Saturday, January 19, 2013

Day 90- Garden Thoughts

Three months without power and it's crazy ass cold outside!  I think our day time highs are in the -25°C range, and the nights are in the -40's.

Husband never 'got around' to building a windmill, not that it would help much now anyway, since there's almost no wind- just cold, cold, cold!  He did add 15 batteries to the battery bank, taken from cars off the roadside.  He's also installed a series of car radiators around the kitchen, livingroom and our bedroom.  He wrapped the woodstove with copper pipe, then connected waterhose to run between the radiators.  It helps a lot.

He found another mini solar panel in an abandoned car, and hooked it up to the battery bank.  We're still only using the batteries to run the furnace fan for short spurts, but every little bit helps.  We sealed off the upstairs- the boys are camped out semi-permanently in the livingroom.  Husband collected a few alternators, pulleys, and gears, so if he ever gets motivated to try the car alternator windmill he should have what he needs to build it.

The Bigs wander around daily with the calking gun, filling in drafts we never knew we had before.  The Littles have been doing chores- it's the only time they go outside lately- and if they don't go outside I might have to kill them.  We're all cranky from being cooped up, but the little two fight and argue all day long.  Board and card games have lost a lot of their appeal, with everyone trying to find a little spot to get away from each other.  On a positive note- everyone is reading these days!

I sorted through my seed stash and started tomatoes and peppers.  It's a little earlier than I normally start them, though only a week for the tomatoes.  I had a good supply of store bought pasta sauces, tomato juice, and tomato soup going in to this winter.  Next winter we might still be on our own, so that's a whole lot of gardening and canning we've never depended on before. 

We're eating out of the freezers almost exclusively now- no sense opening jars when anything that's left in the next few months will have to be canned.  Beans, beans, the musical fruit, lol.  There's not much variety for veggies in the freezers. 

I've started canning some meat as well- ground beef and stewing meat, just a canner load per week.  I wasn't going to, as we could probably use it all up before spring, but then what?  I'm not sure I'm ready to become a vegetarian or rely on what we can hunt or catch through the summer.  It's easier to do the canning now, while the fire's heating the house and the snow is providing the water, than to try butchering in the spring and having to can it all.  Looks like Mindy will be safe 'til next fall.  At any rate- I've got about thirty meals worth of meat canned now. 

Which brings up another worry.  Canning jars.  I've gotten a few extras from the flea market, maybe an extra case or two.  I wasn't counting them, because I always bought extra jars whenever I found them.  This is different though.  I won't be able to freeze summer greens or beans with no power.  Everything will have to be canned.  All of those tomato products I normally buy come in their own cans.  This year they'll be taking up jar space.  Jars that I don't have.  Jars that I probably won't be able to get.

Which really makes me rethink the garden and the menu.  We need to grow more of everything, but we really need to grow more of what will store without processing.  More cabbage- which can stay in the garden until after it freezes.  More squash and pumpkins, that keep well.  More root veggies.  Do dry beans count as a veggie?  My beloved green beans, which I'm so tired of right now, will be few and far between next winter.  And of course, those veggies aren't the easy seed savers either, which will make the following winter even more scarce.

All in all, we're doing ok.  I just hope we get hydro back soon.


  1. Jars would not be my problem, lids would be.

    1. After the dollar stores ran out of lids last summer I had to pay twice as much for them everywhere else. When they got them back in stock I started buying 5 boxes at a time every time I went in. I'm pretty sure I have a year's supply of standard mouth lids now, although they still haven't got wide mouth lids back in stock yet. Those I've been picking up one at a time at the grocery store. Thankfully I don't have nearly as many wide mouth jars to worry about.

      I saw your slew of jars you got in the fall. That was quite a windfall! Would it be enough to can everything you eat long term though?

      I'm just pondering my food storage... Some things- like pasta sauce- I keep buying whenever it's on sale, and almost never run out. But I don't really know how much we use in a year. I had 24 jars when I took inventory in the fall, and probably have bought another thirty or so since then. Since I rarely have a tomato crop to speak of, I don't have the jars to accommodate canning my own pasta sauce. Then tomato juice and tomato soup added in- I probably need a few hundred more jars just for tomatoes.

      I froze 55 meals worth of green and yellow beans last summer- another 55 jars.

