Country Moon

Saving Seed

 Country Moon


I have been working at putting the garden to bed for winter. Although this end of the season is sad, I remember all the bounty the garden gave us through the year. On top of that, I have found a way for it to give even more. This year, I will be saving my own seed for next year from the plants that produced so well this year.

Saving seed is fairly simple, if you follow a few guidelines. First of all, some plants lend themselves much better to this process than others. Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices from which to save seed because they have flowers that are self-pollinating, which means that seeds from those plants require little to no special treatment before storage. On the other hand, plants like beets and carrots make it more difficult to save seed because they are biennial and need two growing seasons to set the seed.

Plants with separate male and female flowers, such as corn and vine crops, may cross-pollinate, which makes it hard to keep the seed strain pure. For example, if sweet corn and popcorn are planted too close they can pollinate each other, which means they will each pick up characteristics of the other. The sweet corn may not be sweet and the popcorn may not pop.

Vine crops such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons and gourds can all be cross-pollinated by insects. The quality of the current crop is not affected, but the seeds from these plants will produce vines that bear fruit unlike the parent plant. Often these second-year plants will produce fruit with little flavor, lessened disease resistance, and other inferior qualities.

Open-pollinated varieties are still the route to go instead of hybrids. Here is the tricky part, though. Open-pollinated plants must be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated by other plants of the same variety so that they set seed that grows into plants that are very similar to the parent plants. This is where we get our heirloom varieties that are passed from generation to generation.

Hybrid vegetable plants are in a category by themselves. They are produced by crossing two different varieties, which combines the traits of the parent plants. Sometimes a combination is particularly good, producing plants with vigor, disease resistance and greater productivity. However, there is just as much of a chance that things could go the other way and the new hybrid will be inferior in traits. Hybrid tomato plants like ‘Big Boy,’ ‘Beefmaster’ and ‘Early Girl’ have a good track record and produce viable seed. Usually though, when crossing plants, it is impossible to predict whether the new hybrid will carry the good or bad traits of the parent plants.

Some tomato varieties such as ‘Big Rainbow’ and ‘Brandywine’ are not hybrids, but rather are open-pollinated and will produce viable seed. ‘Kentucky Wonder,’ ‘Tender Crop’ and ‘Blue Lake’ are good bean choices for saving seed, as are Habanero and ‘California Wonder’ for peppers. ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Little Marvel’ and ‘Perfection’ will give good pea seeds.

After you have chosen the right varieties from which to save seed, the process is pretty simple. Naturally, you will want to choose the tastiest and ripest fruits for seeds. With tomatoes, allow the fruits to ripen fully then scoop out the seeds with the gel around them and put them in a jar with water. Stir or swirl them twice a day. The mixture will ferment and the seeds will sink to the bottom within five days. After this happens, pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds, and spread them out to dry on paper towels.

Allow peppers to remain on the plants until they are ripe and begin to wrinkle. After washing them, remove the seeds and lay them out to dry. Peas and beans need to remain on the plant until they start to turn brown. This is usually a month or so after you are done picking the fruit. Strip the pods from the plants and let them dry for two weeks. Then either shell or leave the seeds in the pods until it is time to plant.

After seeds are dry, storage is a breeze. Put them in a tightly-sealed glass container. Different varieties may be put in the same container, as long as they are in individual packets or envelopes and labeled. A small amount of silica gel desiccant may be added to absorb moisture. Powdered milk works well to keep seeds dry for short time periods. Keep the jar in a cool and dry place where the temperature is between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the seeds within a year for best results.

A perfect place to keep them is in the freezer, which is more stable than a refrigerator. Just like in nature, this puts the seeds in a freeze like they would be going through a winter. This process actually improves the chances of germination instead of hurting it, as some folks believe. The Doomsday Vault in Svalbard, Norway, is located above the Arctic Circle and is dug into the side of a mountain several hundred feet down to keep the vault below 0 degrees.

The most important thing to remember when saving seed is to make sure they are completely dry before sealing them and putting them in a freezer. If they are not, the freezer will expand the moisture. Be sure and bring them to room temperature before planting.

