Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts

Aug 30, 2018

August Homestead Life in Photos

It's been an overwhelming month...but I'm not complaining. Sure, my dad visited from out of state and we held our annual party celebrating my husband's and daughter's birthdays, but most of the overwhelmingness (I made up a word!) has come from our homestead bounty.
When we were homesteading in the suburbs, we dreamed of having every kind of fruit tree, bush, bramble, and vegetable growing on our property, all carefully preserved for the rest of the year. I knew it would be work, but...it's more work than you can imagine if you've never lived it! We still don't have many veggies (because I don't have an actual vegetable garden yet and the deer have been feasting on all the veggies I've planted here and there), but we are actually considering cutting down some of our fruit trees! What??? Yes!!! Because nobody can eat and preserve the fruit from, say, 5 Italian plum trees, all the same variety, that all ripen at the same time of year! Ha!

Anyway, we are plum wore out (both literally and figuratively), but so blessed. We've never given away so very many pounds of fruit as we have this year. Plus, I've been canning, dehydrating, freezing, and freeze drying. (Not sure what the difference between dehydrating and freezing is? Click here.)

I'm too tired to write a proper article this week, so I'm doing something a little different: A photo essay of August life on our mountaintop homestead.

This hasn't been a great year for tomatoes...too weirdly cool, even for the greenhouse tomatoes. So I've been tossing fresh tomatoes into a freezer bag as they become available, and come winter I'll can them. The tomatoes growing outside the greenhouse have lots of green fruit, so I imagine I'll have to ripen them indoors (learn how here). But this is the first year we've had more than two or three pears, so that's a happy thing!


Eating keto to reverse my diabetes, I don't consume potatoes anymore and I try to limit my family's intake of them. But the former owners had a few planted in the ground that I've ignored...and they keep producing! No worries; my family will eat them up. An unusual number of them have bloomed this year, including one with amazing purple flowers. I'm thinking it's from either a red or purple potato.
Because I didn't have a decent place to can last year, I had a lot of things in the freezer, including pounds of tomatoes. I'd wanted to can them before my surgery, but I ran out of time. So this month, I finally turned them into salsa. (I use this recipe.) So much chopping! So many onion tears! And such a mess! But worth it.
Our blueberry bushes were quite productive this year. Last year, I felt fortunate to dehydrate one jelly jar of berries...all the rest we ate fresh. This year, I've been freeze drying many trays of them. I always love the really huge berries we get off one bush. They taste terrific and are the size of a quarter.
We let a second hen hatch some eggs. Call me silly, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed to me she felt sad because she wanted babies, too. So we put her in the maternity ward (a separate cage) with seven eggs. One was a dud - probably never fertilized. She lost three before while they were done hatching. But the other three seem healthy and happy and she's having a blast bossing them around in the nursery (a bigger cage that we keep in the chicken run).

We got a few pounds of early figs this year, and I've mostly been freeze drying them. They turn out amazing; they taste like fresh but are crunchy. This is by far my favorite way to preserve figs, though my family is begging for fig jam. We'll see if the fall crop of figs gets a chance to ripen before the first frost.



One of our spoiled bunnies. Still no babies from them, which is disappointing. (And the female is always making nests as if she's about to give birth.) My son now wants a pet rabbit, too, so we will probably try breeding him or her with one of the existing bunnies.

We are still overwhelmed with Italian plums. These are our least favorite fruit on the homestead. (It's probably just the variety we have; it's not particularly flavorful.) Still, I freeze some in light syrup and use them for baking muffins and such. And this year, I've freeze-dried quite a few, which definitely improves them.


And now it's the beginning of apple season. The first tree to ripen is the oldest fruit tree on the homestead, and we use those apples mostly for applesauce (my recipe and method are here) because they are more tart than my husband cares for. I kicked off applesauce-making with plum applesauce, which combines my favorite red plums (sweet tart) with these apples. The result is divine! Now I'm on to regular applesauce, and soon I'll be canning apple quarters in light syrup (SO good!). I'll also freeze dry and dehydrate apple rings, and put some apple pie filling in the freezer. I might also make some apple juice or apple cider.
Ending with a smile! Our homestead dog has grown up a lot this year. He spent the summer mostly hanging out with us. He's also been herding the new pullets (young chickens) back into their run when they naughtily escape, digging up and killing voles, playing with garter snakes (they fascinate him), playing in the water, and getting stung by wasps. (He now knows the difference between "sky raisins" (flies) and "jalapeno sky raisins" (wasps and bees).

