I’m A Bloomsday Prepper And You Should Be One Too!

Are you as tired of bad news as I am? There is just no shortage of bad news related to the 8 billion humans now living on this planet, and it’s kind of our fault. We go to the news sites and click on the worst, most alarming headlines first – and it’s not a new phenomenon. The term “if it bleeds, it leads” is not a new concept. So it’s not a surprise that the news media focuses on bad news – a flood in the Democratic Republic Of Congo gets more attention since it killed about 140 people than an announcement of new housing for the homeless being funded in Saint Louis.

So, fear abounds in a time of relative, by-historical-standards prosperous time, which has given rise to the doomsday prepper movement that is increasingly well-known as one crisis after another goose steps across our collective screens. I’ve been observing this movement, from a distance, for quite a few years and have found some of their work to be fascinating, to the point that I’ve tried to learn about how I might incorporate some of the techniques into my life, but for rather different reasons.

I think it’s a really good idea to be more prepared for loss of expected goods and services – like food, electricity, water, etc. I have mostly just expected those things to be easily accessible and they more or less have been, with a few notable exceptions. Things are changing, as usual, and prudence dictates that I change my habits to adapt. I’m trying to grow more food, produce more of the energy I consume, and learn how to thrive when the supplies I’m used to having aren’t available.

Being more prepared to be able to be resilient in the face of crisis is what I’m calling a bloomsday prepper because I think that we’re all in this together, and we’re stronger together. I have enough food for a couple weeks, some ways to generate electricity, ways to cook without the grid being up, water catchment, some basic medical supplies and relationships. I can run some electrical devices from the battery packs in our electric vehicles. What resources do you have? Look around, assess what you have and add a few things over time. You, too, can be a bloomsday prepper!

The Thrill Of Vacuuming Varmints

In the pictures above you can see my current hydroponic empire – a Tupperware container in the upper drawer of an old file cabinet – and yes, I should do a separate blog post on that. One of the big benefits of having this hydroponic setup in a file cabinet is the complete lack of pests even though I’ve been growing food in there for more than 6 months and have had serious pest problems when growing food in other parts of the house. A couple weeks ago I noticed really tiny black bugs were crawling around in my lettuce empire, and I was quite surprised – how could they have gotten there?? I got that answer about a week later when I suddenly had a large contingent of tiny flying black bugs rise up like a dark cloud when I opened the file cabinet drawer to inspect the crop. I tried killing them by hand, which had a pretty low success rate, and then I remembered the vacuum that I had purchased for squash bugs. Voila! Victory over diabolical bugs was swift with my vacuum! What a feeling of satisfaction; not something I feel all that often related to gardening.

I bought this lightweight vacuum off of Amazon.com but it’s probably available from a lot of places. At only about a pound and a half in weight this vacuum is super easy to use even with my arthritic hands. This is the first time I’ve used it to murder my enemies, but it sure worked well with this first try.

“I really Should Have Paid More Attention To My Italian Grandmother”, Or “Making Tomato Sauce From Scratch Guided By Somebody Else’s Grandfather On Youtube”

I really enjoyed the video of an Italian American grandfather making tomato sauce from scratch – “Traditional Homemade Tomato Sauce made by Pasquale Sciarappa”. Here’s the video, if you watch it and decide to try to make it his way, here’s my best interpretation of his instructions.

Let tomatoes rest 2 – 3 days after picking.

Wash Roma or San Marzano tomatoes well.

Cut off bad spots and the crown, as well as any internal ‘yellow’ spots, which are part of the crown/stem.

Cut in half, squeeze out seeds and liquidy-stuff in the interior of the tomato

Put in pot, cook over medium heat (??? just guessing) for about 45 minutes, then use very slotted spoon to pull solid tomato parts out of the pot – discard the liquid left behind??

Scoop tomato solids (??pulp) into strainer, let drain for a couple minutes

Run tomato solids (pulp) through a vegetable strainer machine that will quickly separate the skins and seeds from the rest of the tomatoes.

Compost the seeds/skins, or otherwise dispose of them.

Pour the tomato pulp from the straining process back into the pan on the fire and cook down for 3 to 4 hours, depending on how thick a sauce you prefer. Cooking longer yields a thicker sauce. A wood fire is used to do the cooking in this video, so I can’t quite say at what temperature the sauce mixture should be cooked, but it’s not boiling. Lots of steam is coming off the pot, so it’s more than a very low heat, so maybe a low simmer?

After 3 hours of cooking down the sauce, add salt to taste, stir.

After 4 hours, ladle hot sauce into clean jars. Probably a good idea to use a funnel, keep the top rims of the jars clean, fill to about an inch from the top. Put about 2 fresh basil leaves per jar, push the leaves down into the jar of sauce with a spoon.

Place canning lids onto jars after checking to verify that the tops rims of the canning jars are completely clean. Screw canning jar bands somewhat loosely onto jars.

Let the jars sit for an hour?? I can’t quite tell, but I think he lets the jars sit for an hour before he screws the canning jar bands tightly onto the jars. But maybe not, because he wants these to continue to ‘cook’ under a blanket in the next step.

Place the filled jars close together into a short-sided cardboard box and cover tightly with a very warm blanket, covering the top, sides and bottom of the box, let sit for 3 full days. Or maybe he said 3 or 4 days? I’m not quite sure.

He doesn’t do any water bath boiling of the jars, which is pretty forbidden in the official Bar Jar Canning manual. Hasn’t killed him yet, and he says he’s been doing it since 1939.

Lock Your Doors. It’s Zucchini Season.

My brother told me years ago that someone told him that people in their small town didn’t lock the doors on their cars except in August. My brother said “why do people lock their car doors in August?” to which the reply was something like “because that’s when the zucchinis are ripe and if your car door is unlocked you might come back to a car full of zucchini”.

I can’t grow useful crops very much or for long, but boy, is it zuchini season in our middle east* raised bed! It was certifiably hotter than hades yesterday so I didn’t go outside, and you see the result above.

I also harvested some stevia, basil and mint to dry for later use. Being able to process fresh-from-the-garden food is critical to making a garden really useful. My garden doesn’t produce on demand – it’s not providing basil in December, for instance – so learning the best way to preserve food such that it provides sustenance when needed is critical. I suck at that too, but hopefully am learning.

Something else I learned is that the person who told me that stevia is hard to grow from seed wasn’t kidding. I saved a bunch of stevia seeds from my plants last year and planted them all this year – which netted me exactly zero stevia plants. I did a germination test beforehand and a fair number of those seeds germinated, but the overall germination rate seemed quite low – maybe 10% – 20% or so? It’s kind of hard to tell the seeds from the other fluff that grew around them, so maybe some of those specks weren’t actually seeds, meaning that the actual germination rate was higher? I’ll try again next year, focusing more on keeping the seeds in damp conditions until well after germination.

So if no stevia seeds germinated, how was I able to harvest some stevia for the picture above, you ask. I hedged my bets – I bought a couple stevia seedlings and planted those in a container, where they are doing just fine. It’s always a good thing to have a backup.

*We have 6 raised beds and we refer to them as either east or west, and top, middle or bottom, hence one bed is the middle east one.

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.

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!

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!

Happy Leaf LED + 6 Mason Jars

Written 2/27/2020 in Saint Louis, MO USA

I bought a grow light from Happy Leaf LED and a small hydroponics kit (baskets and clay pebbles, a few seeds) and this is what I now have 4 weeks after setting this up (see picture).  The kit from Happy Leaf LED didn’t include the fertilizer that needs to be added to water put in the jars – I bought that from Amazon  for $17 USD.  The sunlight from the window is probably useless; I think all the growing is due to the grow light. The light and 6 black plastic baskets to sit in the top of my mason jars, the pebbles and about 20 lettuce seeds cost about $100 on sale, and most of that cost was the made-in-America light. I think that light is about 17″ long and cost about 5 cents a day in electricity to run for 16 hours (electricity is about $0.10/kWh in the winter in Saint Louis and the Kill A Watt meter said it used .43 kWh for one 16 hour period).  I put seeds of my own in 3 jars – kale, cilantro and basil. Basil barely came up at all and then died; lettuces, kale and cilantro did pretty well.  The picture with this post shows the plants after I harvested enough for 2 salads, so the growth was about double what is shown.   All the growth after 4 weeks is good for about enough salad for 4 people, so since we want at least twice that per week, I might need to double the number of jars per week to grow what we want on a continuing basis.  And since it takes about 4 weeks to get to this point, does that mean that I’d have to have 32 mason jars, one set of jars planted each week, to have a steady supply of the salad that we want?  I’ve got a lot of questions still unanswered about this process and  I’m not sure how to do the financial analysis on this – do we harvest all from each jar and then have to replant, or would the cut-and-come-again capabilities of these plants mean that I’d only need half as many jars as I’m thinking?  How many jars can this one light manage?   How long until this system pays for itself/breaks even?   How tall a space do we need to deal with these plants?   Btw, the onions growing in the foreground in the picture are seated in old glass floral frogs – see my previous post about that for more information.  I’ll post again when I have more data to share.   Thanks for reading this!