Friday, November 20, 2009

The Plan: October through December

In July 2008, I posted the first installment of a tried and true plan for building up food storage, shared by a mother with young children. You will find January through September on my post at this link: The Plan: January through September

It was brought to my attention that I never posted the rest of the plan, so here it is folks! Sorry about that!

Thanks so much to the mom who gave all of this to us in the first place. Some of her comments are in quotes.

"It has been remarkably easy chipping away at this project a bit at a time. We use and restock from our stash all the time. I think we are to our goal of having 3 months worth for all of us when it comes to most items."


  1. Add the weekly item to your shopping list.
  2. Buy the largest amount of each week's item you can sensibly afford.
  3. Replace items as you use them.
  4. If you miss a week, skip to the next week.
  5. Don't get behind. Share your hot buys with the rest of us.
  6. If your family loves something not listed, buy it and store it.

  • Week 1 -- One or more gallons of vinegar. Great for cooking, canning and cleaning.
  • Week 2 -- Wraps and bags…aluminum foil, garbage bags, freezer bags, saran wrap, wax paper.
  • Week 3 -- Do something with all those apples. Pie filling, applesauce, juice, apple butter…
  • Week 4 -- Hard candy, candy bars on sale after Halloween.
"We definitely need more water storage. But there are still a couple of months left in the year to get it all done."


  • Week 1-- Vitamins: get extra C, D, E and calcium
  • Week 2 -- Treats for baking. Cocoa, coconut, nuts, butter (freeze it), chocolate chips..get it all.
  • Week 3 -- Rolled oats, corn meal, cream of wheat, oatmeal. Stock up on boxed cereal.
  • Week 4 -- Vegetable and/or Canola oil. Get a good quality.


  • Week 1-- Candles and matches. Put in a sturdy box that you can locate in the dark.
  • Week 2 -- Popcorn. Go for the big 12 pound bag or buy the kernels. (I recommend kernels!)
  • Week 3 -- MERRY CHRISTMAS! You've given yourself a great gift—security! Keep it up.
  • Week 4 -- Watch for after Christmas sales. Nuts go on sale. Dry roasted ones keep the best. Freeze bagged ones.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Get Fresh with Your Bleach!

We are cautioned to only use "fresh bleach" for our water storage. What is "fresh" bleach? For one thing, bleach has a shelf life of only 12 months. So, I'll fill you in on what the people at Clorox told me about deciphering the code stamped on their bleach bottles.

My bleach bottle has two lines stamped, and we only need the top line. Mine says "A8810514". Translation:

* A8 is the plant number where product was manufactured
* Third digit is the year produced. This will always be a single digit number. When we get to 2010, it will have a 0.
* Next three digits are the number of the Julian date code, which tells the day of the year manufactured. This will be listed as the number of days into the year, such as 116 days (116) or 30 days (030). It's always three digits. There are Julian code converters on the web, but you can get a good general idea by dividing 365 by thirds without being perfect with it.
* The rest of the numbers thereafter are not important

For practical purposes, the lady told me that you only need to check four numbers of the code: the third number from the left, which tells you the year and then the next three numbers to see which day in the year the bleach was produced.

If you want to get bleach that is as fresh as possible for water storage, find a store that sells a lot of bleach. Everything I've read is that you want to buy Clorox regular, without scents and such. The reason you use Clorox for water storage is that it has a set amount of chemical and some bleaches are more watered down. If you make sure you have the same amount of chemical in another brand, I imagine that's fine, but I don't know.

Another option for water storage is to use the powdered chlorine that is used in spas. The powder has at least a 15-year shelf-life, but I have yet been unable to get in contact with the expert to tell me how much to use per gallon.

The nitty-gritty of this is that if we use bleach to keep our water safe, we need to refill our water storage containers every year and put in fresh bleach -- I don't think it's a good idea to just add new bleach to water to which you're already added bleach a year ago, as you then have double the chemical, even if the old stuff is not as effective.

If you're still trying to decide where to put your huge water containers, having to empty them and refill them every year might make you decide NOT to put them in your basement. Put them where you have easy access. My barrels are in my garage. Some people store them outside. If stored outside, you will want to leave some unfilled space at the top in case the water freezes completely.

Most important is FILL THOSE BARRELS!!! Soon, the weather will be very cold and you're not going to want to be outside messing around with hoses and water.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tomato Overload? Put Your Oven to the Rescue!

If you have been busy canning, freezing, and making salsa and sauces of your bountiful tomato harvest, you might be sick of tomatoes. (I was actually glad that my vines froze and I had the excuse to not process any more tomatoes.) Thanks to my neighbor, though, I'm now wishing I had every one of those green tomatoes to ripen in my basement.

D.P. shared something new she is doing -- roasting tomatoes in the oven. So, I tried a couple of pans. Oh, the taste! It's more than just delicious. It's heaven! I think the taste is far better than sun-dried tomatoes. Her recipe:

Mix together in a bowl:
  • 12 smaller tomatoes or equivalent (she used anything ripe in her garden), cut in half
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced finely
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or salt of choice)
Lay tomatoes on parchment (sprayed with baking spray) in a baking pan or bun pan (or just spray the pan lightly with baking spray and put the tomatoes right on the pan). Bake at 250 degrees F or 3-4 hours, checking for doneness -- they won't all be done at once. You don't want the tomatoes completely dry, but will remove them before that (they will stick to the parchment if allowed to completely dry). Cool and put in freezer bags and freeze. Eat plain, with bread and olive oil, or on pizza or pasta.