Jul 6, 2018

Why Apples are the Best Homestead Fruit Crop

Why Apples are the Best Homestead Crop
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

I've already written about the perfect homestead vegetable crop; it's high time I write about what I believe is the perfect fruit crop, too. There are lots of easy to grow fruits out there, and all of them have their importance for urban and rural homesteaders, but as far as I'm concerned, there's a hands-down winner every homestead should have: Apples.

I can't take credit for being the first to  think apples are a must-have. If you've ever explored old homesteads, you know you can almost always find apple trees on them. This is, in part, because apple trees are hardier than most other fruit trees, tending to live longer, even with neglect. But it's also because apple trees were considered the fruit tree every family should have. Why is this? Let me count the ways:

* Apple trees are reliable and prolific. Many farmers and homesteaders will tell you fruit trees have a tendency to produce bi-annually, meaning one year you may get little to no crop, and the following year the harvest is abundant. Yet in my experience (both as a suburban homesteader foraging for apples in public areas and as a rural homesteader with an orchard) apples rarely have a bad year. And did you know that a
a single apple tree can provide 130 lbs. or more of food each year? Holy smokes! I'm so thankful for their heartiness and abundance.

* Apples are filling. In my opinion, apples are more filling than any other fruit (probably because of their water and fiber content). When times are hard, you can count on apples to fill bellies. It's the reason Johnny Appleseed gifted pioneers with apple seeds!

These beauties from our orchard are a meal unto themselves!
* Apples are nutritious and medicinal. According to the USDA, one apple contains 148 mg of potassium, 3.3 g fiber, and even a wee bit of protein. Apples are also high in antioxidants, polyphenols, iron, and vitamin C, while also containing vitamin K, copper, manganese, and magnesium. Some studies link apples to reduced risk of heart disease, Altzheimer's and dementia, and asthma. They also are a prebiotic, meaning they feed the good bacteria in your gut...plus, dentists say apples help clean your teeth. Herbalists use apples (especially wild or crab apples) to treat constipation, indigestion, stomach cramps, diarrhea, high cholesterol, and minor wounds. They also use apple leaves to treat minor wounds and act as an antibiotic - and the apple tree's bark as a treatment for fevers. Additionally, apple pectin is used to treat diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, and radiation exposure. (Click here for instruction on how to make and use apple pectin.)





Immature apples on our homestead.
* Apples can be preserved a myriad of ways. Many varieties store well in cold storage (in a cellar, garage, or refrigerator). Apples are easy to dehydrate; they freeze (and freeze dry) beautifully. You may also can apples to make halves in light or heavy syrup, jelly, jam, "butter," applesauce, cider and juice, apple pie filling, and more. You can easily use apples to make vinegar, too. (Click here for more tips on preserving apples.)

* Apples are versatile. Eat them by themselves, make them into a dessert, turn them into a savory dish, squish them to make something to drink, and use the scraps to make vinegar!
Homemade applesauce is healthy and delish.
* Apples are good nutrition for homestead animals. Pigs, cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits, and chickens all enjoy eating apples. Not only are they a natural, healthy food for animals, but it helps cut down on homestead feed costs, making critter-keeping more affordable.

So if I had to choose just one type of fruit to grow on our homestead, it would, without a doubt, be apples.

More Posts about Apples:

What to do with Crab Apples

Apple Peel and Core Jelly

Picking Unripe Apples for Making Apple Pectin

Apple Skillet Cake Recipe

Apple Spice Bread Recipe 

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumb Bars Recipe

Old Fashioned Baked Apples Recipe

Canning Apple Pie Jam

Freezing Apples

Freezing Apple Pie Filling

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

How to Make Apple Cider with an Electric Juicer

Making Dried Apple Rings in the Warmer Drawer

Wax Costing on (Store Bought) Apples: Is it Safe?

