the bin on the left with the Cucubits we did not add to the Grow Heap. 

We plan to add yet more to the Grow Heap as fall progresses. We will add a couple bags of shredded leaves and grass clippings plus the remains of the hardy garden plants (cabbage, chard) when we pull them out.  The Grow Heap will be reduced in height by half when spring comes around, so it is good to make the pile large to begin with.We'll start pumpkin seedlings indoors sometime in April, and plant them in the heap in mid to late May. I'm hopeful that we'll get the biggest pumpkin crop we've ever had.

This was incredibly easy, so if it works, I'm sure Grow Heaps will become my go-to method for growing squash. If squash isn't your thing, you can also grow tomatoes in a Grow Heap. Any members of the Cucurbit or Solanaceae families should thrive in this environment.


The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Friday, October 18, 2013

Road Trip! Our Visit to the Mother Earth News Fair

Hubby Dear and I set off for Lawrence, Kansas, last weekend to visit the Mother Earth News Fair. It is billed as an event for those interested in sustainable lifestyles. As a result, it attracts the crunchy-granola-hippy crowd, Joe and Suzy Suburbia, Old MacDonald (complete in bibbed overalls and straw hat), as well as the preparedness set. I think Hubby Dear and I probably fall under three of those four categories! I'll let you guess which one doesn't fit.

The Fair lasted for two very full days and we had so much fun! There were hundreds of booths offering information and products from herbal remedies to freeze-dried food to solar panels to gardening gadgets to animal castration devices. Interesting stuff! There was so much to look at and learn about that it was hard to fit it all in.  

The main attraction for me, however, was the speakers and workshops.

Temple Grandin

Renowned animal behavior expert, Temple Grandin, gave a fascinating talk about how to improve animal welfare.

David Schafer of Featherman Co., left, and Joel Salatin, right

Hubby Dear and I really enjoyed the poultry processing demonstration given by the inimitable Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.  We are thinking about raising broiler chickens now after learning a few tricks of the trade.

In addition to these big name speakers, we attended lectures on raising mushrooms, dairy goats, and heritage pigs, composting, and beekeeping. There were so many interesting workshops that we could have attended had we been able to be in three or four places at once.

Some of the booty I brought home

I brought home a bag full of goodies, some of which you see in the above photo. I bought mostly books and other informational material, but I did buy one item of especial note.


I was able to pick a WAPI (Water Pasteurization Indicator) from the Sun Oven Company. The WAPI they used to sell came on a nylon cord and would burn or melt when being used to test water pasteurization anywhere else than a solar oven. This has been remedied in the product they currently carry, making it much more useful. 

If you are able to attend a Mother Earth News Fair, I highly recommend it. There are four fairs scheduled for next year: 

April 12-13, 2014 Asheville, NC
May 31- June 1, 2014 Puyallup, WA
September 12-14, 2014 Seven Springs, PA
Date TBD, Lawrence, KS

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Cook an Old Rooster

There comes a time in the life of every chicken-keeper when you have to make some tough decisions. When laying hens get over two years of age, their rate-of-lay drops precipitously. Unless you want to start buying your eggs from the store and run an elderly chicken retirement home, you need to have another generation of pullets coming into lay and to butcher the old birds.

Our main laying flock will be two years old in the spring, so their days on our homestead are unfortunately numbered. The rooster of that flock became a vile jerk and only seemed to get worse with age, so he met his end before the rest of the bunch. He attacked any human - other than me, usually - who dared to enter his domain. He was rough on the ladies in his harem and had recently started to aggressively attack any chicken who dared to eat when I scattered treats in their run. It was time for Mr. Rooster to go.

Mr. Rooster was calm on his way to the killing cone. He was such a
gorgeous Buff Orpington, but was a complete tyrant. 

The problem with old chickens is that they tend to be tough. You definitely will not want to fry an old, heritage breed bird unless you like leathery chicken. An older rooster or retired laying hen calls for being cooked for a long time over low, moist heat.

Here are the two ways I used our tough bird: Rooster and Dumplings and Bone Broth. The broth from an older, heritage breed bird is outstanding, and lends great depth of flavor to these simple preparations.

Rooster and dumplings


Rooster and Dumplings

1 whole rooster or stew hen
3-1/2 t. salt, divided
3/4 t. pepper, divided
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. ground red pepper

3 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t. salt
4-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. poultry seasoning
1/3 c. shortening
2 t. bacon drippings
1 c. milk

Place the chicken in a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Cover with water and add 2-1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper, garlic powder, thyme, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. You want to cook the chicken very slowly so it isn't tough. Cook for about 5 hours at a very low simmer.