Saving your own seed is beneficial in so many ways. For one thing, it is less expensive than buying new every year and it is there for the taking. It gives you a little more control because it is available when you want it and, if you find a good variety, you will be assured of having it year after year. I also like the idea of being self-sufficient. This is just a small part of the picture, but saving seed is just one more step toward sustainability instead of being a disposable society.

Finding A Better Way Update

Country Moon

weed control1

As I have written before, this has been the summer of getting back to nature for me. In the garden, weed control, and in other aspects of my life I am trying to get back to the basics and use from the earth what God has provided for us as opposed to all the chemicals that we have grown accustomed to relying on in recent years.

Well, summer has turned to autumn and the garden and other projects are mostly done for the year, so it is time to look back and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Keep in mind that I am only one person doing my own trials, but these are the results from my “experimental” summer.

First of all, I have said all along that there has to be a better method of weed control than relying on Roundup. I don’t blame the gardeners and the farmers because right now they do not have options. In order to reap the yields from the crops, they need to control the weeds and right now the only way to do that is with Monsanto’s Roundup. We have all heard how Roundup is being scrutinized because of related health risks, namely certain kinds of lymphoma.

In light of this, I went totally the all-natural route this year. I mixed vinegar, salt and Dawn dish soap. Did it work? The answer is bittersweet. I was warned at the onset that it would take multiple applications throughout the season for the salt to reach the root and eventually kill the weeds and sterilize the soil.

I started out spraying weekly with this solution until I realized that this was still too much time between applications. In a week’s time, the plant was trying to recover. So, I started applying whenever I noticed a little green coming back. Just like in us humans when our immune system is knocked down, the plant lost its strength when receiving the second dose just at the onset of its recovery. So, yes, by the end of the season I have noticed less growth and stunted growth. Eventually, enough salt will saturate the ground where I have applied it and sterilize it for future growth.

OK, you have to weigh in the time and the cost. This first year I am still behind the eight ball on both counts. It was more expensive buying the salt and vinegar to spray a couple times a week than it would have been to use Roundup. Time-wise it took a lot more time spraying weekly or more often than it would have by applying Roundup once a month. However, the first season is purported to be the worst. Next year the growth in the sprayed areas should be a lot less and more sporadic until the point where the affected ground will support no more growth.

On the health side of the issue, I know that vinegar and salt poses no health risks like Roundup, in spite of the fact that some accidentally got on my leg and burned it because it was not washed off immediately. I will still take the burn as opposed to cancer.

Another fact is that this method targets all growth, so it would defeat the purpose to use it on crops. I am no scientist, but my thought is that Roundup is formulated to kill weeds without hurting crops, so we have to find a way to use natural weed killers in the same fashion. If we do not become stewards of the earth in this matter now, it may be too late for our grandchildren to have this same choice.

On the second issue, all of us here in the Midwest know that right about July 4 we can look forward to the arrival of the Japanese beetles. We weren’t disappointed this year. They covered my potato crop, so I sprayed them with organic Colorado potato bug spray. The next morning the beetles were lying belly-up on the ground. Success. The best part about this was that the spray was made entirely from essential oils and other plant-based products so the potato plant did not take up any of the spray and transfer it to the food, and if it did, there was no worry because it was all natural ingredients anyway.

As far as the rest of the garden, I found an all-natural spray insecticide, fungicide and miticide in one called Organicide. Also derived from oils, I could apply this on any plant in my garden and use the produce the same day. I used it twice throughout the season and the garden has never looked better or produced better. It would never fail that I would always get the fungus that squash, cucumber and other plants in that species are susceptible to, but this year the vines were sturdy and showed no signs of distress. I did not have the insecticide problem either.

I know there are a lot of products out there that are purported to work and just plain don’t. Because of this reason, I understand why folks are skeptical and use the same chemicals year after year. It was no different this year when I told fellow gardeners what I planned on using. I got the same looks and I know they were thinking that I was wasting my time. I have to admit that I wondered what the success rate would be. I was pleasantly surprised.

