Springing

It’s been a month since I posted an update, and I’m honestly not sure where to start.

Family life – My son (15 years old) with the torn ACL has surgery on Friday to reconstruct it. I’m going to be very glad to be on the other side of surgery so we can start working on recovery. He also starts Driver’s Ed next week (with his twin brother). I’m not ready to have twin teen drivers in the house. I’m scared to see what my insurance will jump to once they get their licenses.

Pet life – Samson, our Great Pyrenees, was neutered last week. We also adopted an indoor kitty, Bella. Bella had been in the shelter for 6 weeks before she picked us. The first night here, she killed two mice. She is already worth her weight in gold. She going to get spayed next week.

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Garden Life – We fenced our garden. I planted seeds in half of it so far, but a few days after I planted seeds, we ended up with 1.5″ of rain and I’m afraid that my seeds might have rotted. I’m going to replant everything this weekend if I don’t see more things popping up. We are cheating a little. We haven’t been able to property work the soil, so after we plant seeds, we are covering the seeds with compost. We are also spraying a compost tea once a week. I hope that it helps our yields this first year.

The orchard is doing well, all of the trees we planted last fall have new growth on them. We also planted 10 grape vines and 12 berry bushes. I have plenty of room to plant more, but that should get us started.

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Livestock Life – We lost a chicken. I went out in the morning to do our animal chores and it was just.. dead. That brings our chicken count down to 23 hens and 1 rooster. When Samson was getting neutered, we had a feral dog try to attack a hen. The rooster step in front of the hen, and the dog got the rooster. The Rooster lived, but he is now missing all of his tail feathers. The cat thinks they make great kitty toys.

We still haven’t had any baby rabbits this year. I’m giving our buck two more months, but we might have to replace him. I really want the rabbits to work out. Not only do they grow fast and eat very little, but they also provide excellent meat and soft pelts.

We ordered our package bees and they should be here in two weeks. Dh wants to take over the beekeeping. He picked a spot for the hives on the other side of the property. (The bees are going to be more than 1/4 of a mile from the house.) It’s nice and shady there, and they will have great access to water.

My composting worms all died. It got too cold for them this winter. I’m on the fence about ordering more.

Kitchen Life – We are getting 14-18 eggs a day. I wish I could say that was plenty and we have a kitchen full of eggs, but fresh eggs are an item that always seems to have demand exceed supply. I’m going to have to start hoarding them so I can make and freeze egg noodles to have when production drops back down.

I bought 125lbs of tomatoes and turned them into 92 pints of Salsa. Last time I made this much salsa, it lasted us about 4 months. I hope it lasts until we can start canning our own tomatoes.

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Homesteading Life – The kids went through their closets and brought out all of the clothes that are too small. I took out all of the holy jeans and I’m using them to make a scrap rag quilt. It’s my first quilting project, so I’m antsy to get it finished. I love it so far. It’s nice and warm. I’m backing it with a worn out flannel sheet.

My Hubby ended up hiring a guy with a backhoe to dig out the space we are using for a storm shelter/root cellar. After the backhoe made it down about 10 feet, it ended up hitting something that made the hole fill with water. We’ve since figured out that it was a large trash pile that had filled with rainwater run off. Craziness. Apparently, at some point, someone dug a giant hole and buried a small house here. There are layers of wood and metal about 8 feet under the earth. Out of 71 acres, what are the odds that that we pick that exact spot to dig a hole? I wish I knew more about the history of this property.

We’ve been doing some projects with all of the fill dirt that we have. Some of it is going to bulk up our shooting/archery range. We are using some of it for grading around the house. I’d also like to use some of it to create a cobb oven and cobb seating area.

Too many projects and not enough time.

Salsaness

This past weekend, my mom and dad came out to visit. It’s always nice to have them spend time with us. My mom brought out a bountiful basket for me, which was fantastic. I didn’t get a picture of it, but it had asparagus and coconut in it. Yummy. She also picked up 125lbs of Roma tomatoes from Bountiful Baskets.

Needless to say, we spent the day making salsa. I made 13 quarts of freezer salsa for my little one. He has a jalapeno allergy, so he gets a special salsa made with green chili. After that, we made another 32 quarts of regular salsa. I went to bed ridiculously tired on Saturday night, then woke up an hour later in a panic when I remembered that salsa is not supposed to be canned in quart jars. Eeep!

 

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I put everything in the fridge and reprocessed it all on Sunday in pint jars. That was not an experience I want to repeat. At least we’ve got enough salsa to last us a few m0nths.

Does anyone know how it’s possible that I only got 9 pints out of each 5 quarts of salsa I reprocessed? The math geek in me is still perplexed over that one. I wish I could blame the kids, but I kicked them all out of the kitchen that day.

We should (knock on wood) have 3 litters of baby rabbits tomorrow. We haven’t had baby rabbits since Spring, so it will be nice to have little ones hopping around again. I hope the young rabbits do well with their first litters.