      In the story, I have 30 meats canned, and would need at least another 90 to give us one meat meal a day while the freezers are out of commission.

      On top of all that- I want more. I want my garden to guarantee that we eat for the next two years, which means doubling the size, doubling the produce, foraging more wild foods, double the canning, canning things I've never canned before.

      I would definitely need more jars. And more shelving. More storage space.

      I am definitely still learning from this writing experience! It makes me think about things in different ways.

    2. I have a lot of lids too but I go through a lot of them too. I am sure I wouldn't really have enough jars either. I have a lot of jars but most of them are used. Lately I have not been stocking up on as much food as usual because we just have so much here that it is going to waste (especially vegetables in the freezer).
      I never have much of a tomato crop and have found(since making one this year) that just one jar of spaghetti sauce takes a whole lot of tomatoes( I think it is amazing that we can buy a can for a dollar now.)so I would not have enough tomatoes to can myself. Beans are good here too.

    3. I made 3.5 quarts of pasta sauce this year- first time ever. It seems crazy to use that many tomatoes for that little return. I had a much better yield with crabapple catsup- half crabapples, half tomatoes. I think in order to do a year's worth of pasta sauce I'd need to put half of my garden in as tomatoes!

  2. I know I don't have enough jars to can for a year. I try to buy a case of jars and 2 boxes of lids every month. I keep saying I'm going to buy those Tattler lids. Some people swear by them but they're so expensive! Right now we have so many things we need to do that it keeps getting pushed back. I've been worried that my cellar would get too cold but so far the veggies seem to be storing just fine. We've got temps dropping down to 8F next week so that will be a better test but I may move everything but a few items into the house rather than take a chance on losing all my produce! Hubby likes the car radiator idea. He wondered if water hose would hold up to the heat produced. Lots of things to think about!

    1. I should do that- just pick up an extra case of jars once a month. It wouldn't break the budget, and I'd slowly gain enough jars to do anything I wanted. Thanks for the tip!

      The Tattler lids are so tempting, but when you factor shipping across the border, they're so unreasonable! Almost double the price! I keep hoping that some retailer will pick them up over here.

      Your cellar isn't in your house? I've been opening the cold room door the past week to let some warm air in there. Canned goods are ok so long as they don't freeze, but the root veggies and squash go mushy if they get too cold.

      I had a car in my teens that sprung a little leak in a rad hose. I was in a hurry to get somewhere, it was the weekend and the garage was closed, and I was broke... My Dad, a backyard mechanic, fixed it up with a piece of garden hose. He told me to fix it properly when it started leaking again. That car went to the junkyard with that piece of garden hose still functional.

      Now that was a long time ago, and my Dad was a packrat, so the hose was probably really old- probably the kind that you can't even buy anymore with some kind of biohazard rating by today's standards, but yeah, it worked. It might not work with the $10 light duty hose from Walmart, but I think if you had a heavy duty hose it would probably be ok.

      Husband doesn't think it would circulate on it's own though, that it would need a car water pump in the line somewhere. It wouldn't take much juice though, so definitely doable on solar.

    2. Our cellar is about 20 feet from my kitchen porch and has a house on top of it that's about 12'x15'. I plan on making it a canning kitchen for next summer. I hate making the house hot and with summers in the mid 80's to mid 90's and 75%+ humidity I really don't want to can in the house! So far the cellar seems to be keeping a good temp. The carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage in there were fine today but we have another night with lows about 7F and highs in the teens. I guess it's a pretty good test. I think we just might have to start looking into some radiators and a pump! I might consider using that now. The back rooms get cold when the temps drop this low.

    3. I dream of a summer kitchen, lol. Someday, if Husband ever gets to build 'his garage' the current garage will be mine.

      Another tidbit- don't know if it will help your situation- northern neighbour has an outdoor wood oil broiler that pumps heat through antifreeze to the house and out buildings. He installed a big truck radiator into the former furnace in the house, so the heat runs through the ducts in the house.

  3. Lids are my concern too. I did buy 2 doz each wide and reg. mouth tattler lids just to see if I'd like 'em. I do but I don't use them that much as I give a lot of my stuff away and know I would get the lid back. I have been thinking about getting more but yes they are pretty pricy. I have yet to use them pressure canning but hear they do just fine. I'm too chicken to put out all that work into pressure canning and then find out they didn't all seal. It's amazing how many lids one can go through.