All I know is that we have to start somewhere to find a better way, for ourselves and for future generations. I also believe that our modern technology and medicines have created some of our ills and that God put everything we need to cure ourselves in his plants and other organisms in nature. We just have to be brave enough and trust enough to find the right combinations and to give them a try.

As for next year, I am determined to continue what I am doing and to keep perfecting on it. It just feels right.

The Grammie Awards

Country MoonEveryone has heard of the Grammy Awards that honor musicians and are presented annually. Well, I may be just a little prejudiced, but I think that they ought to have the “Grammie” (and “Grampy”) awards, too. Each September there is a day set aside as Grandparent’s Day and most of the time that day gets overshadowed by, well, just life. It’s not usually a big deal.

This year when that day rolled around, I was thinking “just how big of role do grandparents play in their grandkids’ lives?” Sadly, there are more and more cases where grandparents become the guardians and raise their grandkids for a multitude of reasons. Their roles change to being the parents in these cases and these situations become a whole new ballgame.

Nope, I’m talking about being just a plain grandparent and what that means. With that thought in mind, there is no better time than the present to write an “open” letter to grandkids. I hope that I speak for most grandparents when I say that these are my hopes for my grandkids:

1. When you think back on our times together, remember that the time spent with you is because I wanted to be with you, not because I had to. It’s a parent’s “job” to drive you to a sporting practice, to take you school clothes shopping, and to do a host of other things that parents do. We grandparents have the privilege of picking and choosing. When we ask you to go somewhere, it is because we really enjoy spending time with you. We also know that when you get tired, upset, or cranky and become temporarily pretty much a pain-in-the-you-know-what we can take you home.

2. Yes, most of us give you money for Christmas and birthdays just because that is what we do. It’s kind of like our easy way out; we will gladly take you shopping later but we don’t have to try and decide what the latest thing is that you want. Believe me, that is huge for us! Now, in between birthdays and holidays, we give you money because we remember how it was when we were kids. We love you so much that we want you to have things and have life easier than we did. But, we have to be really careful here; we have made our way in life and we CAN give you money and we WANT to give you money because it makes us smile to see you happy. But we also want you to be responsible adults and sometimes that means letting you earn money yourselves because we know that you will eventually appreciate things much more when you earn them yourselves. So, on that note, we have figured out that if we ask you to help us with some things (things that we could probably do ourselves) and pay you for these, you not only feel better about yourself but we get to spend time with you at the same time. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both of us.

3. You are our pride and joy. Sadly, we were too busy parenting and disciplining our own kids to really enjoy them like we enjoy you. We are also a little selfish. We believe that everything that you do is a reflection of ourselves. When you hit the home run, when you have the solo at the band concert, when you make the honor roll, we can’t help it but to stand up and beam “That’s my grandson (granddaughter)!” Even though we know sometimes we embarrass you in front of your friends (what were we thinking!), you also need to remember that we are just as proud of you when you strike out, when you play off-key, or when you get a D in math because we know you did the best that you could and that is all we will ever ask from you. We will always love you and it doesn’t depend on how well or poorly you perform. We’re funny, our love for you is unconditional like that.

4. When we do have the “come to Jesus” talks with you, that is another way we love you. Believe me, we don’t like them any more than you do; we are into fun, but sometimes the talks just need to happen to help you make the right choices and do the right thing. Even though we know in our hearts that you have to make mistakes on your own, we still want you to skip the heartaches of some of these trials. We want you to be the best that you can be and it is hard for us to step out of the way and let you do it on your own. Bear with us on this one.

