Jul 27, 2016

Tour Our Upcycled Greenhouse

Have I mentioned that I love our little greenhouse? One of the great things about it is that even though we didn't build it, it's built just like we would have built it: Using upcycled materials. Come take a peek!

Some of my favorite features of this greenhouse include:

* Its simple but effective rainwater collection system
* The potting bench that easily disappears to provide more growing room
* The brick pathway
* The simple ventilation system


Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)

Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.

Ta-da! I'm done sorting!

What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

Jul 23, 2016

Weekend Links

The view from my kitchen table. I like it here. :)
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy."
Ez. 16:49

* Bar-S chicken and pork products recalled due to possible Listeria contamination.

* Mozzarella cheese sticks recalled because they contain undeclared eggs.

* Seven brands of beans recalled due to foreign object found in at least one can in the batch.

* Did you know that using dried beans is WAY less expensive? And it's easy to prep and freeze or can beans so they are just as easy to use as the stuff you buy in cans at the store?

* Did you know there is a completely FREE resource for safe, tested canning recipes? It's The National Center for Home Food Preservation. They have freezing instructions, too.

* I've been canning a lot of plums lately, using my mom-in-law's kitchen and supplies. (My canning things are all still in the shipping container somewhere!) The other day, my dad-in-law handed me a an apple corer just like this one. It worked perfectly to pit these plums. What a time saver!

Oldies But Goodies:

* How to Homestead with Children
* How to Make a Child Safety Kit 
* Got a preschooler or kindergartner? Check out my very popular Letter of the Week posts!

Jul 21, 2016

Queen of Katwe - A Review

Phiona Mutesi.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from BuzzPlant. All opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

"Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog. To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. To be a girl is to be an underdog Katwe."
    Tim Crothers, The Queen of Katwe

Young Phiona Mutesi lives in the worst of the worst slums: Katwe, in Uganda, Africa. Her widowed mother usually can't earn enough money to feed all her children. The family is often kicked out of their one room shack because they can't afford rent. Filth is everywhere, and human waste often floods the family shack when it rains. Education is unaffordable. And Phiona is angry, often battling boys in the streets without fear.

That is, until she meets a missionary who teaches her to play a mysterious game called chess. Suddenly, Phiona has a new place to direct her energy and talent. Even though she's a girl, and most males in Uganda think females can never do as well as males at anything, she quickly learns to beat boys in chess. It humiliates the boys so much, they cry. Phiona, in the way of Ugandan women, never brags, and with the Christian humility she's developed, downplays her wins.

Phiona's modesty often takes others by surprise. As does her youth and her aggressive chess technique. Even her chess coach is surprised when she gets to compete on an international scale at age 11 - and wins. In chess, very few females win competitions; but Phiona, a slum child nobody ever thought could amount to anything at all, becomes a chess champion - the "Queen of Katwe."

Tim Crothers' account of Phiona Mutesi is thoroughly engaging. The Queen of Katwe is a book that's easy to pick up and hard to put down. Some critics have complained that much of the book isn't about Phiona herself, but about the people who've helped her achieve her success. This is true - but their stories are so compelling, I didn't mind at all. In fact, The Queen of Katwe reveals the world of Uganda so vividly, it's a hard-hearted person who, after reading the book, doesn't contribute to the charity (Sports Outreach) that helps Phiona and other children achieve, while also teaching them about God.

Especially compelling to me were the scenes where Phiona went to chess competitions outside of Africa. Her coach literally had to teach her and her fellow child chess players how to eat with utensils, how to open a water bottle, and how to use a flush toilet. Along with Phiona, I found myself amazed at the modern world - and I keenly felt her depression when, after having her eyes opened this way, she had to return to the slum.

Which brings me to an important point: The Queen of Katwe doesn't offer a typical happy, Hollywood ending. Phiona is only a teenager; by no means has she reached her full potential. And while winning chess games has enabled her to help pay her family's rent, her mother's debts, and some school tuition, Phiona still lives in the slums.

But as Christians, we understand Phiona better than the world does. Yes, her physical circumstances are still heart-breaking. But we know she has something all the slum - in fact, everyone - needs: Jesus Christ.

I find myself praying for Phiona to overcome the many obstacles the slums throw her way. And with the help of  Sports Outreach, The Queen of Katwe makes me believe Phiona - and other children like her - can overcome.

And, good news! Disney has turned Phiona's story into a movie that will release next month. I pray it will touch millions of people, who will in turn support Sports Outreach, Phiona, and children everywhere who are in need.

Learn More

Sports Outreach Ministry

Queen of Katwe website (including a short ESPN documentary about Phiona)

Trailer for Disney's Queen of Katwe

Phiona Mutesi's Facebook Page

Jul 18, 2016

When Your Well Runs Dry

The title of this post might make you think I'm going to blog about when your mommy well runs dry, or your wife well, or your Christian well. (Actually, these are all connected wells, aren't they.) But no. I'm actually writing about a literal water well.

Our new homestead's well has been wonderful. After a short time using it, our skin is less dry, my hair is shinier and softer - and frankly, the water tastes better than any city water we've ever drunk. But within a week of taking possession of our new homestead, I turned on the bathroom faucet...and nothing came out.

It was a Thursday night, so we called the best well company in the area first thing Friday morning. They were so busy working on other people's wells, we didn't hear back from them until Saturday. In the meantime, my 7 year old son, who eats fresh plums like they will soon be extinct, looked like he literally lived in a barn. Sticky hands and arms quickly become covered in dirt. We all needed a shower. The dishes were piled up in the sink. And we were lugging rain water into the house in order to flush the toilet.

Saturday night, the well guy came out. I really thought he'd say there was a problem with our pump, or something simple like that. But no. "Your well is dry," he said.

I confess, my first reaction was to ask God, "Why? Why, why, why???!!!" Our beautiful homestead no longer felt like any type of blessing.

You see, our state forbids drilling deeper into established wells to find additional water. So we have to drill for a new well. The trouble with that is, even though they can witch for water*, there is no guarantee that when they drill they'll find enough water for a decent well. But they charge you for the time it took to drill that well, of course. Oh, and the state now requires steel wells. Steel?? Steel rusts, which means your well will need expensive work when it rusts through. Sigh.

When I heard that our well was dry, my first thought was that we'd been duped by the previous owners. But after talking to them, we felt they'd been honest with us. They'd warned us the well wasn't as wet in summer, but by no means was it unusable. In fact, they attributed this drop in water to our state's supposed "drought." We aren't really in drought in our area, though; the previous owners didn't realize these were instead symptoms of a well going dry.

So while I was feeling upset with God, my dear husband had the right attitude and soon set my heart straight. He said, "You know, I was beginning to wonder if we were on God's path, because everything was going so smoothly." I've typed before about his wonderful - and spot on - attitude about difficulties in life. Basically it boils down to this: If you're doing what God wants you to do, Satan has a keen interest it making it as hard for you as possible.

Then my hubby also reminded me of what is kind of his family's motto: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) All things. Not just some things.

So now I'm feeling more peaceful about our well. We are still waiting on an estimate for the cost of installing a new one, but the well guy already has a spot he thinks is suitable for drilling. And, praise God, we have rainwater collection tanks that are pretty full, and we've been able to transfer water from them into the dry well's holding tank, so we can flush the toilets and run the dishwasher. And, praise God again, my in-laws are just down the road, so we can do laundry and showers at their place.

My prayer now is that somehow this problem will be a blessing for us. I pray the new drilling spot will have abundant water. 

And I think we realize now, even more than before, that we need a back up plan for water. In fact, YOU do, too. Even if you live in the suburbs or city, your water could disappear or become undrinkable at any time. And if you rely on running to the store to grab water only after your city water is unavailable, chances are you won't be able to buy enough because everybody else will be out buying water, too. 

Did you know the Federal government recommends that all citizens "should store at least one gallon of water per person for three days?" And that doesn't include water for flushing toilets, doing dishes, washing laundry, or even taking showers.

One way everyone can prepare for loss of water is to keep commercially bottled water on hand. If you don't open those bottles, and you keep them in a cool, dark location, they will last at least until the expiration date on the bottle.

Some people like to reuse the bottles water come in; you can do that, but there's a little higher risk of the bottle leaking or the water inside the bottle becoming contaminated with bacteria. Always thoroughly wash re-used bottles in hot water and soap, then sanitize with bleach. For those of you who can, another idea is to use canning jars. As your jars become empty, sanitize them and add tap water and a lid. Store in a cool, dark location for up to three months.

For more detailed information on storing water, or if you want to know how to store water when you have a well, visit Ready.gov and read The American Red Cross' .PDF "Food and Water in an Emergency."

* Well witching (sometimes called "water dowsing") is considered nonsense by some, but I've seen it work splendidly many times. In fact, not only do many well drillers use this technique, but so do many city water and maintence workers. You can read more about water witching here.

What to Do With a Bumper Crop of Plums

A few days ago, I finally got around to counting the trees in our orchard. We have nine apple trees and eleven - yes, eleven! - plum trees. Fortunately, they don't all ripen at the same time, but currently I have two trees that need daily harvesting. We can't possibly eat all those fresh plums before they rot, so I'm planning ahead: What else can we do with all these plums? How can I preserve plums for winter? Here's what I've come up with:

Canning Plums

* Plain canned 
* Mulled plums
* Plum Sauce
* Plum Butter (a really thick jam)
* Spiced Plum Jam
* Low Sugar Plum Jam 
* 2 Ingredient, No Added Pectin Plum Jelly 
* Simple No Pectin Plum Jam
* Plum Pie Filling 
* Pickled Plums

Dehydrating Plums

* Basic Instructions
* Plum Fruit Leather 

Freezing Plums

* Basic Instructions

Other Plum Recipes

* Plum BBQ Sauce
* Savory Plum Sauce 
* Plum Glazed Pork Ribs
* Plum Salsa, Sorbet, Chutney 
* Plum Lemonade
* Oven Roasted Plums
* Chocolate Plum Cake 
* German Plum Cake
* Plum Crumble 
* Plum Cobbler 
* Plum Cobbler with Cake Like Texture
* Plum Shortcakes
* Plum Tart 
* Upside Down Plum Cake 
* Sugar Plum Jelly Candies 
* Plum Kuchen 
* Plum Oat Muffins 
* Plum Coffee Cake Muffins
* Plum Bread Pudding 
* Plum Bread
* Plum and Banana Bread
* Plum Popsicle
* Plum Ice Cream 
* Plum Kombucha
* Plum Wine 
* Plum Vinegar 
* Lacto-Fermented Plums

BONUS: Plum Pie Recipe

This recipe is from my cookbook Easy As Pie: 45 From Scratch Pie Recipes - which is only $2.99 for the Kindle or $6.99 in paperback. It's got just about every fruit pie recipe you could want, plus recipes for vegetable pies, cream pies, and much more.

Pastry for 2 crusts

7 fresh plums (about 1 lb.), sliced, skins intact
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup quick cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out one crust and place in a 9 inch pie plate. Refrigerate. Keep the remaining pastry in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and tapioca. Add the plums and gently toss. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

3. Spoon the filling into the prepared pie plate. Cut up the butter and scatter over the top of the filling. Roll out second crust and place over the filling. (If desired, make a lattice top crust, as pictured here.) Seal and cut 4 slits into the crust.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 - 50 min. or until the filling is bubbly and the crust golden. Transfer to a wire cooling rack.

* Title image courtesy of Michelle Tribe.


Jul 16, 2016

Weekend Links

Harvesting tons of plums on our new homestead!
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* I finally got around to counting the fruit trees on our new homestead. There are 9 apples, 11 plums, 1 pear, 1 apricot, and 2 cherries. That alone ought to keep me busy this summer!

* Betty Crocker mixes recalled due to possible E. coli contamination.

* Common additive (often not found on food labels) may cause food allergies.

* Why you might want to grow Yarrow.

* Zucchini is far more versatile than most people imagine. Take this Zucchini Brownie recipe, for example. (Find more zucchini recipes here.)

* It's important to be prepared for persecution.

* Introducing our first addition to the homestead: Buddy. He's my daughter's pet Polish rabbit. He's only about 2 lbs. and will stay that way.

Oldies But Goodies:

 * Get organized to pay your bills and never miss a due date again. 
* Powdery mildew treatment that's cheap, natural, and WORKS! 
* To the Mom Who Thinks She's Not Doing Enough 
* Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot


Jul 14, 2016