Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Liberty Apple Tree

Since I mentioned my Liberty apple tree in my last post, I thought I'd find a picture of a productive Liberty apple tree so you can see what mine will look like when it grows up.

I shamelessly stole this picture from the Edible Landscaping website.  They're a nursery that serves backyard fruit growers in Virginia--sorta like Raintree and One Green World do here.

Anyway, here's the tree.  Can an apple LOOK flavorfull?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Guilding My Gravenstein

My Gravenstein apple tree is going to bloom this year, for the fist time.  I'm very excited.  I'd be a lot more excited if the tree I got to pollinate it, my Liberty apple tree, were going to bloom also!  There's a chance that my Resi, which is also going to bloom for the first time, will bloom early enough to pollinate the Gravenstein.  But it'll be dicey.  Gravensteins are triploid, and so do not pollinate other trees.  So I won't get any Resi apples.  But it would be nice to at least get some Gravensteins.

Up until now I've just been mulching around my apple trees.  But I've decided it's time to get serious about making an apple guild. 

"Guild" is a permaculture term that means a group of plants, usually with a food-bearing tree in the middle, that support each other, providing for each other's needs.  They typically consist of some combination of nitrogen fixers (so you don't have to fertilize so much), deep-rooted nutrient accumulators (for bringing nutrients from deep in the soil up to where other plants, including the tree, can use them), insect attractors (for attracting pollinizing and pest-eating insects), mulch makers (than you can slash periodically for on-the-spot mulch, or that drop a lot of litter to act as mulch), and ground covers (to protect the soil from splashing rains and too much sun, and to suppress weeds).  Typically, some of the plants will be shrubs and some will be perennials.  There may even be a vine or two.  Annuals are usually avoided in a guild, unless they self-sow.

I'm just starting this guild, so it doesn't have everything it will eventually have.  For example, I'll want to put 4 or 5 berry bushes around the edges--maybe goosberries, currents, honey berries, or goumis (which are nitrogen fixers).  And I don't have any nitrogen fixers, but I bought a packet of sweet peas, which I'll plant to grow up the cheap-and-cheesy deer fence.

So here's what I got, and why I got it.

  • 2 artichoke plants.  I really like artichokes, so that's a good reason to grow them--although 2 plants isn't very many.  But artichoke plants are nice in a fruit-tree guild or a food forest because they have leafy growth that you can slash for mulching in place.  I'm not sure whether you can do this during the summer, or whether you need to wait until they die down at the end of the year.  That's the deer fencing in front of the plant.

  • I transplanted a couple sprouts from the black-eyed susan in my front yard.  I see all kinds of little bugs flitting around the ones in the front yard, so I'm sure they'll attract some that are beneficial.  And I've seen Red Admiral butterflies on them too, so that's another benefit.  And...I just like them (not everything has to be utilitarian!).  They will spread into a nice-sized clump. 

  • I planted a lemon thyme plant.  Just one, but it will spread--I think.  I know English thyme can spread quite a bit, but I expect this to be a little tamer.  Thyme is good because it's a ground cover, and it's a nice culinary herb.  But it's also aromatic, so it's possible it'll help repell some pests.  If not, that's OK.  It's a pretty little thing.

  • I planted 4 strawberry plants.  I don't know that they do much besides cover the ground.  But they do do that, and they are mighty tasty berries.  Again, 4 strawberry plants isn't a lot.  But there will be more in other apple-tree guilds.  It's good to mix up the plants rather than having all of one kind grouped together.

  • In the strawberry picture, you can see a parsley plant.  They're supposed to be good for attracting beneficial insects.
  • And finally, I planted 1 small lavendar plant.  I must be really strange because I really don't like the scent of lavendars.  But they are beautiful small bushes, and they probably attract beneficial insects. 

  • Oh, and I sprinkled some seeds from a wildflower mix. 
  • I'm toying with the idea of planting some nasturtiums around the outside of this--haven't decided yet.  But "nasties" are a pretty ground cover, and nice mulching plant, have edible leaves and flowers, and are really pretty.  So I'll probably add some.
That's it so far.  One of the goals of creating fruit-tree guilds and food forests (which is basically an expanded version of a guild), is to increase bio-diversity.   I've got a fairly good start here.  I'll add more next year (or maybe later this year, if I get impatient!).

Making a Homemade Berkey Water Filter

Are you like me?  You want a Big Berkey water filter, but you just can't justify spending so much on one?  Well!  Did you know that you can purchase the filter elements and make one yourself, from a couple food-grade buckets?  It won't be as fancy as a real Big Berkey.  It probably won't be as rugged as the real deal.  But it will work.

