Saturday, July 15, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Life On The Homestead

July 15, 2017

The good and the bad, no one said life was easy.

The Bad :

Things change and they can change in a blink of the eye. Sure we make plans to live the best life we know how but then when life throws you a curve ball and it was totally unexpected, things change and sometimes never go back to the way they were.

That is kind of what has happened here. Things happened.

First a mild winter and a rainy Spring and Summer and that means bugs, bugs and more bugs. 

I lost crops that was going to be food for the winter.

The grass and/or weeds took over the bottom field, so much rain I could not keep up with it. 

Next the riding mower broke down and I just did like I always have, push mowed, but never made it to the bottom field so its four feet tall. I worked so hard in the garden and mowing I totally exhausted myself, so much so I stayed in bed a whole day and slept 16 hours. 

I am completely defeated, tired to the bone.

What is funny is people were shocked to hear me admit defeat, they said " I have never heard you give up on anything!" Well there is a first time for everything. I just cannot do everything with nothing. I refuse to mow anything but around the house until I get a new mower, and I plan to this week. 

The Good :

While I gave up the upkeep of the property I never gave up on providing for myself, even with cost.

I bought more peaches and I made more peach products  and I hope they will last for a good long time. 

I made a different Peach jelly/jam, sliced peaches in light syrup and a few more jars of whole pickled peaches.

And I made three pints and one half pint of tomato sauce. As I get the tomatoes I process ( home can) what we do not eat, I try not to waste any.

Another wonderful thing is the tomato seed Tony had sowed in a flower pot outside got big enough to be planted in the garden on Monday and the bell pepper plants I had sowed from seed got put into the ground on Wednesday. 

What I did was I took up the wire cages from the tomatoes that were dead or already had all the tomatoes it could bare and was no longer flowering, I mowed them down. In those spaces Tony planted more tomatoes and I replaced the wire cages for each plant.

I am beginning to get okra and I made a meal of fried okra and green tomatoes one evening. I am also getting cucumbers, not many but enough to feed us a couple daily. 

For how to home can peaches click here :  Pickled peaches and Jelly  

After thoughts :

Although I had planned things so well, that I would be off the grid with solar power, well water, a root cellar and a large greenhouse things just are not happening, I am in limbo and I cannot make these decisions at all because of the unknown, that little curve ball is still in motion. I do know one thing about me and that is without proper tools I cannot and will not be able to handle this place alone.

So I must invest to reap the benefits. We`ll see how thing are in one month and maybe then I will know what will take place and what will not. 

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Pickled Peaches and Peach Jelly

July 12, 2017

This year was not a good year for the peach crops in Alabama, most of the peach farms were low to no peaches and the lucky ones did have a hefty price tag. No matter how much this household loves peaches I will not pay that inflated price for my states peaches. So I shopped Aldi`s grocery store and got my peaches shipping in from California for the low price of .99 per pound. I home canned several wonderful peach products for us to enjoy for the next twelve months, Pickled peaches and peach jelly are two I will talk about today. 

Home canning peaches is an easy canning job. Most people scold off the peelings but I prefer to do things differently, to get the most out of the fruits, I hand peel! By hand peeling I can get one more peach product from the fruit, with no waste, plus scolding is a harder way in my opinion. 

What do I do with the peelings? I make jelly! After all there is a lot of flavor in the peels and you also have that tiny amount of peach still on the peel when you do it by hand. 

Most of the time I work with five to ten pounds of fruit at a time so not to be overwhelmed.

Peach Jelly

How And What to do :

First of all, I always wash and sterilize my jars and get the lid and rings ready before I do anything. Next I make sure I have hot water waiting in the canner, whether water bath or pressure canner.

Wash the peaches in cold water, making sure that the fuzzy is all gone. 

Next I peel the peaches, putting peels into one large cooking pot and the peach into another large vessel, bowl or cooking pot, with cold water and fruit fresh to keep them from turning brown.

When I get them all peeled I cook the peelings over medium heat, just covering them with water and stirring every now and then. When the peel looks light brown in color and the juice is a reddish color they are done. Strain off the peels and use the juice to make your jelly. 

Using the Ball liquid pectin, I just follow the directions for plum jelly. 

BUT where the recipe states it makes 5 half pints I got 9 half pints, so have your jars and lids ready, just in case.

Store jelly in a cool space til used. 