I didn't have time to do my first batch right away, so I mixed everything and left the tomatoes to marinate overnight in a plastic zip bag, and I think the flavor that way was even better than when the tomatoes were roasted right away. My family loved them so much that with two trays of tomatoes, there were only a handful left to pop in the freezer.

If you're big on preserving enzymes, you can can get a similar flavor by mixing all the ingredients, draining, and dehydrating.

I can't fathom how I could have been missing something as delicious as roasted tomatoes, and from now on, this will be one of my first choices for ripe tomatoes. Thanks, DP for sharing your great recipe!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saving Tomato Seeds

If you are interested in saving the seeds from an heirloom tomato variety (non-hybrid), Jacque's method is easier than any I've tried before. Thanks Jacque! First, though, some rules about planting properly if you want to save the seeds. Jacque passes this on from the Seed Savers Exchange, and this site will become your friend if you become hooked on heirloom varieties:
"Cross-pollination between modern tomato varieties seldom occurs, except in potato leaf varieties which should be separated by the length of the garden. Do not save seeds from double fruits or from the first fruits of large-fruited varieties. Pick at least one ripe fruit from each of several plants."
What is a potato-leaf variety? Why, the leaves look similar to a potato leaf. My Cherokee Purple tomato is one such, so I would have to keep it far away from other tomatoes. If the tomato is self-pollinated, that variety can be planted closer to other tomato varieties. Check out the photo at left that I got from The Daily Green in their article about saving tomato seeds. The potato-leaf variety is on the left, with the standard kind of tomato leaf on the right.

Jacque's son passed on another hint on how far apart the tomatoes need to be planted in order to save seeds:
"You look at the flowers and if the flower is closed without the stamen sticking out the end then it will only be self-pollinated."
Now for Jacque's method of getting those seeds out of the tomato and ready to store:
  • Pick several fully ripe tomatoes (same variety) you want to grow again, choosing a fruit that has the characteristics you like. Get a small recloseable sandwich bag, and squeeze or scoop the seeds out of the tomato into the bag. You'll have juice and some pulp, but try not to get tons of pulp.
  • Close the bag and label it with the variety of tomato.
  • Let the bag sit on your counter for three or four days. After that time, you will see the seeds have separated from the pulp and you will smell a bit of of a rotten smell if you open the bag -- the pulp and juice have fermented, which is necessary to remove the gel that inhibits germination
  • Pour a little water in the bag and mix it up with the seeds and remaining pulp. (Any seeds that float are no good.) Pour off the pieces of pulp and bad seeds, being careful to keep the other seeds in the bag.
  • Repeat the last step once or twice until all you have left is seeds.
I discovered the easiest way to get these seeds out of the bag and dry them at the same time is to grab a napkin and poke it at the seeds. The seeds stick and the water is absorbed. Then, you gently rub off the seeds on a small plate and let them dry several days. I put the plate on top of the empty bag to make sure I didn't forget which variety I had.

The blog linked next has some great photos and explanation for this process, just in case you're nervous like I was the first time. They do some steps slightly differently, but that just shows you this is not rocket science and this process is flexible. Urban Veggie Gardener

When the seeds are completely dry, put them in a clean labeled bag or envelope. You're ready for next spring!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Great Tomato Taste-Off!

All those gorgeous tomatos (see photo) and what a fun activity! The contestants: six hybrid and nineteen heirloom tomatoes from all over the world, most provided by our generous JL.

Black Sea Man
Box Car Willie
Cherokee Purple
Cour di Bue
Debbie Beefsteak
Furry Yellow Hog
Great White
Jaune Flammee
Kellogg's Breakfast
Mormon World’s Earliest
Noir de Crimee
Principe Borghese
Santa Clara Canner
Yellow Pear


Early Girl
Green Zebra

We broadened our tomato horizons with all the many wonderful and exotic flavors. Who knew a tomato could remind you of a peach, have a citrusy flavor, or even have slightly smokey overtones? The judges (everyone who came to taste) considered every bite. A serious business indeed. What we discovered was that a tomato has a lot more potential than just a sauce puree or a slice on a hamburger. Think of a colored tomato sauce livening up a bland pasta dish, a gorgeous muli-colored salsa, smokey-toned tomatoes with fish, citrusy flavors with chicken... or any number of creative dishes. (Lucky me, I made a gallon and a half of that gorgeous salsa from the cut tomatoes after the event -- red base with white, yellow, red and green pieces of tomato.)