Mar 20, 2018

False Pregnancy in Homestead Animals

pseudopregnancy in mammals
Remember when I told you we thought my daughter's pet rabbit (practice for meat rabbits here on the homestead) was pregnant? We mated the doe, and she immediately started showing signs of pregnancy, including moodiness (which is not like her), beating up the buck she usually adores, making a nest, and pulling fur to line her nest. All normal stuff for a rabbit about to give birth. Well...her proper gestation period is far and away over and we still don't have kits. Our rabbit had a false pregnancy.

What is a False Pregnancy?

A false pregnancy is when a mammal takes on traits of being pregnant, but has not actually conceived. (The most famous case of probable false pregnancy in a human was Mary I, Queen of England.)

Scientists really don't understand why false pregnancies (also called a phantom pregnancies, hysterical pregnancies, or - more correctly - pseudocyesis in humans and pseudopregnancy in other mammals) happen, but they speculate it might be all about the mind: The mammal thinks she is pregnant, and that belief changes her hormones, making her body show signs of pregnancy.

Common symptoms of pseudopregnancy may include:

* Enlarged abdomen
* Development of the mammary glands
* Milk production
* Moodiness
* Maternal behavior (like creating a place to give birth and care for babies)

False pregnancy can occur in any mammal pet or homestead/farm animal. Actual mating is not necessary for a false pregnancy to occur. (Dogs sometimes fall into false pregnancy right after being spayed.)





Identifying a False Pregnancy

It's difficult to identify false pregnancies, since you cannot judge by outward behavior or physical appearance. Because the animal's hormones are altered, blood tests may come back positive when experiencing a pseudopregnancy. Patience, or an ultrasound, are the only sure ways to determine if a pregnancy is real.

(Adding to the confusion is the fact that rabbits can reabsorb their kits if they are undernourished or diseased. Not likely in most homesteading situations...certainly not ours!)

How to End a False Pregnancy

If you have, say, a goat that appears pregnant but is not, you could waste months waiting for kids that never appear. While this may not be a big deal on a farm of larger scale, it can really hurt the small-scale homesteader. So is there a way to end a false pregnancy once it's begun?

Unfortunately, mammals are not like broody hens that you can help "snap out of motherhood" by enforcing a "cooling off period." (Learn how to do that here.) The Merrick Veterinary Manual says sometimes tranquilizers are effective in treating a false pregnancy, or perhaps a dose of progesterone. But in almost all cases, time is considered the best medicine. Put on your patience cap! In many cases, the animal cannot be effectively bred until she is over her pseudopregnancy.

The Merrick Manual on Pseudopregnancy: 

* Overview of Pseudopregnancy in Goats 
* False Pregnancy in Small Animals
* Reproductive Disorders of Female Dogs
* Reproductive Disorders of Female Cats

Click over to MediRabbit for more information about false pregnancies in rabbits.

Cover image courtesy of Sean.



Feb 22, 2018

Creating a Canning Kitchen

Preserving Kitchen, Summer Kitchen
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Since we moved to our mountaintop homestead in the summer of 2016, we've planned to create a canning kitchen - a place set aside just for preserving our homegrown food. The original structure on our homestead, which appears to date from the 1950s or 60s, seemed the logical choice. Until recent years, people had lived in it, so while it doesn't have a toilet (they used the woods instead), it does have electricity and plumbing. It already housed the washer and dryer, the dog-washing tub, and a wonderful old sink. All it really needed was a cook stove...plus, a lot of clean up.

Why I Want a Canning Kitchen

So why, you may ask, do I want a separate area just for canning and preserving? My reasons are many:

1. It prevents the house from getting uncomfortably hot during canning season. (Our house has great passive-solar properties, so we definitely don't need to warm things up in summer!)