5. Here’s the tough one. We loved all the cute things you did when you were little — your first steps, your first words, your first day of school. Yes, you did charm us and continue to do so. That is why when you hit these unthinkable teenage years it is so hard on us. Oh, we do want you to grow up into a fine adult, but we want you to do it and still be our sweet little child. We want it all. There are a few magical years during these teenage years where you are not a child and yet not an adult, even though you think you are the latter. Believe it or not, we do remember what it is like and it is not a good place to be. Your life is so full that you really don’t have time for us right now. You pretty much think that your parents, grandparents and any other adult just doesn’t know anything anymore. This breaks our hearts because we think we have lost you forever and wonder what we have done wrong. It’s a pretty sad time for us, even though we know that if we can survive your teenage years, you will eventually be back. Just try to remember that, hard as it is for you to visualize, we were teenagers once too and we did live through it to become responsible adults.

6. OK, for the final part, pamper us just a little bit. Even though you are busy and have so much going on around you, the only thing that we want is to still be a part of your life. Don’t forget to let us know when things are going on in your life, we love to be there. Texts don’t take very long and yes, most of us do text. It was probably you who taught us how to. “I love you” or “Miss you” only takes a couple seconds to send but means the world to us. As a matter of fact, we will probably have it in our saved messages forever so we can re-read it over and over until you get through your teenage years.

Yes, we grandparents don’t want much from you. Our Grammie or Grampy award is as simple as just being part of your life. By the way, you may want to hold on to this column because in another 40 years you will probably want to hand it to your grandkids when you are a Grammie or Grampy. Some things never change.


September's Song

 Country Moon


There is no other time of year that it is so magical when the seasons change as it is from August to September. The first few days of September catches us up in two different worlds. Almost overnight, there is a crispness in the air and yet the sun is warm on our backs. We are savoring the end of the garden’s bounty as we eagerly await fall’s offerings of apples, winter squash, and other root crops. Perhaps Jack London best described this magical time as the “sun-kissed September afternoons.”

With everything that fall has to offer, this year I was introduced to another facet of this season. This is the time of year that folks hunt wild ginseng. The much sought-after American ginseng is a perennial herb that is native to the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. The wild counterparts are believed to be much more potent than the cultivated roots, hence poaching and unethical harvesting practices have reduced the supply in recent years.

The health benefits of ginseng are almost endless. It is touted to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, protect against stress, enhance strength, promote relaxation, and the list goes on. It is especially revered in the Orient. There they believe that the older the roots are, the more desirable they are because the longevity is purported to be transferred to the person who consumes it.

Only mature plants are legal to harvest and they take years to mature, but they currently command a price between $500 and $600 per pound. Roughly, it takes about 250 dried roots to equal a pound. No wonder the illegal harvesting of ginseng has become a problem with harvesters slinking through woods in face paint and camouflage and armed with tire irons, screw drivers and hoes. Ginseng is big business.

However, done legally, it can be quite a satisfying endeavor, both in the hunting and in the financial benefits. After all, what a more pleasant time to go for a walk in the woods and, if you happen on ginseng, it can be an extra bonus. The main thing is to find out the rules for the state you are in and adhere to them completely.

Wild ginseng is regulated in 19 states and it is restricted or prohibited in the others. The designated harvest season is September 1 through November 30 each year. It is never legal to hunt in state parks, state forest areas, or on other public lands. If going on private land other than your own, always make sure you have permission before you go.

As with anything you are hunting in the wild, go where it grows instead of wandering aimlessly. Ginseng likes well-shaded areas, especially on the north or east slopes of moist hardwood forests. The right combination of shade and moisture makes an area most conducive for it to grow. Ginseng also favors deep, dark soil that is covered in leaf litter. Forests that have beech, maple, hickory, oak, basswood and poplars are good bets as it grows in the shade of these trees.

It is also helpful to look for companion plants, which are plants that favor the same habitat and growing conditions as ginseng. These include trillium, bloodroot, cohosh, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild yam, goldenseal and Solomon’s seal.

Be sure you can identify the ginseng plant because there are look-a-like plants that will waste your time digging. True wild ginseng has a single stem that ends in a whorl (a single plant that the leaves originate from) of one to four leaves. Each leaf has three to five leaflets, or smaller leaves. If a plant is mature it will produce six to 20 whitish-green flowers in summer that eventually produce a cluster of red berries in the fall.

It is important that only mature plants with red berries are harvested. In a perfect world, two-thirds of the mature plants should be left to propagate for the next season.  Clip the leaves from all two, three and four-pronged plants as they are not yet mature and clipping the leaves will not harm the plant but will prevent anyone from harvesting them before their time.

When you do plan to harvest, be sure and dig carefully, taking care not to damage the roots. A pitch fork or needle spade works well to dig under the whole plant, leaving 6 inches between where you push the fork in the ground and the plant itself. After digging up the root, squeeze the berries to remove the seeds and then plant them within 2 to 6 feet of the parent plant. You want to plant them in the same area because the conditions there have proven to be a good environment for the growth of ginseng, but not so close that disease transmission can occur.

Finally, roots need to be washed and dried. Soak the roots in a bucket of water to remove excess soil. Do not wash them under a faucet or hose or scrub them because buyers desire some soil to be left on and the surface of the roots can be damaged easily. After washing them, place them in a single layer on a screen or wooden rack and allow to dry in a well-ventilated room, making sure they are not touching. This process takes about two weeks and when the roots are dry they should easily snap into two parts.

After this step, the work is mostly done and you can reap the benefits of your labor. Most states have a list of licensed ginseng dealers that purchase the roots from diggers.

I love to walk in the woods, and hunting ginseng along the way just makes the walk a little sweeter.

The Scoop On Poop

Country MoonNothing is free, so they say in this world. That is not quite true, for there are a few things left that are free for the taking with only a little bit of effort. One of those is compost. Whether you choose animal or vegetable, all that is required to make this nutrient is a little work with what you probably already have on hand.

I started composting by mistake. There was barbed wire strung around an old stump when we moved in. It was just natural to throw leaves, weeds, food scraps and other unwanted organic material inside just to dispose of it. I soon noticed after some rain and time that it was turning into a mulch-like substance. I had created a crude form of compost without really trying!

With a little more research, I learned that compost helps put valuable nutrients back in the soil and, at the same time, it cuts waste and reduces trash by using what you are already disposing of anyway. And it’s free! It doesn’t get much better than that!

Actually, there are quite a few benefits to composting. It emulsifies the soil, helps retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases and pests. It does this by encouraging production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to waste humus, a rich, nutritional field material. During this process, it reduces methane emission for landfills and lowers the carbon footprint on the land. It also drastically reduces the need to supplement the land with chemical fertilizers, which is not only better for consumers, but also better for our pocketbooks.

When folks think of compost they usually always turn their attention to plant-based. However, compost can be not only plant organic material, but also animal-based in the form of manure. Both of these have specific benefits and drawbacks. Animal manure is compost in its truest sense. If you have animals, or have access to someone who does, you know that there is a steady supply of manure, and if anyone wants it, farmers are usually more than happy to oblige in giving it away.

Manure composts easily and is already a perfect combination of nitrogen and carbon. It requires no specific container, usually a big pile in the open is sufficient. You just pile it and leave it alone and it quickly becomes a beautiful (never thought I would be describing manure as beautiful, but the finished product is beauty to a gardener’s eyes!), crumbly, black and odor-free fertilizer. Yes, if composted correctly, there is no odor to the finished product.

If using manure, it is best to let it set for at least six months because any fresher than that could still contain E. coli, roundworms, tapeworms or other parasites that can be passed to humans when they consume the produce. It is best to apply it in the fall and give it time to break down. Of course, manure from different animals offers different benefits to the soil. For example, chicken and bat guano are high in urea nitrogen and are considered “hot” manure, whereas cow and sheep manure are not as hot and are often mixed with high carbon materials such as sawdust or hay.

Folks have known for years that animal manure is good for the garden because it helps build organic matter content, adds nutrients, and increases microbial activity. It also improves drainage in heavy soil and helps with moisture retention in sandy soil. The key to success is knowing when to apply animal compost, how to apply and spread it, and what type to use.

Then there is plant-based compost, which is what usually comes to mind when people think of compost. Any material that was once a plant can be composted and it can be easily made by combining decomposable waste materials from the household to make nutrient-rich, plant-enriching soil.

There are two kinds of vegetable compost: hot and cold. Cold can be made by simply collecting yard waste, organic materials in the trash, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells and other scraps and corralling them in a pile or bin. Over the course of a year or so they will decompose. Hot compost is for more serious gardeners and requires gathering the right “mix” of ingredients during one to three months of warm weather. Hot compost requires the ingredients to be in the correct proportions of nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Finding the right combination of these components will feed microorganisms, which speed the process of decay.

For either type of compost, the “recipe” for cooking it is basically the same. First, you need to gather enough material to make at least a 3-foot pile and this material needs to be a mixture of brown and green biodegradables. Browns come mainly from trees and are rich in carbon. These include dead leaves, twigs, sawdust, wood chips, shredded wool or cotton, coffee filters, nutshells, etc. Greens come from fresher materials such as table scraps, peels, garden waste, etc. Any ingredient rich in nitrogen qualifies as a green. The general rule is to mix three parts brown to one part green.

Layer your brown and green gatherings in a pile or bin then add the next two components of water and air. Sprinkle the pile with water regularly until it has the consistency of a wet sponge. Use caution in not adding too much water or it will drown the microorganisms and the pile will rot. Provide oxygen by turning once a week with a fork during the growing season. For smaller amounts, you can put it in a barrel with holes in it and roll it. A warm center is the best indicator of when to turn the compost. Stirring helps it to cool faster and prevents it from becoming matted down and having a bad odor.

Good finished compost has an earthy smell and looks like rich brown soil. If it has an unpleasant odor it either has too much moisture, too much green material, or is not done cooking. Try turning more often, reducing the moisture and adding more browns. Air and water are the secrets to good composting. By adding these in the appropriate ratios, you will get better compost and the process will be quicker. Compost will happen, it just depends on the ingredients as to how fast.

In the end, you will have created humus, one of the best soil builders around. Compost, whether plant or animal-based, provides a healthy and natural means to enrich soil. The best part of the whole process is that it is free. There, in a nutshell, is the scoop on poop!



No Power, No Problem for Food Preservation

 Country Moon

hams hanging1

This has been my summer of canning, and I’m loving it. I have been blessed with a bountiful garden; enough for all we want to eat fresh, enough to share with friends, and enough to can and freeze for the coming winter. It is a good feeling to know that we do not have to depend on the grocery store for our survival, not that we wouldn’t miss some of the amenities.

However, these two methods of food preservation (canning and freezing) rely on electric power. Electricity to heat the boiling water for canning and processing and continued power to maintain the freezers. What if something happened to the power supply? What alternatives would we have?

The unstable world environment and the threat of natural disasters could have a very real impact on our food supply. This brings to mind the Donner Party of decades ago. They were pioneers traveling west to California who got trapped in the Sierra Nevada during blizzards and cold temperatures. They slowly starved to death and some even resorted to cannibalism.

True, we don’t live in pioneer times, but those folks who traveled west by wagon trains for months at a time knew some secrets of food preservation without modern conveniences. It’s a sure bet that they didn’t carry heavy canners to preserve food over the open fire or have modern freezers in their covered wagons! However, they did pack enough food to get them through until they established a homestead and could begin growing their own.

Their methods of preserving food without electricity or a gas supply are still good for us to know today, not only in case of a power grid failure, but also for folks desiring to live off the grid in remote areas. Here are seven ways of safely preserving food without the aid of electricity.

1. Salt: In today’s world, we tend to think of salt more as a seasoning than a method of preservation, but this way of thinking was reversed in ancient times. Folks living near a saline or salty body of water had the ability to dehydrate the water and gather salt, a valuable commodity. Roman soldiers were even paid their wages in salt for a period of time. Salt reduces moisture, inhibits bacterial growth, and also adds a flavoring to foods. Salted pork was often standard fare for people traveling long distances over land or water. Small barrels of pork embedded in salt or a salt brine were common, as were salt brines used to enhance the preservation of fish, fowl and game before drying or smoking. It’s a standard addition to most pickling recipes.