And the results of the voting are in! The top ten winners are:
  1. Furry Yellow Hog (Novelty, yellow-striped, very slightly fuzzy, with a bright citrusy flavor)
  2. Great White (Beefsteak. Large, yellowish-white and flavorful, with a creamy texture you could wrap your tongue around.) [tied with #3]
  3. Yellow Pear (small yellow pear-shaped. Sweet and perfect for salads, this produces prolifically)
  4. Green Zebra (Light green and yellow stripes, bred from four heirlooms, with a burst of tangy flavor)
  5. Cherokee Purple (dusky rose to purple colored beefsteak, close to 1 lb. Rich, deeply complex, and sweet flavor)
  6. Jaune Flammee (Orange-colored, apricot-shaped, with a sweet flavor that would be wonderful dried)
  7. Polfast (Early, red, sets fruit in cool weather) [tied with numbers 8, 9, & 10]
  8. Roma (standard red Italian paste tomato, with flavor intensified by drying or cooking)
  9. Box Car Willie (Smooth, bright-orange/red slicer)
  10. Cour di Blue (Heart-shaped with meaty flesh & few seeds, excellent for sun-drying. Deep red.)
I'm already planning to grow six of the top ten tomatoes and excited to look at the internet to find some more heirlooms to try. Other tasters will do the same. So, we're already planning to have another Great Tomato Taste-off next year. I can't wait! [Shhh, can you keep a secret? Next year the men get to come, too!]

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Here is an FYI to the post below. A friend tells me the herbal course I took 15 years ago, when I first started tiptoeing (ever so cautiously) into using herbs, is temporarily being offered right now, online, for the same price I paid back then -- only $100 (regularly $495). It's called the Family Herbalist Course, and it's run by the School of Natural Healing in Springville, Utah.

First, is a link describing the course. Family Herbalist Course
Second, is a link where you may (if you are interested) register at the cheaper price (scroll down to Level 100 -- Family Herbalist):

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Self-Reliance in Cold and Flu Season

I just had a driveway conversation with a neighbor, and he mentioned how upset one of his granddaughters was about a recent doctor's visit with her children. At a $25 deductible for each child , plus $40 medicine, plus the huge insurance fees they already pay regularly -- it was discouraging. You feel pretty helpless, because your kids are sick and your only alternative is a doctor's visit and all the money that comes with that. There is no choice. You're stuck. My own personal experience was much the same before I learned some of the basics about integrative medicine in a series of local classes.

I'm going to tell you the way our family has managed to have our two youngest children never take an antibiotic and our two oldest sons only take antibiotics once each in 15 years, which my daughter discovered in one of her college classes, is a rare thing, indeed. I look at using herbs and other alternatives as one of the most important things we do in our family to be self-reliant. My first thought now is always, "What can I do at home to fix or improve this health issue?" Be assured that we do get sick, just like everyone else, but how we respond is a bit different now than when I was in that young mother's shoes I mentioned. If you're having money problems or just want to learn to be more self-reliant, you might be interested.

At first sign of a sniffle, my youngest daughter now goes to the cupboard and takes a capsule of echinacea, some vitamin C, and an herbal respiratory medicine I buy in the health food store -- usually one of Dr. Christopher's formulas, such as Resp-Free or Sinus Plus. She takes these three times a day, and I have her increase by a capsule or two if she feels things are not getting better. (Echinacea is an immune system enhancer, and you can buy it even in local grocery stores.) When the kids were young, we gave them these things (or children's versions for the same purpose) in a liquid form -- of course, we followed the directions on the packages.

If she keeps getting sicker and it looks like she might be getting an infection (sore throat, etc.), my daughter chops up a bud of raw garlic, puts it in a spoon and swallows it with water -- never when she is going to be around people, for obvious reasons. Garlic is not social! When the kids were younger, we'd put the minced garlic in some honey and they'd eat it.

I know, I know. Raw garlic seems extreme and more than a bit "weird". I thought so, too. My cheap genes won me over, plus it actually worked, which surprised me. Consider the cost of a bud of garlic versus a capsule of a prescription medicine or even standard over-the-counter medicines. Consider, also, the peace of mind of always having on hand just what you need for most of those respiratory illnesses and not having to take sick children to the doctor or to wait, but instead to be able to act at the first sign of a cold or flu. We take the raw garlic three to four times a day (similar to an antibiotic dose). I don't know the ins and outs, but I understand that garlic has antibiotic properties. Again, no raw garlic if we have to be around people outside the family. :) We'll sneak in the garlic in the afternoon and evening on those days or take some chlorophyll, which is a natural deodorizer (also available at the health food stores).

Yes, you will see my daughter cough or sneeze and have a runny nose, just like everyone else -- ask the kind sister who supplied a handful of tissues to my daughter on Sunday. The herbs, however, allow her body to overcome the virus without getting the secondary infections and with none of the side-affects of standard medicine. The virus runs its course (usually in a few days) and it's done -- no doctor's visit and no expensive prescription. If we realize quickly enough that we are getting sick and take those herbs I mentioned three times in a day, then we usually do not get sick. If we wait even an hour after we first feel the signs of a cold, then we do get sick, but we use the herbs. I hasten to add that if I feel prompted to go right to the doctor, that's where we head.

What I've told you above has saved our family loads of money. The herbs do cost something, but you can usually get them a lot cheaper than the store price you usually see. You can 1) watch for them to be on sale locally and stock up, or 2) go to a website and order. (Be sure to check out the shipping charges and makes sure the site is secured for a credit card. Usually, even with shipping, it's cheaper online.)

As the debate about the health care system rolls on, I have become more and more aware that no matter what is decided, for both the health of my family and the finances of my family, I need to learn more that will keep us out of the doctors' offices more often, beyond eating fresh veggies and exercising. It's just realizing that, yes, you do have a choice, after all, and you are not stuck. I have decided to learn more and be more proactive (aka "self-reliant") in helping my own family.

