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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to Make Strawberry Pie Filling - Getting Off The Grid



In Spring and early Summer we get tons of strawberries and usually for a good price or sometimes a friend sharing, some people grow their own but I am not good with strawberries so I will buy them or trade for them. This Spring I have been bless with delicious sweet strawberries and I did not just want to make jam, I want other strawberry products. So I made a batch of strawberry pie filling and more!

When making strawberry pie filling you will need to buy a product called " Clear Jel" its specially made to home can pie filling, regular corn starch for some reason will separate when it home canned. I invested $10 in a huge jar ( Found on Amazon) and I am sure it will last me for a long time because I used around 1/2 cup for the batch of strawberry pie filling I made and that was all.



You`ll Need :

3 1/2 cups of ripe strawberries

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of Clear Jel

3 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice

1 cup of water

Pint and/or half pint canning jars


Now lets get started!



First in home canning always is getting your jars washed and cleaned, no matter if they are new or not wash them with hot soapy water and sterilize them, kills all bacteria! I also wash my lids and rings but I do not sterilize them.



Have ripe strawberries washed with green caps removed and  remove the stems. Set aside.

Next : You need to blanch the strawberries for one minute in boiling water, so put on around a gallon of water to boil and have an empty pot that has a lid setting near by. 

Put the strawberries in the boiling water, allow to return to a boil and boil 1 minute. Remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon into the empty pot, cover with lid keeping the berries hot.

"Why Blanch? What is blanching? Blanching means heating the fruit at high temperature for a brief time to stop the enzymes that can cause the flavor to degrade during storage."

Next step : to make the Jel :

In a large cooking pot put 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of Clear Jel, Add one cup of water and stir over medium high heat till thicken, add 3 and 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice and stir ti mixed in. 

Note: This will become very thick fast, removed from heat is need be while adding the lemon juice.

Stir in the strawberries, and its okay of a little strawberry juice comes in with the berries.

Dip into the pint canning jars and put lids on.

Process in a hot water bath for 30 minutes.

Remove onto a towel and allow to cool, each jar should seal as it cools down, you`ll hear a pop noise.

And that is how I made my Strawberry pie filling.



My tips for things to go smoothly :


1 - have the jars on a space of the counter that is not in the way of the stove and sink because this is the last step before canning.

2 - Have all the fruit cleaned and ready to process, set the sugar, clear jel and lemon juice together next to the stove with that cooking pot.

3- Have all the pots and spoons needed laid out, one for boiling water, one for keeping them berries hot and one for making the jel.

4 - Have the water in the hot bath canner already hot so that the hot filled jars of fruit wont bust when put into cold water, plus it keeps the temp up and the boiling will begin faster.

I hope these tips help make canning strawberry pie filling easier for you.

Another Strawberry Product! 



With the berries that were over ripe I made something else, I took those berries and I chopped them and put them into a pint jar, covered them with vodka and set this in a cool dark closet. I shake the jar everyday or every other day, In a few weeks I will strain and have a nice bottle of Strawberry extract! No waste. 



By Andria Perry 
Photos By Andria Perry



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - Fried Green Tomatoes


The tomatoes, I have been watching them carefully, waiting and waiting for them to turn red but its taking them to long!

So, while I mowed the grass for days and days, looking at the tomatoes, I decided not to wait, I looked for the pretty green tomatoes that were the perfect size to fry, Yes fried green tomatoes! And I took four and that was plenty for the two of us.



I washed them in cold water and a little soap to make sure they are clean.



Next I sliced them around 1/4 inch thick, you don`t want them to thin they will fry hard, to thick and they will be mushy.



No need for dipping them in this and that, the poor mans way taste just as good, if not better, and that is just rolled in flour.

I heated the skillet with enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom and I carefully placed the green tomato slices in the hot grease. 



When I seen the edges turning light brown I flipped them, and repeated the process till I fried all of the sliced green tomatoes.


When you remove them from the skillet allow them to drain on paper towels a couple minutes before serving hot. Sprinkle with salt.

This is an ANY time of the year favorite. What I will do before the tomato season ends is I will slice green tomatoes and put them in the vacuum seal bags and freeze them, no matter what time of the year you can enjoy fried green tomatoes!

I heard of a new sandwich idea but have yet to try and that is the fried green tomato BLT. 