2. It prevents my tiny kitchen from becoming more crowded. I simply don't have room to store all my canning tools and supplies inside the house - but there's plenty of room for all that in the canning kitchen.
The original structure on our homestead...which is now a canning kitchen.
3. Did I mention I have a tiny kitchen? I can can in it, but it's definitely tricky.

4. If I have a canning kitchen, my house kitchen need not be a constant mess during canning season.

My hubby worked hard to make this preserving kitchen happen, and I am grateful!


How We Did It
I wish I'd taken a proper "before" photo. This is a shot after the building was already largely cleaned up.

The first step to preparing the canning kitchen was to get a new roof on the building, since the old metal roof was leaking like crazy when we bought the place. Then we had to remove copious amounts of junk left behind by the previous owners. Sadly, most of it went to the dump because it was just too far gone to do anyone good.






Next, there was the question of the stove. For canning, an electric coil stove is best. I'd tried canning on our house's gas stove (fueled by propane) and it took forever to get the water to a boil...plus it ate up a lot of propane, and our tank is small. Last summer, my husband set up a turkey fryer burner on the porch. That was nice in that it kept the house cool, but it was extremely difficult to get the burner low enough in temp that liquid didn't siphon out of the jars while canning. Plus, I still had to warm liquids and cook any foods inside, bring jars inside and fill them, and then walk them outside to put in the canner. A bit of a pain.

The area I chose for my canning stovetop.

My hubby got pretty annoyed at me once or twice because I refused to buy used coil top stoves we saw in thrift stores. I just figured we weren't ready for them yet...and as it turned out, I think we ended up with something better: One of my husband's co-workers had a drop-in stovetop, which he gave us for free. Free is good!

The neat vintage sink already in the building.
Now we needed to figure out where I wanted the stove and how best to make a counter for it. I chose to have the stovetop near the already-existing sink, but with a little workspace in-between. (Eventually, my hubby will probably put a pot filler, like this one, directly over the stovetop, so I don't have to lug a canner full of water around.) And it just so happened there was a really solid old door sitting around among the junk in the building. My husband thought it would make a great counter, and he was right!

Door turned counter.
He built sturdy legs for the door-countertop (using materials we had on hand), and we thought initially we'd buy some laminate to finish the top. But ultimately my husband decided to sand the door down and give it coats of protective linseed oil. The result is totally gorgeous! It will require new applications of linseed every season, but we're okay with that. Cheap and beautiful is good!
The door was originally an ugly 1970s dark brown. But once sanded...

it is lovely!
Look at that gorgeous grain!
I love the original hole for the knob. Upcycling is cool!





Eventually, I hope to have closed cupboards beneath the counter, for storing kitchen towels and such.

Where my hubby's tools sit in this photo is my vintage work table.
But otherwise, it's a job completed! I have an old, broken rake (we found about a gazillion of them on the property) to hold utensils, an old school house chalkboard (nifty, though I'm not sure what I'll do with it), and a vintage 1950s laminate kitchen table to use as a workstation. I also have my dehydrators in the building, as well as my juicer, scales, and similar kitchen tools. And have I mentioned that the view is fantastic? I can't wait for preserving season to come!

A rustic utensil holder.
What a  view!

Nov 20, 2017

9 Reasons For Sheep on a Small Homestead

Why Raise Sheep
This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

A couple of weekends ago, we almost brought home sheep. We bumped into a wonderful deal with the "perfect" sheep for our homestead...but in the end, we didn't have housing set up for them yet, nor was our fencing quite complete. Our rule is to never bring home an animal until we are totally prepared to care for it...so we had to take a pass. But the very fact that we came so close to buying sheep would have surprised me when we first moved onto our homestead. After all, our land is mostly wooded; we don't have pastures, per se. How could we economically raise sheep? And why would we want to? Turns out, there are many good reasons for small homesteads to include sheep.

1. Sheep are excellent brush eaters. I always thought goats were the perfect animal for eating wild berry briars and weeds, but it turns out sheep are better at the job. They are generally less picky than goats. This is the number one reason we want sheep on our homestead; even using only the fencing we currently have, a few sheep can take care of half the weed whacking my husband currently must do. That's huge!

2. Their fencing needs are less expensive. Among larger livestock, sheep have the least demanding fencing needs. That's because they are mostly docile and pretty willing to go where you want them to...unlike goats, for example, who love to escape and explore, and therefore require better (and more expensive) fencing.

Courtesy of Andrei Niemimäki
3. Sheep don't require fancy housing. A three sided shelter made from scrap materials is all they need for weather protection. (Do bear in mind that you might want a four-sided shelter to help protect them from predators like wild and domestic dogs, bear, and cougar.)

4. Sheep are not expensive to feed. If they have good forage, that's pretty much all they need. (Depending upon your climate and the forage available, they might require supplemental hay.)

5. Sheep don't require a lot of time. They aren't needy creatures. Give them forage and clean water, and maybe, now and then, some molasses and treats (like apples), and they are good to go. Periodically, you'll need to trim their hooves and remove their coats, too. (Sheep coats, left to their own, weigh the sheep down and encourage disease.)





6. Sheep manure is excellent for the garden. This year, my best garden bed was layered with sheep manure - and it showed! Everything I planted in the bed thrived. Bonus: Sheep manure doesn't need aging or composting before you put it in the soil (i.e., it's not "hot").

Courtesy of Antony Stanley
7. Lamb chops and mutton. Need I say more?

8. You can sell their fleece. Even if you have a very small flock, you can probably find somebody who wants their wool and is willing to pay for it.

http://amzn.to/2hqpMQI9. You can milk sheep. People all over the world drink sheep's milk, and cheese makers prize sheep's milk as the finest. If you think you'd like to try milking your sheep (hey, the more versatile a homestead animal is, the better!) know that some breeds produce more milk than others. Interestingly, sheep's milk is higher in protein, vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, and calcium than either cow's or goat's milk. It's also widely considered the creamiest milk and is naturally homogenized (just like goat's milk). Even better, it's easier for human's to digest than cow's milk.


For more information on adding sheep to your homestead, I highly recommend Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep.


* Title image courtesy of Peter Shanks

Sep 26, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not...Making the Most of Orchard Fruit

Waste Not, Want Not Making the Most of Fruit in the Orchard
The black and white photo caught my eye because it featured two women standing next to a tall pyramid of canned food. Though I spotted the photo on the Internet*, it originally appeared in an early 1900s newspaper, and the caption said the mother and daughter team had canned hundreds of jars of fruit that year. The mother bragged, "We didn't waste a thing."

That photo was pretty awe-inspiring, and made me think about how previous generations prided themselves on their lack of waste, whereas all too often the current generation doesn't even realize how much it is wasting. Especially when it comes to food.

As a general rule, homesteaders are thrifty and resourceful, but amid the hot, seemingly-never-ending work of the harvest season, how often do we let food go to waste? On our homestead, my goal is to avoid food waste as much as possible, and to preserve as much of the harvest as I can for human consumption.

When we moved to our current homestead, there was already a small orchard in place. I quickly learned that while this was a true blessing, it could also be overwhelming. Today, I have a solid system in place to help me preserve the orchard's harvest each year.

Unripe Fruit 

The first batch of fruit homesteaders usually deal with is unripe. Maybe they've taken the time to thin their fruit trees (which typically results in larger single fruits); maybe the trees have naturally thinned themselves by dropping unripe fruit on the ground; or perhaps a storm has knocked young fruit off the trees.

If you're like me, you grew up being told unripe fruit was unfit to eat. My mother promised me tummy aches and digestive complaints if I broke this rule...but as it turns out, a lot of cultures eat unripe fruit. We can, too.

Preserved immature figs.
Unripe Figs: In the Greek and Turkish cultures, unripe figs are commonly eaten in a sugar syrup.

1. Cut off the stems of the figs and make a slit at the bottom of each fruit.

2. Place the fruit in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and gently boil for 15 minutes. Remove the figs with a slotted spoon.

3. Wash the pot. Place the figs back in the pot and cover with water. Boil and strain them again. If the figs are soft but still keeping their shape, they are ready. If they aren't yet soft, boil and strain one more time.