Thank heavens for doctors when we need them! I just hope that if I learn more, I won't need them as often. I've proven to myself over 15 years that I actually can do a great deal, in ordinary illness, to help my family. The results speak for themselves.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The BYU Solar Cooker

Steven E. Jones, a BYU Physics professor, invented a homemade solar cooker that actually works, as compared to all the box-style cookers for which we've seen patterns over the years. This solar cooker was tested by the Benson Institute. Some problems with other homemade versions were overcome by the BYU Solar Oven.

It looks easy to make, with cardboard and aluminum foil. Here is a link to the article on, including great photos like the one at left : How to Make and Use The BYU Solar Cooker/Cooler

I love how this professor set out to conquer a problem that made the lives, especially of women, so much easier in developing countries (many women use much of their day gathering fuel to cook their family meal). I also love that he and BYU did not attempt to make money, but instead did their best to give this information free of charge.

I think the BYU solar oven would be a great emergency item to have on hand. Even if you don't need to cook food, pasteurizing water alone would be worth having this oven. Moreover, this same funnel,used a bit differently, works to cool foods during the night.

March 2013 Update:  updated information and modifications on this funnel are found at The Save-Heat Cooker and Update on the BYU Solar Funnel Cooker/Cooler    Having lived in high-altitude Bolivia, where I DID try to cook dry beans without a pressure cooker (never got done), this modification sounds great. Most of the Bolivians I knew used pressure cookers when cooking dry beans.  My two bits:  perhaps a smaller version of a Wonder Oven thermal cooker would work instead of the drilled polystyrene box -- after all, how many of us average folk know how to "mold" our own polystyrene box to fit our jars? The concept is the same, but I don't know if the Wonder Oven would hold the heat quite as well.

Here are two Youtube videos with Dr. Jones showing how to make his solar funnel: 
First Video
Second Video 

Last, here is a paper from one of Dr. Jones' former students, with all the graphs you could want to show how this works. (Note:  this is a downloadable file, so don't think you're being spammed.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Long Live Our Geraniums!

Pioneer women found ways to bring some beauty with them into the wilderness, as evidenced by the flowers still growing around homesteads now long gone. Not far from my home is just such a place with no building evident, but perenial flowers to mark the spot a family once lived. Even in a hand-to-mouth existence, natural beauty made a difference and was a refining element in the lives of those women and their families.

We're not all that different from those women in our desire for flowers, though much of our floral beauty these days is found in pots near our front door. Pots, whose crowning beauty is most often one or more geraniums -- those gorgeous blooms that cost you an arm and a leg every single year.

Mourning the loss of my geraniums after an early cold snap last fall, I decided to find out if there is a way to preserve the plants for another year. I found a wonderful video produced by Garden Gate Magazine about how to overwinter geraniums in boxes in the house. Watch the videos linked below and learn how to do it. If you start with the first video, the rest of the videos will cycle through without having to click on each individual video.

Overwintering Geraniums

Listening to the video, I think you can do this even after the first freeze.

Addendum April 2010: It's now April of the next spring, after I followed the procedure in the video. I realized the video did not tell me where to put the repotted geraniums -- in sun? in dark? I went looking for more info and found another website that lists several different options for wintering geraniums. I like options, so here it it is. I especially like step 7, that shows how to rehydrate the roots, but I have not tried it myself yet. Still, though, nothing in that site that tells me what to do with the plants after repotting them in the spring. I did find the answer, though, on the Iowa State University Extension website, in an article appropriately named "Overwintering Geraniums, linked here. Quoting the article:
Place potted plants in a sunny window to initiate new growth. It often takes several weeks for plants to initiate growth after dormant storage.
Addendum  October 2012: Here is a Youtube video with an alternate method of saving geraniums by  doing cuttings and putting them in potting soil. This method is also supposed to work well with ivy geraniums as well as the other types. This way will be more work, as you will have to water them over the winter and keep them in the light, but you can also have more geraniums next summer than you did this summer.  Below is the link:

Great Gardens - Making New Geraniums

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wasps Be Gone!

So, you've tried those wasp traps from the local stores and might have even tried traps with raw meat, but those pesky wasps are not interested in your traps? You just might be hanging up the wrong trap. Lager Sagers, one of the hosts of the KSL Greenhouse show, says that the wasps you see in swarms around your yard and attacking your ripe fruit are probably not the same kind of wasps we had ten years ago. They might be the European Paper Wasp, a species not native to the U.S. In the best tradition of self-reliance, the trap you need might be one of your own making. No fancy pheromes --- just an old plastic soda bottle, fruit juice, soap and water.

Lager Sagers explains about this wasp and the trap in the following article on KSL: The Right Trap for the Right Wasp

If you, like me, need a visual illustration, I found the trap Mr. Sagers describes on a different website: Do It Yourself Wasp Control

If you plan to make one of these traps, it is important to use the correct proportions: 1 part fruit juice to 10 parts water + 1 tsp. liquid detergent. These proportions encourage fermentation of the mixture, which draws the wasps.