Pickled Peaches

This was always a favorite on the holiday dinner table when I was a child and the recipe was passed down to me from wonderful cooks dating back to around early 1900`s. They are tangy from the vinegar and sweet from the sugar, with that spicy taste from the cloves and pickling spices. 

I made a mixture of sliced pickled peaches and whole pickled peaches, both are delicious just the same but the sliced cooks faster.

How to home can pickle peaches :

You will need : 

Pint and/ or quart  home canning jars

Lids and rings for each jar

2 1/2 cups of white vinegar

2 1/2 cups of white sugar

3 tablespoons of pickling spices

1 tablespoon of whole cloves (I used ground cloves, this will make the liquid dark)

Peel peaches and set them aside in cold water with fruit fresh.

In a large cooking pot add the vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil.

Drain the water and fruit fresh from the peaches.

Add peaches to the hot liquid carefully and cook till a fork inserts easily into the peach. 

Remove from the heat and fill jars to 1/2 head space.

Wipe rims of jars clean and apply lids.

Process 30 minutes in a water bath. 

Store in a cool place. 

NOTE : peach colors vary, some are white and some are deep yellow. Its just different type of peaches but the taste are the same.

By Andria Perry
Photos By Andria Perry

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - How To Home Can Or Freeze Sweet Potatoes

July 9, 2017

While I would have loved to grown all of my food this year I have not, mother nature allowed to much rain and some of my crops died. Since I am okay money wise ( still working full time) I am buying a little from the farmers market and home canning or freezing, while I prefer home canning since it cost money/ power to run a deep freezer.

As I mentioned in my last article I bought a box of sweet potatoes, a 20 pound box and the freezer is low of sweet potatoes, Plus this year since I have the pressure canner I home canned more than I froze.

First I always wash and sterilize my jars and get the lid and rings ready before I do anything. Next I make sure I have hot water waiting in the pressure canner.

How to home can sweet potatoes :

Make light syrup using 2 1/4 cups sugar and 5 1/4 water = 6 1/2 cups, set aside on low heat.

Peel the sweet potatoes and rinse in cold water. Cube sweet potatoes in medium size chunks. 

In a large cooking pot fill 1/2 full with water, bring to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and bring back to a boil, boil 10 minutes. 

Remove sweet potatoes from boiling water using a slotted spoon, put directly into pint jars. Fill jars with the light syrup, wipe the rim of jars with a clean damp cloth and apply lids.

Put 7 filled pint jars into the pressure canner and process for 65 minutes.

That is how to home can sweet potatoes in light syrup.

How to freeze mashed sweet potatoes : 

I have learned that you always, I mean always cook th sweet potatoes first. Why? When you cook a potato that has not been Pre-cooked its grainy / woody texture that is not any good.

For Mashed sweet potatoes - Peel and cube sweet potatoes as small as you can cube them, put them into a large cooking pot and just barely cover them with water, boil till soft, there should not be much water left, cook till most all is gone, stirring often.

Remove from heat and pour into a stainer and back into the cooking pot. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, mix well. 

Allow to cool completely.

Make appropriate size meals and spoon into a freezer bag, label and freeze. Enjoy sweet potatoes for six months or more. 

Just thaw in the freezer bag when ready to eat, season as you like.

Freezing whole sweet potatoes :

Wash the sweet potatoes to get rid of any dirt. Bake sweet potatoes till done. 

Cool completely.

Fill freezer bags with the sweet potatoes and freeze. its that simple, when you want a baked sweet potatoes take out what you need and reseal the rest.

Sweet potato pie 

To make sweet potato pie filling just remove a quart freezer bag of mashed sweet potatoes, thaw. 

Add 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of vanilla flavor. Mix well.

Pour into a 9 inch pie crust and bake for about 45 minutes or till golden brown around the edges. 

That is how I use sweet potatoes as a stock up for the homestead.

By Andria Perry
Photos By Andria Perry

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Farmers Market And Gardening

July 6, 2017 

I have this dream of getting off the grid and growing all my own food, even hunting if need be, but more than likely I will be a 100% vegetarian. A few years passed and I learned the hard lesson that sometimes you cannot grow your own food, mother nature just will not cooperate! 

This year we are blessed with rain, sometimes to much, but with the mild Winter that central Alabama had was not good because the pests are out early and attacking everything in its path. I lost a couple fruit trees and a few crops, zucchini, yellow squash and half of the tomato plants.

With no peaches I began to call the peach farmers around Alabama only to find out they were also hit hard and had few peaches and they have a hefty price on them! 

Next I drove 45 minutes away to the Alabama farmers market to see what they had that I could use to stockpile. 

The only food I seen that I could actually stock up on at a good price was sweet potatoes, so I bought a 20 pound box for $10. When I got home I took them all out of the box to make sure none was beginning to rot and all of them were perfect and I counted 51 sweet potatoes and that averages out to .19 for each potato. 

I worked in the evenings on canning and freezing the sweet potatoes. And as always I baked a couple for dinner after smelling the sweet potatoes cooking, I could not resist.

The first night - July fourth, I home canned 7 pints and made two quarts of mashed sweet potatoes for pies.

Night Two - July fifth, I home canned 7 more pints and I baked 12 sweet potatoes and froze those.
So all together I got 14 pint jars of sweet potatoes in light syrup, 2 quarts freezer bags of mashed sweet potatoes for that fast pie and 12 baked sweet potatoes for a quick out of the freezer dinner when needed. Over the several days I had the box in the house we had 3 baked sweet potatoes one night for dinner and 2 deserts made with them.

 For a total of 33 meals with sweet potatoes. And that averages out to around .30 per cooked sweet potato serving. Not to bad in my book. 

Do you love`em or hate`em? Sweet potatoes that is.

Note : Yes I know syrup is misspelled :)

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Mowing My Way Out

June 29, 2017

On Monday came the sunshine and my push mower, around mid day I figured the grass was a little drier so I ran the extension cord down to the dead riding mower, hooked up and plugged in the charger and went to work with the push mower. 

I had no choice but to mow myself out of this house! The grass was so high at the back door you would get grass seeds on your legs when walking to the car. Next I went to each of the dogs sections of the yard, mowed the area around each, by this time the rider was fully charged and Tony went to mowing, he got quite a bit done before getting stuck in the hidden mud and water hole in the fields, the mower would not crank back up but I pulled it out of the mud.

Wednesday I got at the mowing again, this time I got the backyard and the garden. Yes! I have to mow the grass down in the garden especially since all the rain. Although I only got about an acre mowed it is better than none at all.

Since the sun had dried up some of the garden area the plants are trying to recover, I am getting the tomatoes that are prematurely ripening but that is the cause of pests. 

I have gotten a few jalapeno peppers and sweet banana pepper as well as  a couple more bell peppers. 

And it seems the cucumber plants were not bothered by the rain because they love water, I did get one cucumber and I hope all the blooms turns into cukes for me.

As for the may pops ( passion flowers) they do love this weather and are in full bloom! Watching these flowers change daily is a sight to see. Later in a couple months the seed pods ( How they got the nickname may pops) will be full and sweet, ready to eat.

The fig bush is turning into a tree and its loaded and if its Gods will I will get a nice harvest of figs this year. 

Breaking News : 

The greenhouse talk had been back into the weekly conversation around here and the new location for the greenhouse is really ideal, full sun with no trees, Plus I am sure I have materials in the bone yard, meaning it will not be a plastic greenhouse but one of wood, glass and a roof.

After I get the grass under control I will begin clearing this area and hopefully it will be easy since its mostly blackberry vines and poison ivy that was/ is going to be killed anyways.

Oh yeah the blackberries, the rain beat the rest off the vines so I am glad I picked when I did. 

How is life at your place?

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Never Prepared For Mother Nature

June 25, 2017

There needs to be a balance when raising food, a vegetable and fruit garden, on the homestead. We all are in hope of plenty of rain so the crops grow and we also hope for those dry sunny days in between. 

Hope. That is all I have when it comes to raising my own food.

Last year here in central Alabama we went into a drought in July and it lasted longer than any of them I had ever seen, months and months. My vegetable garden was hit hard and I had to watch it die, I did not get to home can or freeze anything after July.

We had a mild Winter and everything came to life earlier than usual.

The Spring was showing promise of a better year, plenty of rain and sun mix, the perfect balance. I was out picking blackberries and the tomato vines were growing and blooming, little tomatoes appearing. Healthy little squash plants, I just knew that this year would be the best year since 2015 for restocking my food supply.

A couple weeks ago we began to get rain, days and days of rain, the garden was loving this but..... the rain continued for a week solid, it rained everyday.