Remove the chicken carcass from the broth; cool slightly, and then pull the meat from the bones. Skim the fat from the top of the broth. Chop or shred the meat and then add it back to the broth. Reserve the bones for making bone broth (see following recipe). Add remaining salt and pepper to broth, taste, then adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and poultry seasoning in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in shortening and bacon drippings until the mixture is crumbly throughout. Add milk and stir until everything is moistened.

Roll dumpling dough out on a floured surface to 1/8" thickness. Cut into 1" squares.  

Return broth mixture to a boil, then drop the dumplings one at a time into the broth. Go slowly and stir gently to make sure they do not break or stick together. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring often, for 25 minutes.

Note: If you aren't using an old bird, you do not have to cook it so long. Two hours would probably be sufficient for your typical broiler chicken. The broth will not be as flavorful, though, so you might want to supplement the broth with a chicken bouillon cube.

Nutritious Bone Broth

2 chicken carcasses - you only need the bones
Salt and pepper
2 T. apple cider vinegar
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Take the chicken carcasses and put them in the bottom of a 6 qt. slow cooker. Cover with water, add 1 t. salt and pepper to taste, and other ingredients. Cook on low for 24-48 hours. The combination of long cooking and the vinegar will help dissolve the healthy minerals from the bones. I usually cook this for 48 hours and remove the garlic cloves after the first day. Cool and freeze in freezer-safe containers.  Use in any recipe that calls for chicken broth. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Braid and Store Onions

This year's garden production has been absolutely outstanding and our crop of storage onions was no exception. Here's a quick tutorial on how to store your harvest to use for months to come.

We had onions in both a double box and a shorter box. This was taken in mid June,
 about a month prior to harvest. 

Before you go to the trouble of braiding your onions for long(er) term storage, make sure your onions are a variety that will store well. Some onions keep for up to a year, but others (think Vidalia and many other sweet onions) only last a few weeks. We grew Patterson yellow storage onions this year and with care, they should keep into next spring. You can start onions from seed, from sets, or with plants. Onions started from sets do not store as well as those grown from seed or plants, so keep that in mind as well.

You will know your onions are ready to be harvested when the tops start to flop over and go brown. As long as the weather is dry, we let them stay in the the garden for a few days beyond that and then bring them into our garage to dry out some more. 

A batch of onions newly harvested from our garden.

If you are not going to braid your onions, you might want to allow them to dry for up to three weeks. That lets the foliage dry out completely, preventing mold and letting you cut the leaves from the bulb with ease. Since we were braiding ours, we let them set for about 3 days or so, just enough to begin the drying process but not so long that the leaves would be too brittle to braid. 

The Process

Here's how to do it. It might take you a few tries to create a neat braid, but it really isn't too hard. Even sloppy braids will store well.  

Crisscross three onions together just like you were braiding hair. 

Tie the onions tightly together with a piece of twine. This string will become
 part of the braid, so make sure you cut it nice and long. 

Put the long end of the twine in with the center onion's leaves. 

Begin to braid, making sure to braid the twine along with the onion leaves.

Put another onion in the center, adding its leaves to the existing strand. 

Braid the onion in to secure it. 

Add two more onions, one on the left and one on the right. Make sure you line
up their leaves with the existing strands. You will always have three strands of leaves and
you just keep adding more onions and their leaves into the braid. Note the twine is still part of the braid.  

Keep on braiding. 

Keep adding onions and braiding until you have run out of onions. If you have lots of
onions, stop while your braid is still a manageable size/weight. Once you have added
your last onion, keep braiding the remaining leaves.

Double the leaf "handle" over.

Tie it securely using the end of the twine. 

Viola! Your braid is now ready to be hung up. When you want an onion, simply cut one from
the braid. Our first braid is on the left. You can see that it took us a
 little practice to make a nice, tight braid.  

The ideal storage conditions for onions are 32-40 degrees F and 65-70% humidity. I don't have any place like that available to me at the moment, so we simply hung them up to a rafter in our basement storage room. A root cellar would be ideal. If you keep the onions in a cool dark place, they will last up to a year.


Harvesting and Storing Onions  

Do you grow your own onions? How do you store your onions? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

In Case You Missed It...

I have a sidebar on the right side of my blog page where I keep a running tally of our harvest totals. I know many of you access this blog through a feed reader and you might have missed it, so here ya go! 