A note:  I can't claim credit for figuring this out.  I learned of it from How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, by James Wesley, Rawles.

I made one.  And I took some pictures.  So I thought I'd show you how easy it is.

What you need:

2  six-gallon, food-grade water buckets (You can use smaller buckets, but they aren't recommended.)
2  black Berkey purification elements, with priming button
1 spigot, if you want to use one
1 1/2" drill bit

I didn't have a 1/2" drill bit.  So I went to my go-to guy for hardware.  He said that most home drills aren't big enough to accommodate a standard 1/2" drill bit.  But they make a 1/2" drill bit that narrows down at the end so you can fit it in your drill. I got one, and it worked perfectly.  So that's probably what you'll need, too.

I got my black Berkey purification elements from the Berkey Guy.   I bought from him because he was the last supplier I found on the Internet who was still selling them for $99 and including a free Sport Berkey Water Bottle Portable Water Purifier.  Everyone was selling them for this price last year.  Now, no one is.  Even the Berkey Guy has raised his prices since I got mine. (2 black Berkey purification elements are now $107, and the Sport Berkey is $24.99).

The process is simple:
  1. Prime the purification elements.
  2. Drill holes for the purification elements in the bottom of one bucket and in the lid of the other bucket.
  3. Put the purification elements through the holes in the bottom of the bucket, with the elements inside the bucket, and tighten the wing nuts.
  4. Install the spigot in the bottom bucket, if you want one (I did not).
  5. Assemble the Water Filter.
    1. Set the lid with the holes on the bucket without the holes. 
    2. Put the bucket with the purification elements on the other bucket with the lid, with the stems going into the holes in the lid (the clean water drips through the stems). 
    3. Put the lid without holes on the bucket with the purification elements in it.
Then just pour your dirty water into the top bucket and wait for your clean water to drip into the lower bucket.  If the water has a lot of particulate matter, you'll get better results if you pour it through a couple layers of cheese cloth before pouring into your new filter--you can go longer without cleaning the elements.

So.  Let's get started.

First, you need some clean water to prime the purification elements.  I had some bottled water on hand, so I used that.  It took a 20-oz bottle of water to prime each element.  If you have nice water from your faucet, you can use that.  The instructions for priming the purification elements are in the box.

The priming button looks like a tan rubber gasket.  It goes over the stem and rests against the bottom of the element.  The priming process forces water backwards through each purification element, wetting it and flushing out any residue.  The priming button serves to prevent (mostly) water from squirting out while you're forcing the water backwards through the stem and into and through the element.

You hold the element firmly against the faucet (you'd probably have to take the little screen off) or against your water bottle, and force water through it until it beads up on on the surface of the element and runs down.

Once the elements are primed, you can set them aside.  It's time to drill some holes.

I found it easiest to put the bottom bucket on the floor, with its lid on top, and put the filtering bucket on top of the lid.  That way I could make sure the holes in the bucket lined up with the holes in the lid.  I drilled my holes about 3 inches from the side of the bucket, which left plenty of room for the elements.  The downside to this method is that you have to clean little bits of plastic out of both buckets.

Then I installed the elements.

And finally, I stacked up the buckes to make my filter.

Oops!  Despite my care I got the holes in the lid in the wrong place, and the filter bucket doesn't quite sit on the lid of the lower bucket properly.  Ah well.  It still works.

So.  How do I like it and what have I learned?

It's easy to use.  I just take a third bucket (labeled "Dirty Water") out to my rain barrel and fetch some water.  Pour it into the filter bucket, and a few hours later I have clean water in the lower bucket.

Yeah.  That's right.  A few hours.  It is not a fast filter.  But there are a few things you can do to speed things up.
  1. Keep the water level in the filter bucket topped off.  The higher the water level in the filter bucket, the greater the water pressure against the filters, so the faster they filter.  Just make sure you don't overflow your bottom bucket!
  2. Use 6-gallon buckets.  I used 4 1/2-gallon buckets, because when I wanted to order them Emergency Essentials was out of the bigger buckets and I was impatient.  But by using 6-gallon buckets, I would have started with the water level higher, and would have gotten clean water faster.
  3. Get 4 purification elements instead of 2.  You can cut your filter time in half.  This also lets you filter a lot more water before you have to replace your purification elements.  Of course, it costs twice as much up front.
Each element will purify pu to 3000 gallons.  So if you have 2 elements in your filter, you can purify 6000 gallons before you have to purchase more elements.  And if you have 4 elements, you can purify 12000 gallons before replacing them.  Of course, when you do replace them, it costs that much more!

