I have expressed it before – garlic is our most important and possibly most valuable garden plant. The reason for this are the health benefits and the flavour it provides to meals and the ability to sell our excess at decent good return.
Over the years of garlic production we have become proficient at growing it, using it and in making garlic powder. We have had almost complete harvest failures some years as well as amazing production in others.
We even have our own DIY Dehydrator which works amazing well and we have used it for several years.
The Taste Test
This year we planted four different cultivars – Tibetan, Siberian, Marino, and Russian Red. The first three were adapted to our area (prairie adapted) and the Russian garlic was obtained from a different province that is normally much warmer than ours. Guess what the growing results were.
The three prairie adapted cultivars were fabulous producers. Not super large bulbs but consistent in the number of cloves and in size and colour. Most of the Russian garlic ended up wormy and rotting. This then, was the first type we made into powder since they would not last much longer.
We kept a few cloves of the Russian cultivar and did a raw garlic taste test to determine hotness and other flavour qualities.
To evaluate flavour we had to use something to act as what I call a hotness “disperser” – bread and butter – to prevent the garlic from burning the mouth and throat too much. Toast could also be used here.
I repeated the taste test twice, trying one cultivar (one whole clove) per day, twice. I used the same kind of bread and butter and ate the whole clove on one side of the bread so that I had the rest of the bread to absorb the hotness if needed.
We had interesting results.
The cultivars we naturally thought would be hotter were the Tibetan and Siberian, and naturally the Marino should be less hot, simply based on the names. The Russian garlic turned out to have a decent amount of hotness and residual burning after finishing, likely due to its larger size and higher moisture content (I really have no idea, I’m just guessing here)
The hottest and best tasting garlic for me was THE MARINO! I had read somewhere on the internet that if you can grow only one garlic, grow Marino. Maybe this had influenced my taste buds and therefore my decision? I really have no idea.
The Marino was hottest on the first bite and had lingering hotness throughout the tasting. The Siberian and Tibetan both were not super hot at first taste, then got a bit hotter and then decreased in temp right after that. By the end of all the taste tests, no cultivar had residual burning that I have experienced with the Russian garlic in other years.
I am going to attribute the garlic hotness or lack of it to growing conditions. We had a very dry year, but all the garlic seemed less hot to me. I guess it could also be me used to eating raw garlic?
So the hotness was the main concern in this taste test. If there are other ways to test garlic flavour I do not know them. So for now, the differences in hotness is what we have determined about the garlic we grow, and can relate that information to customers.
If you can stand it, try a garlic taste test yourself. I would like to compare to grocery store garlic sometime!
Ever since I was small, I loved nature. I don’t know why particularly, I just did. Growing up, I loved spending time in the country, around plants and animals and anything from the natural world. I took biology and ended up taking Agriculture in university.
Looking at career options, I was not pleased. A good paying job was most likely to be found in a region that I was not willing to live in (for several reasons), so I got sidetracked into a job that kept me in this location, but not really contributing to anything on the nature side of things. I had access to nature, but not a viable way to contribute to it’s health in the form of a career.
The main thing I didn’t want was a commute, which I had done previously for 2 years and which was draining and annoying and can take the life right out of you if done too long. Finally I was able to create a self-sustaining business right here where I lived.
So, now there was the time and energy for nature. I suspect this might have something to do with many people’s lack of interest or ability to contribute to the health of the planet – being tired and stressed from work. Change takes effort and when your effort is going into a job that is energy draining (as most are), you have little left after work for anything but the basics.
Anyway, this year we, Ernie and I, have decided to make a serious effort to live differently. We have been moving towards this for several years and refining our thinking and actions and have come up with many things that we feel will help move us and others towards living more kindly towards the planet. We are also now actively promoting this lifestyle to people (tactfully), hoping that they will make a few changes to their lifestyles to help out and make a difference. We do not lecture anyone, but simply mention things we and others can do in our daily conversations with people in our area.
The following are the things we ourselves are doing to feel that we are working towards the goal of protecting the health of our planet.
- Working towards growing all our own vegetables and fruits. We grow 80% of our veggies but only about 25% of our fruit. Producing our own fruit is more difficult but not impossible. We buy oranges, blueberries in season, cherries in season, and macintosh apples which we can’t grow here. We have our own apples, Saskatoons (Service berry), and raspberries. For veggies we buy cauliflower and radishes, both of which we can’t grow here successfully, and hothouse cucumbers from a different province and mushrooms grown locally. Everything else we grow ourselves and process for winter or do without.
- Reducing the amount we drive dramatically and walk as much as possible. This is easy to do especially in cities where you have public transit and can cycle most times of the year. In the country it is more difficult especially if you choose to live away from a larger centre where things need to be trucked in or you have to drive longer distances to get somewhere or buy something. As society moves towards more digital based commerce, it is likely that most things will be delivered which will save on individual car driving.
- Feed our pets as naturally and with as little waste as possible. Our dogs eat mostly raw meat, with some cooked foods such as sardines and tripe. Meat and eggs are obtained as much as possible from local ranchers/farmers. Sometimes we have to buy meat from the store, but if we do that, we save the plastic and styrofoam meat trays and reuse them for many things. There is almost no waste, where as if we fed dry dog food we would be throwing away big dog food bags, about three larges one a month. These are lined with aluminum and plastic for freshness and are not recyclable.
- Attempting to eliminate new purchases of plastic items and reduce the use of disposable plastics. This is a non-negotiable. I feel this is the most serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed currently. If we have some re-usable plastic, we won’t get rid of it just because we don’t want plastic around, but use it until it is not in good condition anymore. We don’t use shampoo anymore (water wash only) and very few store bought personal products so there is much less plastic waste. This is an area I’d like to reduce even more.
- We RE-USE EVERYTHING at least once. If it can’t be re-used, we will try not to buy it or find an alternative to it that is re-usable.
- Find new uses for most, if not all things that would normally be thrown out. This includes clothing, furniture, wood or any building material etc.
- Composting our waste. There is much that can be composted that people are not aware of, that would reduce the amount of garbage, maybe not useable for food plants, but compostable nevertheless. Cardboard is compostable by worms for instance.
- Support ethical and low-intensity animal farming for meat. In order to support this statement I won’t be including information here, but I encourage you to do your own research about red meat, farming etc. We will never be vegan as veganism is not a diet but an ethical position that rejects using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other reasons, like having pets. Yes, if you have a pet you cannot be vegan by definition. In fact I would question whether there is even anything truly vegan at all, but that is for another article. I would resort to calling yourself a “strict plant-based eater” instead. I consider myself a plant-based” eater because my diet is based on plants, but I also eat meat and eggs and a very small amount of artisan cheese. I will also not give up my connection with other species on this planet especially dogs. I feel it is a natural way for humans to live, interacting with animals and it is pleasurable. That said, I do not agree with factory or large scale animal farming. People can eat less meat and we can raise and slaughter food animals better and more humanely. We can live in harmony with animals in our lives and in domesticity. If I can’t have animals in my life because of the beliefs of a few radical people, I don’t want to be here on earth at all.
- We save things from the garbage. There are so many things being thrown out in dumps and landfills that shouldn’t or don’t need to be thrown out. Ernie and other people we know have salvaged many, many things from being burned at the dump, and we have found ways to reuse these things.
- When we buy food, we make a great effort to buy products that are produced in this country, and even better, from within our community. All our meat and eggs come from local farmers and ranchers. It is not more expensive when you eat less. We also eat wild meat, specifically deer, which is low in fat as all wild meats are. For those of you who are opposed to hunting but still eat meat, unless you only purchase meat from animals that are dispatched on the farm and under no stress from transporting, then the meat is not at the highest quality. Wild deer are not terrorized by hunting anymore than they would be if they were being hunted by wolves or coyotes, whereas transporting animals to a slaughterhouse is very stressful on the animals.
- We don’t follow fashion trends. If something is not “trendy” or current in style we don’t get rid of it. Fashion is not really important. That being said, for some people it is important, but it is a throw-away culture. Furniture, knick-knacks, clothing, etc can be kept, saved, reused. Humans do need re-adjustment on the way we think about consuming things. We choose to buy good quality, and yes, more expensive items that last longer and do not give these things an expiry date based on what the current fashion or trends are. If something is in bad shape we simply find other uses for it until it is no more. I like the idea of finding one’s own style without the influence of consumerism. There are some amazing products in the marketplace that are high quality and unique and thoughtfully made. This is what I look for when thinking about a purchase (which isn’t often).
- Houseplants. Or how about just plants in general. Need I say more? OK, I will. I’m obsessed with plants. It’s what I studied in university. I love them. Tree, shrubs, flowers, food plants, houseplants. They are useful (in all kinds of ways) and houseplants bring nature into the home. The more I have the better I feel mentally. Having a few or several in your home is beneficial for you and your surroundings, reminding us even in snowy and cold winters (if you have them) that the plant, and planet, needs assistance to live.
- Writing about what we’re doing. This is a great way to spread information and ideas to assist others in changing perceptions about how we live. Ernie and I don’t presume to know what you do or can do in your own area, but where we live, since the community is small, we can come in contact easily with others to communicate information. Writing and posting on the internet is the same thing. Easy and convenient, and it works. If you think about it, I’ll bet there are several things you could do where you live now to spread the word.
I’m sure there are more things that you and I can and will come up with to contribute to this planet project, which MUST be done now. There is now more fooling around and we cannot go back. We must do this together.
Now that I have said all this, I want to emphasize, that this post is NOT a criticism list, to make people feel crappy about how little they are doing. This is a SUGGESTION list, describing mostly what we do ourselves and what CAN be done, and how important I feel this is. We want to encourage you (I know most of you who read this are already doing this stuff) and show how easy it is to do some of these things, give ideas and to impress upon people how important it is to do these things. That’s it. We’re not saying how great we are, or that you’re a bad person for not doing what we are. Instead, I’m simply giving information.
If you feel defensive or angry at some of these suggestions, that is not my fault. It is something for you to examine within yourself, on why you feel that way.
Then, once you have done that, take action and do something great for your city/town, province/state, community, and most importantly for yourself and your family!
Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.
The main things that made this possible were the following:
Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.
Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.
Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.
Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.
Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.
The Coming Months
We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.
Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.
As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.
So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.
This fall we had an abundance of apples. So after we used up and froze as many as we could I decided it was a go on the vinegar.
I used chunks of apple, not fruit scraps, just because we had that many apples and we didn’t need to process any more whole ones. You can use just the cores and peels for this if you use the main part of the apple for something else. If I were to use cores, I would remove the seeds before I used them, just to be sure that they don’t break down in the vinegar and leach anything into it.
I cored and chopped enough to fill the jar put in a honey/water brine. I weighed down the apples with a regular drinking glass with a shooter glass inside that. Use anything that fits in the mouth of the jar you use. Make sure you use a glass or ceramic weight and not metal or wood.
It bubbled away for a little more than a week and started to smell like alcohol – the desired result of the first part of making vinegar.
I think I left it a little too long because the apples started to brown and some of the liquid evaporated from the jar. Below is the result of the this first part of the process. Here I am getting ready to filter the liquid through a linen cloth. This removes any pulp and residue from the liquid.
I thought it should be a bit clearer than it turned out, but the smell was right so I continued on with it. The picture below is the final liquid after the filtering.
I am storing it on a shelf in the corner of the kitchen out of the light in a glass casserole dish.
The mother of vinegar will settle out from the liquid. The “mother” is the substance that you would use to create new vinegar from just juice. It is slimy looking stuff, kind of like a jelly that will settle in the bottom of the bowl of vinegar.
To store in the fridge, it is necessary to put a cover on it I also re-strained it because there was more “mother” in the vinegar. I then covered the mother with some of the vinegar and put it back in the fridge.
There is a definite change in colour of the liquid. It has darkened quite a bit. Also, it seems that all of the vinegar is continually producing mother of vinegar if left long enough, which is OK from what I have learned.
I ended up with two cups of usable vinegar. Right now I am giving it to the dogs by the teaspoon with their meals, as it has benefits for them as well.
Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.
The problem I have found is that eating “well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food as they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.
All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.
To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:
Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.
From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.
At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.
The point is use what is available.
The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.
Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00
With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.
So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.
We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.
I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.
The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.
Cooking for oneself takes time and effort, just like anything else worthwhile. Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these and the convenience of them. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.
I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.
Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.
This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal or two hours after the meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.
Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected with depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know, I’ve done both.
If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking anyway ;-).
There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.
I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.
Our greenhouse is finished. Well, except for painting the trim. The plants that have been in there so far this summer are growing somewhat faster than those outside, but I feel this is likely due to transplant shock of those that were put out.
This greenhouse was built with mostly scrap/recycled/savaged materials with the exception of a few pieces of wood and the roof plastic. Even the vinyl siding was salvaged from the dump.
It is functional, not bad looking and seems to be working well.
As for the plants that are growing inside, they are also doing quite well. We have tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in there as well as outside on the patio.
This is all really an experiment for me. I wanted to try to grow vegetables in pots, in and outside of the greenhouse, to see if and how easily it could be done here in our climate.
What I have found is that it is easy to grow your own food in pots on balconies or outside on your patio. The easiest things I have found to grow are herbs, onions, obviously tomatoes, peppers, kale… well everything really.
I even have corn growing in two pots just to see if it would work. And yes it works.
Recently, several people have complained to me about the increased prices at the grocery store, particularly vegetables. Of the people who complained to me, some lived in the city and some lived in rural areas.
