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Our Small House Homestead

Making Sauerkraut at Home

Ben CohenOne of the many vegetables that we grew at the homestead this year was cabbage. We chose a variety from Baker Creek Seed Co. called the Glory of Enkhuizen. It's named after the village in Holland where it was first introduced back in 1899. It is said to be an early, excellent keeping variety that is a good producer and good for kraut. And it just so happens that things went very well for us this year and we ended up with quite a cabbage patch!

fresh cabbage 

wheelbarrow full of fresh cabbage 

The natural solution to this abundance of cabbage growing in the raised beds out back was to try our hand at making sauerkraut, and it turns out that it's pretty easy to make. In fact, it's a lot easier to make sauerkraut than it is to spell sauerkraut!

A quick Internet search landed me quite a few different recipes to choose from, but a lot of them called for a traditional fermenting crock, which I don't have and I really didn't want to spend the money to get one. Instead, I decided to go with a slightly less traditional 5-gallon plastic bucket. We have a bunch of them around here as we use them to store our seeds and other things. They are BPA-free, food-grade buckets that we get at Lowe's.

So I had my crock. Next I needed to gather my ingredients. Turns out that homemade kraut only has two ingredients. Cabbage and pickling salt. I happened to have plenty of both on hand.

cleaning cabbage

Here is the process step by step:

Cut up your cabbage and put it in your bucket.

shredded cabbage 

Add 2 teaspoons salt for every pound of cabbage.

chopping cabbage  pounding cabbage

Smash it all up really good until the natural juices from the cabbage are extracted. I used a wooden baseball bat.

holding down the sauerkraut 

holding down the sauerkraut

Put a plate over top of the cabbage and weigh it down with a jug of water until everything is submerged under the liquid.

Put on a loose fitting lid or a towel so everything is covered but the gases created by the fermentation process can still be released.

And then wait. About 4 to 6 weeks and then your sauerkraut is ready!

You can can it for long-term storage using the hot water bath technique.

And there you go! Simple and delicious sauerkraut from home, the way it's supposed to be.

The Great Bean Adventure Saving Seeds for Baker Creek

Ben CohenOf all the exciting things that happened this year at our Small House, the most exciting for me was joining Baker Creek Seed Co.'s "Gardens Across America" project. Baker Creek put the project together in an effort to connect the many heirloom vegetable growers and seed savers across the nation and create an open network of communication and idea sharing. It has also allowed us the opportunity to become a seed grow-out location for their company, which is an amazing honor to say the least!

When I first received the letter from Baker Creek's Joseph Simcox, I was pretty much floored! The "Indiana Jones" of seeds himself had sent me a handwritten letter welcoming me to the world of seed saving and with the letter came six small ziploc bags. Each one with the name and original location of the seed hand written across the plastic. It was so surreal it was almost like a dream.

Letter from Joseph Simcox
Letter from Joseph Simcox

Luckily for me he had sent six different varieties of beans to grow. There's nothing much easier to grow than beans! So, unless something terrible were to happen, there was basically no way I could mess this up, and just as easy as growing the plants is harvesting its seeds. Just leave them hanging on the plants until the leaves have yellowed and the bean pods have dried and turned brittle. Then all you need to do is break them open and collect your precious seeds. The process is the same for dry beans that you plan to store for the kitchen.

Black Bean Sprout
Black Bean Sprout

growing black bean pod
A growing black bean pod.

We planted our beans in various locations around the homestead back in June. Before I started planting I spent a little time researching bean pollination and the likelihood of cross pollination in our varieties. I learned that cross pollination in bush beans is very unlikely even if planted in rows right next to each other. It turns out that beans are self pollinating and tend to drop their pollen before the sun comes up. We're working on a 3.5-acre homestead so I was thankful to learn that this wouldn't be an issue for us.

It's now mid-September and our plants are finally starting to turn yellow and dry. I haven't watered them in more than a month, but we've had enough rainfall to keep them happy. Another thing that's nice about growing out beans for seeds is that harvest time is a laid-back event. While other plants need to be pulled at just the right time to maximize flavor or store-ability, beans on the other hand just hang around and wait. As long as there isn't rain in the forecast, you can harvest your beans when it's convenient for you.

We had quite a bit of success growing out these rare beans varieties for Baker Creek, and we'll be harvesting a bumper crop of seeds in the next couple of weeks. After I pack up their 50 percent and set some seeds aside for growing next year, it looks like I might have to dig out a cook book and find something to do with all of these beans!