Ladies Homestead Gathering THIS WEEK!

The Rockbridge County Chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering is getting together THIS WEEK at OUR FARM to discuss water bath and pressure canning! The group will be preparing some canned peaches to take home, so if you plan to join us, make sure you bring a 16oz Ball brand canning jar with a NEW lid and a ring. The chapter will provide the peaches, the canners, etc.

Please come whether you have canning experience or not! We’d love to have you!

Thursday, July 16
Meet & Greet at 6:30pm

Discussion and Canning Demo 7pm

Come early for a tour of the farm!

LHG - Logo Small

What’s in season in August? Okra!

Okra, native to Africa and a beautiful relative of hibiscus, was brought to North America in the 1600s. This tropical plant quickly became popular in the Deep South both as a side dish and as a thickening for gumbo and stews. It can, however, thrive in any climate where corn will grow. Depending on the cultivar, the large-flowered, fast-growing plants reach 2 to 6 feet tall. Varieties with colorful stems and leaves, such as ‘Burgundy’, make attractive garden borders.

Thinking about growing okra in your garden?

Planting
Okra needs full sun. It will grow in ordinary garden soil but does best in fertile loam, particularly where a nitrogen-fixing crop, such as early peas, grew previously.

In short-season areas, start plants indoors 6 weeks before setting them out (3 to 4 weeks after the last frost date). Sow two seeds per peat pot and clip off the weaker seedling.

When seeding okra directly in the ground, wait until after the soil has warmed and the air temperature is at least 60F. Use fresh seed, and soak it overnight or nick each seed coat with a file to encourage germination. Sow seed ½ inch deep in light soil and 1 inch deep in heavy soil; spacing is 3 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Thin seedlings to 18 to 24 inches apart, always leaving the strongest of the young plants.

Growing Guidelines
When okra in 4 inches tall, mulch to keep out weeds ad conserve moisture. Water during dry spells. Every 3 to 4 weeks, side-dress with compost or feed with compost tea. In areas with long, hot summers, cut the plants back almost to ground level in midsummer to fertilize to produce a second crop.

Problems
Okra seldom succumbs to pests or diseases. Hand-pick any stinkbugs that appear; these light green, shield-shaped bugs cause misshapen pods. Fusarium wilt, a soilborne disease, is sometimes a problem in hot regions. If the disease causes leaves to yellow and wilt, pull and destroy affected plants. Crop rotation is the best preventive measure.

Harvesting
About 50 to 60 days after planting, edible pods will start to appear. They are tough when mature, so harvest daily with a sharp knife when they are no more than finger sized and when stems are still tender and easy to cut. Pick frequently and the plants will keep producing until killed by frost. Be sure to remove and compost any mature pods you might have missed earlier.
Many people find their skin is sensitive to the pods’ prickly spines, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting, or plant a spineless variety such as ‘Clemson Spineless.’

Source: www.organicgardening.com

Need a recipe?

I made this last summer with over-ripe, tough fruit and it was still yummy! I will be trying it again this summer with the fresh, tender fruit and expect an even better result.

Pickled Okra
a canning recipe from Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan

Ingredients
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons pickling salt
4 lemon slices
4 Tablespoons Pickling Spice, divided
2 pounds okra, washed and trimmed
4 garlic cloves, peeled

Directions

  1. Prepare a boiling water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, 3 cups water, and pickling salt in a pot and bring the brine to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, put a lemon slice and 1 tablespoon pickling spice in the bottom of each sterilized jar. Then pack the okra in, first laying them in so that the points are up. Then insert another layer with the points down, so that they interlock. Nestle 1 garlic clove among the okra in each jar.
  4. Slowly pour the hot brine over the okra in each jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Gently tap the jars on a towel-lined countertop to help loosen any bubbles before using a wooden chopstick to dislodge any remaining bubbles. Check the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.
  5. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Let the pickles cure for at least 1 week before eating.

Ladies Homestead Gathering

I have been leading the Doylestown, PA chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering for a year and we have outgrown my house! A few weeks ago we did a canning demonstration at the Doylestown Farmer’s Market which was a great success. We used an induction burner to boil water for canning and prepared a fresh-fruit + simple syrup recipe for the market shoppers, which we sold for a fundraiser. Blueberries & Bay is one of the easiest canning recipes I’ve ever done, and the result is simple and yummy (see recipe below).

We talked to lots of people about our group, but the luckiest moment of the (very hot!) day came when we met Shawn Touhill of Sandy Ridge Farm and Market. He and his wife are the newest full-time farmers in Doylestown, and have generously offered to host our monthly Gatherings in the Community Room of their Farm Market! The market is a great fit for our group, and will give us the space we need to meet comfortably and to grow our Gathering. You can read more about the Touhill Family and Sandy Ridge Market here.