I can understand that there will be certain places in urban areas in which it will be difficult to have any kind of outdoor space for plants. But everyone has an indoor place for one plant.
So there is really no excuse not to do this except that you are completely set against doing it.
Why should I grow my own food? Isn’t it time consuming?
My answer to this is, no. But it IS a lifestyle. My opinion ( if it matters) is that everyone should learn how to grow SOMETHING of their own, even if it is just flowers or houseplants. I believe tending to garden, even a small one, is an important part of being human. But you don’t have to start out growing everything at once. And of course if you don’t want to that is your choice. Just don’t complain to me about the price of food.
When you learn how to grow even the most simple and small amounts of food for yourself, you are connecting to nature, you can control where some of your food comes from and you learn something new every time you plant something. This last point is the most important one of the three in my mind.
What to grow
Growing your own herbs is the best way I have found to start growing food. You can grow all of the oregano, basil, coriander, parsley and dill you need for a whole year in pots in a small space. Parsley can grow inside all winter in a sunny window, and early in the year you can start coriander (cilantro), dill and even small onions in pots to pinch for fresh flavour in your cooking.
Multiplier onions can provide green onions before they mature AND just the greens if you want. If you leave them to mature, the bulbs can be saved and planted at another time. There is really no way to make a mistake in planting them.
Other really useful plants to plant in pots are tomatoes and peppers. They take a little more attention, especially pruning for the tomatoes but nothing that can’t be handled.
Tomatoes never have to go bad because if you grow too many because you can freeze them whole and use them anytime during the non-growing season.
Anyway, I’m not getting rid of my greenhouse just because I don’t need it. I love it and will use it to start the large amount of veggies we need each year.
But it is time for people to take matters into their own hands and start growing some of their own food if only just to eat something amazing.
We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.
For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.
For things like that I just call them “vintage”.
This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.
Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.
Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.
Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.
Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.
Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.
Check out my video below to see all the steps.
In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.
Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.
Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.
I found a method of making iced cream on Facebook of all places. You make it with plastic bags, ice and a lot of arm strength. Now I am not one for using plastic much as you may know, but since we have so many in the “junk” storage from previous use, I thought why not reuse some for this project.
We have three ice cube trays and I made the ice myself that you need for this. We also have a vintage iced cream maker but decided to give both methods a try.
There are only four ingredients: 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cream, 2 tblsp, sugar and a dash of vanilla. I doubled this for our second try and quadrupled it when we figured out what we were doing and use my own method as you will see below.
To make the iced cream you put the ingredients in a zip top bag. You then prepare another larger bag with lots of ice and salt and place the bagged ingredients inside the bag of ice Shake it for ten minutes. Your hands will get cold. We used a tea towel wrapped around our hands to prevent this.
We tried doing this method twice. The first time I accidentally, poured the iced cream out of the plastic bag into a bowl along with some of the salty water from the bag of ice. Ernie ate it anyway.
The second time was better and better tasting. But it was still labour intensive.
The iced cream maker was a no go as the centre metal container was rusted inside.
At some point during this iced cream making day, I realized that I have been making an iced coffee recipe for years with the same ingredients as iced cream – except the coffee. I make the drink in a glass loaf pan and turn it into an iced drink in the freezer. To keep the drink smooth and prevent crystalization, you need to keep stirring it. The main thing is to not let it freeze overnight. I figured out how to make this iced coffee recipe by trial and error.
Because the ingredients are basically the same, I decided to try to make regular iced cream this way as well.
I used the same glass loaf pan. You can use whatever you have, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Put all the ingredients in and mix with an electric mixer. (My mixer is vintage of course and is older than me.) Do this every half an hour to prevent the ice from forming large chunks and to make it freeze slowly. No shaking, no ice cream maker needed.
When it is the right consistency to eat, eat it. That’s it.
You can add any flavourings you want to this like chocolate, fruit, or whatever.
At this time of year to save some money, we buy fruit, which is sometimes on sale, wash and freeze it for the winter. We do this instead of buying frozen from the grocery store in the winter. By doing this we know exactly where the fruit is grown and how it was processed (by us).
We do this with blueberries, Saskatoon berries (otherwise known as serviceberries) and sometimes strawberries if we can get them locally. To freeze them we use plastic honey containers as you can see in the photos. We feel this packaging method is acceptable since the berries do not contact too much of the plastic. Not as much as the honey that originally comes in them anyway.
This is what we are currently doing on the homestead right now as boring as it may seem.
We usually buy about two dozen packages of blueberries and about the same in strawberries. The Saskatoons have to be picked, which we do locally. And then we stuff ourselves with fresh berries for a few days! That’s it!