Country Moon


Viddles for a Year: Considerations for Canning, Drying, and Fermenting

Canned Tomatoes On A Stump

Photos by Lois Hoffman

The other day, a friend asked a question that I haven’t really thought about before: “With all your gardening and preserving foods, would you have enough to last a year if you had to?”

With the uncertainty in today’s world and the fragility of the food chain, this is a question that has been on a lot of folks’ minds as of late. I consider myself a middle-of-the-roader, I am not inclined to live entirely off the grid, but neither do I ever intend to rely fully on grocery stores and supermarkets for my food needs. I believe that, for most of us, there is a happy medium.

So, back to the question. It forced me to really sit down and examine how stable and efficient our personal food supply was in regard to the main food groups; vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy and grain. I decided to lay out a plan that was not only sensible and doable for a homesteader to have enough food for a year, but also to have it within reason in regards to what items to grow and raise and what items to have in stock by other means.

Yellow And Green Bell Peppers

Vegetables

I grow a fairly versatile garden, with different kinds of vegetables and different varieties within each species. Naturally, summer and fall months are not problem as we eat all we can fresh. As far as preserving for winter months, one method doesn’t fit all. I employ a mixture between canning, freezing, fermenting and drying.

Canning. Whenever possible, I can vegetables because they tend to have a longer shelf life than frozen foods and if frees up freezer space. On top of that, they are actually more sustainable since power outages don’t affect them like an outage could cause all frozen produce to spoil. Some vegetables taste just as good whichever way they are preserved and for others, one method is superior. Some folks freeze green beans but we don’t care for the texture or taste of them, so all green beans are canned at our house.

Fermenting. I used to think of fermentation only for cabbage, turning it into delectable sauerkraut (I know, some of you would beg to differ with me on this one—you are either a fan or not!). However, just about any vegetable can be fermented, either solely or as a mixture of different ones, with each one lending its own flavor to the mix. On top of that, various herbs and spices can be added to give a unique flavor to each blend.

Drying is one of the easiest methods of preservation. Besides herbs lending themselves to this method, many beans are great candidates also. This method basically requires no special equipment and very little time.

Cellaring. Fruit cellars are best for keeping produce fresh as long as possible. Unlike most people who make applesauce in the fall, I store apples in the fruit cellar and use them for eating, baking and cooking until they lose their crisp texture. Then I make applesauce, usually in late winter, when I have plenty of time. The same is true for onions and winter squash. I use them fresh from the fruit cellar as long as I can and when their quality begins to fade, I then chop the onions and put in the freezer to use in any cooked dish and freeze the squash. The same goes for carrots, turnips and other root vegetables.

I have also started raising the herbs that I use the most and drying them myself. There is a great satisfaction in raising your own and the freshness can’t be beat.

Vegetables Boiling In Pots

Fruits

I do not raise many of my own fruits. Tree-bearing fruits take a lot of time and space. Trees need to be pruned, sprayed and require a fair amount of land. It also seems to never fail that we have a killing frost just when they are blossoming in the spring. Instead of investing in all of the equipment to raise my own fruit and protect it, I find it is easier to pick my own at local U-pick orchards and farms.

Notice that I did not say to just buy them at a supermarket. Picking your own means that you get fresher produce and can choose the varieties that you want. Even strawberries require a large area of the garden since they tend to sprawl. The only fruit that I raise is black raspberries and rhubarb. Staked, raspberries they can grow vertical and use little space. Having only a couple plants of rhubarb provide more than enough for our yearly supply.

I try to go at the very beginning of the season for each fruit variety, thus making sure that I get the freshest and best fruit. I bring home enough to preserve what we will need for the year. I also make sure to get enough for our jams and jellies and freeze that quantity also. Making jams and jellies in the winter also saves a lot of time during the busy spring and summer seasons.

preserve2

preserve1a

Meats

Meats are a different story. I remember when I was a youngster, we always raised our own chickens and pigs and did our own butchering. This included having a smokehouse to smoke our own hams and bacon. It required a lot of time and effort because, when you have animals, they pretty much tie you down every day.

Instead, I prefer to find a local producer and buy directly from them. This way, I still know where the meat is coming from and how it was raised without having to worry about vet bills, fencing and being tied down for feeding and caring for the animals.

Here again, I buy in quantity usually a couple times a year and either freeze or can enough for our consumption.

Dairy

Dairy is a whole other story also. Here is where I am definitely dependent on food stores. Without having my own cow and milking every day, there is no way I can have a direct supply of milk, butter and cheese. However, I have found products have been raised and processed without preservatives, GMOs and antibiotics. I frequent stores that sell those products.