    What a great idea with the radiators. I think I'm glad I'm not in one of the makesift cabins with that kind of temp. Yicks!

    1. I've been following Rural Revolutions' adventures with Tattler Lids
      and they seem to be working really well for her, both pressure and water bath.

      I hear ya on giving away jars though. Some people don't return the jars, they aren't likely to return the lids!

      Space is a big issue with woodstoves. If your space is small, open concept, with your woodstove in a central location, you'll still be opening windows at these temps.

      Our house is not set up well. The sunroom stove is on the south end of the house, in the single floor addition. If it was in the livingroom it would do a much better job. Heat rises- so the upstairs would warm up much better, and it's more central, so the rest of the house would be easier to heat. The wood oil furnace in the basement is a furnace- with all of the expected duct work. The heat is diverted to travel long distances to get to the vents. With the furnace fan it works quite well. Without the fan, the air chills considerably before it gets to where it needs to go.

      Some day I will build the cabin by the creek, and leave the house by the road for the boys. I'll be warm as toast and need a whole lot less firewood!

  4. Have you ever read the foxfire books? I seem to recall a section in one of them about leather britch beans(?)..a form of dehydration I guess. Not fresh but better than using 55 of your jars when you could utilize them for other veg that won't store as well.If your interested let me know and I'll send the foxfire files to you. Just let me know if you want pdf or epub format

    1. No, I just looked them up on amazon. Sounds fascinating. PDF please!

      That's interesting. Maybe I should take dehydrating more seriously...

    2. Funny you should mention leather britches as I just got my new preserving book, Put 'em up , and read about them for the first time. Hear you guys are talking about it. Pretty interesting. You just blanch for 1 min. then string them up (needle & thread) 1/2 in. from stem and put in a warm dry place for 2 to 3 days till dry. THEN after cutting them off the string leaving the stem you put them in the oven to pasterize them at 170F (77C) for 15 min. place in dry, air tight container to keep for 6 months. I would have never thought of pasterizing and now makes me wonder if I should have done that for the green beans I've dehydrated in the past. Hummmmmm...

      A great site for dehydrating ideas is dehydrate2store.

      One more thing (sorry, I don't mean to bloghog). I know you like honey, well my new love is Augson Honey powder. OMG, it the real stuff. I've been using it in and on my whole wheat bread. You caN buy it on eBay but found it cheeper on overstock with their cheep shipping. You might want to look into it. You'd be Amazed! Ok I'm done.

    3. Would you be willing to share the books to others?

    4. Blog hog away, lol! Great conversation going here! Thanks for the leather britches instructions and the site. I will check that out.

  5. So glad to see you post! I've often wondered what the children did through the cold of winter beeing cooped up inside....cant hang them from the rafters!
    What about whittling or carving? Maybe the youger could make wooden spoons and the older dolls or animals they could trade/sell..something productive to keep them occupied.
    Canning jars and lids would be my downfall also. I have a few hundred jars gifted to me this fall and more came last week from a couple moving. I dehydrated (elect) quite a bit this past summer but that wouldn't do me any good if we lost power. I want to try it in my sun oven this summer. I would love to get my hands on the foxfire books...what a treasure trove of information!

    1. Whittling and carving would be a great idea, especially as wooden spoons and utensils wear out. I'm not sure any of my boys have the patience for it though. Husband's uncle used to carve little people. I wonder if Husband might find that an interesting task to pursue. He's not a big reader.

  6. Ebay for the fox fire books! I bought a "lot" (book 1,4,5,6 and the Christmas book)for less then $30(including shipping). Haven't really looked them over much but from what I've read so far, They're pretty neat. Plus I can relate to the goofy hair styles of those days. So check out ebay.