Wouldn't this make a great project for a youth group?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Night of the Living Grasshopper

Out of desperation, I sent my daughter outside with the vacuum cleaner to suck up the hordes of grasshoppers eating my pole beans. (We put the vacuum on a hard piece of plastic to keep the brushes from sucking up the dirt.) She finally developed a technique, sucking up 40 of them in two hours. You'll have to be desperate to do it, but maybe you are desperate like I was, and this works really well with squash bugs. Since all 40 hoppers she got were eating my green beans, it should help a little. She says you have to move really slowly and not just jab at them, causing them to jump away. It's problematic anyway, as the leaves of the beans tend to get sucked up, too. Moving slowly, you can avoid the leaves and not startle the hoppers. My thought is that you could avoid getting the leaves if you make it a two-person or two-kid job, only turning the vacuum on when the nozzle is right where it needs to be. Then, the hoppers aren't startled by the wind until it's too late!

O.K., now to tell you what happens when you have 40 live grasshoppers in your vacuum. We vacuum up wasps in the house and they never get out of the vacuum. Grasshoppers are made of sterner stuff, let me tell you. My daughter had left the vacuum in the garage so she could return later to the garden. When my son brought it inside to vacuum the carpet, hoppers started coming out of the vacuum in our house! We sucked them back up and I decided this required a change of vacuum bag. I didn't anticipate the next circus act, as all those dusty hoppers were at the opening of the bag just ready to hop out when I removed the bag! One hopped right on me and the others were covered in vacuum dust, ready to go, a la "Night of the Living Grasshopper". In the meanwhile, I was screeching (a tad startled to have one hop out on me); my daughter was screeching looking at those dusty hoppers trying to get out in our house; and I was fumbling to get that cover over the opening as quickly as possible to keep the other hoppers inside. It was completely gross! It sure makes, though, for one of those family memories that will give us a lot of laughs in the retelling!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grasshopper Problems?

If you don't already have problems with grasshoppers in your Utah yard, you likely will have a problem before the summer is done -- particularly if you live next to undeveloped land.

Grasshoppers come and go in seven- to 10-year cycles, said Larry Lewis, a spokesman for the Utah agriculture department. Grasshopper numbers are usually high for several years and then the cycle goes on the downswing. Right now, there are grasshoppers in different stages of development, but we have a lot of little ones just starting out.

Your options to control these pests?

If you choose chemical poisons, grasshoppers have to be sprayed before they develop their wings and a hard shell. You can have that done commercially or do it yourself.

For those preferring organic methods, there are several things you can do. Larry Sagers, host of the KSL Greenhouse and a USU Extension agent, says that grasshoppers don't like to lay eggs in disturbed soil. So, you might get some control next year by tilling the surface of any undeveloped areas.

You can also use NoLo Bait. NoLo Bait is wheat bran carrying a spore of Nosema locustae, which infects the grasshoppers when they eat the bait. This spore spreads through grasshopper populations, but it is not a quick fix. You probably won't see a lot of die-off fast. According to the experts, you don't want them to die quickly. You want them to become sluggish and stop feeding so other grasshoppers canibalize them and get the disease -- nasty things, aren't they? The following two links tell you how this bait works in a straight-forward manner:
I bought NoLo yesterday at IFA in Spanish Fork, and I applied considerably more of the bait than the minimum the package indicated. I want to get all the hoppers I can, and since this is not toxic to humans, it's safe. You'll note that there are more hoppers in certain areas of the yard, and that's where you'll want to put more bait, plus a border around your property to get incoming hoppers. More grasshoppers will come into your yard from the fields, guaranteed, but what you do this year affects what happens with next year's hatch.

You can purchase NoLo Bait at IFA in Spanish Fork. It costs about $15 for 1 pound, but 5 pounds are a bit over $30. So, you would be wise to go in with a neighbor or a few neighbors -- besides, if you handle your own hoppers, the neighbor's hoppers will just migrate into your yard. NoLo Bait has a very limited shelf life, so don't plan to buy a lot and save it. Pay attention to the expiration date, which will only be a few weeks away.

You could spray and/or use the bait and still loose your garden, but with the Nolo bait added in, you have a good chance of infecting next year's hatch with the disease (that is explained in the links above).

Chickens also like to eat grasshoppers -- or you could always pray for seagulls.....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Betta' Think Twice About Canning Butta'

This is an update on the safety of canning butter at home. Every single internet site I've seen saying it is not safe to home-can butter (including the Extension Service) quotes the same source: The National Center for Home Food Preservation. So, what is this group? Here's what their website says:
"The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods."
To read more statements from the National Center for Home Preservation about the dangers of home-canned butter, please click here.

I am convinced that these official sources are all absolutely correct that it is not safe to can butter --- until the USDA and National Center for Home Preservation develop a tested and safe procedure for us. However, from reading their statements, it seems to me that these agencies don't see the need for the consumer being able to can butter, per this statement from the above website:
"Good quality butter is readily available at all times, if butter is needed for fresh use."
Unfortunately, that might be the final word on a safe, tested method becoming available in the U.S. Would it make a difference if consumers offer those agencies some feedback and express interest in this issue?

Who does see a need for canned butter? People in Australia and New Zealand, for one thing. Companies have developed a safe method to can butter (and cheese, too) in those nations. These companies are likely making a tidy profit exporting their products to the United States, Middle East, and elsewhere, if all the food storage, preparedness, and camping websites talking about Red Feather canned butter and cheese are indicative.