Grains

Grains are kind of on the line. I don’t grind my own flour, but I do purchase an organic Red Fife flour, which is a heritage grain, and mix it in with King Arthur flour, a personal favorite. I am not discounting other flours in any way but King Arthur is milled from hard red wheat kernels, is ground fine and is milled to a specific protein count which ensures that baked goods come out more consistent.

By accident, we left a loaf of bread on the counter for a couple weeks and it did not mold. So, we left it to see how long it would take and after a year it was dried out but not molded. Too many preservatives for me! So, I now bake our own bread and baked goods except for the occasional sandwich loaf.

So, in retrospect, I would have to say that we have 80 percent of our food supply for the year. Some of the canned goods, like tomatoes and green beans, we probably have a two-year supply.

Because of fluctuating supplies and prices, this is a good feeling to have nearly all the food, or vittles as we country folks like to refer to our food, we need for the year. It definitely saves money at the grocery store and I know what the quality is. However, I must add that this is a passion of mine. I could not, or perhaps would not, put this much work into preserving our own food if it weren’t a labor of love.

Each has to decide for themselves what is best. As for us, for as long as we can, we will be ensuring our food supply by preserving ourselves.


Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.


All GRIT community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Farmer's Advice for Surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

winter1a

It happens every year for me and a lot of other people, too. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, occurs in the deep winter months and is more due to lack of sunshine than the colder weather. Those who suffer from this disorder during the shorter days of winter usually feel lethargic, depressed, sleep more and tend to eat more.

I have to admit that this has bothered me more this year than in past years. I think it is because we have had way less sun this year than normal. Being on the farm and in the garden, there is always something to do from spring through fall, sometimes so much so that there is little time for catching up on reading, projects and other things that get shoved on the back burner. For this reason, I have always looked forward to a little down time in the winter. I called it a little time for me. However, I have had that, especially this past year when we were all home more than usual. Closets are cleaned, paperwork is in order and correspondence is caught up. So, now what?

I never thought of myself as prone to SAD until this past week when I found myself sleeping more than usual, not interested in any movies or books. Not one to give into the elements and being tired of being tired, I knew I had to make some changes because I have more winter to go.

So, I turned my “attitude to gratitude” as they say and decided to use this time for me and some special things that have been on the back burner for quite a while. As usual when I tackle an obstacle, I have a plan and this was no different. So, even though it is still gray outside, this is how I tackled SAD and found some happy.

winter2a

Rural Living Remedies for SAD

Bring in the light. First, I had to get past the depression from lack of light. Bright light therapy helps treat seasonal affective disorder by using a special kind of light called a light box that mimics outdoor light. It is believed that this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts the mood and treats other symptoms of SAD.

Fire. This source of light definitely does help; however, I find that candles and wax melts work even better for me. Mood is just as sensitive to smell as it is to other senses. Candles and wax melts come in all different scents which makes it easy to personalize the ones that lift your mood. Personally, I prefer wax melts since they are safer than candles, provide uplifting scents, can be used over and over and the little bit of glow that they produce makes my space feel cozy and warm. It feeds both senses of smell and sight.

Music is a powerful mood lifter for me. If I really want to get going, I put on some fast-paced feel-good beats. Gospel music always makes me see the positive instead of the negative of any situation and sometimes just listening to my favorite performer is all it takes.

Reading or watching a good movie is a great distraction from what is going on outside. A word of caution here: Usually I go for more than just one book or a single movie. They are too short-lived to get me over the hump of SAD in a few hours. Instead, I look for a series of books where I can’t wait to dive into the next one after finishing one. If it’s a movie that I am craving, I look for a series on Netflix or another streaming medium. These are like the treats dangling at the end of a string; you finish one segment and you have something to look forward to in coming back for the next.

Exercise. This one always trips me up. Yes, I know it’s good for me. Yes, I know it releases chemicals called endorphins that react with the receptors in the brain that trigger positive feelings. Yes, I know I feel so much better both mentally and physically energized after exercising. Even knowing all of this, it is so easy for me to put it off. I bet sometimes that I spend more energy thinking of reasons not to exercise than I do actually exercising. When suffering from SAD, this is the worst thing to do. Even ten minutes of activity is beneficial to the mind and body and there are a lot of ten-minute routines on YouTube that runs the gamut from yoga to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). I find that once I start a 10-minute routine, I feel so much better that I usually go for more! It’s a mind game of telling myself that I am only going for ten minutes that actually gets me out of the chair and going.

Outdoor walks. Another form of exercise, that I really do enjoy and also does wonders for my mood is just getting outside and walking. Even if it is a gloomy day, just the fresh air is motivating. Starting off, the cold air may seem harsh, but it can actually be invigorating, just remember to layer clothing so you can be comfortable. Nature, no matter her mood, always picks me up.

After the warmer is burning with my favorite scent, the music is playing and some form of exercise has energized me, I usually find I want to dig into something. The hardest thing about a project is actually starting one. I know a gal who would always want to try all sorts of things. She would buy the materials and put them away until she had time. She did this over and over, so much so that she had countless projects setting on shelves waiting to be done. The hardest part really is starting.

sunset1a

Tackling Farm Projects to Overcome SAD

I have wanted a wooden cross to display on the front of my garage for a few years now. Recently, I saw the solar lights that would be perfect for it and ordered them. This was the catalyst and all it took to get started. I now have the cross cut, assembled and painted. All is left to do is to put the lights on it and hang it.

Actually, starting and completing a project gives such a feeling of accomplishment which is also a mood lifter and confidence builder. It doesn’t matter how big or small the project is, the main thing is to start it. Sometimes the bigger the project is, the better because it will keep you engaged for longer. On the other hand, sometimes a small project like crocheting a small potholder will lead to bigger ones like an entire afghan.

Now, onto my next problem. Since I found a way to rise above SAD, I am fired up and have a lot of projects in mind. It will probably be spring and time to head outside for the season before I have my list finished! Oh well, at least it got me through the winter blues this year and anything leftover on the list will wait for next year!


Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
All GRIT community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Be Frugal in the Garden with Tips for Pallets, Perennials, Tomato Cages and More

Thrifty Garden Tomato Cages

Photo by Rex Hammock

Saving money where you can is always a good idea and the garden is no exception. Pennies saved here and there can all add up.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always new gadgets and new methods that prove worthwhile. However, it is easy to be taken with the “latest and greatest” to the point where we think that our garden just has to have them. Sometimes, what you have on hand or what you can fashion from materials on hand work just as well or better than some new products that gardening centers and seed companies would like you to buy.

DIY Tomato Cages

A good example are tomato cages. Most of those three-pronged ones that you buy just don’t last. They get bent and are not strong enough to hold the plants up in the first place. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble onto collapsible ones at a greenhouse that are sturdy enough to hold up the most robust plants and also fold for easy storage. But, you guessed it, they are also much more expensive than the regular ones.

With a couple livestock panels and a little ingenuity, you can make your own. Simply, take a panel and cut it lengthwise to the desired height that you want your cages to be. Don’t discard the piece you cut off — another use for that later. After you get the height, cut the panel into four equal sections just as wide as you want the cages. Using zip ties, secure the four panels together and you have a cage that is sturdy and made from something that was probably just taking up space in a barn.

Now, for that long section that you cut off previously. It is probably somewhere near a foot wide. If you have raspberries, you know that they have a mind of their own and like to spread everywhere, establishing roots and new plants wherever they go. Attaching the sections of livestock panels that you cut off for the tomato cages make great grids for training raspberries to stay where you want them. The holes are big enough for the vines to fit through. These sections can be attached to fence rails around the garden, if you have them, or can be fastened to stakes horizontally to the ground.

Pallets, Prunings, and Perennials

Reused Pallet Mini Greenhouse Foundation

Photo by Davie Bicker

How many of us don’t have old pallets laying around? They are almost screaming “free lumber!” A reciprocating saw easily cuts through nails so you can break them down into boards. Then, cut the boards to length to make planter boxes, using the smaller ends to strengthen the corners. Make them whatever size fits your fancy — and your space.

OK, back to those tomato plants that are growing in the cages that you made. Tomatoes have suckers, small shoots or leaves that appear at the junction between the stem and a branch of the tomato plant called an axil. If left to grow, a sucker will become a mature plant with its own set of suckers, flowers and fruit. Leaving these on the plant will yield more fruit but it will be smaller and could be of lessor quality.

If you remove these, the original plant’s fruit will be larger and usually of better quality. When the plants are small, just pinch off the growth below the lowest bunch of flowers. When the plants are larger, you may have to cut them off with pruning shears.

The good news is that these prunings can be planted in a pot with moist soil and will be become new tomato plants in a couple of weeks. This will save you buying so many plants initially and these new starts will mature and produce after the original plants, thus extending the tomato season. Many plants besides tomatoes can be propagated in this way, saving you money at the garden center.

*On this same note, avoid buying new plants whenever you can. This means more money in your pocket. If you save your own seeds from the previous year and can start them in early spring, this is the best way. You will always have your supply of seeds and you will never have to worry about finding plants. Remember that some plants do best if planted directly in the soil in the spring so you don’t even have the hassle of messing around starting them indoors.

When you do buy plants, keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better. I am probably the guiltiest of falling prey to this. I go to the greenhouse and am always tempted to buy a couple of the three-foot tall tomato plants because they will produce big, juicy tomatoes early in the season. These plants cost at least triple the amount of the smaller ones and usually don’t end up producing any earlier. The bottom line here is resist the urge and save your money.

Don’t forget about your perennial flowers. Many varieties like irises, peonies, bachelor buttons, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, garden mums, phlox, daisies and many more do better when divided every few years and the bonus is you get more plants.

Garden swapping is another way to get what you want for free. Everyone wants different varieties of different plants and have excesses of plants, seeds and tubors. Put an ad on your local marketplace or in your shopper and your area could swap seeds and plants.

Save Money on Mulch

When folks think of mulch, they typically think of local garden centers. Before you frequent them, consider free sources. Grass clippings make excellent mulch. You can put them directly on the garden or “smoke” them. Pour a thin layer on plastic and wrap it up and let them cook in the sun for a while. The moisture will evaporate and you will have dry mulch.

Shredded leaves make an excellent mulch. If you have enough of your own that is great and, if not, many neighbors will be more than happy for you to take them off their hands. Simply shred them with your mower, let them set over winter and you have a rich additive for your soil in spring.

Don’t forget about wood chips. Many tree services are usually looking for places to dump their chips. Check with your local tree cutting services or visit chipdrop.com for a list of companies in your area that participate.

If you do need to purchase garden soil or mulch, remember that bulk is the name of the game. If you have a trailer or means to haul it, buying in bulk saves money and time by not having to deal with all the bags. However, if bagged soil or mulch is your only option, look for broken bags. Most places will sell these at a discount, sometimes up to half off, just to get rid of them.

Cut Out Waste

One of the biggest ways to save money in the garden is not to waste produce. Every year it seems like I get more than I can use of certain varieties. Friends used to run when they saw me coming for fear of being dumped on with more zucchini. Eggplant is great, but enough is enough. Plan before harvest by collecting different recipes and coming up with new ways to use garden produce. After all the work you put in, it’s such a shame to waste the money and time by having produce go to waste.

With just a little ingenuity, there are many ways to save money in the garden and to “grow on a budget.”


Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.

Fabrics of Our Lives

Country Moon 

Sometimes we take for granted the very things that shape our everyday lives. The other day I noticed an intriguing pattern in a blouse that a friend was wearing. We see patterns in fabric all of the time in the clothes that each of us wear. Many times, those clothes define who we are. As I soon discovered, the simple process of weaving simple threads into fabrics with many variations in patterns is not so simple after all.

fabric
Photo by Pixabay/Johnrp

The entire textile industry is based on the conversion of fiber into yarn, yarn into dyed or printed fabric, and then fabric into clothes. It is the most basic of principles, and yet the process can become quite complicated. Whether done small scale at home or in a factory, the weaving process uses a loom, a device that intertwines length threads, called warps, and cross threads, referred to as wefts. The whole process passes back and forth in a shuttle that carries the yarn, which is the fibers that are twisted into threads used in weaving or knitting. Weaving is the oldest method of making yarn into fabric.

On the loom, the warp forms the skeleton of the fabric and requires a higher degree of twist than the filling yarns that are interlaced widthwise. Cloth is formed by the wooden shuttle that moves horizontally back and forth across the loom, interlacing the filling yarn with the horizontal lengthwise warp yarn. Modern mills use shutterless machines, which produce endless varieties of fabric. Some carry filling yarns across the loom as fast as 2,000 meters per minute and is pretty silent in so doing.

Cotton is the most important and most widely used material for fiber. Textile mills purchase cotton and receive bales from cotton warehouses. The factories start with the raw material and process it in stages until it becomes yarn or cloth, which is fabric or material that is constructed from weaving or knitting. Incidentally, there is a distinct difference between woven or knitted fabric. In knitted fabric, one continuous yarn is looped repeatedly to create what looks like tiny rows of braids, whereas in woven fabric, multiple yarns cross each other at right angles to form the grain, much like in a basket.