You use the white bread, the mayo, the lettuce and the bacon but you top with friend green tomatoes instead of a ripe red tomato, who knows I may love this and I may not but its worth a try. What do you think? Would you try this new sandwich?

You might also like : cooking dandelion greens 

By Andria Perry
Photo By Andria Perry


Friday, June 9, 2017

Getting Off The Grid - When The Rain Stopped




A week of rain is of coarse needed but not so good for the homesteader in the Springtime of the year when not only are the vegetables growing in the garden but the grass as well.

Yesterday I was one of the first days without rain so later in the day I pulled out the push mower and got busy in the garden, YES the garden, I will not have help this year tilling so I am mowing around the plants, I did this several years ago and I did okay with that small garden and I pray this year it will be the same. I got all the rows mowed and around each plant as close as possible. 




The tomato plants are loaded with green tomatoes and the bell Pepper plants are showing me all their babies. The Jalapeno`s and sweet banana peppers are all in full bloom. The squash are looking better as well as the cucumbers, the okra is a slow grower so not much on those at the moment.



Seems the black berries are just sitting waiting for more sun, I have only been able to pick one quart so far this season, not a good year for these berries so far. 





The perennial flowers are in full bloom, The annuals, the sun flowers and Marigolds are thriving And I will separate them in a few days. 

But.........

With all the rain water sits in small natural pot holes and this raises mosquitoes and that makes another problem for being out in the garden and just the general area, getting bitten is not good with some many diseases carried by mosquitoes.

As much as I hate to I will have to use a store bought spray once again to control the mosquitoes but only around the wooded areas of the property, not near my food.  I also notified the city and they agreed to come out and spray, I am thinking they kept their word because I have noticed less mosquitoes.

Now....

For me its day three of push mowing the grass, the rider mower just wont run and I cannot wait for it to be fixed, with rain starting again next Monday I need to get as much as I can mowed. 

Day 1 - I mowed around the house doors, so to see how to get in and out safely and I mowed around all the vegetable plants. Worked two hours.

Day 2-  I mowed the front yard and half the drive way, this took three hours

Day 3 - I am about to head out the door, I plan on mowing for two hours of I feel like it three.

I am sure I will stop and pick blackberries if I see them :)

That is what is going on around the homestead, What is happening around your place?

You might also like : What is growing on the homestead 

By Andria Perry
Photos by Andria Perry

Saturday, June 3, 2017

How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken - Getting Off The Grid



    I am thinking about raising chickens, making this homestead a farming homestead and not just vegetables, nuts and fruits. If I get chickens I will have the eggs, the chickens for extra food and the poop for fertilizer.
    After I overheard a conversation that a couple of young ladies at the grocery store were having about buying a whole chicken, one said " cook it whole" and the other one said " I wish I knew how to cut it up, its so cheap but I don`t so I will buy this pack that is already cut " I decided to share how to cut up a whole chicken. Its not hard at all and will save you money because you can make many meals with one chicken.The knowledge of cutting up a whole chicken will come in handy if you raise your own food.
    After the two moved along I walked up and bought one of those chickens and they were very cheap! at .85 per pound, since I do not have chickens, yet.
    After removing the packaging and rinsing the whole chicken in cold water and removing the gizzard, heart and neck bone I began to cut it in sections. with a very sharp knife, I do have a favorite for this job.
    First I lay the chicken breast side up and I cut the skin holding the thighs into place, I bend the thigh back until I hear the joint pop and break, I make my cut there and the thigh comes off easy. Then I feel for the joint that holds the drumstick to the thigh and I make my cut there and pop that apart and cut it the rest of the way.
    I do the same to each wing as the thigh.
    Now you have the breast and the back bone.
    Carefully run the sharp knife in between the back and breast on each side, cutting the small bones.
    To remove the breast from the bone feel for the bone in the middle and began cutting there, staying close as possible, let the knife guide you down beside the bone and then underneath and out at the bottom while holding the breast with the other hand.
    Now, I have a cut up chicken and four or more meals. I freeze each meal size portion of chicken in a separate zip lock freezer bag.
    How Do I make dinners from this?
    I do not throw anything away, everything, even the bones will be used.
    Meal One : One breast is made into chicken nuggets but cutting the breast in long strips and then into cubes or "nuggets." I mix up flour and my spices, I wet the nuggets and drag them into the flour mixture and drop into hot grease and fry till light brown, drain on a paper towel. I pair this with a baked potato and sweet peas.
    Meal two : I do the other breast as I did for the nuggets but I refrigerate overnight and I make a huge vegetable filled salad for dinner, I chop the cold fried nuggets into smaller pieces. I will toss the chicken into sweet and sour sauce and dress the salad with ginger sesame dressing , b-b-q sauce needs no other sauce or Texas Pete`s hot sauce and dress the salad with ranch dressing, I have salad with chicken.
    Meal three - B-B-Q chicken thighs and drumsticks- Grill time! Toss them on the grill and cook till done, using your favorite b-b-q sauce. Serve with grilled corn and baked beans.
    Meal four : Remember I said " throw nothing away?" You can freeze the bones and skins to do this at a later day. Boil the back bone of the chicken and the breast bone that still has a small amount of chicken attached and skin for a couple of hours in water. Remove the chicken from the broth and allow to cool, remove the chicken from the bones. I got 2 cups of chicken and four cups of broth. Put this in the refrigerator over night. Remove the yellow fat from the top of the cold broth ( note: you can save an use this fat for frying) Chop one onion, a couple ribs of celery, carrots and a few potatoes cook in the chicken broth, add garlic and parsley. Salt to your taste. Add a cup of cooked pasta and you have chicken noodle soup!
    BUT do not forget you have all those soft chicken bones and skins, the dogs get a treat! Since the bones are so soft they are safe for the dogs.
    Now that is how to cut and use a whole chicken.
    By Andria Perry
    Photos by Andria Perry