Your options in storing butter right now?
  • Buy butter on sale and freeze it (FYI: I'm using butter that has been in my freezer at least two years with no loss of quality. We somehow found a case in the bottom of the freezer that we don't remember purchasing -- one of those food storage miracles, we think.)
  • Buy powdered butter (FYI: baked goods don't taste as good with powdered versus real butter. In addition, there seem to be serious health questions about oxidized dairy products' tendency to cling to the arteries. )
  • Buy shelf stable canned butter imported from New Zealand and Australia. Click here for an online review of Red Feather canned butter and cheese. You can find these products many places for many prices. Here is one of them: Totally

As a mom wanting to be completely prepared (sorry, it's just in my food storage genes), I wish that since commercially canning butter is doable, the government agencies involved with food safety would accordingly test and provide consumers with safe instructions to can butter ourselves. Alternatively, please, can't some enterprising U.S. company can butter and cheese and save us the extra costs involved with an imported product? Alas, for the time being, I stick with my year's supply of butter in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Organic Insect and Disease Control

It only took a few raspberry canes wilting and toppling over for me to realize there must be a borer or something in my new raspberries. Shoot! Why don't bugs invest the field bindweed (aka morning glory) or something else I hate? I went looking for some organic/natural control solutions online and came up with a book on Google Books that anyone can access for free for any organic pest and disease issue -- wonderful!

With many full-view Google books, you can download the book to your computer, but since this book is still under copyright, the author isn't letting you do that. Nevertheless, here's a resource for you to use online any time you want, so bookmark it for future use. The organic gardener's handbook of natural insect and disease control

This link will open into an Adobe Acrobat Reader, if you've used Acrobat Acrobat Reader before. If you haven't, go to and download it for free. Let's assume you now have the reader. If you click on the link above, the book will open in the reader. At the top right is a little box with gray letters, "Search in this book". Google Books are every word searchable, so search to your heart's content. The results will appear below that box. If you wish to see the book larger, click on the box icon with arrows going to the corners of the box (this is near the middle of the page in the blue border. Alternatively, you can use the zoom icons.

What did I find for my raspberries? I get to use pyrethrin, which I actually have. I'm crossing my fingers it's still good.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is It Some Ancient Burial Ground? No!

I confess I've had some amused looks and raised eyebrows with my gardening methods. After all, it just doesn't look the same way Grandma gardened. Moreover, my garden has been strange for more than 16 years and counting. I blame that book I checked out of the library. It described how a Pacific Northwest gardener built his gardens. He loosened his soil deeply, added organic matter, and then he piled the soil up into long mounds-- a Chinese method. I duplicated his methods and have loved the results. I leave walking paths and never walk on the mounds so all that softened soil never gets compacted -- yes, I still have to remind my family not to walk on the mounds, even after 16 years! There is plenty of loose soil for the plants to grow great roots, which equals great and plentiful produce. I plant double rows with row crops (i.e. peas and beans) and single rows with wide and large plants. In essence, it is raised bed gardening with added flexibility and less cost.

How do I water it? I used soaker hoses for a good long time and changed to drip irrigation with 2 gph (gallons per hour) emitters two years ago. Now, my drip system is hooked up to the sprinkler system and comes on automatically. Yes, I'm absolutely spoiled and loving it, too.

Last year, I attended a gardening class taught by expert gardener, Gordon Wells, and I made some modifications to my mounds. Imagine, he's a mound-builder, too! My mounds, like his, now have a bit higher sides, like a banana split bowl.

Here's a photo from last year's garden with my daughter by her squash "Squishie", which she planted late.

Note the rise on the sides of the mounds and the black plastic with holes cut for the plants. The drip system runs in the middle, under the black plastic. Rocks and bricks keep the plastic in place on ends and sides. When the plants are small, the black plastic has a tendency to blow up a bit and sometimes cover a tender plant. A smaller rock beside the plant and on top of the plastic will prevent this.

Most of the mounds are about 36" wide at the bottom and 24" wide on top, including the higher sides. (Gordon Wells uses a little wider mound for crops such as squash and a 10-ft. wide mound for indeterminate tomatoes. He uses the standard width for paste and determinate tomatoes. (Indeterminates sprawl and keep growing throughout the season). When you build your mounds, make sure to leave a good walking path at least 12" wide, and probably a bit wider, between mounds -- it's tough to walk in a narrow furrow. This also adds more soil to your mounds.

I admit that the first year, it is a lot of work building the mounds. Succeeding years, it's much easier than the old methods, and the abundant harvest proves this method works.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Healthy Self-Reliance

Most of us have learned by now that if we eat whole grains, lean meats, and plenty of veggies, our over-all health will greatly improve. It's amazing how many of the things we've been taught for years (for some of us, it's actually a facet of our religion to eat wisely), are now proven by science and medical doctors. All that said, do we use wisdom in our food choices or do we eat from convenience? Maybe our food choices do more for our health or against our health than we even realize.

Though, in my home we rarely buy boxed foods, there are times when we're in a hurry or I'm lazy (guilty!) and we stop by for fast food. My husband showed me a short Youtube video last week that has forever changed the way I will think about "food" one particular fast-food place. It's entertaining (your children and teens will love it), and I think you'll be amazed if you watch the whole thing: How Nasty are McDonald's Fries?

For the most part, we get to choose our own health path by how we eat most of the time and by the amount we exercise. How much more self-reliant can we get?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ah, the Sparkle of Clean Canning Jars....