Dehydrating and Canning

Let me start with the biggest news first – – We have decided to put the house on the market this spring!  Houses in our area are taking a long time to sell, so we might not be able to move for another year or so – but every step forward is a step in the right direction. I’ve got a laundry list of things to do to get the house cleaned and ready for the realtor in a couple of months. I also have been preserving like crazy. I love getting Bountiful Baskets every week, but sometimes we just don’t get a chance to eat it all. My mom went out of town last week, and before she left, she brought over her excess produce as well. ACK!  My dehydrator has been running for the last few days. Here is one batch of fruit that I was drying earlier in the week. The apples and bananas go quickly around here, but I’ve still got almost all of the pineapple and strawberries ready to be snacked on. These make wonderful snacks for the kidlets.

 

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See the few sacks of potatoes in the background of that picture? I used my pressure canner and turned them into 5 quarts of canned potatoes.  I cheated and just cut the skins off instead of peeling them all. These will be great to use in soups or for instant mashed potatoes. All I need to do is open them and drain them before I use them. It’s my suburban homestead fast food.

 

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I also canned some salsa this week. Out of all of these, we only have 7 left. We’ve gone through 5 pints in 4 days. Wowzers. My kids really, really love salsa. I think my 3 year old has a jalapeno allergy, so some of these are made especially for him. He has eaten 2 pints by himself in the last few days. I can’t wait for tomatoes fresh from my garden this summer! I’m going to have to can salsa by the quart if I’m going to have any chance of it lasting us through the winter months next year. 2 quarts a week should be plenty. I’m going to need to buy more canning jars….

 

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I’m doing pretty well on my goal of canning more this year. It was unrealistic to think that I can preserve all of our fruits and veggies for the year, but I’m doing my best and I’m loving the results so far. It’s also making me realize just how much I will need to grow if I’m going to grow all of our veggies for the year. My 450 sq foot garden is no where near big enough. After we move, I’m going to have to double it, double it again, then triple it, then double it again…. *Deep breath*  I need to remember to take babysteps. This is not an overnight process. It takes cultivating and practice. We will get there at some point though. And, I’m looking forward to it.

 

Bountiful Baskets 1/19/2013

Here is my bountiful basket order for December 19, 2013! As usual, we ordered 2 baskets again.

 

Here is what was included in the fruit portion of our 2 baskets. There are 2 containers of strawberries, 3 lemons, 8 granny smith apples, 8 navel oranges, 2 pineapples, and 16 bananas. I’m very glad that there was no grapefruit this week – I’m not a big grapefruit fan, and I’ve had about all I can handle over the last few weeks. I’m on the fence about the pineapple. I was getting sick of it last month, but I’m excited to try to dehydrate it this week. It should be an interesting experiment.

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Here is the veggie portion of our two baskets. There were some interesting choices in it this week. There were 2 five pound bags of potatoes, 6 avacados, 6 onions, about 20 red peppers, and 2 bunches of salad savoy. The salad savoy is interesting. One of them is green and white and the other is purple and green. They both taste the same, sort of like cabbage. You can add the greens as is, or you can cook them – they are very versatile.

 

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Here is a picture of my two baskets together.  Some of the avacados were a little squishy, but I’m making guac later and I doubt anyone will even notice….

 

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Bountiful Baskets also had juice packs again this week. I finished the two from last week, so I bought two more this week. It’s been nice to have yummy green juices every day. I feel a little spoiled, especially since it’s still technically the middle of winter. Yum. I bought two juice pack add ons, but I only took a picture of one of them. They had the same ingredients in them and I didn’t want to be redundant. In each pack, there was 1 english cucumber, 1 bunch celery, 4 beets with beet greens, 1 bag of carrots, 6 key lines, 1 bunch parsley, 1 lemon, 1 piece ginger, and 5 apples. I had 1 bad apple in each bag – they went to the compost before I took this picture. Everything else seemed great – there was a little mud in each pack, so it took a couple of minutes to get everything cleaned off. Not a big deal, but it is a good reminder to me that I have to keep cleaning  everything the day I bring it home.

 

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On Friday, my Mom/canning partner came over and we canned apples! We started with 40lbs of fuji apples and ended up with lots of yummy apple slices. I hate wasting the cores and peels, so I put everything that was leftover in my juicer. We ended up with enough juice to also make some apple jelly.  I wish I had my juicer the last time we canned apples, the apple jelly is amazing. Here is the result of our labor —  12 quarts and 2 pints of apple rings in a light syrup and 5 pints of apple jelly. We also made about 2 quarts worth of dehydrated apples (not shown). Doesn’t the apple jelly look delicious?

 

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Canning Ham

Quite a few stores are clearing out their ham supplies this week. A few days ago, I happened upon a deal that was too good to pass up. I ended up buying 4 fully cooked holiday hams at a great price.