The grass had thrived and grown waist high, in the garden its knee high but it could not be helped, the fields are loaded with water, flooding and there is not way to mow it.

With having a mild winter comes pests, bugs that eat your plants! During a week of rain, when we got a couple dry hours I went to the veggie garden to pick the tomatoes that had turned red and I noticed the tomato vines are being eaten, they are dying from the pests! 

Besides the tomato vines being attacked the row of yellow squash is gone and I have a few zucchini plants that have survived so far. I did a dusting but in just a few hours the rain came and washed it away.

I feel like I am fighting a losing battle.

Its times like these that make me think about the future and why I am ever considering getting of the grid. But nothing is ever easy. Working for a paycheck each month is hard, if not harder than living on a homestead and growing your own food.

While listening to the predictions from the weather people I have went into survival mode. I know I have food to last a while, I know I can buy food right now but that is the point of off the grid , not spending money at the grocery store. The thing about losing power is a main concern is for me so I decided to get the food that is in the freezer processed and into jars, in jars the food will be good for years. Of coarse there are foods I wont home can like the okra and squash.

I began with the fruit because it is the easiest and less time consuming. I processed blackberries and I got 35 jars Of jelly and berries in light syrup put away. Next will be the blueberries and Mango, neither I grew but bought dirt cheap.

More about this read here : Growing fruits and veggies 

Last night I finally had the chance to use the new sauce maker I bought, with the tomatoes small and large ripening I decided to make a jar of sauce, try this contraption out. 

All the parts were stiff and it took me a few tries to get the handle to move more smoothly, I must say it reminded me of the old fashion turn handle ice cream makers, but I finally got it to doing what it is made to do, I made my first  Quart jar of tomato sauce.

I do love the fact that I can get the use from the smaller tomatoes with little loss.

This year I may, just may, have to buy from my fellow farmers and that will be okay because they will be helping me restock my pantry and I will help their back account. 

How is your garden growing this rainy year?

By Andria Perry
Photos By Andria Perry

Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Garden Producing Veggies and Fruits

June 19, 2017

Usually by mid June I am having a full counter with vegetables but this year its slower and I really have no idea, well besides I did not plant many different vegetables. 

I have gotten a few ripe tomatoes as well as bell peppers from the plants I raised all Winter ( Winter in Alabama is from January through March, those are the cold months) The cucumbers have fallen over and have began to run. I am sure I seen a bloom on the squash and the okra is growing but I know not to expect okra till more toward the end of summer.

I read up on "Ginger" and I re-potted it a few days ago, I am glad I did my homework because I was not aware it liked more shade than sun, so I will keep it in the house and see how that goes, this is the second year but this year it has many more shoots and has grown. I did not mean to but one shoot broke :(

What I have been blessed with is blackberries, I live closer to the woods than to the city and I have a long drive way onto this property and it has plenty of blackberry bushes as well as the one side that separates the land. Over they years I have picked these bushes and if I could not home can at the time I would freeze the berries and do them later. Since I am headed off the grid and I need to reduce the power bill I am trying my best to can more than freeze, and sooner than later give up the deep freezer. The past weekend I cleaned out the blackberry shelf in the deep freezer and home canned all of last years and this years blackberries, saving only a couple quarts to trade/barter with.

We enjoy a blackberry pie or cobbler from time to time or just the berries in a home made milk shake, there are so many desserts to make with blackberries and the medicinal properties are awesome, a little juice will help an upset stomach! I home canned 15 pints and 1 half pint of blackberries in light syrup. Two quarts of juice.

I also made 20 half pints of the blackberry jelly "no seed". I have found that many people love the taste of the berry but cannot digest the seeds due to health problems so I always make a couple cases of no seed jelly, I will share with the elderly in the Winter, or as a Christmas gift. 

For more on how to make blackberry jelly click here : Making Blackberry Jelly

I did trade one quart of blackberries already, for a basket of strawberries, no trade was needed but I always feel like I should also have something in season to share, plus when you trade you will know that one does not walk away empty handed. I think that is that wee bit of American Indian I have in me.

For more on how to make Strawberry pie filling click here : Easy Strawberry pie filling 

While going through the deep freezer I also noticed blueberries and mango, I think you know what I will be doing this week :) 

How is your garden growing? Any home canning or freezing going on?

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry