Thursday, June 30, 2016

Canning Tomatoes And Salsa - Getting Off The Grid

This year I am extra proud of myself and the tomatoes, that is because I sowed the seed, planted, cared for them and now I am reaping the rewards of my labor from beginning to end.


We had a nice wet spring but soon the Alabama weather, that you cannot really predict, went all dry as the turn of the first days of Summer appeared, no rain.

That means one thing, all tiny, medium and giant tomatoes get out of the growing stage and get into the ripening stage, early.


I am now doing "as I go canning sessions" so that I will have some tomatoes, or tomato products, put away for the winter and the coming year.

A couple days ago I did the first session, small but I still got three pints and one half pint of salsa. This is what I did and how I made the salsa, because I don`t need a recipe its so simple to make this by taste.

Ripe tomatoes

Green bell pepper

White onions


Ground red pepper

Canning salt

White sugar

White vinegar

I washed the tomatoes and scored them, scaled in hot water and removed the peel. Sliced the peeled tomato in half and  removed the core. 

Cleaned and peeled the green pepper and the onion, chopped in various sizes.

In a large stainless steel cooking pot, I put the tomatoes, onions and bell pepper and about two cups of water. Remember those tomatoes are full if juices.

I was out of fresh garlic so I used garlic powder, sprinkle a little over the top. Using your hand pour enough into your palm to make what looks like a tablespoon of canning salt and sugar, add to the mixture. Using a large spoon add one of white vinegar.

Let cook over medium heat for around ten minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Taste. adjust to your liking for the sweet or salty, a little at a time.

Add the ground red pepper and remember a little goes a long way and you won`t feel the heat till after a minute or so.

As for today I will make just plain jars of tomatoes, seems I use a lot of tomatoes in my way of cooking. I do intend to invest in a sauce maker for spaghetti and pizza sauces.

How about you, Do you can your own tomatoes and tomato products?

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Monday, June 27, 2016

Making Dill Pickles - Getting Off The Grid - The Homestead

I was an extreme coupon shopper and I do still have a stockpile of .....a lot of stuff, I am more interested in keeping foods for when times are hard or its cold outside than anything else. Yes I could do my homework by reading and keep up the stockpile with store bought pickles for around fifty cents a jar or less, but I want to stop relying on the grocery store and get back to making my own. I am slowly but surely getting off the grid, this weekend I picked enough cucumber to to make dill pickles. I know that I will have to buy things like oil, flour and some type of sweetener from the grocery stores but there are so many other foods we can grow and make for ourselves.

We had a wet Spring with plenty of rain and then it just cut off like turning off a water facet. I have had an excellent crop of yellow squash and zucchini, seems they beat the moderate drought that we are in at the moment and I am still getting squashes daily, so much that I have put plenty away for me and I gave away plenty and I sold plenty. Cucumbers love water and with that said the vines are dying back a month early. Actually the whole garden is in dire need of rain. I am not sure how much more these poor plants can take, what water I have gave them doesnt seem to help. Late this evening we got a small rain shower. I am beginning to get enough red tomatoes to make into something, I will do salsa first because I can do that in small batches, once again they will not grow big without rain.

This past Sunday I was off from work so I made dill pickles and more of that delicious pineapple zucchini jam, I may as well use up the zucchini while I have it.

For the dill pickles I just sliced those into circles and I used Mrs. Wages Kosher dill pickle mix, Yes I will eventually make my own brine but I misplaced my recipe, This mix is as close to my recipe as I can get. I had enough cucumbers to make five quarts, I saved the rest of the brine to use later.

I followed the same recipe for the Pineapple zucchini that I used last time and it turned out perfect. You can get that recipe here :

I also sliced both zucchini and yellow squash for the deep freezer, I vacuum sealed several packs, each for one meal.

We had cut and ate on a red watermelon for days and days, being that it would not last much longer in the fridge I decided to dehydrate the rest instead of throwing it out. I had four trays of five. I know using the electric dehydrator is not what I should do to save power but I don`t have one built outside, yet, and I do not dry as much as I used to when I first got the dehydrator. After drying I got a nice quart of crispy watermelon bits for winter, did I mention its like eating candy?!

I got as much as possible done around the homestead on my day off as I could.

On Monday :

Before work I scalded the skins off a large bowl of super ripe tomatoes and put those in the refrigerator to make something after work.

I was picking nearly a gallon of blackberries per day till I was asked by this old man could he pick some, I said "sure" and I stopped picking. He never showed up so I went back to picking them today, I got one pint picked after work before the lightening began.

A new work week with new challenges are ahead of me for this last week of June 2016. 

I can say that being on the grid and preparing to get off the grid is not as easy as some may think it is, especially when I still work a couple jobs to make money. I have plans for a greenhouse and more but finding the time is my problem, I don`t mind hard work.

I have heard my entire life, when I wanted to give up, "Hard work is the only way to have anything, Don`t wait for someone to give it to you or you`ll die and still be waiting."

As much as I work I can actually see that it is getting easier and easier. 

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting Off The Grid - Around Dark Thirty

Back in the older days there is an old saying called "it`s dark thirty," meaning that it`s dusk, not dark and not still daylight. While making the transition of getting off the grid I am known for working around dark. 

For the most part of why I like to work this time of day is because this is the time of the day when the 100°F  temps have cooled back as the sun has set. Setting out plants into the garden is one chore, while pulling back grass and weeds is another.

I tend to make sure, when there has been to rain, to get plants watered and sometimes its still not enough but when I do the watered this time of the day the plants get more than will evaporate if watered early morning. I will only water a plant in the middle of the day if its so dry that it can`t make it through that day.

For the past few days I have made it a habit to get out to the vegetable garden morning and night. I have been picking early and doing the other necessary work late. 

Living here in central Alabama we can have more than one vegetable garden before frost hits in late fall or early winter, I had sown seed for Jalapeno peppers and egg plant, I set those out in an unused space in the garden just a couple days ago and I plan to get another crop of tomatoes going, possibly more yellow squash. Since the cucumbers are in full bloom and I am getting enough to eat, but not enough to home can pickles, I have decided to do a few more plants by the deck and make a trellis for those to run up, instead of running across the ground.

Today I sow the seed for more cucumbers.

I try not to use city water to water the vegetable garden but I don`t have a choice right now because I don`t have rain barrels or a well. Seems as though we are only getting rain, in this month of June, once a week. I watered one half of the garden around dark thirty yesterday and this morning I can see the difference, it was a welcoming drink for those plants. The plants that did not receive water is the corn and okra. As much as the cucumbers needed the water I just could not reach that area with the hose, another problem because they love water but it was not my plan to have them so far from a water source, I had hired help that day.

Now how is the vegetable garden doing as far as producing food? 

I have put away enough yellow squash and zucchini for myself for the winter by freezing and home canning.

I have been able to sell enough yellow squash and zucchini to make my money back for the seeds for the entire garden and I still have seed, and to pay for the dirt I bought to sow some of those seeds inside, Plus more and I still have orders to fill next week.

I have all sizes of red and green tomatoes that we are eating and not buying, however, I am waiting for a mass amount to be red so that I can home can those, make salsa for sure. People are asking to buy tomatoes but I am not sure I will have enough to sell.

I have cucumbers so that is another favorite I am not longer buying for daily eating.

I have green bell peppers and sweet banana peppers, enough to rat and to begin to put up  for later, canning.

I am beginning to get a small amount of okra but I am not sure this crop will make it, its poorly looking and very short. I know it was not planted under a good sign. I make replant the okra.

The deer ate most of the green beans but I still may get a few more to make a mess for dinner, the plants they skipped.

The peaches? The trees are full but because the lack of water this month they are small and I might just have to have a stock of home canned pickled peaches this year, last year the peaches were huge.

The Muscadines are filling up regardless of the rain situation, hopefully I will have those to harvest in August.

How about you? what is growing in your garden and how are you putting it away for  the winter?

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Before Noon - The Homestead

Besides saving money by getting off the grid with solar power ( has yet to come, but will sooner than later) I will also utilize the land I am living on, there are so many little things that people do not realize that is free or close to free. Today I had to work before noon, on what I will call my home, the homestead. I am not really a morning person but I still have to work out in the world and today I am called for duty in the afternoon/ evening hours, meaning what I usually do in the evening I bumped up to the morning hours.

After I turned on the coffee maker I drained and rinsed the pinto beans I had soaking over night in water. I put them on to cook. I have been wanting chili and we all know that the store bought canned chili is full of fats and unwanted additives so I am making my own and home canning it. 

Since the sun if free I washed a large load of laundry and hung those out by nine am.

So while the beans are cooking and the laundry is being sun dried I went to pick blackberries, a few days ago a man asked if he could pick some and I said yes and I told him I would not pick them for a couple days, on day three he has not shown up so I am picking. After 45 minutes I came back inside with three quarts of blackberries.

I cut up onions and bell pepper and added that to my chili with sliced mushrooms and all the spices. I added pre cooked ground turkey, covered and allowed to cook more.

I went out to the garden and I began to pick the daily vegetables. After another 45 minutes I headed back inside with a bucket filled with zucchini and yellow squash, red and turning red tomatoes. I spent $30 on seed this year, I used half and I still have half of those seed. I have sold enough vegetables to get that money back already and its just June. 

The chili is now done so I fill my pint jars and I put those into the pressure canner, I wash the berries and put those away in ziploc bags for now in the freezer. And I wash all my dirty dishes up.

I put on dinner because it will be an early dinner since I wont be at home at that time of the evening. I have to feed two people. Steak with home fries and sliced cucumber and tomatoes. (yes I am having meat today, I do on occasion have a little beef.)

I went out to the clothes line and I folded the sun dried laundry and put it into the laundry basket. 

I went out to the back yard and fed and watered the dogs and petting them.

I sat down and made a few calls, I need to sell more squash. I got two replies " come next Tuesday."  I get to eat now.

The canner is cooling down as I eat lunch/ dinner. 

Now I rest a few minutes, take a quick shower, check the oil in my car ( yes my dad taught me how many moons ago) and head off to work.

How was your morning?

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry - Todays garden pickin`s! 6-23-16

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Getting Off The Grid - Cutting Power Usage

When you are trying your best to get off the grid you have to make adjustments and that means cutting power usage, everyday especially when your home is total electric. After a month of trying to cut back in several ways I finally got the much awaited power bill from my local power company.

Last month, May, I decided to cut back in small ways because I knew I would use more air conditioning in the month of June, especially while taking care of a cancer patient at home after surgery and he is not to get hot and sweat for a solid week.

What small changes did I make? 

I did get my long over due clothesline at this place last month, May, and I have hung out all the laundry except a few loads. When I think back to all the places I have lived, this was the first not to have a clothesline. Now it does and always will as far as I am concerned.

I had done my homework and read over and over about how small appliances suck power even when they are not in use just by being plugged in, so every time I am not using the computer and printer I made sure to unplug it. Now its like an automatic movement. Another is the microwave. I mean you can see my plug in on the counter wall so its not a hard thing to do. Now this is also an automatic movement, use and unplug.

Although I am a bath loving person I cut the baths in half and went for the showers, especially in the morning before a meeting but I do need a soaking in hot water after a hard days work in the garden to relieve muscle pain and to prevent a trip to the doctor. By doing this I am cutting back on hot water usage. I do have a off/on switch for the hot water tank, the previous owners already had this in place.

Before I get into numbers I will say that the month of May is by far the best month ever because we don`t have to have much of either, heat not a/c, so its my lowest bill till the fall. Out in the country its called poor mans weather because he does not need to pay for either heat nor air.

My power bill was $134.31 in May for 1,051 kWh of power,average daily kWh is 36 per day and that covers from mid April to mid May, and that price is before I began to "unplug" and save more.

Now, how much Power did I use from mid May to mid June? 

I used 1,205 kWh, average daily kWh is 40 per day.

That means only a $25.71 increase in my power bill with air conditioning. 

So this month I owe only $160.02 and yes I am proud of that amount because wait till I tell you about February. 

To keep warm and using the clothes dryer my usage in February was :

2,750 kWh for one month!  $310.00 for those 30 days.

I now have to watch how much power I am using and not wasting because I do want that number to keep falling each month. Next project to help the numbers? Cutting off one of the deep freezers, after all I am canning more and more foods.


How much power did you use last month? Can you find small ways to cut your power bill?

By Andria Perry
Photo by Andria Perry

Monday, June 20, 2016

Deer Eats Garden - Getting Off The Grid

Getting off the grid means dealing with nature and nature has plenty of animals in it, when you hear "deer eats garden" that is a headline no gardener wants to hear, we actually cringe because all the hard work to provide for yourself and your family just went back into the woods with a full tummy.

This will be the first time I had my green beans attacked by deer. I should have known when I seen this deer in my back field that she would come on in, deer do eat gardens!
This year I planted or had help planting more than usual because I am canning my food for Winter and longer. I had two very long rows of  bush green beans, all was blooming so I knew that I would have many to eat and home can.

When I went out yesterday to pick the vegetables and work in the garden I was so disappointed that my green beans had been eaten by deer, some plants they pulled up. I still went through and found enough for one meal. I had the green beans for breakfast today, I added one large potato cut into blocks, A dab of butter and salt, they were awesome! I still see a few blooms on the left over stems, I may get a few more.

I think I have created two little monsters! While picking blackberries I always had a dog under foot, so I stuck a blackberry in the Golden`s mouth and he loved them so he will pick his own now while I pick mine, Well, I rescued another dog, He is a beagle, and a few days ago I had him with me on a leash and I stick one in his mouth so he would know what I was doing and to stop pulling me. I think I created a little monster! He now gets to this area, and this area only and begins to take red and black berries :) 

Last year after one of the dogs got hit by a car I fenced in the backyard and I try to walk daily and I take the dogs with me, the golden minds and will come to me when I call him, the Beagle not so much. He is getting better because he knows he is my dog now and that I will take care and love him, but its the Beagles nature to take off on a scent of a rabbit and there are many of those around.

Have you ever had deer to eat your garden?

By Andria Perry
Photo By Andria Perry

Sunday, June 19, 2016

How To Make Black Berry Jam And Jelly

I pick my own berries, if you have ever picked your own black berries you`ll know that not one berry do you want to spoil! I am blessed with so many wild black berry patches here in central Alabama, they grow wild just about everywhere. I made black berry jam and black berry jelly.

You can collect the berries a little at a time till you have enough to make jam or jelly, just rinse them well and put them into the freezer till you have what you need.


First, regardless if you buy the black berries or you pick your own, you want ripe berries but not mushy. Its okay to have a few under ripe berries also.

 I rinse my berries many times to make sure there are not any bugs on them and I allow them to air dry in the strainer while I prepare the canning jars and lids.

For Black Berry Jam, You`ll need  : 

9 cups of black berries 

6 Cups of white sugar

Put black berries a large bowl and crush slightly with a potato masher.

Measure nine cups and put them into a large cooking pot, the one you intend on making the jam in, and add the sugar. Mix well.

Over medium heat cook the mixture till boiling, stirring often so not to stick and burn.

When the black berries began to get thick, remove from heat and ladle into the prepared jars leaving 1/2 headspace. 

Clean the rim of the jars with a clean damp cloth. Apply the lids and bands.

In a water bath, process for 15 minutes. Let stand 5 more minutes before removing them from the water bath. 

Makes 6 half pint jars. 

For Black Berry Jelly, You`ll need  : 

4 cup of black Berry juice

7 1/2 cups of white sugar

1 Box of sure-gel fruit pectin

Prepare your jars and lids.

To make the juice after cleaning your berries with cold water, put a layer in a large cooking pot and mash with a potato masher, add another layer and do the same till you have done all the black berries. Add 1/2 cup of water and cook 10 minutes. Strain using cheese cloth, jelly bag or fine mesh strainer. Allow to cool. After cooling and allowing any sediment to go to the bottom, ladle the correct amount of juice off the top trying not to disturb the bottom sediment.

Put the juice and sugar in a large cooking pot and mixing till the sugar dissolves.

Bring mixture to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Add sure -gel and boil hard for one minute stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and skim off any foam on top.

Ladle hot jelly into jars leaving 1/4 head space. Clean rim of jars and apply the lids and bands. 

In a water bath canner process for 10 minutes covered , uncover and let stand for 5 minutes before removing from canner.

Makes 8 half pints.

That is how I make blackberries jam and jelly.

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry