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5 Things To Do Right Now To Prepare For Canning Season Next year


Canning is one of those things that homesteaders look forward to each year with excited anticipation and a slight twinge of dread. Nothing beats the quality and the feeling of accomplishment you get from preserving your harvest each year, and that peach cobbler sure is to die for in the frigid depths of January...but it's such a lot of work, and most of that time spent is in the preparation. With all that happens during the canning season, there are a few things you can do right now to prepare for next season that will make your life a little easier come harvest time. 

pressure canner
Remove the gasket in the lid of your pressure canner and inspect it for cracks or disintegration.

1. Check and replace the gasket on your pressure canner. Remove the gasket from the lid of your pressure canner and look for cracks in the rubber or signs of disintegration. Bad gaskets will affect your canner's ability to reach and maintain proper pressure while in use. Gaskets should be replaced every two to three years as part of your canner's maintenance regimen. You can pick one up online or at your local hardware store for around $10 or less.

pressure canner
You can get your dial gauges tested at your county extension office or a local hardware store.

2. Get your dial gauge tested (Weighted gauges do not require testing). You can take your dial gauge to your county extension office to have it tested, often free of charge (be sure to call ahead so they have someone on staff to test it for you). It is recommended to have your gauge tested and adjusted if need be before each canning season to ensure your safety. Gauges that read high can result in under-processed foods that are unsafe to consume. Ones that read low can result in not only over-processed canned food, but it also increases the risk of dangerous kitchen mishaps. If your gauge tests more that 2 pounds off, high or low, it should be replaced. Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged gauges must be replaced. You can find replacements online for around $15. Other places that test dial gauges include hardware stores and companies like “Presto” that manufacture canning equipment.

An example of rust that has been transferred to the lid of a sealed jar from a rusty ring.

An example of rusty and dented rings that should be discarded.

3. Sort through your collection of can rings. Discard any rusty, worn, or dented rings. Dents can mean an improper seal. Rust can transfer to the lids making it hard to remove the ring from the jar causing the lid to loosen when removing the ring before storage. To avoid rust, remember to always remove the ring from your canned goods 24 hours after removal from the canning vessel before long-term storage. Then wash them in warm soapy water, drying them thoroughly to ensure they have a long, rust-free life. Leaving the rings on the jars can also cause a false seal or rust eating through can lids making food unsafe. Don't want to just throw away your busted rings? GO HERE  AND HERE to see some great ways to re-purpose those rings!

4. Inspect jars. As you work your way through your pantry this winter, wash your jars with warm soapy water and while they are still wet run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for any nicks or chips in the glass that would cause an improper seal. Discard any jars with defects, or give them a new life as decorations in your home. I like to use mine as vases for all the bouquets my boys carefully pick for me in the summer months. Store unused jars upright, not upside down. I like to place a hunk of cardboard on top of them to block dust from entering to make cleaning and sterilizing easier next season.

5. Watch for off-season deals. Keep your peepers peeled at your favorite stores for canning equipment on sale. You can often find great deals on jars, lids, rings, and maybe even that large capacity pressure canner you day-dreamed of while you started your fifth load of canned beef this October. Now is also a great time to cruise the Ball website for tested canning recipes to try something new and different next season. I've found some of my favorite recipes there...even an apple pie filling recipe that earned first place at the county fair this year!

Rachel is a Gardener, Beekeeper, wife, & mother of three wild and crazy boys and lover of all things homesteading. Come grow with her at

Cream Cheese Stuffed Rose of Sharon Blossoms


stuffed blossom

There are some pretty unique recipes being churned out of my kitchen lately. My husband calls it “weird stuff,” but he's a good sport and tries everything. I have been doing a little poking around and found, much to my surprise, that Rose Of Sharon blossoms are edible — its a member of the hibiscus family. It just so happens I have a big Rose Of Sharon in my front about edible landscapes! So I had to try it of course. I ran out to the tree, plucked some petals, and munched on them. They are delicately sweet and lightly crunchy. They bring a happy splash of color to a salad, too. I had to come up with something that could encourage you to try it as well. What better way to do that than with cheese? You could probably slap some cheese on tree bark and I would at least try it. Add some fruit and honey to the mix and I'll be all over it.

Since many varieties are called Rose Of Sharon, it's always a good idea to spend a little time identifying your blooms to be sure you do indeed have the edible variety. Google is your friend here. Pink, white, and purple Rose of Sharon are edible, but it doesn't hurt to be safe.

These little beauties make a lovely light afternoon snack and they'd be totally stunning at a tea party right next to those pretty little cucumber sandwiches.

Stuffed Rose Of Sharon Blossoms

• 10-12 Rose of Sharon blossoms
• 4 ounces softened Chevre or cream cheese
• 1 handful fresh blackberries
• 1 spoonful honey

1. Rinse blossoms and remove pistil.
2. In a bowl, combine cheese, blackberries, and honey.
3. Spoon cheese mixture into center of blossoms and lightly twist to close.

Munch away! Enjoy this pretty (and interesting) snack with a glass of iced tea or at an impromptu tea party with your friends or kids.

Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Come grow with her at


Chamomile Bee Tea


Chamomile blooms
Chamomile Herbal Tea

The dandelions are out, and so are the honeybees! Spring is officially here in beekeeper land. But it can still get a little cold in southern Michigan; in fact, our last frost date for Zone 5 is May 21st, so we still aren't out of the woods yet. It's a great idea to make some sugar syrup to give to your bees this time of year as a nearby food source to help them take on these roller-coaster temperatures. It's an even better idea to give your bees Bee Tea!

So, why Chamomile Bee Tea and not a regular 1:1 sugar syrup? Chamomile Herbal Tea is made up of the dried, flowering body of the chamomile plant. The cool thing about this is that there is some pollen still hanging out in these dried up little flowers, and bees need pollen to get all of their necessary vitamins and minerals. So this steeped chamomile tea paired with sugar is a great food option for our buzzy friends in these hard times of cold temperatures. Please note: sugar syrup is an inferior food source for bees, and nothing man can cobble together will match nectar from real flowers. I do not like to rely heavily on sugar syrup, but I find that during seasonal shifts and for new or struggling colonies, this Bee Tea can give them a hand up.

I highly recommend using loose leaf tea for this application rather than tea bags (though they will work just fine if that's what you have on hand). The chamomile will be more intact since it hasn't gone through as much processing as the bagged sort, and it is almost always a higher quality tea.

What you will need:

• Tea kettle
• Mesh tea strainer
• Teapot or heat-safe brewing vessel
• Large jar (I use a half-gallon canning jar, but any size will do depending on the amount you are making)
• Granulated sugar
• Loose leaf chamomile tea or chamomile tea bags

For those that may be curious, 1:1 means that if I used 1 cup of water I will have to dissolve 1 cup of sugar to create this solution. In this recipe I will be making four cups of tea, so I must use four cups of sugar. This recipe can be made in any quantity, large or small, depending on your particular needs.

What to do:

Begin by measuring the required amount of water and add it to your tea kettle. Let it come to a boil. Then add the tea to your mesh strainer and place the strainer into your brewing vessel. (My teapot will make four cups of tea, which requires four tablespoons of loose leaf tea.) Pour the boiling water into the brewing vessel and allow the tea to steep for five minutes. While the tea is steeping, put four cups of sugar into your large jar. When the tea is done steeping and still very hot, pour it into the jar and stir to dissolve the sugar; you will know that the sugar is completely dissolved when the mixture no longer looks foggy but is golden and clear.

Pouring steeped tea
Adding Tea

Jar of chamomile tea
Stirring To Dissolve

Allow the Bee Tea to cool completely before adding it to your feeder and giving it to your bees. If you have extra, you can pop it into the fridge and refill your bee feeder as needed. Discard any excess Bee Tea after five days have passed.

Have fun watching your girls enjoy their little Bee Tea Party!

Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!

Options For Aging Flock Members


Chopping Block_1
Cornflake the chicken was not harmed in the shooting of this photograph.

A chicken has a potential lifespan of 10+ years when given proper care, and that should be considered before you add a laying flock to your home, as should what you plan to do with them when they stop laying. It's hard to justify keeping an animal around that only consumes on a homestead where everything must earn it keep. After 2-3 years of laying, a hen is past her prime in egg production. In most cases she will be processed in a canning jar; even though we'd all love to provide a rent-free home for the remainder of their lives, it isn't always in the cards or the budget to do so. But there are some jobs that a veteran flock member can do — even if she isn't producing eggs — that makes keeping her around worthwhile.


Like adolescents in every other species on the planet (humans included), young flock members can be a total pain in the rear end. They sleep in nest boxes and cause poopy eggs; they fight over food and manage to sit inside the feeders to eat and then get stuck; they find new and exciting ways to get out of the run; basically they have no idea how things work in the coop. Having older flock members present who know the routine can help the teenagers figure out when to return to the coop at night, and that they sleep on roosts not in nest boxes. The teachers show them where to take dust baths, where to scratch and peck, and how to eat at the feeder like a decent member of the flock. Flock matriarchs can kick a little butt, too, to teach newbies their place in the world and knock out some of their cockiness. Before long, they will behave and follow the routine just like everyone else in the coop.

Surrogate Moms:

There comes a time when flock expansion is needed, and sometimes heat lamps and brooders aren't ideal. Sometimes certain hens are really bad moms and don't sit on their eggs for the full 21 days. Sometimes hens are homicidal and they kill all their babies as soon as they hatch. Enter the broody hen surrogate mom. They go broody at the mere sight of two eggs nestled in a nesting box and try to hatch them, and they happily adopt any abandoned chicks. Being a momma is their calling, and that's why broodies will always have a home in my flock whether or not they lay eggs.

Broodiness however, can at times be unwanted or become dangerous to the hen if her need to be a mother isn't satisfied. Check out this article from the Chicken Chick that tells you how to safely break a hen of broodiness if the situation calls for it. I love her method, and I have used it many times to break my regular broody mommas if I can't find hatching eggs or freshly hatched chicks for them.

Garden Tending:

Garden tending is the perfect job for your old hens. They eat weeds, scratch up the roots, eliminate pests, and fertilize and aerate the soil as they go! You will have to come up with a way to keep your fowl away from your veggies, though. There are some great, garden-row-sized chicken tractor plans on Pinterest, or you can come up with your own. I am working on plans for my own row tractor to use this gardening season, since it tends to get away from me after a while and it turns into a jungle. I'm also planting my garden lengthwise rather than across this year so that I can move the tractor up and down the rows more efficiently.

And, every now and then, a chicken comes along that has a very special personality that saves her drumsticks. When I was a kid I had this lovely, huge, barred rock hen named Roxy. I wouldn't let her get chopped, and I even painted her toenails red so I could keep her apart from everyone else. Now its my white Cochin, Oatmeal, who has hatched lots of new babies and survived being mauled by a Chihuahua, and of course Kahrl, a blue Cochin who is extraordinarily fluffy and who has raised new babies when other hens abandoned them. My husband's buff Orpington, Cornflake, probably won't be found on the dinner table either, since she is abnormally friendly.

An old hen's working days aren't always over after her laying days are over. She pays her rent in new ways that might even be more productive than before.

Happy clucking!

Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!

Perfect Cast Iron Pizza Every Time






Earlier this spring, my well-seasoned and much loved pizza stone broke in half in the oven while I was entertaining, and, after spouting off a fair number of expletives, I started looking for alternatives to my deceased stone. I ended up breaking out the cast-iron, and there is no turning back now. The crust is perfect — crispy on the bottom and soft and fluffy on the top — and everything cooks evenly. This is now the only way we make pizza in our house, but it does require a few tricks to get it right.


All you need is a cast-iron pan, pizza dough, sauce, and toppings of your choice.

Start with a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in, and wipe it around the bottom and sides of the pan. Do not leave any pools of oil. If you're new to cast-iron, check out this article by another GRIT blogger.

pizza dough

Use your favorite pizza crust recipe, or even one from a box. If you use a deep dish cast-iron pan, you may need to double your recipe to be able to make it up the sides (and have a little left over to do stuffed crust!). Press the pizza dough into the oiled pan. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Then, place the pan on a burner on medium heat while you put the toppings on — about 5-10 minutes. This crisps up the crust and helps the pizza slices come out of the pan flawlessly.

cheese first

Add half the cheese first. This keeps the sauce from making the crust soggy.

sauce second

Add your favorite sauce on top of the cheese.

toppings next

Put your toppings on top of the sauce.

Add more cheese and more toppings.


Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and golden.

Let the pizza cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. I know its hard, but trust me, it goes a long way in making for an easier clean up. If you dig in right away while the pan is still hot from the oven, the melty sauce and cheese will spill over into the pan and it will burn and stick.

gooey cheese

Just look at that gooey, cheesy perfection ...

clean pan

And get a load of that practically spotless pan!

Happy pizza party!

Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!

The Best Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie






whipped cream

Every year we visit a local farming family a few roads over. They grow all name and number of squash and other wonderful veggies, and they sell them at their roadside stand. They sell fantastic pie pumpkins that we roast, puree, and freeze in recipe-sized portions. This year, we froze 35 pie pumpkins for our family. Now that's a lot of cookies and muffins! It also makes great baby food, and I have a killer pumpkin potato soup recipe, too! (You can find it HERE along with directions on how to preserve your own pie pumpkins.) But our favorite pumpkin recipe by far is Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie, filled to the rim with fresh pie pumpkin. Its spicy, custardy goodness brings warmth to our holiday gatherings.

Pumpkin pies tend to be skinny, with only 1/2 to 1 inch of filling, and that's disappointing to me. When I want pie, I want pie. So, how can you make a deep dish pumpkin pie? It's not like you can heap pie filling on in a huge pile like an apple pie, for instance. You have to have a deep pie pan. I have a wide array of pie pans in my arsenal; typically they come in three depth sizes: 1, 1-1/2, and 2 inches deep.

To be honest, I had a hard time sharing this recipe since its kind of what I'm known for at holiday gatherings, but it is time I pass it along. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does!

deep dish

Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie

*requires 9- or 10-inch round, 2-inch deep pie pan*

For the crust:

• 1-1/2 cup flour
• 2 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoon + teaspoon lard or Crisco
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/4 cup cold water

1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor, pulse a few times, then slowly add water while pulsing. Continue until a crumbly dough is formed.

2. Turn out onto plastic wrap and chill up to 3 hours.

3. Before baking, remove from plastic wrap, roll dough out, and place in pie pan.

For the filling:

• 1 cup sugar (you can substitute honey in the same amount)
• 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 teaspoon allspice
• 1-1/2 teaspoon ginger
• 1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 4 eggs (beaten)
• 1 can evaporated milk or 12oz heavy whipping cream
• 4 cups pureed pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Add pumpkin to a large bowl, add spices, salt, sugar, and vanilla, and then mix well.

3. Add beaten eggs and evaporated milk. Mix well. Pour filling into prepared crust.

NOTE: Filling will come close to the top of the pie pan, so use care when transferring to oven. I like place the pie pan on a cookie sheet before I pour the filling; it helps when transferring to oven, and also protects your oven in case of any spillovers.

4. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 375 F for 60 minutes. Depending on the humidity on the day you make this pie, you may find that it requires 20-30 more minutes of baking time.

5. Allow to cool and serve with whipped cream.

pie serving

Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!

Using Your Clothesline in Winter






loaded line in winter

My husband came home after getting the mail and said that our electricity bill has been high the last few months. His first thought was that we should start unplugging things after we were done using them (which we should). My first thought was, “The dryer...” It has been cold and wet since the end of October in our area, so I have had to dry our clothes in the dryer.

I only launder our clothes every other week. Thankfully my husband has a uniform service at work, so that cuts down my washing duty significantly. However, we use prefold cloth diapers; currently all three of our little ones are in diapers. I wash diapers three days a week on average, then I dry them in the dryer in winter — sometimes it takes two cycles in the dryer to fully dry the diapers since they retain moisture so well. In the spring, summer, and fall months, all my laundry goes out on our big, 40-foot-long clothesline, barring inclement weather. But I have always had to dry indoors in winter. Not this year! This year, I'm not letting my clothesline hibernate through winter.

Some of you may ask, how on earth can anything ever get dry without heat in freezing temperatures? Its called sublimation, and this is how it works: When you hang damp clothes out on the line, they will freeze. The ice then gets evaporated by the sun, leaving no more moisture in the clothing. Simply put, you are freeze-drying your laundry!

A nice, sun-shiny, snow-covered day with a little bit of breeze is ideal! Especially if you have whites or diapers that need a little bit of stain removal. The snow is key for this, since it reflects the sunlight and maximizes the sun's natural bleaching super powers. It eliminates even blueberry stains on cloth diapers! Can I get a hallelujah from all my cloth-diapering mommas out there? Breast-fed baby poo stains disappear magically, too! Your white T-shirts might even look like they had a spa day. And the smell! If you love the scent of line-dried laundry in the summer ... just wait until you try it in winter! It is the best!

Here are a few tips for using the clothesline in the depths of winter:

WARNING: In winter you cannot line-dry diaper covers with a PUL lining. It can cause the PUL to crack and therefore ruin your covers! Use a drying rack inside for your covers instead and protect your investment.

• Take a little extra time in the laundry room and pre-clip your clothes pins to your laundry. The chill of the air combined with the dampness of the clothing can make for finger-freezing experience.

• I like to wear a mitten on my clothes-grabbing hand and a thin glove on my pinning hand. It really helps to keep your hands warm as you work.

• Work quickly! You will find that some items will start to freeze instantly; the quicker you work, the faster you can get everything hung up before it becomes an ice block in your basket.

• When the time comes to take things down the laundry will be stiff, so take things down gently since some fabric can become brittle. Avoid hanging up dress shirts and things of that nature.

• If your laundry doesn't get totally dry, just pop it in the dryer for a short cycle, or let it finish drying on a drying rack indoors. You may need to go out to your line periodically and wiggle your clothes if you notice ice buildup.

• Get yourself a wicker basket for laundry hauling. Plastic laundry baskets can become brittle and break in these temperatures.

I got a lot of pointers from my grandmother, who used to do this regularly as she grew up, and a friend whose mother used to hang clothes out in the winter. I love to be outside even in the freezing cold. Even if I have to work in it, I still get to enjoy the beauty of the season. Good luck, and happy freeze-drying!

 Rachel is a gardener, beekeeper, wife & mother of three wild and crazy boys, and lover of all things homesteading. Visit to see more!

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