There are three basic types of weave. In plain weave, thread is alternately passed over one warp yarn and under the next, pretty basic and simple. This method is used for ginghams, percales, chambrays and other similar fabrics. The twill weave interlaces yarns to form diagonal ridges across fabric. This method produces sturdier fabrics like denim, gabardine, herringbone and ticking. The most common of the three weaves is the satin weave. It produces a smooth fabric with high sheen. It has fewer yarn interlacings  and neither the warp or filling yarn dominates the “face” of the cloth. It is used for cotton sateen.

Still, I wondered how the numerous patterns were woven into the fabrics. Basically, color and the different ornamentation is accomplished in woven fabrics by imparting pre-determined placement and interlacing of particular sequences of yarns.

Solid colors are produced by using the same color yarn for the warp and weft. Different colors may be combined to produce either a mixed or intermingled color effect in which the composite hue appears as a solid color.

Figured and patterned material is created by selecting different groups of colored yarns and placing them in certain ways in the warp and weft. In certain patterns, textural effects may be created entirely through the use of different values and closely associated hues of certain colors.

Various fabrics are often defined by thread count, which is a measure of coarseness or fineness of fabric, which is determined by counting the number of threads contained in 1 square inch of fabric and includes the warp and weft threads. Thread count usually refers to sheets and the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet. Thread counts usually range from 200 to 800.

It amazes me that there are such numerous types of fabric and what distinguishes each type is how it is woven or knit and what type of yarn is used. Some of the more basic types are:

  • Barkcloth: This was popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. It was used for interiors fabrics and was characterized by patterns of large vines, leaves and florals.
  • Basket Weave: Like its name, it resembles a basket with fibers common in home décor.
  • Boucle: This type can be either knit or woven with small curls or loops that create a nubby surface. It is mainly used for sweaters, vests and coats.
  • Broadcloth: This is a plain weave, tightly woven fabric, usually made of cotton or cotton blends and used for quilting and shirts.
  • Burlap: This is a plain weave pattern with a rough hand and is loosely constructed and has a heavy weight. Used mostly for draperies, decorations and crafts.
  • Canvas: This is a strong, durable and closely-woven cotton fabric.
  • Chambray: This is a plain woven fabric with a colored warp (usually blue) and white filling yarns. It is made with cotton, silk or manufactured fabrics.
  • Chenille: The name is French meaning “caterpillar.” It is created with fuzzy chenille yarns and is characterized by raised cords and channels.
  • Chantilly Lace: This is a netted background created by embroidery with thread and ribbon to create floral designs.
  • Corduroy: This uses a cut pile weave construction. The number of wales indicates the number of cords in an inch.
  • Denim: A twill weave cotton fabric with different colored yarns in the warp and weft.
  • Eyelet: This fabric has patterned cut-outs with stitching or embroidery around the cutouts for appeal and to minimize fraying.
  • Flannel: Usually made of 100 percent cotton that is brushed on one or both sides for softness.
  • Gabardine: A worsted twill weave that is wrinkle-resistant.
  • Gingham: A plain weave with a plaid or check pattern that is created with dyed yarn.
  • Muslin: A plain weave, low-count cotton sheeting.
  • Nylon: Developed in 1938, nylon was the first completely synthetic fiber developed. It is known for its strength.
  • Satin: Has a lustrous, shiny surface.
  • Terry Cloth: Made of uncycled, looped pile. It is highly absorbent, which makes it the first choice for toweling.
  • Velvet: This is the most luxuriant type of fabric.
Of all the types of fabric, there is one type that is not made in the traditional way. Silk is probably the most natural fabric of all. It is produced by silkworms, which are the offspring of moths. They spew out thread from tiny holes in their jaws which they use to spin into their egg-bearing cocoons. This entire process takes only 72 hours, during which they produce between 500 and 1,200 silken threads. Amazing!

I probably will never look at clothes the same again. Just like most things in the world, the art of creating fabric is an artful, intricate and yet simple process.

 

Spring Color Starts in the Fall

flowers
Photo by Unsplash/Irina Iriser

When spring finally breaks and all the spring flowers pop up, it is such a welcome sign after a long winter. However, all of that color takes a little planning the fall before.

September through mid-October is the optimum time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, other perennials that bloom in the spring and to consider storage for summer planted bulbs.

It’s probably best to get the old out of the way first. By digging bulbs that bloom in the summer before you plant spring blooming bulbs, you ensure that you don’t forget to dig them since out of sight is out of mind. It also makes room to plant other bulbs that need to go in during fall.

Summer bulbs such as gladiolas, tuberous begonias, cannas and dahlias are too tender to bear frost so they need to be dug and stored during winter. Once frost has killed the foliage, dig the bulbs, shake off loose dirt and let them dry a couple days, preferably in the sun. Then store in peat moss or just loose in boxes, not bags since bags attract moisture. Place in a dark storage area that is around 45*F.

If your plants were in pots, cut the foliage off and place the pots in a cool but non-freezing location. Leave until spring and do not water them.

Now, to consider planting the spring bulbs. Before you dive in, consider what look you are going after. Each variety has different bloom times, thus with careful planting, you can have continuous color throughout spring. These bulbs also look great planted “en masse” for large splashes of color in borders, groves and other large areas.

The general rule is to plant bulbs at a depth three times the width of the bulb itself. This is roughly four to six inches deep for small bulbs and eight inches deep for the larger ones. In sandy soil, go a little deeper and a little shallower for clay soil. Fertilize low in nitrogen with a blend of 9-6-6.

Some spring favorites are:

  • Daffodils add cherry splashes of yellow and white in early spring. They are deer and vole resistant.
  • Jonquils have tiny blooms and are great for naturalization. They are among the first to bloom.
  • Crocus are favorites because they are usually the first flowers we see. Known to even push up through the snow, they come in a variety of colors.
  • Snowdrops are aptly named since they appear early in the spring as little white bells.
  • Hyacinths (including grape hyacinths) are small blue clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms that are great for naturalizing.
  • Tulips are later blooming but come in a large range of colors. These can be planted as late as you can dig in the ground. Squirrels love to eat these bulbs so you may have to put cages of chicken wire up to keep the varmints out.
  • Irises are hardy, reliable and easy to grow. Actually, it’s hard to stop them from spreading. They attract hummingbirds and butterflies and make lovely cut flowers.

Most folks order large quantities of these bulbs to create the effect that they want. So, what happens if winter sneaks in and all the bulbs don’t get planted in the fall? No worries, these bulbs can be forced, which is the process of causing plants to bloom under unnatural conditions or at unusual times.

To accomplish this, bulbs need to be put in pots and forced indoors. Choose pots that have good drainage, with at least one hole in the bottom. They also need to be deep enough for the roots to grow, at least eight inches.

Be sure and select a good quality potting mix. Soilless is a good choice since it lets the bulbs drain freely and not get water-logged while still providing moisture and stability. Fill the container with a couple inches of potting mix, then place the bulbs in and cover with more potting mix, leaving room for watering. Bulbs in pots can be placed closer together than those planted outside.

After potting them, they need to be chilled. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths especially need extended periods of cold between 35*F and 50*F to initiate shoots and flowers. Any dark space like a basement or root cellar will do as long as it doesn’t get below freezing. Freezing won’t damage the bulbs but may break the pots.

After they have cooled for 14 to 15 weeks, move them to a warm and bright location like a sunny windowsill. This will cause them to grow leaves and push up flower buds. Once the buds start to show color, move them out of direst sunlight to prolong flowering. After they bloom, they can be planted directly in the garden, however they may take a few years to fully recover.

Don’t forget that bulbs aren’t the only flowers that can be planted in fall. Many spring blossoms will bloom earlier, for longer periods and on taller stems if planted in the fall. Some seeds won’t germinate without going through a cold period. Some flowers that do better if planted in the fall are:

  • Geum have dainty, one-inch orange flowers that are happiest in partial shade with well-drained soil. In most climates, they remain evergreen.
  • Brown-eyed Susans will provide a sea of wildflowers which are in sharp contrast to their tame cousins, black-eyed Susans. Planted in full sun, they self-support themselves even though they grow to three feet tall.
  • Anemones are much-loved flowers of early spring and are grown from small tubers. They have black eyes surrounded by paper thin white petals.
  • Foxglove is an old favorite. Most are biennial which means that they flower then set seed the following year. The first-year blooming “Dalmation” series is the exception here. They have bell-shaped flowers on four-foot spikes. Although they tolerate sun, they thrive in partial shade in hotter climates.
  • Coreopsis are great for fall planting.
  • Ranuculus have layers of soft petals that resemble roses. Mid-spring blooming, they are grown form “corms” or small tubers and have longer stems if planted in fall.
  • Annual phlox have pillowy flowers on 18-inch stems. Most varieties are perennials.
  • Columbine is a another old-time favorite but is a short-lived perennial. They sport intricate patterns on the flower heads on two to four-foot stems. They have vibrant color and will give a second show if they are cut back.\
  • Dianthus perform better if planted in the fall and are sweet and spice-scented long-time staples of bouquets.

Planting bulbs and flowers in the fall for spring blooms is a win-win situation. You can take advantage of sun-kissed autumn days by planting for a spring burst of color. What could be better than that!