One of them ended up in my freezer, and the other 3 ended up in my pressure canner. From those 3 hams, I ended up with 19 pints of canned ham (not all of them were pictured here).

 

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Tools Needed –

Good Knife

Pressure Canner

Canning Jars. Lids, and Screw Bands

Ham

Hot water

 

Prep Time –

2 hours

 

Time from start to finish –

3-6 hours (depending on how many batches you need to do to get them all canned)

 

I have to add a little disclaimer here – I’m not a canning expert. I only started canning last year. Please refer to canning recipe books if you have any questions. The directions for this canned ham were in the recipe booklet that came with my canner. These instructions are just based on my experience of trying this out a few days ago. All of my jars sealed, and the ham from the jar we opened tastes great. I’m sure there are better, easier, and smarter ways to can ham; but this is how I did it and it worked well for me –

I washed and sterilized 20 pint sized canning jars. I also sterilized lids, screw bands, and all of the equpiment I was going to use.

I put 3 quarts of water in my pressure canner and put it on the stove, but didn’t start the stove.

I filled my (clean) teapot with water and let it start to boil.

I started with 3 fully cooked bone in hams that were about 7 lbs each. I cut up the hams into pieces, pulling it from the bone and taking off as much far as I could. This was the longest part of this entire process. It took me an hour to cut up all of the meat. I tried to cut the pieces very evenly, so they would heat at the same time in the jars. You could leave the fat on the meat, it might give it a richer flavor, but I personally don’t like the look of rings of fat floating around on top of my canned meat.

I filled up my pint jars with the cubed ham, being careful not to pack them too tightly, and leaving an inch headspace at the top of the jar.

After the ham was in the jars, I filled up the jars with boiling water from my teapot – still leaving an inch of headspace.

At this point, you could add a 1/2 tsp or tsp of canning salt to your ham; but I opted not too. I would suggest using canning salt instead of table salt if you add anything, since table salt could make the liquid turn cloudy.

After the jars are filled with ham and water, wipe the rims with a towel dipped in vinegar. This will get any excess grease off of the rims, helping to ensure a good seal. Then just add your lids, and screw bands.

I put them in my pressure canner and processed them at 11psi for 75 minutes.  Here is the chart for pressure canning meats if you are at a different altitude than me.  If you decided to use quarts instead of pints, you would need to process them for 90 minutes. Don’t forget – the time doesn’t start until the right PSI is reached.

 

ALTITUDE DIAL GAUGE CANNER           Pints and Quarts WEIGHTED GAUGE CANNER           Pints and Quarts
          1,001 – 2,000 ft.                   11 lbs.                   15 lbs.        
          2,001 – 4,000 ft.                   12 lbs.                   15 lbs.        
          4,001 – 6,000 ft.                   13 lbs.                   15 lbs.        
          6,001 – 8,000 ft.                   14 lbs.                   15 lbs.

 

All in all – it was very easy. The hardest part was cutting up the ham. I did have to sit in the ktichen and keep a close eye on the pressure canner, but it gave me a good chance to clean the kitchen, bake bread, and read a few chapters of my book. Now I have 19 pints of ham in the pantry. I can add ham to scrambled eggs, hash browns, casseroles, soups, salads, beans, or anything else I can think of. After accounting for the cost of the lids, each pint cost me $0.78. Canned ham at my local grocery store is $3.82 for a pint. I saved $57.76. Not too bad for a few hours worth of work.

 

Jam and Ham

Yesterday, I was out and about with my Mom. We happened to find a great deal on blueberries, blackberries, and cooked ham. Today, my Mom came over and we spent most of the day in the kitchen. We ended up canning 18 half pints of blackberry jam, 6 pints of blackberry jam, 10 half pints of blueberry jam, 8 pints of light sugar blueberry jam, and 19 pints of canned ham. We also dehydrated 12 pints of blueberries (3 pints were used to make 2 dozen blueberry pancake muffins for breakfast for the next couple of days), and prepped 6 freezer bags full of washed fruit to snack on or juice throughout the next few days. Some people think that canned meat looks odd, but I love the look of home canned foods. You can almost see the love that went into every jar.

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There are a few things missing from those pictures, but it gives you an idea of how much we canned. I take the bands off of the jars once the lids seal, that is why there is a pile of them in the right hand corner of the second picture.

We did 6 batches in the water bath canner and 2 batches in the pressure canner. This was my first time using my pressure canner. I was very nervous to can meat, but it was much easier than I was expecting.

My mom took home an assortment of goodies, and she has an open invitation to “shop” my pantry whenever she wants. I just need to find room in my pantry to fit everything. But not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to make a cup of hot tea and finish my library book. My feet hurt. My back hurts. My fingers are stained purple. But, I don’t even care. It was so worth it.