4. Place the figs back in the pot and add water and granulated sugar to make a syrup. Traditionally, equal parts water and sugar are used, but you can make a lighter syrup, if you wish. Also add about 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice for every 1 1/2 lbs. of uncooked figs. If desired, add some strips of lemon peel, and about 6 whole cloves. Cover and bring to a boil, cooking until the liquid turns into a thin syrup. During this process, if some of the figs start to lose shape, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

5. Cool the syrup and the figs. 6. Thoroughly wash some glass jars and fill them with the prepared figs, leaving about 1 inch headspace. Cover with the syrup. Place lids on the jars, refrigerate, and begin eating after a week's time.
Immature apple pectin.

Unripe Apples: Use immature apples to make your own pectin for jam-making or health. Click here for complete instructions. 

Immature Plums, Peaches, or Nectarines: Unripe plums are regularly eaten throughout Asia and the Middle East. How do they make them edible? By pickling them. In the Mediterranean, baby peaches, no bigger than olives, are also pickled and eaten. But peaches and nectarines don't need to be so small to make great pickles.

Basic Fruit Pickle Brine: Into a medium saucepan, pour 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of kosher or canning salt, and 1 cup of water. Place over high heat and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Cool completely, stirring once in a while. Place fruit in freshly washed glass jars, cover with brine, and refrigerate. Allow the pickles to sit a week or two before eating.






Other Unripe Fruits: Poaching makes unripe fruit more tender and enhances any sweetness while helping to remove bitterness. Poaching is best used on fruit that is fairly close to ripeness.

1. Cut the fruit in half and, if possible, remove the core or stone.

2. In a saucepan, add enough liquid to cover the fruit. You may use water, beer, wine, or a sugar syrup. If desired, add spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and add the prepared fruit. Simmer until fruit is soft.

3. For particularly green fruit, allow the food to sit in the poaching liquid in the refrigerate overnight. In addition, fruit that is nearly ripe is salvageable by using it in baked goods. For example, chop not-quite-ripe peaches and add them to your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe.

Windfall applesauce.
Windfall Fruit 

When our fruit is ripe (or nearly so), but the wind or over-ripeness has made it fall to the ground, I don't leave it for the birds. (Letting fruit rot around trees encourages pests.) Every day, I look for windfall fruit; that way, very little of it ends up so mushy its only use is the compost pile. Don't be concerned if windfall fruit is bruised or has holes from birds or other critters.

To use windfall fruit, I cut away any bad parts and use the rest for pie, cobbler or crisp, jam, jelly, or (if you have apples or pears) applesauce or pearsauce. Sometimes I also put better quality windfall fruit into a bowl designated for food that should be eaten that same day.


Handling a Bumper Crop

If you have large amounts of ripe fruit, it pays to start preserving it right away. Set aside some for fresh eating, but then get right to work dehydrating, canning, or freezing the rest. Putting some fruit in freezer bags to turn into canned food later is a life saver. For this reason, I try to ensure the freezer has plenty of empty space before the orchard season begins. Most fruits freeze just fine whole; place them on a rimmed baking tray and pop them in the freezer. When they are hard, put them in freezer bags. But when I'm really pressed for time and I know I'm going to make jam with the fruit, I often just throw the fruit in a freezer bag and call it good.

Not sure how to preserve your fruit? The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a gold mine of information on how to can and freeze just about anything. And to learn how to dehydrate your fruit (or other foods), click here.

And, of course, it's always nice to share with friends and family. My husband's co-workers love the bags of apples my hubby brings them! You might even look into sharing your fruit with a local charity that feeds the hungry. Sadly, not all of them allow home grown food, and you'll want to be sure the organization has a good reputation for not letting produce spoil, too.

Waste Not, Want Not
Making fruit scrap syrup.


It used to be that when I cored or peeled any fruit, I just dumped those trimmings in the compost bin. There's nothing terrible about that. And there's nothing awful about feeding those trimmings to livestock, either. (Be careful feeding too much fruit peelings to chickens, however; it will make their eggs taste "off.") But I really try to use those peelings for human food, when I'm able.

One way to do that is to make fruit peel syrup. It's an easy process and makes a thin syrup perfect for pancakes, or even to use with savory dishes. (For example, peach syrup is a nice marinade for pork.) Here is complete information on how to do it.

You can also turn fruit skins, cores, and pits into jelly. Easiest of all is apple peel and core jelly, which requires no pectin and can be made low or no-sugar. See the recipe here. The process is very similar with other fruits, except you'll typically need to use pectin for them. For example, when I recently made pear jelly, I boiled the trimmings just like I do for apples, strained to make juice, but then followed the directions on a box of commercial pectin to make the jelly itself.

Peach Peeling and Pit Jelly

This recipe works for any fruit.

1. Place peach peels and pits in a large pot. Just barely cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to sit overnight.

2. Strain the mixture; compost the peels or feed them to your animals.

3. In a clean, large pot, mix together the resulting liquid and 1 box of powdered pectin. Bring to a full boil. Add 3 cups of granulated sugar. Stir and return to a full boil until the jelly reaches 221 degrees F.

4. Ladle into hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Apple vinegar in the works.
Fruit Scrap Vinegar

I also sometimes make vinegar from fruit scraps. It's very easy and results in some really tasty vinegar. Homemade vinegar should not be used for preserving, because there's no accurate way for you to ensure it has the correct acidity to safely preserve food. But you can use it in salad dressing, as a marinade, or in cooking.

1. Warm 1 quart of filtered, non-chlorinated water. Stir in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar or honey, stirring until completely dissolved.

2. Wash some glass jars and fill them about half full with coarsely chopped fruit scraps (peels, cores, bits of fruit - but not rotten or bruised parts). Pour the sugar water over them, leaving about 1/4 inch headspace. Cover with cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band and allow to sit at room temperature. Stir once a day with a freshly washed spoon.

3. After about a week, the liquid will appear dark. Strain, composting the fruit scraps or feeding them to animals. Pour the liquid into freshly washed jars, cover with cheesecloth, and allow to ferment 2 or 3 more weeks, or until you like the flavor. (When tasting the vinegar, use a freshly washed spoon and don't double dip.)

4. To store, place a plastic lid on the jar and keep in a cool, dark location, like the refrigerator. Is it

Is it Safe to Use Fruit Pits and Seeds?

Most people believe apple seeds and fruit pits contain cyanide (or, depending upon who you're talking to, arsenic). But according to Rodale's Organic Life, the Guardian newspaper, and other sources, there's nothing to worry about when using pits or cores to create food for your loved ones. The truth is, apples, apricots, plums, pears, peaches, and cherries do contain amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when chewed. (There's no natural arsenic in any fruit.) However, according to Nordic Food Lab and other expert sources, cyanide isn't heat-stable. So when you cook pits and cores to make syrup or jelly, their toxicity disappears. In other words, there's no need to worry about making anyone sick. Furthermore, according to experts, even enthusiastic fruit eaters would have a hard time ingesting enough seeds/pits that their body could not naturally detoxify the fruit's toxicity.


* I have literally spent hours trying to find this photo again so I could share it with you. No luck!

Sep 15, 2017

The Little Chicken Who Couldn't

This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Our Internet line was down for five days, so I'm playing a lot of catch up! (Not only do I work exclusively online, but my children were doing online school, too. Oy.) And while I was disconnected from the world, a lot of things happened at the homestead - including the hatching of our hens' eggs.

X marks the incubating eggs.
Mama hen had been sitting on 10 eggs for 21 days. When she first started sitting, I carefully marked each egg with a penciled X, so I'd know exactly which eggs were being incubated. Then I left Mama to it.

I knew the general advice is to separate the mama hen from the rest of the flock, but I had no way to do this, and I wanted to see what happened if I did things the old fashioned way - letting Mama do all the work.

Well, Mama was an excellent broody hen. She sat diligently every day, only getting up rarely to drink, relieve herself, and eat a wee bit of food. She growled at us when we checked on her (yes, hens can growl!), though she never pecked when I peeked under her. (I'm telling you, Australorps are the sweetest chickens ever!)

One day when I went to collect the other hens' eggs, I laughed because I found two eggs immediately in front of Mama's nest. I assumed (ahem) the other hens wanted to lay in her nest - because hens are like that; you can give them each a nesting box, but they'll all lay in the same one. Then, I thought, they couldn't hold their eggs any longer and out they popped in front of Mama's nest.

Mama, sitting diligently.
Well, a few days later when I went to cook with those eggs, I got a surprise. I was making a huge batch of pancakes to freeze for my children's breakfasts, and when I cracked one egg, the contents were bloody. Upon closer inspection, there was an embryo in that egg. Gross. That huge batch of pancake batter had to go in the trash, but the kids were fascinated to see a real embryo up close and personal.

I knew then that the egg had originally been under Mama, and somehow got booted from the nest. And over the course of the next several days, I found a few other partially incubated eggs with embryos in them. (Needless to say, I started cracking eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to whatever I was cooking.) Embryos only develop in fertilized eggs if those eggs have been incubated (i.e. warmed up by a sitting hen or an electric incubator). So either Mama booted those eggs accidentally, or other hens snuck into her nest when she got up for a quick break and they booted them, or Mama rejected the eggs, thinking they were bad.

None of those embryo-filled eggs had pencil marks on them, by the way. Note to self: Use a pen next time.





In the end, though she had six eggs under her at the end of 21 days, only one egg hatched. In other words, only one egg had been under her for a full 21 days.

Some people asked why I removed all the unhatched eggs after that time. Why not just leave them under Mama and let them hatch when they were ready? I had two good reasons not to do that. The first is that most hens will abandon their chick before they abandon the eggs in their nest - which means the chick has pretty much zero chance of survival. In fact, this scenario played out on our homestead.


I heard peeping on a Monday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon, I could still hear peeping, but couldn't see any chicks. I didn't want to disturb Mama too much, so I didn't peek under her. I assumed (see how my assumptions lead to bad things?) she had chicks still hatching.

That night, however, when my husband locked up the chickens in the hen house, he looked inside with a flashlight. There, in a spot underneath the slightly raised nesting box, was the chick, peeping for Mama to help him. Somehow, he or she had fallen out of the nest. But Mama would not abandon her eggs. (Hubby says broody hens are a lot like Daleks from Doctor Who, but instead of having a one-track mind that says "Exterminate!", they have a one track mind that says "Incubate!") Fortunately, this happened during a heat wave, so the chick didn't die of cold, and my husband tucked the chick back under Mama, who seemed grateful.

Mama and her chick.
The second reason I needed to dispose of the additional eggs is that in 21 days, Mama had hardly eaten or had anything to drink. By the time chicks hatch, the hen is much thinner and really requires a break from sitting in order to be healthy.

So, the other eggs were gone and Mama was focused on her single, cute little fluff butt. The chick seemed bright and alert and curious, and Mama had her work cut out for her.

By the third day, she took the chick out of the nesting box and let it wander around the hen house. She showed it the water and the chick feed and taught it to eat, and she remained highly protective, even fiercely pecking my husband once. (Normal for the average hen, but really aggressive for this one.)
Mama love!
Then she must have taken the chick outside to teach it to scratch. That evening, my husband found the chick dead in the chicken run, its eyes pecked out.

We'll never know exactly what happened. Maybe the chick took a turn for the worse, it died suddenly, and the rest of the flock did what chickens do to dead things. Maybe the chick showed signs of illness, which chickens greet with cannibalistic fervor. Maybe the chick fell of the ramp to the hen house and was injured or died. Or maybe Mama simply didn't do a good job protecting the chick from the rest of the flock, who, not knowing what it was, assumed it was food.

Sigh.

It's never easy when animals die on the homestead, but at least I know we gave the chick every chance and that nature took its natural course.

My husband says he wants to use an electric incubator next time. Personally, I'd like to give Mama another chance, but this time put her (and her chicks) in a smaller run of her own, safe from the rest of the flock. We'll see.