2. Fat: Surprise, surprise, but fat has exceptional preservative properties, especially beef feet or tallow and suet. Pioneer women would often take cuts of meat and place them in barrels or crocks and cover them with tallow or suet. The important thing was to keep the container sealed from air, hence the congealed fat prevented oxygen and airborne microbes from reaching the meat. These fats are standard additions to pemmican recipes, which are concentrated mixtures of fat and protein that are used as nutritious foods. Part of Canadian cuisine, pemmican resembles dried meatballs consisting mainly of dried beef or buffalo with an equal amount of fat plus some added raisins or black cherries. They are dense and high in energy.

3. Honey: This food has remarkable preservative properties. A 3,000 year-old jar of honey was discovered in an Egyptian tomb and tests revealed that it was still safe to eat. Pioneers preserved their most prized cuts of meat in honey, which not only preserved the meat but gave it a pleasant, sweet taste. Just imagine if they would have combined the salt and honey; they would have invented the modern craze of sweet and salty! The only downside to using honey as a preservative is that it is hard to harvest a lot of it and it can be very expensive.

4. Vinegar: Good ol' vinegar. Today, vinegar is used not only in cooking, but also canning and other food preservation, and as a household and fruit and vegetable cleaner. Pioneers knew these qualities long ago. It is perhaps the most potent, natural antiseptic that you can safely consume. Actually, it is acetic acid and is usually a 4 to 5 percent solution in water. Unlike honey, it is readily available and easy to make from various fruits such as apples. It is used to preserve everything from vegetables to fruits to meats to fish and fowl. The typical process is simple, just immerse the food in vinegar in a container. Sometimes salt and vinegar are used together for extra preservative properties and flavor.

5. Drying or dehydration: Although a simple process, the success to dehydration is to remove as much moisture as possible. It is used to preserve everything from vegetables to fruits, meat, fowl and fish, although different drying methods are used for each type of food. Beans and legumes were strung on sticks and hung in the rafters of cabins and tepees to dry; fish were filleted and often salted before being hung in the sun on racks or over smoldering fires; strips of meat were sliced thin, salted and also hung like fish to dry; fruits were sliced thin and left to dry in the sun during the day and taken indoors at night and hung in the rafters to finish drying. They were turned often and sometimes smoked. Drying is probably the oldest food preservation method.

6. Root cellar: This method is basically for root vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, radishes, etc. This approach provides multiple benefits such as fairly consistent temperatures in winter and summer; consistent humidity, which is essential to root vegetables; some degree of protection from insects and animals; protection from sunlight; and easy access to a variety of vegetables.

7. Smoking: This method is used primarily for larger cuts of meat and whole fish to be successfully dried and preserved, for smoking is a form of drying. The traditional drying method is good for smaller pieces of meat but will not sufficiently preserve larger cuts. Smoking fish, fowl and game over a low and slow draft of smoke in an enclosed space not only dries out the food, but the smoke and moderate heat both kills and inhibits bacterial and fungal growth. The meat and fish are often cured with a dry mixture of salt and spices to add extra flavor. I remember helping my uncle hang hams in the smokehouse to cure and how good it smelled. Even after removal from the smoke house, large pieces of smoked meats will last a long time if kept in a well-ventilated, cool and dark area.

I do love canning at this time of year, but maybe it is time to consider these alternative methods.  They are not only practical, but could also add extra flavor to foods. We all need to eat, and most of us actually enjoy it, too! It is a good feeling to know that we have a “stash” of good food at our disposal without depending on the public food supply. This is only a natural progression from a successful garden.

Garage Saling 101

Country MoonEach August here in southern Michigan we have the US 12 Heritage Garage Sale. It is the state’s longest garage sale, stretching 212 miles from New Buffalo to Detroit. Homeowners and businesses alike participate in this unique opportunity to sell unwanted items and for bargain shoppers to search for bargains.

I always thought that this was a great concept as long as I could watch from afar or, more explicitly, from far, far away. That changed this year when my friend Steph and I spent a long overdue Saturday together. When I asked her what she wanted to do, her answer was, hands down, “Let’s do the US 12 garage sales. It’ll be fun!”

I have to admit that this activity had never been high on my list of things to do, but there is always a first time for everything. But before we went, I had to have my beginner’s lesson. Seriously, there is a right and wrong way to garage sale!

The first lesson was on how to dress. Being a hot day, I was in my usual capris, T-top and sandals. Tsk, tsk, tsk, I was overdressed. She sported shorts, a plain top, pulled her hair back, wore no makeup, wore sneakers and removed her diamond engagement ring. What?

“You don’t want sellers to think that you are real affluent. That sort of defeats the bartering component. One of the biggest thrills is to see what kind of deal you can get on items that you want.”

With that, we were off. We were not only going to sales along US 12, but she had also clipped ads for sales that were on the way and put them in order so we would not be backtracking. Also,  not only did she have a paper with all the ads pasted on it in the order she wanted to travel, but she also put them all in her phone. I was beginning to realize that this was serious, high-tech business.

Then she asked me how I liked to garage sale. Huh? Since this was new to me, I didn’t really have a method. Well, it seems that there are shoppers who peruse every single item at every single sale and there are more seasoned shoppers who can glance around and see if there are any items that they are interested in, sort of in and out. Not being a professional in this matter, I fell into the latter category. “Good,” she beamed. “Then we can hit more sales!”

Then I learned about the “thrill of the hunt.” It seems that there are two distinct groups of shoppers. One kind is just out to see what kind of deals they can find, with no particular item in mind that they are hunting. Then there are the ones who are hunting a certain piece. “That’s what makes it fun, when you are on a mission,” she said. “Of course, it also sets you up for disappointment when you don’t find what you are looking for.”

Well, at least I sort of had a goal. Some friends from Pennsylvania have furnished their entire home in primitives. This time when we saw them she was excited about showing me her “freaking firkin,” as she refers to a very special piece. After a little research, I discovered that a firkin is a type of keg that is equal to one quarter of a barrel and is used to hold butter, salt, sugar or a number of other things. I decided that I wanted one, so searching for one would be my “thrill of the hunt.” Off we went.

I knew the traffic would be horrendous and it didn’t take me long to learn that there were three kinds of drivers when it came to dealing with garage salers. The first kind were people just like us who would start and stop often and would, literally, be part of the traffic flow problem.

The second type are the drivers who are annoyed by all the confusion that the sales were causing. They would fly by, never slowing down, showing no regard for all of us. It’s really sad that they can’t slow down and tolerate a little inconvenience for a couple days a year, especially for safety’s sake.

The third type were just the opposite. I call them the shop-from-the-roaders. They would cruise by very slowly, checking out each sale as they went and when they saw something they liked they would abruptly pull off the road and come to a screeching halt. I’m not sure which type was the most dangerous, them or the ones that raced by.

Then there was the stuff itself. It is amazing how many people try to sell things that, to put it politely, have just outlived their purpose and should go quietly away to a nice landfill. However, among all this stuff, every once in a while there would be something unique and interesting. I found a couple of interesting bottles for another bottle tree, a rototiller that turned out to be a snow blower (Duh!), antique crocks, and a couple of galvanized tubs.

The tubs brought up another interesting point about garage sales. I found myself checking the price of items that I already had, just to find out what the going value was on them. The guy with the tubs told me a buck or two and, when I started to walk off, he almost pleaded me to make an offer. Turns out the poor guy was just trying to get rid of stuff that he had inherited from his relatives’ estate. We took pity and told him that his price was way too low.

We ended up hitting all the sales on Steph’s list by midafternoon. She had a nice little stash but, as for me, I was content with my two bottles and two containers of sanitary wipes. Nope, no firkin this year. However, with looking all day and having no luck, I found myself really wanting one more than I did when we started out. Steph just smiled, she knew that I would get caught up in the “thrill of the hunt.” I guess I’ll keep my walking shoes out, for something tells me that we’ll be hitting the sales again.