Did I Do All This Work Just To Be Murdered By Vinegar?

I have been hearing so much from the interwebs about the benefits of fermented foods that I decided to buy some equipment (spending money is always the first step, right??) and give it a try. I bought a Mason Jar Fermentation kit like this (I don’t have any affiliate relationship with anybody, so wouldn’t make money from somebody clicking on that link) and put the parts I cut off of a pineapple – peels, mostly – into these jars and waited. I probably waited months (kind of forgot about them in the dark cabinet where I had parked these jars) and now I’m afraid to actually consume them. How do I know this stuff is safe to eat?

Stacy says it’s probably ok, as does Sandor, but I didn’t follow directions carefully. I let this ferment much longer than any recipe suggests. Based on their descriptions of kahm yeast, I think that’s what’s growing on these jars of fermented pineapple scraps. But there’s an old saying related to food in a questionable state : “when in doubt, throw it out”. I just let this stuff sit too long in an unrefrigerated cabinet so I’m tossing this batch, and will try again with the next pineapple, hopefully following directions a little better.

I think people share as well as they can in youtube videos to help others in learning new skills, but often there are a lot of questions left unanswered, and people like me, just picking stuff up on the internet, need to proceed with caution.

I Lost Almost My Entire Annual Stevia Crop Over One Mistake!

Talk about heart-breaking! 2021 was the first year that I grew Stevia, and I was really looking forward to being able to provide this to my husband, since he uses a lot of stevia for tea! But alas, my stevia-dreams died due to a weird mistake.

During Thanksgiving dinner my sister knocked a small, thin-walled glass pumpkin ornament to the floor, where it shattered. The mess was swept up and thrown away. Long story you don’t care about, but most of my stevia crop – the leaves from our several plants – ended up being swept up off of the floor about a week later, using the same broom and dustpan. Not by me, of course. After drying the leaves completely, I started to grind the leaves up into a powder, and noticed some tiny glass shards in the mix!! It was a couple tiny pieces of that shattered glass pumpkin, which got into the stevia leaves somehow during that sweeping up process. It’s just not safe to keep any of that stevia, since I can’t tell if there’s any glass still in there.

There’s no moral to this story, just sharing a bad mistake. Though maybe if I had included a certain someone much more in the progress of this plant, they might not have swept this stuff up with a contaminated broom & dust pan?

Fresh Tomatoes In December in Missouri, Locally Grown And Organic!

Full disclosure – I suck as a farmer.

One of my goals these days is create more fresh food during the winter, which is not easy or common here in Missouri. Really knowledgeable farmers have been doing this for a long time, but one thing you learn quickly is that the weather is unpredictable, and you can lose a whole lot of plants that you put a lot of time and effort into with just one hard freeze. It happened to me about 2 weeks ago. I thought I had more time to get these tomato plants (being grown in containers) inside and onto the sun porch, but mother nature had other ideas. So, in the picture above on the right, you will see a very dead tomato plant which still has ripening tomatoes on it. My poor husband dragged this container in because I had hoped that the plant wasn’t ALL the way dead, but alas, it is deader than a doornail. The tomatoes on the plant were completely green when the plants were hauled inside a couple weeks ago, but have been basically hanging in the sun since then, and have ripened. SO, first batch of December tomatoes.

In the picture on the left (above) are a bunch of tomatoes which were completely green and had been on the plant for two nights of hard freezing temperatures in the garden. I hauled them inside, set them on a south-facing sunny window sill and they ripened up also. They’re Cherokee Purple tomatoes, which produced surprisingly well for us. This is the first time I’ve grown them, and I intend to keep growing them, if I’m able to harvest and correctly save their seed.

Stay tuned for more winter gardening adventures!

Butter Turkeys For Thanksgiving!

I like to entertain almost as much as I liked to be entertained, and I like to do something different on the holidays – something to make the event more memorable. Something simple and cheap to do is to make butter turkeys. We had a really great set of turkey molds a decade or so ago, until somebody (not naming names but it wasn’t me) put them into the dishwasher, which ruined them. I ended up in a candy-making-supplies store a couple years ago buying these small molds, usually used for making candy, and have been using them since then. And if the butter molded into turkeys don’t all get used – no problem, just smush (is that a word??) into a container and use as needed – butter don’t care what it’s shape is. 🙂

Mint Orange Tea, Made From Scratch, Doesn’t Taste Or Smell Like Either Mint Or Orange. :(

