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 October? Pumpkins (of course)!

PumpkinsPumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety, which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the “Three Sisters” tradition.[1]

Thinking about growing pumpkins on your homestead?

Planting

I think one of the most surprising and frustrating things about growing pumpkins I learned early (though not early enough) in my gardening career, is that pumpkins should be planted in the spring! Seems obvious to me now, but thinking of carving pumpkins in spring was a strange adjustment for me.

Pumpkins appreciate soil well supplied with organic matter. Mulching helps to control weeds that would be difficult to hoe out from the spreading vines. Don’t hurry to plant them. What you want is a well-developed storage crop, not a quick harvest. Planting at the end of May allows plenty of time in most areas.[2] Start pumpkins with a generous shovelful of compost or well-rotted manure in each hill. When the plant starts to develop vines, anticipate the squash borer by firming two or three shovelfuls of oil over several vine nodes to encourage auxiliary rooting. Most varieties need a kit if space; a hill will ramble over an 8-by-8 foot square of ground by summer’s end. Planting at the edge of the corn works well. The vines wander among the corn and help to discourage raccoons.[3]

Harvesting 

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the stem has started to dry and the pumpkin skin has begun to harden. Leave about an inch of stem. Handle with care. Don’t carry them around by the stem; if it breaks off, the pumpkin won’t cure or store well. If the weather is dry and sunny, pumpkins can be cured in the field in about a week. Cover or move inside if a hard frost threatens.[4]

Saving Seeds

Collect seeds from fully ripened fruits that have developed a good hard rind. Halve the pumpkins, fork out the seeds, wash off the pulp, and dry the seeds for a week or so indoors. You’ll notice a few flat seeds. Since these lack embryos, they’ll never grow. You can winnow them off or, if you’re handling small batches of seeds, pick them out at planting time next year. British horticulturalist Lawrence Hills declares that pumpkin seeds improve with age – up to a point, of course.[3]

Storage

Pumpkins do well with more humidity than squash – 70 to 75 percent rather than 60 to 70 – because their skins are slightly more tender. Also for this reason, they don’t last quite as long in storage as do squash. High storage temperatures will make them stringy. Cook and use them in the fall or cut them in thin slices and dry them.[2]


[2] Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel, 1991

[3] The New Seed-Starters Handbook, Nancy Bubel, 1988.

[4] The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Edward C. Smith, 2009

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!

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel

When I came down with my 2nd nasty cold of this season, I decided it was time to test my apothecary skills. While on our Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat, we were honored to attend an herbal class with Patricia Kyritsi Howell of BotanoLogos School of Herbal Studies in Mountain City, Georgia. (You can check out her website at WildHealingHerbs.com) She brought along her knowledge and ingredients to make a few winter-time remedies for us. We discussed three remedies in great detail: Elder Rob Syrup, for use at the on-set of illness; Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel, to loosen a stuffy nose and soothe a sore throat; and Elderberry Wild Cherry Cough Syrup.

So last week I tried my hand at medicine-making and brewed a batch of Garlic & Cayenne Oxymel. And lest you fear I re-printed this recipe without permission, worry not! I cleared it with Patricia before publishing this. (As a new real-life blogger, I often forget to document my work as I go along, and thus, have no in-progess photos to share with you. My apologies…)

Garlic Oxymel

8 ounces cider vinegar
1/4 ounce each crushed fennel seeds and caraway seeds
1 bulb fresh garlic (approximately 10 cloves), pressed
3 fresh cayenne peppers
10 ounces honey

Put the vinegar in a pan with the seeds and bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add garlic and cayenne peppers. Let mixture cool. Strain back into pan. Mix in 10 ounces of honey. Warm over a low heat until thinned slightly. Store in a sterile jar in a cool place.

To use, take 1 tablespoon and dilute in 1 cup of warm tea. Drink as often as needed to clear congestion and soothe a cough.

Shelf life: Approximately 1 year.

My adjustments: I did not have any fennel seeds or caraway seeds so I omitted them. I did not have enough fresh garlic, so I used dried garlic. I did not have any fresh cayenne, so I used dried cayenne. But other than that…! It was delicious and effective, nonetheless.