  7. Wendy - so glad to see you posting here at the colony again - i was getting withdrawals - bahahahahah! i love these posts and the questions that they raise - and holy moly i love all of the comments - so much stuff to learn and think about before it all comes crumbling down!!!

    my thoughts are that during the summer/fall - dehydrate everything that you gather from the garden and forage for, using the sun. dehydrated foods take up way less space in jars or any kind of airtight container. then in fall - spend those months hunting and fishing and dehydrate as much of that food as is possible using the sun. in the winter with the wood stove going full-tilt - that's when you can up whatever you can find. the winter is also a good time for supplemental hunting/fishing - as you can turn any large bucket into a freezer using snow and replacing the snow/ice daily. harvest as many seeds as you can in the fall, and use those seeds over the winter as sprouts for fresh food. we harvested only half of our radish seeds last fall and they are coming out of our ears - we have tons of radish sprouts as fresh food to get us through the rest of the winter from those alone! and never forget the bounty and glory of fermenting foods! you can keep a turnip for 4 months in your root cellar/basement and just as it is about to go off - ferment it and it will keep for another several months. there is almost no food that can't be fermented!

    the more i think about this stuff and read and research - the more i am learning to eat seasonally. people lived this way for hundreds of centuries - we can do it too!

    sorry if the comment is disjointed - i am just in a hurry to get the newer posts in the story - bahahahahah! if something doesn't make sense - just yell. i'll check back!

    your friend,

    1. Well one thing's for certain- the car wouldn't be going anywhere so my 'solar dehydrator' would be stationary long enough, hehe.

      I know I should learn more about fermented foods, but I honestly haven't seen any that I think I could convince my family to eat, except pickles. My current pickle recipe works like a charm though, so why mess with it? One of my projects I'm planning for this summer is to learn how to make 'better' vinegar. You always talk about eating vinegar with the mother in it- where do you get that? I think I need a mother for a starter.

      The seeds I really slacked off on this fall. I need more cookie trays and screens to do it justice- another project for this summer.

      I haven't got to this point in the story yet, but at some point I'm going to run out of plastic bags. Any thoughts on how to package things to freeze? Cloth and string would keep items separate and somewhat clean, but everything would be subject to freezer burn.

    2. Ooooo! Ooooo! Oooo!
      To keep things from freezer burn, how about newspaper and mazgazines. Or maybe some sort of big leaf or leaves or maybe corn husks. It would have to be something that would be safe to eat if it bleed into the meat/food.

      BTW - I racked off my blackberry liquor the other day. That is the BEST way to drink a bottle of vodka! YUMMM! Then made blackberry jam with the left over berries. Can't taste the booz in the jam but thats okay. Your winez look like they're coming along too.

    3. Imagine life with a wood stove and no junk mail! lol. I have quite a lot of paper stored, probably 2 or 3 winter's worth at current consumption, with more stuff constantly incoming. Last spring I even sorted through the piles and removed all the shiny pages for recycling- they don't burn well.

      But imagine no more junk mail, no more newspapers, store flyers, school papers, etc. How long would my paper pile last without any incoming junk?

      How long would we live without power before an old printing press gets put back into service? Do we even have the ability to make paper without electricity in this day and age? And would it be a priority? Would the guy with the know-how still be alive, with access to equipment, with enough food to eat, with his family safe, to tinker around and create a newspaper?

      Paper- glossy magazines especially, might work for freezer paper, but it too will be a limited supply.

      Oh, your blackberries are totally making me jealous. All that vodka- and jam too! I think I'll try that with raspberries this summer!

  8. I think paper would work, but maybe you'd have to freeze them on trays first and then put them into paper "packets". Butchers used to use butcher paper - waxed brown paper. Could you do this with waxed fabric of some sort? I agree with your thinking on foods that don't need processing to store, or will keep in the ground for most of the fall - that's something that we've come round to as well. I also think dehydrating is the way to go, especially for tomatoes, because 20 sliced tomatoes will dehydrate enough to pack 1 quart jar.

    I'm loving the story by the way, just clicked to it from your other blog today, and went back to the start with a cup of tea - so much to think about, some of it I knew, but much of it stuff I'd not thought of.

    1. That's an interesting idea. I will look up how to wax fabric.

      I really, really need to learn more about dehydrating. I dried some hot peppers for seed, forgot about them, found them when I was cleaning off the plant stands. I cracked them all open, pulled the seeds out, and tossed them in the chicken bucket. Later that night as I was cooking supper I pulled the red pepper out of the spice cabinet, and duh! Too late for that batch, but maybe I'll remember for next year! :(