Granted, I spend WAY too much time on youtube, but after watching some videos praising homemade teas, specifically orange tea and mint tea, I decided to give it a go for myself. Doesn’t mint orange tea sound delightful?? It did to me. We raise plenty of organic mint in our garden, and we buy organic oranges (when we can find them!), so I grated the zest of a bunch of organic oranges, picked a bunch of mint, and dried it all. Made tea in the usual way, by putting a couple teaspoons of zest and dried mint in a tea strainer, made tea with great anticipation, and was mightily disappointed. I won’t drag you through my various experiments, but eventually even the large amounts of mint and orange zest shown in the pictures above didn’t make the tea as aromatic as initially hoped. I’m just guessing, but they probably do provide some health benefits when brewed? I can’t prove that, of course. I’m going to keep adding mint and orange zest to my tea along with some black tea, heavy cream and homegrown stevia, in the hope of deriving some health benefit.

Sweet Potato Sprouting : Do You Have To Put The Fat end Down? Maybe Not.

I watched a number of videos on how to grow sweet potatoes (Click this , for instance) and heard that you had to put the sweet potato fat end down in the water, so I decided to test this suggestion, and it looks like it might not be true. I selected two seemingly-similar sweet potatoes and put them both in jars with water covering the bottom 2 inches or so (fat end down) of the sweet potatoes, then set them on a sunny windowsill in late January of 2021. One sweet potato failed to grow any ‘slips’ (new vines) so I thought maybe it was a dud and almost composted it. Instead, I cut the dud spud in half and put both the fat end and the narrow end in their own jars, cut side down. It took weeks longer, but the cut potato parts ended up sprouting vigorously also, just like the whole potato with the fat end down. Being in zone 6B, I had plenty of time to wait (since I started this in January), so the fact that the cut potatoes took longer to create slips wasn’t a problem. It’s April 22 now and I have lots of slips, which will probably be getting planted in a couple weeks. It’s really hard to wait until Mother’s day to plant these summer crops! Some of my leftover winter crops, like kale and swiss chard, are still doing well.

I can’t conclude too much from this experiment, but it looks like a few more slips were generated from cutting the sweet potato in half and putting the halves into water than just setting the whole sweet potato in a jar of water. Both ways seem to have worked, in that slips were produced via both methods. You Choose!

Doomsday Preppers : Right For The Wrong Reasons

I am very sorry if you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Texas (USA) who are suffering without power right now, on February 18th, 2021. It is likely a dire situation for quite a few people, and probably quite unanticipated. This could be a new normal for at least a while – what do you wish you had done differently to be prepared for grid outages? This makes me think of the doomsday preppers who have spent years getting ready for what they call ‘SHTF’ – the time when society collapses. I’ve always said that the doomsday preppers were right for the wrong reasons – I think that their efforts to prepare for the collapse of society will help them deal with climate change much more successfully, even though they often don’t believe in climate change. For instance, doomsday preppers probably had water, food and backup energy sources ready to go when this awful weather hit Texas. I wonder if there are other ways to manipulate right-wingers to do the right thing by constructing some conspiracy theory that would get them to do the right thing, like convincing them that gasoline powered cars are endorsed by the devil or something, so that they’d all go buy electric vehicles?

I attended a lecture at a Skepticon conference some years ago that encouraged us all to have a Pre-Apolcalypse party with our neighbors, to encourage everybody to think about and actually take actions to prepare themselves for increasingly unpredictable and severe weather events that, until we became accustomed to them, would interrupt the modern just-in-time systems that we have become used to, that we expect to meet our needs whenever we want them to – always available fresh food in always open grocery stores, always on energy sources delivered to our homes, always passable roadways with always available gas stations, and on and on. It’s public knowledge that enemies of the United States have been learning ways to attack our energy grids, so mother nature isn’t the only one we need to fear. But knowledge is power, and this severe weather needs to be a good test case to show us what we need to do harden our infrastructure for a better tomorrow.

Please check out these different disaster-preparedness websites here and here today, so you can have peace of mind now and later!

Growing Real Food In The Dead Of Winter In Saint Louis (Zone 6b), No Energy Inputs.

In this picture you can see what was harvested from our unheated greenhouse on January 31st, 2021. That’s broccoli, swiss chard, kale and arugula, and it was all grown in USDA zone 6b in a cheap, leaky harbor freight greenhouse with no added heating – no plugged in heater, no propane, no in-ground geothermal heating systems. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to have some sort of geothermal heating system or thermal storage system (like 1000 gallons of water in black tanks) that would allow the growing of much more than just these very cold hardy plants, but I’m pretty happy with this haul. I added in some lentils that I had sprouted in the kitchen and it made a pretty good salad.

I’m mostly interested in producing fresh food in a manner that allows my household of 2 people to be able to eat freshly harvested food daily instead of growing large quantities of food that could be stored for later consumption. It’s very interesting to me to see how much food could be produced even in the dead of winter, and part of what gave me the courage to try this was the video done by a man in Chicago who called his youtube channel One Yard Revolution. I heartily recommend that you watch the video below!

/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd-FOj7cuLc&t=14s

Solar Thermal Hot Air Boxes Must Have An Airtight Seal On The Outlet Duct!

There are solar thermal hot air boxes (STHABs) videos and write-ups all over youtube (videos) and BuildItSolar.com (pictures& text) that show how to make them yourselves for maybe a couple hundred dollars USD (or even a lot less if you have the right stuff laying around) but I have yet to find one that includes an airtight seal for the inlet/outlet ducts. An airtight duct seal makes the difference between getting free heat in the dead of winter and getting free heat AND unwanted free freezing air conditioning in the dead of winter. The laws of physics are pretty reliable, and they work the same way during a sunny day and a dark freezing night – air temperature is changed by what the exterior environment is doing to the inside of the the solar thermal hot air box. On a sunny day, the sun sends photons through the glazed front of the solar thermal hot air box, which hits something that changes the sunlight into heat, and thereby heats the air being moved through the STHAB (solar thermal hot air box). In the middle of a freezing cold winter night, the ambient temperature will chill the interior of the STHAB and thereby chill any air that passes through it. You would wipe out any benefits from the daytime heating if you don’t have an air-tight seal covering the exit duct during long winter nights. You might not care about that if the STHAB is just being used to provide heat during the day to a place that won’t be negatively impacted by severely cold weather – for instance, if this is attached to an unheated shed/garage with no plumbing or items that will be damaged by freezing temperatures. This also doesn’t apply to STHABs that are entirely inside a conditioned space – in that case, the cold doesn’t get to it, and it doesn’t become a cold generation machine.

The STHAB shown in my picture is a commercially made box, from Northern Comfort / Sunsiaray, but I think the guy who made them retired in 2018?

I also made one myself, which my brother sort of remade, but that is not as good looking, and probably not as productive, though I haven’t been able to test that carefully. I used two old window sashes that I got for free as the front glazing, which has the benefit of being able to easily withstand the heat generated inside the box on a sunny day, though putting a sheet of Lexan over those window sashes would trap more heat inside the box, and thereby make it more productive. If you do a really good job of building one of these boxes and then put an acrylic or polycarbonate sheet on the front of it, instead of a glass sheet (window sashes, screen door, etc), you run the risk of that potentially expensive sheet melting. I was able to measure temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit coming out of my homemade STHAB on a sunny day when no fan was running, and how long would polycarbonate or acrylic stand up to that?

This is really great and durable technology, and I encourage you to give it a try, but remember to make sure you have an airtight seal on the ducts when the sun is not shining on it!

Re-use Old Canopy Frame To Trellis Vegetables

You might already own a low-cost solution for creating trellises for your climbing plants. We had a sturdy old canopy that we left sitting out all summer, which ruined the canopy cover, so it was available for this project and free of charge to us. You might check freecycle sites, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or the trash put out by neighbors. We set up the metal pole frame of the canopy and attached pieces of this trellis netting using twist-ties, to allow the vines to grow up from the beds to the frame. It’s worth noting here that we’ve now decided that growing purple hyacinth bean vines for vegetables (beans) wasn’t really a good idea, even though the vines are very nice looking and extremely low maintenance. The friend who sold me those plants correctly stated that the vines are vigorous and productive, but the mature beans are toxic, so you have to boil them once in water, throw that water out, boil the beans in another quantity of water, throw that water out too, then boil them again and eat them after all that. Who wants to spend time growing these beans for food when there are so many other good options??? This was a mistake, and I’m sorry we did this. These vines would probably be great for decorative purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend them for food.

Please also note that this canopy frame wasn’t wide enough to sit over our beds, so we re-assembled it at an angle in order to still be able to use this somewhat. Consider the measurements of your beds in evaluating any canopy frames you might be able to acquire.

The purple/green vines on the left in the picture are the Purple Hyacinth Bean vines, and the green vining plant on the right in the picture is a loofah plant.

As an inexperienced gardener, I am just coming to appreciate the value of vining plants – they tend to be more productive, and over a longer time period, so they can be great for fresh, eat-as-you-go vegetables, unlike some other types of plants which produce everything they’re going to produce in a year during one short time period.