Our 2013 egg count as of August 10:

1863 chicken eggs & 1076 duck eggs

Needless to say, we have lots of extra eggs and have been selling them to help recoup our costs.  Keeping poultry is not by any means a money maker for us. We estimate that it costs us about $3.25 for each dozen eggs produced and we sell our eggs for less than that. Still, it is something.    

We've sold a few ducklings and duck hatching eggs, too. 

Garden Harvest and Preservation Totals 

Current as of August 7:

- 81 Radishes
- 192.9 oz Swiss Chard
- 40.6 oz Mesclun Salad Mix
- 31 heads of Lettuce
- 149 heads and (mostly) side shoots of Broccoli
- 2.3 oz Spinach
- 992 Strawberries.
      - I canned 18 half-pints of jam and we ate the rest.
- 61.6 oz Pod Peas. I froze most of these.
-4 bunches of Thyme
- 102.6 oz Kale
- 16 heads of Garlic
- 109.7 oz Shelling Peas
- 22.6 oz. Blueberries
- 11 Cherries
- 77.7 oz Raspberries
A bowl of blueberries and raspberries

- Nearly 27 POUNDS Blackberries, which has been processed into:
      -10.5 pints of Raspberry/Blackberry Jam
     - 11.5 pints of Blackberries, frozen
     - 6 qt. Blackberry Fruit Leather
- 68 Cucumbers:
     - 7 pints Bread and Butter Pickles
     - 2 qt. + 1 pint Sweet Icicle Pickles
     - 6 qt. Dill Pickles
     - 2 gallons Deli-Style Dill Pickles, currently fermenting
Flavoring Agents for Deli-Style Dills
- 2 pints of dried oregano leaves
- 213.2 oz Green Beans. I froze these, too.
- 7 heads of Cabbage
- 100 Carrots
-160 Beets
     -We ate some and I pickled and canned 3 pints.
- 4 Zucchini
- 2 Watermelons
- 19+ Pounds of potatoes
- 171 onions, dried and braided for storage (Expect a post on this soon.)
- 15 peppers of various kinds
- 17 tomatoes
- 2 ears of corn
- 1 cantaloupe

Harvest Basket

We still have room for improvement, but have been much encouraged by the bountiful harvest we've had this year. How is your garden growing? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: The Prepper's Cookbook

I was browsing through Amazon.com the other day and came across a new book that intrigued me -The Prepper's Cookbook: Essential Prepping Foods and Recipes to Deliciously Survive Any Disaster

Weirdly, I was contacted by the book's publisher the very next day and was offered a copy of the book to review. (Please note my review policy and disclaimer at the end of this post.)

The Prepper's Cookbookby Rockridge Press is available as either a print or an e-book. To me, a kindle is what you do to start a fire, so needless to say, I got the print edition.

This book is not exactly what I expected. I thought from the title that the book would mainly be recipes that utilize food storage; there is some of that, but not as much as you would think. The book is divided into four sections: Preparing Your Supplies and Food Stores, Water-Bath and Pressure Canning , Drying and Storing Your Food, and Quick and Easy Prepper Recipes.

The information included in the first section is very basic. You will not get a lot of guidance on what food you should be storing. The author seems focused on short-term emergencies and recommends that you keep 3 days to a week's worth of food for each family member. I did like the chapter that discussed various powerless cooking options.  The contents of the canning and dehydrating sections will be found (and in greater depth, at that) in any canning/preserving cookbook. It quickly covers canning jam, pickles, fruit, vegetables and meat, as well as drying fruit, vegetables, and jerky.

The Quick and Easy Prepper Recipes section reminds me of a Girl Scout camping cookbook. The recipes are mainly prepared in a Dutch Oven and rely on home-canned produce and meat. These recipes would work well in a short-term emergency or camping trip. The recipe for Apple Fritters perplexed me because it contained absolutely no apples; I know lots of us store dried apples, so that would be an easy ingredient to incorporate. Other than a bit of dried milk and eggs, you will not find recipes that use much of the food that you are storing if you follow the LDS recommendations (wheat, dried beans, etc.).

If you are just starting and need guidance on the first steps toward becoming prepared, I would recommend the book Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens instead. If you'd like recipes that use traditional food storage, Cookin' with Home Storage or the Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook will better serve your purpose. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving has a wider array of information on home canning and freezing and I haven't found a book on dehydration to beat Preserve It Naturally , the manual that came with my Excalibur Dehydrator.

In summary,The Preppers Cookbook is not horrible, but probably not worth purchasing unless you have to have every prepper-themed book on the market. Borrow this one from the library.

Disclaimer: I was contacted by Callisto Media and sent a free copy of The Prepper's Cookbook. As always, I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Easiest Fruit to Grow for Survival, Plus, How to Make Blackberry Fruit Leather

If I could only grow one kind of fruit or berry, I think it would have to be blackberries. They grow wild in many parts of the country, but they are also incredibly easy to grow in your yard or garden. They pretty much take care of themselves. All we do is fertilize them with organic fertilizer in the spring, spread mulch around the canes, and keep the area weeded. That's it. Complex spraying regimes are unnecessary and our bushes have always been untroubled by insects or diseases.

'Triple Crown' blackberries require a trellis while 'Chester' blackberries do not.

You can find varieties of blackberries that will grow well in USDA hardiness zones 5-10. We live in zone 5, so we bought two varieties of thornless blackberries that can withstand cold temperatures. The 'Triple Crown' variety is my favorite. It does require a trellis to support its long, floppy canes. Those long canes, however, yield huge numbers of berries, up to 30 lb PER VINE.

A 'Triple Crown' berry cluster.

After all the berries have been harvested for the year, you have to cut the spent canes back and tie up the new canes that grow to take their place. Simple. 

Blackberries! And a few raspberries. Raspberries are pretty easy to grow, too, but
they are not nearly as bountiful producers for us. 

Blackberries are also exceptionally nutritious. Each cup of berries contains 50% of your RDA of Vitamin C, plus large amounts of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

About the only drawback to blackberries is that the fruit is highly perishable. If you pick them when they are dead ripe on the vine, you really only have a few days to eat them before they are past their prime. They are easily preserved, however. 

I can blackberry jam and freeze many pints of whole berries to use in cobblers later in the year. You can also dehydrate the berries whole or try this recipe for blackberry leather (aka fruit roll-up). The leather will last up to a year when stored properly. 

How to make Blackberry Fruit Leather: 

There are only two ingredients in this recipe: 

5 lb blackberries
1 lb applesauce. I used sweetened applesauce that I canned myself. 

The first, and most difficult, task is to seed the blackberries. You can stew them and then press the softened berries through a fine-mesh sieve, but that will drive you bonkers and possibly stain your entire kitchen with blackberry juice. It is much easier to use a food mill of some kind. 

I recommend this Roma Food Strainer. It definitely will get the job done.  

My Roma Food Mill, ready for action. 

I use the berry screen attachment (sold separately) and it keeps every single one of those tiny blackberry seeds out of the juice. I usually pass the pulp through the mill three times just to make sure I get out all of the juice and then I feed the remaining pulp to my chickens.

The blackberry juice and applesauce mixture

Stir in the applesauce and you are ready to make fruit leather. (The applesauce is used to improve the texture of the final product. You can't really taste it.)

I have an Excalibur Dehydrator that I really like and recommend. If you don't have a dehydrator, you can try making this in your oven, though I haven't tried it and can't vouch for it. You would want to keep your oven at the lowest possible setting, use parchment paper instead of plastic wrap, and check on it often. 

Assuming you have a dehydrator (and if you are a gardener or prepper, you really should!), this is how to proceed:

Line the dehydrator trays with plastic wrap, taking special care to make sure the wrap is secure. I left an 1" margin on both sides of the tray so the air could circulate more easily.

Fruit on the prepared tray

Spread the fruit mixture on the plastic wrap. You are looking for a depth of approximately 1/4", but you want the edges to be thicker than the center. That will help the whole sheet of fruit dry evenly.

Loading up

This recipe filled 6 of the 9 trays of my Excalibur. I set the temperature at 135 degrees. After about 5 hours, I checked on the leather and it was making excellent progress. I turned it down 20 degrees, just to make sure that the leather remained pliable and did not get brittle. After a total of 15 hours, the leather was at the perfect consistency. It was tacky to the touch, but not wet. The time it takes your batch of leather to dry will be dependent on many factors - your dehydrator, the humidity, how thick you spread the fruit, etc.


Then all you have to do it remove the plastic wrap from the tray and roll it up like a scroll.

I cut each roll in half so they would could fit in quart canning jars for storage.

Next, I used my Food Saver's accessory attachment to vacuum seal a clean, used canning lid to the jar.

Et viola! A healthy, homemade snack that will last until next year's blackberry harvest. If I can keep it hidden from my kids, that is...