With the shamrocks just over, you probably are not thinking of canning season. Change that! With the economic downturn, you might have heard last fall that all the local stores were out of canning jars. You might also have heard the Extension Service Horticulturist state on recent news that they had been deluged with calls from people planning to garden who had not before had gardens. Put two and two together, and it's not hard to figure out that another canning jar shortage might happen this year, probably beginning much earlier than previous years.

With many dozens of jars, I always think I have enough to can all I need, but there I am every year running to get a few more jars during canning season. I have found that many things store better in glass than they do in plastic -- haven't you noticed those spices in the glass jars stay nicer longer than the spices in the plastic jars? Perhaps there's a reason why the expensive spices are in glass instead of plastic. It's not practical to use glass for everything, but even frozen foods seem to hold better in glass than in plastic. I also have mason jars full of dry storage items such as spices, nuts, and dried fruits and veggies. I'd store chocolate chips in jars if the family didn't eat them so fast there is no chocolate left to store!

By now, you might have figured out that I'm frugal, thrifty ... aka "cheap." That means I'm on the lookout for my favorite style of canning jars every time I hit a yard sale or a thrift store. Who wants to pay $12 and more for a case of new jars when used ones are perfectly good and cost me at the very most 50 cents per jar? A bath in the dishwasher, and all is as good as new -- just make sure the rims don't have nicks. That's why I picked up a box of 20 canning jars at a Deseret Industries thrift store yesterday for 25 cents per jar. Yes, that's $5 for 20 jars. A hint for you is that the price of mason jars varies at thrift stores, even stores with the same name. Another hint is if you wait until canning season, you will pay more per jar at those thrift stores and the jars might well be already snapped up -- they were gone last year by canning season. So, start keeping those eyes peeled and pick up jars over the next few months.

If you want new canning jars, here are your options in March. A few local stores do have a case or two of canning jars, but you will likely have to ask where they are -- stuck high on some shelf, most likely. You can also buy canning jars on the internet. Search for the size of mason or canning jars you want. The cheapest I found was about $10 per case of 12 jars, with most sites higher than that. It won't matter which brand you buy, as long as it holds a standard or wide-mouth lid.

You'll also need canning lids. Last summer, the best price I found buying bulk lids was at Mulberry Lane Farm. It is much cheaper buying lids in bulk than just by the box of 12 lids. Don't cringe at buying dozens of lids, because in a cool place, those lids can be used years later. Incidentally, I've always been a fan of Ball lids versus Kerr lids. Now, the same company makes both lids, and it apparently changed the Kerr lids' compound. So, essentially, you get the same lid wheather it says Ball or Kerr now, and they are packaged virtually the same.

Begin preparing now for summer and fall canning. Just think of those jewel-toned jars of tomatoes and green beans and peaches and... now, there's a sigh of contentment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Peace of Mind -- It Might Be in a Can

I can't imagine living on just "long-term" storage items like grains and beans without something to add flavor, interest, and nutrition. So, I use our local supermarkets' case lot sales to stock up on tomato sauce, a few kinds of veggies I don't can from my garden, creamed soups, canned beans (for the days you are in a hurry), and pineapple for ethnic dishes we make. Depending on the store, case lot sales are often also your chance to get a good buy on dried milk, sugar, salt, baking soda, etc. -- some of the things you use every day in your kitchen.

If your area doesn't have case lot sales, you can stock up the same way by buying a case when an item is at a good sale price. The clerk might look strangely at you when you ask him/her to get you a case of an item, but they'll go back and get one. You leave the store with a feeling of accomplishment and real satisfaction.

For items that never come on sale, like the coconut milk our family regularly uses in Thai cooking, I find a store with a good price and pick up a half dozen or so cans every time I go in the store. Sure, we could live without Thai curry and we could live without pineapple on our homemade pizza, but why should we when we don't have to?

Why buy canned goods in bulk?

First, price. Consider how much you will save over a year if you purchase most of your canned goods at a dime or so cheaper each can. With a box of 20 cans, you've already saved $2, just on one item you use regularly.

Second, you've made life easier for you, the cook. It's so comforting to know those cans are there and ready when you need them -- no running to the store for a can of tomato sauce you discovered you needed right in the middle of cooking the meal.

Third, find peace by being prepared and self-reliant. With the economic downturn, I don't need to say too much about the value of having a supply of food ahead of time. I will just say that I personally have friends right in this town who have had to live off their food storage when husbands lost what seemed very secure jobs. Those people put that food on their shelves in the good times, never knowing they're really need it soon. Our family has lived off food storage when car repairs went into hundreds of dollars more than planned. Sometimes the financial crunch is short-term and sometimes long-term, but all of us go through at least a short-term financial crunch at some point

Peace of mind just might come in a can... and in the freezer... and in buckets in our basement.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Broaden Your Grain Horizons

One day in the local health food store, I noticed many varieties of rice in their bulk section. I bought a little brown basmati rice, because I'd read that it was low glycemic. It was delicious! It has a much more mild flavor than the regular brown rice I've used for years, and I can use brown basmati rice in dishes where I don't want the rice to take over the flavor of the food or with guests not used to brown rice. So, guess what kind of brown rice is in my storage now? I'm willing to pay a little more to get the brown basmati rice, and I've been able to get buckets of brown basmati rice through Walton Feed orders (through Carol M., for those of you in Elk Ridge).

