Strawberry love: freeze-your-own fruit

Hello from the mini homestead! Since moving off the farm, I’ve been working on using many of the prepper skills I learned back home to make it on my own. And one of those? Buying on sale/in bulk and storing for later.

A few weeks ago, I was grocery shopping when I stumbled upon a strawberry special. Strawberries were priced at $1.25 a carton (limit three, ugh), which is fantastic for the Midwest in the wintertime. And, they were grown in the USA – a personal favorite of mine. So, why not stock up?

I was a bit hesitant at first. In our house, there’s only two of us and a cat. There’s no way we can (reasonably) consume all three packs before the strawberries went bad. But, it made sense to stock up on a fresh fruit product that was on sale. That’s when I thought – duh! Freezer!

So, I took my limit-three-packs of strawberries home, rinsed them and cut off the tops.

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Placed them on a wax-paper covered baking sheet, with no berries touching.

strawberries tray

And then packaged the frozen strawberries in quart-sized freezer bags.

packed berries

Viola! Finished! And, ready for easy defrosting at the hankering of a smoothie or dessert.

Sure, you can purchase frozen strawberries, but I always find them a little unfriendly on the budget. Also, they’re in horrible clumps that are difficult to defrost. But, this way, I’ve avoided all of those issues.

I’m sure that other fruits can be frozen this way – think blueberries, blackberries, etc. The key, I’ve discovered, is initially freezing them individually before packaging to avoid that dreaded lump.

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It’s seed starting time!

I am always excited about this time of the year! This is when seeds are started for spring planting. The winter days have become dreary and this garden chore helps prevent cabin fever.

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January 1st is my 15 weeks out from last frost.

First I determine when to start specific plants and mark the dates on the calendar. My last average frost date is April 15th. I live in zone 5 but with climate change, I have found it’s best to treat the gardens as zone 5 & 6.

I like nice, strong plants for transplanting so some of the plants like tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage are started 15 weeks before frost.

It’s hard deciding what’s going to be grown in this season’s garden. First I figure which seeds I have on hand in the seed bank.

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I keep a garden journal of my seed bank & garden planning.

 

If I’m short or out of a seed, I have time to make an order or find a fellow seed swapper who can come to the rescue. Once the list is made, I’m ready to get seeding…well almost.

My seed starter soil is a mix of organic peat moss and chicken/kitchen scrap compost. I sanitize the mix to prevent weed seeds & bad bacteria by heating it in a pan for about a half hour in a 180- 200 degree oven. It gets a good stir halfway through.

20140213-153824.jpgThe mix is cooled then sifted to make a nice, fine soil blend. I use a bucket covered with a towel and sift the mix using a recycled deep fryer basket. The large bits and woody stuff are used in the greenhouse.

I have used many kinds of containers over the years for seedlings but that’s a discussion for another post. ;) I have since moved to recycling foam food trays into seed starter trays. They hold up well for reuse and stay out of the trash dump.

A plastic soda bottle is recycled into a small scoop and is perfect for filling  seed trays (and especially those 4-6 pack pots).IMG_4025

A mini greenhouse indoors is placed near the window for sunlight and the wood stove for ample warmth.IMG_0510

 

 

I will repeat this process many times until the garden list is completed and the seeds are planted and labeled. If something doesn’t grow, there is still plenty of time to replant.

I make a very weak manure/compost tea for watering with a recycled jug with holes punched through its lid as a quick sprinkler.

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These heirloom tomatoes are planted three each and 8-9 rows across. After a few weeks they are transplanted to single containers.

Phew! That was fun! Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the dormant seeds to spring up!

Happy Gardening!

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Let’s Celebrate New Beginnings Giveaway!

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS CLOSED!

Thanks to all of those who participated & shared their gardening firsts!

The winner of this giveaway is Drew Wasserburger chosen by random generator. Please check your email for instructions to receive your copy of Crockett’s Flower Garden. Congratulations!

In honor of Nicole’s, move to her new place…with a starter seed bank in tow, I’ve sent her copies of my favorite gardening books: Crockett’s Flower Garden by James Crockett & The Victory Garden by his colleagues Wilson, Thomson, and Wirth.victorygarden1

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Enter the giveaway for a copy of this great reference!

So, to celebrate, I’m giving away a print edition of Crockett’s Flower Garden. It’s a lightly used, previously owned book but it’s an oldie but goodie! Full of useful tips in a month to month planting style. I believe any true loving gardener & book lover will appreciate the reference and put it back to work.