In addition to hosting our monthly Gatherings and any workshops we decide to do this year, Shawn is a great resource for farm-to-consumer marketing and I hope to learn much more about his business as a potential model for our own farm.

In other news: We are back on realtor.com every day searching for potential properties. We are feeling a new sense of urgency that has us buckling down on the small house renovations, and hoping to sell within the next year. We’ve looked all over, and currently our search is centered around Madison County, Virginia because it’s halfway between Gramma’s house and Grampa’s house, and because it borders the Shennandoah National Park and other preserved land. I’ve been doing some asking around and it seems like Madison County (or neighboring Rappahanock County) would be a good fit for our farmy family, so we’ll see!

Blueberries & Bay

Blueberries & Bay Canning RecipeIngredients
Approximately 3 quarts fresh or frozen blueberries
5 cups water
2 cups sugar
Bay leaves

Equipment
Waterbath canner
Jar lifter
Lid lifter
Ladle
Canning jars, sterilized
Unused canning lids
Canning jar rings

Directions

  1. Place canning lids in heat-safe pot or bowl and cover with boiling water to sanitize and soften the gum. Fill the waterbath canner and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Heat water to boiling and add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Boil for 5 minutes and set aside. Place blueberries and one bay leaf into jars, leaving ½” headspace. Ladle hot syrup into jars, maintaining ½” headspace. Remove any air bubbles from jars before wiping the rims with a warm, damp dishcloth.
  3. Add lids and attach rings – tighten just until you feel resistance.
  4. Place jars into canner, insuring they are covered by at least 1” of water. Bring to a rolling boil and begin timing: 15 Minutes for ½ Pints and Pints; 20 Minutes for Quarts
  5. Carefully remove jars from canner and allow to cool on a towel-lined countertop.

Now, with your canned blueberries, you can make muffins, syrup, or just eat them on top of cereal, ice cream or yogurt. Enjoy!

What Does Homesteading Mean to You?

For me, homesteading began with food. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, all I wanted to do was find, grow and eat local food. I was convinced the only way for my family to eat a grassfed turkey for Thanksgiving was to grow it myself. That’s the moment I became a farmer.

Unfortunately, I was still living smack-dab in the middle of suburbia, so raising livestock just wasn’t an option. While I waited for my farm dreams to come true, I focused my energy on things I could do immediately to feed my family more healthfully, while saving money, so that we could one day be able to live on a farm.

At that time, my oldest child was only a few months old, and we were drinking organic milk and eating organic vegetables, but we were still fully engaged in the industrial food system. I made it my goal to visit the Farmer’s Market every week that summer, and found a wide variety of foods I had never heard of. And boy, was it expensive! I realized immediately that if we were going to be purchasing real food, from real farmers, we were going to have to spend less in other areas of our life to make up the difference. And it was something I was committed to.

That summer was the first time I ever cooked a whole chicken, and after three years I can finally say I feel comfortable with that. We started out roasting the whole bird every time, but I felt we were wasting a lot of meat {not to mention the carcass} so last year I started cutting the bird before cooking it. Now we eat the breasts and tenders one night, the legs another night, and save the carcass for making stock.

The challenge of cooking a real, whole chicken was just the beginning of my journey to homesteading. In the kitchen, we started baking our own bread, making our own jam and apple butter, and eating fresh, local vegetables nearly every night of the week. One way we save money for fresh veggies is pretty simple: we purchase less meat, and instead rely on other non-meat forms of protein, like beans. I now have hundreds of delicious vegetarian recipes that allow my family to enjoy our meals together – and feel satisfied –without eating chicken breasts every night. Those three meals we get out of our Farmer’s Market chicken? They last us three weeks. We limit our dinners out, and buy almost no prepared foods, opting instead to make our own popcorn, rice crispy treats, fruit bars, and more. Making our own food means I know exactly what goes into everything, and allows me to eliminate sugar almost entirely. We don’t buy “instant” oatmeal, and rarely do we buy cereal. Instead we make our own oatmeal, granola, muffins, and scones and spend those dollars we save on pasture-raised chicken eggs which we enjoy almost every other day.

Rather than purchasing canned beans, we buy dry beans in bulk. They’re ridiculously affordable, and really not that hard to prepare, so I feel good knowing my kids are eating organic beans, organic rice, organic barley, and organic oats. We buy bushels of fruit when they’re in season, meaning we pay much less for “low-spray” fruit that was grown right around the corner – which is good for us, and good for the farmer who grew it.

But homesteading means more than just where you shop for groceries. To me, it’s a lifestyle. And what’s interesting is that a lot of our frugal family choices are ecologically-friendly too. We chose cloth diapers for our children because we couldn’t stand to send bags and bags of paper diapers to the landfills where they would never decompose, so we reduced our environmental impact while also saving thousands of dollars in disposable diapers. We use cloth napkins, towels and washcloths in the kitchen. The kids and I use cloth wipes at home, meaning we buy about ¼ the toilet paper we did two years ago. We shop at thrift stores and consignment stores for nearly everything for the kids and myself {My husband works a “real job” so he shops the big sales for his work clothes, or uses Christmas money to purchase new items}. Clothes, shoes, toys, books, canning jars, bookcases – whatever you need, you can probably find it used and for a lot less than what you would pay at a retail store. I still use Amazon for hard-to-find books, but purchase them used whenever possible. We utilize Craigslist for big-ticket items like our {1996 Ford F150} farm truck, our {1974 Massey Ferguson 135} tractor, and the trailer we’re using for our eggmobile. Every purchase is made with re-useability and longevity in mind. I absolutely abhor re-buying things, so I sometimes spend a little more now {say, $30 on a set of enamelware picnic plates} instead of spending more over time for something that will be thrown away.

We try to save money and do-it-ourselves in other ways too. We believe children deserve a better education than what is being offered in public schools today, but the cost of private school is insane, so instead, we plan to homeschool our two children. We will have the opportunity to spend countless hours of quality time with them, not just rushing them to and from the bus every day. We get to take extended vacations – any time of year, like during the “off-season” when attractions are easily half as expensive. We can really get to know them, and they us, as we grow and learn as a family.

We eliminate unnecessary expenses wherever we can and utilize free programs and events in town like story time at the library, music in the park, parades, festivals, etc. And though I can’t seem to get my husband to give up the television, we only pay for basic, basic subscription now. Don’t get me wrong, we both have iPhones {good luck trying to get mine away from me}. We choose to spend a little extra on our cell phones and instead gave up having a landline.

And now that we have moved to a place with a little more space – we’re doing more “real” homesteading. We built a garden and have planted mostly beans, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash and a few other things, with the hope that we can dry and can the excess to use over winter. This is our first real attempt at stocking a larder, so my expectations are very low. Saving seeds will allow us to spend less next year when it comes time to replant the garden. And eggs? The biggest expense in switching to a whole food, grassfed diet, is animal protein, and eggs are no exception. We were paying $4.00 per dozen in Georgia, $5.00 over the winter, and found a farmer at our local Farmer’s Market here in Pennsylvania that will sell them for $6.00/doz. For a family that now eats about 2 dozen eggs per week, it was easy to see what our second farm enterprise would be. Growing, feeding and caring for 12 laying hens will not be very cost-effective this year {we don’t expect to get eggs until late fall}, but with plans to feed our birds entirely on grass and then hatch out our own chicks next year, we hope to reduce our off-farm inputs dramatically in the future.

I have grand plans for our little farm {like, maybe someday it won’t be so little}, but in the mean time I’m doing everything I can to make living closer to home more comfortable and enjoyable. I experiment with everything in our CSA box; learning to cook once-foreign vegetables has become somewhat of a delight for me. I read books. All the time. I’m getting a thorough and enjoyable “free” education in composting, organic gardening, raising grassfed meat, raising chickens, living more sustainably, homeschooling, sewing, knitting, and more. I attend free seminars, did a few months worth of an un-paid internship last year, and have joined every club and Facebook Group I can find involved in the local food/local anything community where I now live. And I write this blog, where I can share my experience with you, and hope that you will share yours too.Image

Homesteading Hack #2

I think of Homesteading Hacks as little tidbits of knowledge that can be used to make our homesteading experiences more enjoyable. Sometimes that means a hack saves us money, sometimes it saves us time, sometimes it does BOTH!

For instance, did you know Classico Pasta jars are Mason Jars?? Well, they are, and though you cannot re-seal them for canning with the Classico lids, you can use new lids/bands and process them just like any other jar! And, if you’re still to nervous to use them for canning, they make awesome storage for beans, rice and other dry goods. Plus, you can use the lids on any of your other Mason Jars for food storage/travel containers. So if you are buying pasta sauce from the grocery store, keep any eye out for Classico coupons and watch your weekly grocery store mailer and stock up! Think of it as buying pasta AND Mason Jars and the savings are even better!

nevermind the tacky temporary labels...

Send me your Homesteading Hack and maybe I’ll feature yours on the blog!
Email ideas to owlmoonfarms {at} gmail.com