That experience taught me something.... why not go into the health food store and buy a little grain I've never tried before? If we like that grain, then we look for a place to do a bulk order and get that grain much cheaper than at the health food store. Most health food stores have small bags or a bulk section. You can try all kinds of things that might seem exotic to you now.

Incidentally, you CAN cook brown rice in a rice cooker. Rince the rice until clean and then soak it in water for several hours or all day. Put the soaked rice in the rice cooker, add the amount of water you normally would for the same amount of white rice, plus about 3/4 cup additional water. Cover and cook. If your first batch is dry, then adjust the water the next time or add a little more water toward the end of the cooking. If you don't own a rice cooker, cook enough rice for several days and toss the leftovers in the refrigerator or the freezer. I put the cold rice in a vegetable steamer and steam it to warm for the next meal.

Another fun grain you can try is quinoa. This grain comes from the Andes and is one of the "super grains", due to it's high nutrient content. I lived in Bolivia for awhile, where I first used quinoa - a tiny grain, really. I have to say it: there is no "W" sound in quinoa as you read all over the web. It is pronounced "kee-no-ah", not "kin-wah". I think the popular pronunciation is what a non-Spanish speaker thought they were hearing when a Spanish speaker said the word. I've seen quinoa in most health food stores.

Whole wheat couscous is another wonderful thing we always have in our house, having tried it from the health food store. True, it's a pasta, but it offers you a whole new world of fast and easy cooking. For couscous itself, you just add water and salt and stir. For great flavor, we toast the couscous in a frying pan and set it aside. (Sometimes I toast some pine nuts or sliced almonds, too.) I saute onions and garlic in olive oil, add the amount of water for the amount of couscous I want to make, chicken soup base (like bouillon, but better), and a handful of golden raisins. Cook until the raisins are soft and remove from heat. Add the couscous (and nuts if you're using them), stir, and cover. In a few minutes, it's done. This is great with a little extra olive oil drizzled over the top -- a great side dish with chicken.

You won't know what you're missing until you try these and other grains. In a food storage world where wheat rules the day, wouldn't it be nice to get in a little variety to enliven your life?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Get Your Money's Worth &
Keep Your Family Safe!

Self-reliance is not just about food and eating, right? It's about getting your money's worth, and it's about that feeling of security and safety. A friend just made me aware of aware of a very important issue that definitely might save your life or the lives of your loved ones. Since all of us drive cars, it affects every one of us.

In the United Kingdom, auto tires have an expiration date. Have you ever seen that in the U.S.? No. Yet, apparently, it very much matters how long it has been since a tire was manufactured, even if that tire is sitting in a tire store looking brand-new. Who knew? The manufacturers knew and our government knows and no one told us. Why does this not surprise me?

As tires age, they dry out a bit and the tread becomes less stable, even six years after they were manufactured. Does it bother you that tires you thought were new might fall apart while you're driving down the freeway? Yet, there are tires all over the U.S. being sold as "brand-new" that were manufactured as long as 12 years ago. So, please watch the ABC news story linked below so you know what to watch for and how to decode the manufacturer date stamped on the tires. Please check your own car tires, too, and pass this information onto your family and friends. I'm crossing my fingers the link to this news story stays up a good long time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Three in One ...What a Deal!

Three great food storage blogs, all run by young mothers, have merged into Fun with Food Storage, meant to be a "one-stop" place to help you with your planning and purchasing of food storage, as well as the last important step -- eating. The network includes: Obsessive Shopper, Food Storage Made Easy, and Everyday Food Storage. Throughout, you get practical advice, easy steps, and a lot of fun, to boot. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Snow on the Ground and Spring in the Heart

It's a new year, so time for a bunch of goals, right? Trouble is that we might have given up on those goals long before the warm months hit. So, why not set some manageable goals that you'll remember every time you walk into your pantry or storage room -- goals that will benefit your family long-term? Tracie M. pointed out today that food prices have gone down. We all are smart enough to know the price of gas will go back up and that the food prices will rise again, too. So, now is the time to both plan and prepare. How can you prepare? Let's talk about one step you can take right now.

Seed catalogues come out soon, so now is the time to start planning your summer vegetable garden. Order and buy your seeds in February and start some of them (i.e. tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli) by March.

Why start your own seeds? You can grow tasty varieties not available locally. I've been growing Brandywine tomatoes (an Amish heirloom variety) and Cherokee Purple tomatoes (an American Indian heirloom variety) for years, from seeds I purchased at Johnny's Seeds, a Maine company. Only recently have those plants become available locally. Expand your horizons and pour over the seed catalogues, both paper and online, and you'll find a whole new world of gardening.

Aren't you jazzed to get a bit of green going with all this snow?Remember that broccoli and lettuce can be set out very early. My lettuce plants from seed survived 6" of snow last spring and were beautiful. Truly, there is nothing like a home-grown vegetable for taste and flavor, and you'll feel even better knowing you were able to begin this process right in your own home with your little green thumb. Involve your children in the planning now, as well as the planting and all the rest.

Sometimes, we begin something because we know we should do it, and because we've been counseled to do it. Most of the time.... yes, most of the time, we end up wishing we'd begun earlier. The blessings pour over us. After all, who was it in the old Primary song who told us to "plant a garden", after all? With every commandment comes a blessing attached.