Books shouldn’t get dusty unless they are in the garden!

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS CLOSED!

  1. Please read the rules & disclaimers below.
  2. Briefly share with us in the comments below, “What’s the first thing you ever planted or will plant in your first garden?”
  3. Bookmark The Sustainable Prepper and follow our blog by subscribing for email updates or through RSS.

Thank you for sharing & sending off Nicole with some great garden planting ideas!

 

 THIS GIVEAWAY HAS CLOSED!

Giveaway Rules & Disclaimers:

  • This drawing & comments closed Thursday, January 16, 2014, at 8pm CST.
  • The giveaway book is NOT a new copy. It is an out-of-print copy and may show signs of light use by a previous owner(s). It may be a hardback or paperback edition.
  • Please do not enter this drawing if you do not wish to receive a previously owned book.
  • The winner will be chosen by random generation and notified via email & announced on the giveaway page.
  • The winner must respond to the winning email notification within 24 hours indicating their U.S. address for receiving the book or the prize will be forfeited. In the event of a forfeit, a runner-up will be drawn at random and notified per the same conditions.
  • This giveaway is open to United States residents only & one (1) prize will be mailed to a United States residence only.
  • No monetary value will be given in place of the giveaway item.
  • This giveaway may be canceled and/or rescheduled at any time by the owner in the unfortunate occurrence of website or internet malfunctions that prevent the giveaway to be conducted as noted. In such an occurrence, the giveaway may not retain entries and all who enter may be required to reenter a new giveaway.
  • Comments of vulgar or abusive nature will be deleted and posters of such comments will be blocked.

 

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Avoiding GMO Seeds

Not everyone is fully aware of how to avoid genetically modified seed (GMO).  GMOs  were not originally found in nature but altered in a laboratory. Because these organisms can live and produce in nature unlike originally believed, they threaten our seed purity and food security.

There is quite some confusion and anxiety out in the gardening world regarding GMOs b(C) 2014 LaDonna Garnerut there is no need to panic. Here are a few tips I follow to avoid bringing GMOs into my garden and seedbank:

  • I know that I will not likely find GMO seeds in the seed packet aisle. GMO seeds are contracted to commercial farmers and are considerably expensive for consumer based seed companies to sell out right. That would also impose a contract on your use of the seeds as well. No one has time for that!*
  • Avoid using the seeds and roots from supermarket produce unless it is labeled organic or heirloom. The supermarket produce aisle is the end result and primary purpose of GMOs for mass consumer purchases.
  • I’m aware of my local co-op’s seed stock. I’ve ask the co-op about their seed sources. I even contacted their sources directly to investigate if they were a licensed distributor of GMO seed. It’s well worth the effort and especially if you live in the headquarter states of GMO companies as I do.
  • I avoid growing crops in the garden that may be easily cross-contaminated. For instance, I live in a rural area where GMO crops are raised. A farm a few miles away grows commercial soybean and so that’s one crop I choose not to grow.
  • When it comes to seeds offered to me that are gathered from commercial farmers, I politely say, “No thank you.” Commercial farmers are the target of GMO seed companies.
  • I patronize and purchase seed from companies who promote open-pollinated seeds & seed sovereignty and farms that specialize in organic and heirloom produce. It’s a plus if they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge!
  •  And last but not least, I label the seeds from purchases  with their known seed sources and keep a journal of my swaps. No guesses & no assumptions, this assures I am trading only open-pollinated seeds. It also acts as an insurance if something is contaminated it can be traced and destroyed.

I hope you find these tips helpful & feel much better when starting and growing your own seedbank!
*Note: Many GMOs can cross-contaminate no matter how diligent the seed collection by companies or gardeners.

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Gardening Organically: Walnut & Peppermint Mosquito Spray

This version of my mosquito recipes was the ultimate favorite in the garden last season. It was used all over the farm for ourselves & our animals! Even Mr. SP loved it!Mosquito_gender_en public domain photo

Black Walnut & Peppermint Sprays #1 & #2

* Just click on the tag: organic insecticides to view all of the posted recipes. Each link will display a PDF sheet ready for printing & hole punching for your garden journal or binder.

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Ham & Beans with Cornbread

ham and beans

Ham & Beans with Cornbread

There is nothing like a warm bowl of ham & beans waiting after shoveling snow! Just crumble some cornbread on top and it’s the perfect buddy on a chilly day. So upon the request of a friend, I’ve written down my mental recipe for one of my family’s favorite soups.

Ingredients:

2 to 2-1/2 or 3 c Navy beans, dried in bag (if you like it soupy, use 2; thicker, use 3)

1 c Ham chunks (bite size) (more or less your preference) Note: in a pinch ~10 slices of thick, slab bacon will work. I save and freeze leftover ham (from shank picnic ham) just for soups but you can buy ham chunks too.

1 c chopped onions (bite size)

2 tbsp salt (more or less to taste)

1 tbsp pepper (more or less to taste)

Rinse beans in cold water and remove any dirt and pebbles if found. (Hey, it’s a natural product, it happens! lol)

Place beans in a large bowl filled with water, enough to cover plus 1/2 inch higher and let rest over night in the fridge. (You can skip this step but it helps make sure the beans are tender).

In the morning, pour beans into a standard size crockpot and turn on high.

Add ham chunks, salt & pepper, and onions.

Add additional water, enough to cover the ingredients by 2 to 3 inches but not more than half inch less from the rim of the crockpot. (The beans will absorb the water and double in size and the soup as it boils will bubble/spill over if too much water is added.)

Let the crockpot do the work while your go do yours!

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Gardening Organically: Insecticides

I enjoy walking in the garden and eating a warm tomato right off the vine. Wash it first? Oh, there’s no need to do that! The Lavis Farm Garden is chemical free.

Using organic gardening practices in the garden is a must in my book. Dealing with insect problems naturally makes me worry even less in how our food is grown and what we put into & onto our bodies. Used with caution, organic insecticides can lessen the harm to beneficial insects which also rid the garden of pests.

Praying Mantis (beneficial insect)

We see a large variety of insects including the Praying Mantis (a beneficial insect) on our farm.

So we will be sharing some of our favorite organic insect controlling recipes with fellow gardeners.

Garlic Insecticidal Concentrates #1 & #2

Black Walnut Mosquito Sprays #1 & #2

* Just click on the tag: organic insecticides to view all of the posted recipes. Each link will display a PDF sheet ready for printing & hole punching for your garden journal or binder.

Happy Gardening!

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Just Goating Around

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Our buck, Curry, and wether, Batman, are quite the characters! They can never take turns to be petted.

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Winnie’s looking pretty plumply these days.

There should be a kid or two (or more) poking around in that belly of hers! We’ll see soon enough come late winter.
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Butternut Squash w/Veggies Soup

butternut squash soup

When I was introduced to this squash as a soup, I was amazed by its yumminess! So here’s my version of this healthy soup. Be sure to add this veggie to your next garden! :)

butternut squash1 butternut squash, peeled (veggie peeler), cut in bite-sized cubes…place in large pot with 4 cups chicken broth. Boil until tender like potatoes, broth will become richly orange.

Ladle cubes into food processor and puree with bit of broth until smooth (or hand mash).

Return to pot & remaining broth, add kosher salt (or sea salt) & pepper to taste.

I love some veggie chunks in my soup so these are optional: 1 carrot, peeled & cut into very small pieces. 1 celery stalk cut into very small pieces, 1/2c onion cut into very small pieces. Saute in pan of 1 tbsp olive oil until tender then mix into soup. Simmer a few minutes then serve.

Some garlic toast & a salad tops this soup off. Enjoy!

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Going solar in the greenhouse

Fall is here and the nights are becoming a bit cooler. That’s my hint to get the greenhouse prepped for the coming winter weather. So, today’s project was setting up this solar panel kit sold by Harbor Freight.

Let me tell you, it was simple and can be setup by one person. Unless you want to permanently mount it, it snaps together quickly, and requires no tools. Best of all, its small size makes it portable and it can be purchased for less than $150 with frequent promotions and coupons.

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Everything you need is right in the box with the instructions printed on the packaging. Who needs dummy sheets?!

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Two brackets, a cross beam, and a lower shelf rack makes up the framing.solarpanel2

Slid the panels isolarpanel5nto place, clip on the panel wires to the converter & you are up and running in no time!

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Now to snag a car or lawnmower battery from the garage in need of a good charge!solarkit2

There are a few extras I am going to purchase from Harbor Freight: a 400w converter to plug in appliances that are old school and perhaps this regulator to assist in the energy flow to reduce overcharge.

Overall, I am very happy with the solar panel kit and cannot wait to put it into use! Maybe I need to pick up a few for the barn and the chicken coop?

 

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