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!
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.
This is the second year that we are using our homemade dehydrator.
Last year we used it to dry garlic for garlic powder and it worked amazingly well. We will still use it for that purpose, but right now I am using it to dry my herbs.
How To Make A Dehydrator From Junk
To make a dehydrator, all you need is a container with shelves, some trays and some air flow. We had a big cardboard box in the shed. Ernie built an insert with scrap wood to hold two trays, then cut a hole in the top back of the box to promote air flow.
The table is an old coffee table that we had in storage, and the trays are screens from old windows that are long gone. All saved items. The only thing that is new is the heater/fan. We use it on the no heat setting to move the air. A regular fan could be used if that is what you have.
This dehydrator works very well. Obviously you have to turn the herbs or garlic occasionally to promote even drying but that’s no problem.
Yes, it looks weird and is not appropriate for some decor (lol), but who cares. It was free and more junk is not getting put into the landfill.
Don’t Throw Out Your Dried Up Garlic!
The garlic we use with this is what we know will not last the whole winter because there were worms in them or they drying out.
Never throw out garlic by the way, unless it is mouldy. Even if you have a small amount you can slice it into small pieces, put it on a plate, and let it air dry, turning it regularly. When it is dry, chop it in a small grinder.
The herbs dry faster in the dehydrator than just being air dried, but we use both methods on all of our herbs.
Isn’t it much better to know where your garlic powder and dried herbs come from and how they were processed rather than buying them?
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.
Several years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.
All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.
Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.
But the most severe effect was on the garlic.
Now we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.
Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.
I was also able to find some of the small, vegetative garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazingly well and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.
Tips For A Good Garlic Harvest
Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two main reasons.
ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.
Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting. In order to grow well, a garlic plant must have been adapted to your growing region. Some cultivars will never be able to do this – they are just not hardy enough or are susceptible to too many diseases. Some will adapt well to colder or warmer climates depending on the cultivar.
But store bought garlic from a different country is not the best choice for using in your own garden. Just don’t plant it.
TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.
Planting in the spring does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.
Ideally you plant according to the weather. You don’t want it to be too warm in the fall that the garlic starts growing too much, but you also want them to put down roots and sometimes even come above ground a bit. This means that they are ready to take on the winter.
Planting the cloves fairly deep from four to six inches or more deep ( I have even heard of one local person planting a foot deep), but generally deep enough so that when the ground freezes and heaves it won’t kick the cloves out of the soil. This has happened to us occasionally in the past.
The planted garlic can be covered with a mulch or not. It depends on the expect snowfall amount. They garlic needs snow cover to survive the winter well, as we found out. if you use mulch, make sure to take it off as soon as possible in the spring to prevent mould from growing.
So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.
We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.
From now on, we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.
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.
Pets are an expense, with food and vet bills being the main issues. When I consider feeding my dogs on the homestead, I always feed the best food I can find. This doesn’t always mean pre-made, store bought food either.
The reason for this is simple.
Dogs need to eat well just like we do. What they eat affects their health. Having six dogs and many more over the years and being a pet professional, I have tried all kinds of store bought dog foods as well as those I prepared myself and I have seen many different kinds being fed to their dogs by clients.
What I’ve found is that on the homestead, the more food I can provide for my dog the better.
This is what we do for our own dogs on the homestead. All dogs are different and respond differently to foods. Know you own dog(s).
We Feed Dry Dog Food
Yes, we use a dry dog food for convenience. Yikes! Isn’t this the opposite of a homesteader’s thinking? In a way yes, and in a way no.
By yes, I mean that it is not self sufficient and likely NOT the most ideal thing for a dog. By no, I mean that I have always felt that our dogs need to be able to eat from many different sources. Often, I have worked with a dog who has been babied and won’t eat anything but certain types of food. I expose our dogs to many different kinds of foods and this includes a good quality dry food. But it is not our main source of food for the dogs.
If you want to and can feed your dog raw or only stuff from your homestead, perfect. It can be done and is the best way in my opinion to feed dogs. This is also a goal of mine.
I have fed raw in the past, but currently don’t have the access to the kind of meat I want to feed to six dogs. Supplies come and go around here. Also, two of my dogs are 15 years old and can’t chew bone anymore. They are starting to not want to eat, so I give them whatever I can that is tasty enough to interest them AND give them nutrients they need. Mostly, this comes from a can.
We Feed Cooked Fish
We buy canned salmon and sardines, and fish that was caught from the local area lakes. Don’t forget that if you are or want to be a “raw” feeder, canned fish is cooked and so is not raw. All fish caught in local lakes is cooked before feeding it to the dogs. You could probably feed it raw but it would have to be frozen for at least 3 weeks before feeding to eliminate parasites.
We Feed “Scraps”
All scraps have to be whole foods i.e. NOT processed meats, foods with additives etc. Our scraps include things liked cooked potato and other veggies, meat scraps like chicken, venison, beef, pork etc. If there is fat, we remove it and don’t feed it. Cooked fat is different from raw fat and has a different affect on the body for dogs. So eliminate cooked fat.
We also make dog treats such as cookies. It is easy to make your own dog treats and there are unlimited recipes to be found on the internet.
We Feed Meat From Local Sources
We get meat locally. The beef is grass fed from nearby ranchers and we get chicken from a woman who raises them herself. We used to get pork from a farmer but have not had any for a few years. Ernie also hunts during the season, and sometimes the dogs get extra deer meat, but we always freeze the deer for 3 weeks before feeding. The deer antlers are also given to the dogs instead of bones to chew, but can also cause cracked teeth so we need to be careful about that. If I feed bones they must always be raw. We only give chicken bones as we have had bad experiences feeding other bone.
If I feed raw meat only on one day, it is not likely to be an issue since the dogs are getting calcium from other sources on different days. I also feed the chicken parts with the bones. These include all parts of the chicken however, I am careful to feed appropriate sized bones to each dog. You must know your dog no matter what you are feeding.
One of my dogs can’t eat small chicken thighs without me breaking the bone in it ahead of time because she gulps it. But then she can’t eat larger bones either so I have to watch her. With my large dogs I have never had an issue with any of them eating bones because they are not gulpers.
Feeding raw meat exclusively without bone leads to nutrient imbalance and should not be done.
Other Fresh Foods
We also feed raw or cooked eggs. Eggs are like a multi-vitamin for dogs. The nutrient content of eggs doesn’t change much whether raw or cooked so I alternate.
If we have farm eggs, then we feed them raw and can feed the shells as well. The skin on the inside of the eggs has nutrients that benefits the dogs. If the eggs are boiled in the shells, we do not feed the shells as they become sharp when cooked. Again, eggs are like a vitamin pill for dogs.
In the fall we have apples from our trees and the dogs eat them right off the ground or are given one to eat. We make sure not to give too many so that they don’t eat too many seeds. Most seeds go right through because they don’t chew them, but just to be cautious we watch how many they eat. Apple seeds are high in arsenic so just be careful, observe what your dog is doing and you should be OK. We also feed raspberries when they are available from our garden and blueberries when we can buy them in season.
Vegetables from our garden can include spinach, parsley, celery, carrots, fennel, peppers (not hot), and herbs, especially cilantro.
Basically, we try to keep it simple and not rely exclusively on processed dog food from the grocery store.
Feeding our homestead dogs a variety of foods is what we strive for and fits in with the self reliant lifestyle.
For a really good reference on dog heath I suggest The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Shaw Becker.