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Homemade Herbal Remedy Swap

If you have talked to me in the last month, you already know this, but I have become totally engrossed in the world of herbalism and natural healing. Ever since joining the Ladies Homestead Gathering (LHG) I have learned more and more about the power of plants and am determined to learn how to survive and thrive using just what the earth provides. The first thing I did was make a list of my top 10 remedies for the home first aid kit (based on what we tend to use most often):

  1. Headache/fever/pain reducer (to replace ADVIL)
  2. Antacid (to replace TUMS)
  3. Cough Syrup
  4. Something for minor skin irritations
  5. Something for major skin irritations (to replace Neosporin)
  6. Aromatic Chest Rub (to replace Vicks)
  7. Something for ear infections (afterall, I have two little ones)
  8. Something for a sore throat
  9. Something to relieve sinus pressure/pain/stuffy nose
  10. Something to relieve diarrhea

While I believe this is a practical list, I also think it’s a LOT to learn, and could be somewhat costly up front. I know a lot of folks out there have the necessary weeds growing in their very backyards, but due to our suburban location, useful weeds are rare in my neck of the woods. So, sourcing the herbs and supplies necessary for this undertaking would require quite an investment in a pound or so of each herb – which with this list could mean 20+ different herbs.

I mentioned my dilemma to Cyndi last week and told her I thought we could do this together to make it simpler (and cheaper). So, this holiday season, the gals at the Ladies Homestead Gathering are forgoeing the traditional “Cookie Swap” and are instead participating in our first Homemade Herbal Remedy Swap. At our last meeting, Cyndi passed around a sign-up sheet and two handfuls of women committed to making enough of ONE remedy for everyone else on the list. That means procuring the recipe, the ingredients and some kind of container so that when we come together for our Christmas party next month, those that participated will leave with a fully-stocked Herbal First Aid Kit. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about this!

Here’s what I’ll be making:
Simple Comfrey Salve  borrowed from Paganspace.net

Comfrey salve is a must-have for any herbal first aid kit! We use it almost every day chapped lips and elbows, dry noses, cuts, scrapes, burns, even as an under eye cream! Here’s a super simple recipe for comfrey salve recipe that you can make right in your kitchen. This salve also makes great gifts for friends and family. I like to put up big batches to give out at the holidays.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups good quality olive oil
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh comfrey leaves (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh lavender flowers (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) fresh calendula flowers (or 1/2 ounce dried)
~ 1/2 cup beeswax

INSTRUCTIONS

~ Gently warm the olive oil and the herbs in the top of a double boiler for about 30 minutes. Stir frequently. It should bubble a bit at the edges, but not throughout the mixture.
~ Strain out the oil by pouring through a strainer.
~ Discard herbs and reserve oil.
~ Melt your beeswax in the top of the double boiler.
~ Add the strained oil and stir until completely blended.
~ Pour the mixture into jars or salve tins.
~ Once it is cool, label and date your creation.

I decided to get my herbs from Mountain Rose because their prices were good and I could purchase in less than 1 pound. quantities. I plan to double, triple for quadruple the recipe depending on how many women are participating. I think I should be able to get about 20 ounces from one batch, and would like to use 4 oz. containers, so 5 jars/recipe = ?? x Also, the Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine (Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH) recommends keeping ointments (those remedies which contain oils or fats heated with herbs and, unlike creams, contain no water) in a dark glass jar. So I’m going to get some of these. Again, still not sure of quantity though I don’t think I could have too many….could I?

And yes, if you’re my friend or my family and I’m going to be seeing you this holiday season, expect to get some too!

Book Club & Ladies Homestead Gathering

I was first introduced to Joel Salatin 5 years ago by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. At the time, the concept of a local, seasonal diet was something I had considered, but never really explored. The chapters in the book devoted to describing Joel’s innovative grass-based farm were so inspiring, I haven’t stopped thinking about farming since.

A few months ago I started attending monthly meetings with the most intriguing group of women anyone should have an opportunity to know. Cindy B., the proprietress of Lazy B Farm in Statham, GA hosts, in her home, monthly Ladies Homestead Gatherings. Topics of discussion range from gardening, bread-baking, and wine-making, to chicken butchering, rainwater collection and herbal remedies – and that’s just ONE meeting’s agenda! After years of private exploration of my farm dreams, it is the most incredible blessing to have found this group of women that share the same goals!

Anyway, a few of us are reading Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin and we’re really loving it. After our first meeting this week we’ve pretty much decided the Book Club is a permanent thing and are already looking forward to our next title!

Folks, This Ain't Normal

Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin, 2011