Another thing to remember is that you can clean the black Berkey purification elements several times.  They recommend using a ScotchBright(r) pad.

You can put a spigot in the bottom bucket, to use it as a dispenser.  I decided not to do this for 2 reasons.   I forgot to purchase a spigot!  But also, I already have a couple water dispensers.  So I just collect water in the bucket and pour it into the dispensers I already have.

I got my first dispenser from The Water Crock Shop.  They have a very nice selection of water crocks.  You can either get a lid, like I did, or put a water bottle on top.  The crock, by itself, holds 2 1/2 gallons of water.

But the water crock was too big for my tiny bathroom counter.  So I picked up a glass dispenser on sale at my local Fred Meyer store.  I think it's supposed to be for serving Limoncello.  But I'm using it for nice, clean, water.

Now, next time the power goes out for a week or so after a winter storm, I'll have all the clean, fresh, water I can drink!  And you can, too!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Availability of Freeze Dried Foods

As you may know, it's difficult to purchase freeze-dried food in #10 cans these days.  The websites I've been to all have some or most of their #10 cans on backorder,  both Mountain House and Provident Pantry.  I assume the same is true of other brands.  Apparently, the demand for freeze-dried and dehydrated foods is increasing faster then the supply can respond.  Here's what Mountain House says about it.

On the one had, it's good that--apparently--so many people are preparing.  On the other hand, this makes getting your food preps in store harder.

However, all is not lost.  I've noticed that both Emergency Essentials and Disaster Necessities will backorder these items for you.  You'll just have to wait for them.  (I should note that I have no experience with Disaster Necessities.  I recently placed an order with them--for backordered items--but I haven't received it yet.  No, I'm not abandoning Emergency Essentials, I just wanted to try another supplier.)

While you're waiting for backordered freeze-dried food, you can stock up on canned goods and other products that store well, from Costco, Walmart, or whatever store is in your area.  And don't forget non-food items, such as soap, toilet paper, etc.

I also noticed that Emergency Essentials is out of, and back ordering, their 55-cal water barrels.  So it looks like people are storing water, too.  Storing water is very important, especially for people living in dry areas.  We need water even more than we need food, although water is usually easier to find.  But it must be CLEAN water.  Dirty water can kill you.  So it's a good idea to store some way to clean dirty water.

I recently joined Costco again after being away for several years.  I was happy to see that they have 12-packs of many canned goods at reasonable prices.  And big bags of rice and other staples.  Personally, I'd want to repackage rice or other staples that are in burlap bags, so they have a longer shelf life.

Many food-storage types talk about storing food (rice, beans, wheat, etc.) for up to 20 years.  But that isn't really necessary.  Ideally, you want to be storing foods that you and your family like to eat, and be regularly eating those foods from your storage.  When you buy more, you put it in the back of your current stock and use the oldest things first.  So you don't need to store something for 20 years.  If you have a year's worth of food stored, you might have things no older than a couple years, because you're constantly cycling through it.

Besides, who wants to store food for 20 years?  If there's no disaster, you've wasted your money.  But if you're buying and storing food you eat all the time anyway, and you're cycling through your stored food, your money is never wasted.

I would argue, though, that convenience foods stored in cardboard should be re-packaged in some way to make them both more airtight and less available to pests.  You DON'T want mice eating all your stored food.

Good luck, and happy food storing!

Creamy Soup Base Review

I've been ogling the Creamy Soup Base over at Emergency Essentials for a while now, so I finally decided to give it a try.  I am sure glad I did!  It makes wonderful cream-of-broccoli soup.  I've also used it for making creamed peas and scalloped potatoes.  I haven't tried this yet, but I'll bet you could make good mac-and-cheese by melting some cheddar cheese in it and pouring it over macaroni.

The only real down side is that the ingredients aren't the most healthful:  1060mg of sodium and 11g of saturated fat per serving.  And a serving is only 1 cup, so I usually eat 2 servings at a time (a big bowl of cream-of-broccoli soup and a chunk of homemade bread is an awesome lunch!).  This is probably not something you'd want to eat every day.  On the other hand, fats are one of the most difficult food categories to store for more than just a few months, so this could be valuable in a well-rounded food-storage plan.

I make my soup a little healthier by adding a little white bean flour (from Bob's Red Mill) to the soup mix before adding it to the boiling water.  You can, of course, make a cream soup with just the white bean flour (the recipe is on the package),  but it's lumpy--the recipe on the package tells you to put it in the blender before serving it.  And the bean-flour soup doesn't have any seasonings in it (the chicken bouillon in this soup mix has some seasonings).  So I just add some bean flour to the creamy soup mix.  You have to be careful, though.  If you add too much it makes the soup lumpy.

But soup from this mix tastes good, is versatile, and is quick and easy to prepare.  I makeit when I'm too tired to cook a "real meal".

Here's how I make my cream-of-broccoli soup:

First, I measure out 1/2 cup soup mix, and put it into a 1-cup measuring cup.  Then I add a spoonful of white bean flour.  I start 2 cups of water to boil (do not add salt--there's plenty in the soup mix).  While the water is coming to a boil, I cut up some broccoli--about 3/4 cup.

When the water comes to a boil, I whisk in the soup mix, then turn down the heat, because this likes to boil and you want it to only simmer.

The soup is supposed to simmer for 10 minutes.  About half way through that time, I add the broccoli.  I've learned that you shouldn't wait too long to add the broccoli, or it will taste raw.  Of course, you don't want to put it in too early or it might get too mushy.  I use thawed-out frozen broccoli, so it's been blanched (before it was frozen), so it's partially cooked.  If you're using fresh broccoli from the garden, it might need to cook longer.

And that's it.  After simmering for 10 minutes it's done.  Easy, peasy, Cream of Broccoli soup.

Oh, there is one thing.  The recipe on the can says to "Whisk 1/4 cup Creamy Soup Base into..."  so I was picturing the kind of whisk that you'd use for whisking eggs while baking.  But a gravy whisk works better.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Onion Relish

My younger brother has been giving me a bad time for not posting anything to my blog for the last few months.   I haven't really been doing anything lately, food-storage wise.  But looking back, I see I never posted about a couple projects from a few months ago.  So here we go.

Sure, you can store onions in your root cellar (assuming you have one--I don't).  But some onions don't store well.  And besides...wouldn't you like to do something new with your onions?  How about Onion Relish?  Sounds weird, doesn't it?  But it's actually quite tasty.

I got the recipe from Blue Ribbon Preserves, by Linda J. Amendt.  I used Walla Walla Sweet onions in my relish (so yeah, this was from last summer).  But I'm sure normal onions would be good, too.  I'll bet red onions would be beautiful.  The recipe calls for white wine vinegar, rather than ordinary white vinegar.  I had to look around my grocery store a little bit before I found it.  It was with the specialty vinegars in fancy bottles, not with the gallon jugs of white or cider vinegar.

Here's the recipe (of course, all the normal safety precautions should be followed):

Makes about 4 pint jars

8 cups finely chopped sweet onions
1 tablespoon pickling salt or kosher salt
1 ¾ cups white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or ¾ teaspoon crushed dried tarragon
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced

  1. In a large bowl, layer the onions and salt. Gently stir until well combined. Let sit 4 hours.
  2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  3. Drain the onions thoroughly. Press out the excess liquid.
  4. Make the relish:
    1. In a 6- to 8-quart stainless steel pan, combine the vinegar, sugar, tarragon, and garlic.
    2. Over medium-low heat, gradually heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
    3. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil.
    4. Add the drained onions to the syrup.
    5. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
    6. Remove the pan from the heat
  5. Ladle hot relish into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot relish. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
  6. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.
Wait at least a month before opening jars of relish, to allow the flavors to fully develop.

I didn't get 4 pint jars from this recipe.  The onions reduce by almost half while sitting in the salt for 4 hours.  I had purchased enough onions for 2 batches, and I got 5 pint jars out of the 2 batches.  I made two separate batches.  I did not combine into one batch.
This is a very mild, slightly sweet, relish.  I've used it on both hamburgers and hotdogs, and I really like it.  But I don't like really hot food.  This might not have enough zing for something who likes spicier food.  I also found that if I put mustard on the hotdog or onions on the hamburger, I can't really taste this relish. 
I don't remember whether I used my 6-quart or 4.5-quart stainless-steel pan, but there was plenty of room for this recipe--you don't need to worry if you don't have an 8-quart pan.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mountain House sale at Emergency Essentials through 9/16

The Mountain House freeze dried food in #10 cans is on sale, 25% - 30% off, at Emergency Essentials from Friday, Sept. 3 through Thursday, Sept. 16.

So if you've been thinking of stocking up, this may be a good time to do it.