    Friday, June 2, 2017

    How To Make Your Own Spearmint Extract - Getting Off The Grid



    There are always a few things that you can learn to do at home to use up different foods or fresh grown herbs so they do not go to waste, one is make extracts. Its really easy!

    I bake a lot around the holidays and to go and buy each bottle of extract/ flavoring I want can be expensive so why not save that money for a gift or something else and make your own all through the year, for way, way less than you pay at the grocery store.

    Today I began my first pint jar of extract and it was so simple that I am sure to make all different flavors and the cost is minimal.


    Spearmint extract

    You`ll Need :

    1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of fresh mint

    Vodka - 80 proof - Enough to cover the mint

    1 - Pint Mason jar

    Instructions :

    Remove spearmint leaves from the stems and rinse in cool water, pat dry.


    Chop up the mint leaves and pack them into a pint mason jar, chopping and smashing the leaves makes the oils release.



    Cover with vodka, it takes about 1 1/2 cups to cover the leaves.

    Apply lid and shake. 

    Put in a dark cool place for 6 -8 weeks.

    Strain the leaves and put into cute tiny jars or leave in the pint Mason jar.



    Since I was on a roll I also made Banana Extract, not knowing what the turn out would be I just made a small jar, a 1/2 pint jar so not to waste if it does not turn out good.

    Banana Extract 

    You`ll need :

    1-  ripe banana 

    1 cup vodka

    Instructions :

    Peel and slice one banana and place into the 1/2 pint mason jar

    Cover with the vodka. 

    Apply lid and shake.

    Put in a dark cool place for 1 week, strain banana. 


    How To Use Extracts

    Most people will be thinking why so much Mint extract and what do you use Banana extract for?

    I will use the mint extract for cookies and to make chocolate chop mint ice cream, for starters.

    As far as the banana extract it will make your banana bread have a richer flavor and talk about an out of this world banana pudding?!



    How much Does all this cost?

    I bought the mint plant years and years ago, it comes back every spring, I think I paid $2.49 for the plant back in 2010. So I will say its free by now.

    The banana was .44 per pound and I do not know how much one cost but it can`t be much, a few cents?

    The bottle of vodka cost $6.49 (750 ML) I have used a couple cups and I have the same amount left so I am thinking I can get three to four batches of extract from one bottle.

    I am sure I can manage to get another couple of extracts made from what is left in that bottle. 

    The Savings 

     I paid $2.69 for 1 ounce of mint extract at the grocery store.  I should get 16 ounces from the one pint, that`s $43.04 for a pint of mint extract purchased at the grocery store! By making my own I will save $36.55.


    Now you know why I am making my own extracts and trying a few more ways of "do it yourself" in the kitchen items and make more for less.

    How about you? Wanna try making extracts?

    By Andria Perry
    Photos By Andria Perry