There's No Shoes Like Snowshoes

Country MoonSnowshoes

I like to walk. This is probably a good thing since my job for the postal service requires me to hoof an average of 8 miles per day. But this is not where my love of walking lies. What I really enjoy is snowshoeing in the winter.

There is nothing more captivating than to strap on a pair of snowshoes on a moonlit winter’s night and feel the crisp snow underfoot, see the starry night above and listen to sounds of wildlife in the distance. If I am real lucky, I may catch a glimpse of a deer, rabbit or other creature out for a moonlight stroll also.

If you think this is a strange passion, consider that snowshoeing has been around for hundreds of years, born first out of necessity and later evolving more into recreation. By definition, snowshoes are footwear for walking over snow. They work by distributing the weight of the person over a large area so a person’s foot does not sink completely in the snow, a quality called “flotation.”

Traditional snowshoes have a hardwood frame with rawhide lacings. They are made of a single strip of some tough wood such as white ash, curved round and fastened together at the ends and supported in the middle by a light cross-bar. The space in the frame is filled with a close webbing of caribou, leaving a small opening just behind the cross-bar for the toe of the moccasined foot. They are fastened to the moccasin by leather thongs or buckles. This type of original snowshoe is still made and sold by native peoples.

There are still a large group of snowshoe enthusiasts who prefer these wooden varieties. Wooden frames do not freeze as readily as the new ones made of aluminum do and the wooden variety tends to be quieter. Even so, many of these wooden shoes have been destined to become decorations, mounted on walls or on mantels in ski lodges.

The “modern” snowshoe known my many today was “born” in 1972 by Gene and Bill Prater while they were experimenting with new designs in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. They began using aluminum tubing and replaced the lace with neoprene and nylon decking.  They developed a hinged binding and added cleats to the bottoms of the shoes to make them easier to use in mountaineering.

The Sherpa Snowshoe company started manufacturing these shoes which became very popular. They were a lighter, more durable version which required little maintenance. The use of solid decking  challenged the belief that lattice was necessary to prevent snow from building up on the shoe. These more athletic designs helped the sport regain its popularity with the number of snowshoers tripling during the 1990’s. Some ski resorts are beginning to offer snowshoe trails to visitors.

There is often the sentiment that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Mostly this is true, however walking on shoes requires some slight adjustments to regular walking. I know, it sounds strange that you have to tell someone how to walk, but when you first strap a snowshoe on your foot it literally feels like you have strapped “clodhoppers” on because of their sheer size. The best method of walking with these attachments is to lift the shoes slightly and slide the inner edges over each other with an exaggerated stride.

To make matters even more complicated, after you have mastered straightforward snowshoe travel, you have to then master the art of turning. With lots of space, this is simply done by walking in a semicircle. In close quarters or on a slope this method isn’t practical so you must execute a “kick turn” similar to the technique used on skis: lifting one foot high enough to keep the entire snowshoe in the air while keeping the other planted, putting the foot at a right angle to the other then planting it on the snow and quickly repeating the action with the other foot.

One word of caution; whatever you have to do to avoid it, do not (and I repeat) do not fall! I learned the hard way that once you fall with three-foot long showshoes attached to your feet you will not be able to get up. The snowshoes dig into the snow and it was only with some agile maneuvering  that I got myself upright without calling in the troops. My motto when I first started was “If I fall, forget it!”

For this very reason, many snowshoers often use trekking poles as an accessory to help them keep their balance on the snow. These are especially useful for descending a mountain or hill. Cleating and traction improvements to modern snowshoes help climbers get up a slope. Coming down is a whole different scenario. Many snowshoers have found a way to speed up the descent that proves to be fun and rests the leg muscles. This is simply called glissading, or sliding down on their buttocks. Where this method is not practical, they run downhill in exaggerated steps, sliding slightly on the snow as they do. The trekking poles come in real handy here.

In past times snowshoes were essential for anyone who had to get around in deep and frequent snow such as fur traders and trappers. They are still necessary today for forest rangers and others to be able to go where motor vehicles cannot trek.

Besides the necessity for snowshoes in some conditions, some people just enjoy them for the sport of it. Although snowshoe racing has been around for as long as there have been snowshoes, it is relatively new as an organized sport. The United States Snowshoe Association was founded in 1977 to govern competitive snowshoeing. It is headquartered in Corinth, New York which considers itself the “Snowshoe Capital of the World.” These races are part of the Arctic Winter Games and the winter Special Olympics even though they are not yet an Olympic event.

I am definitely not interested in the races. For me, showshoeing is a way to get a little extra leg exercise and enjoy winter nights in the great outdoors. I always come back feeling refreshed and calm.  What more can you ask from a sport.

Cool Art...Literally

ice1a

Country MoonAmidst the gray skies and gloom that winter days sometimes bring, there is always a bright spot in Shipshewana, IN in late December. Ice chips fly as carvers from all over come to create masterpieces out of frozen water.

This year’s contest, due to weather conditions, was held on December 28 and 29. This time is always a highlight in this quaint rural Hoosier town where visitors come from all over to shop specialty stores that feature handmade items and Amish country cooking. The town also does Christmas right with their holiday lighting all over the small community. Viewing the ice sculptures at night under the lights is even more festive.

Actually, ice sculpting is pretty common in various locations around the country where temperatures permit. The granddaddy of all the ice contests is held in Alaska…go figure! Since 1989, Alaska has hosted the World Ice Art Championship where nearly 100 sculptors come from all over the world to sculpt large blocks of pristine natural ice during the last week of February and the first week of March. The event draws an average of 45,000 spectators and the creations are sometimes referred to as “Arctic Diamonds.”

There are two categories: the single block and multi block and two sub-categories of realistic and abstract. In single block, teams of up to two people work on 3 x 5 x 8-foot blocks of ice weighing around 7800 pounds each. In multi, there can be up to four people on a team and each team gets ten blocks of ice measuring 6 x 4 x 3 feet and weighing 4400 pounds each. Power tools and scaffolding may be used when sculpting. These masterpieces require not only artistic vision, but also knowledge of ice sculpting techniques, strength, endurance and engineering skills. There is even a kids’ section that has ice sleds and ice twirly tops.

This art form takes my breath away. I know from doing my painting, photography and writing that creativity sometimes has its own time frame. However, with ice sculpting, time is of the essence because of the volatility of the ice. Besides that, I would be at a loss as to where to start. Just how do you know how to begin an ice sculpture?

This art is traditionally taught in culinary schools and other small schools that teach ice carving. Initially, sculptors would carve ice blocks “cold turkey” by using chain saws, grinders and chisels. Through the years, the designs have become more intricate and many carvers today use templates and are aided by CNC machines and molding systems.

Besides ice sculpting competitions, more people are probably familiar with smaller versions that are used to enhance the presentation of foods, traditionally seafoods and sorbets. Cruise ships and larger hotel buffets make use of carved ice as do many wedding receptions. Hearts, doves and swans are popular subjects for these smaller sculptures. Swans are supposed to represent monogamy which is why they are popular for wedding carvings. Chef Augustine Escoffier used an ice swan to present the creation of the dish Peach Melba.

Sometimes entire bars are made of ice as are ice houses and ice walls. When making these larger structures, special measures have to be taken so they do not melt so fast. One method is by placing and keeping vertical rods in the ice sculpture along with a type of ice pellets. These pellets are made by combining one part water, three parts ice cubes or crushed ice and one part tiny floating dry ice pellets and churning all of these in a cement mixer. The ice pellets super cools the ice water so that the water acts as a glue to cement or freeze the crushed ice together. Within seconds, after the mixture has stopped moving, it will become solid ice, to be carved into a wall, bar or other structure.

Although some carvers use natural ice blocks from rivers or ponds, many prefer clear ice that has been made mechanically by controlling the freezing process and the circulation of the water in the freezing chamber. Certain machines and processes allow for slow freezing which results in clean ice.

Characteristics of ice change according to its temperature and the surrounding air temperature. Most sculptors want that pure transparency that only comes from ice that has been made from pure and clean water that is free from impurities. If ice is clouded it is because it has finely trapped air molecules that have binded to impurities during the freezing process. In more intricate ice patterns, some sculptors actually want the clouded ice, a combination of cloudy and clear or blocks of ice colored by dyes to achieve the final art form.

There is nothing like watching a sculptor start chipping a form out of a block of ice once he has drawn the pattern on it. It takes multiple cuts to make curves and after a design has been carved, many use a flamer to smooth imperfections and give it a finished look. How amazing to see a 3-D effect of an image come to life from a simple block of ice!

How long these sculptures last depend solely on the temperature. If it is below freezing or if in a controlled environment, they can last for days. However, the life for many is but a few hours. Unlike other art forms, part of the beauty of ice sculptures is that something so perishable is sculpted into a work of art only to be viewed once. Perhaps this is what makes us appreciate this art form.

Ice2


Photos Courtesy of Getty Images






Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters