You Grow Some, You Lose Some

Gardening is an unpredictable animal. Much to my type-A dismay, you do not always get predictable results. You can’t control the wind or the rain or the frost. You can’t make those little seedlings perform to your expectations. And you can’t do a darn thing about the brutal winter we had.

Growing your own food is out of your control in so many ways. 

I gotta be honest. It irks me.

But here’s where we stand right now.

The seedlings. Back in early March, we planted a slew of different peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and some herbs to start under grow lights in the house. Some of them are doing great!

tomato seedlings

 

Some gave it their minimum effort and decided it wasn’t worth it.

 

withered seedling

 

And others failed to show at all.

 

didn't germinate

 

Fortunately, the majority of what we planted is doing well.

Then there’s the outside. In mid April, we planted peas, radishes, greens and carrots in the garden. Now, before you yell at me not to plant until the 10th hour after the full moon two days removed from the last frost when Jupiter is aligned with Venus (I’ve met folks who sound like that–not exaggerating) let me remind you that I was following the express guidelines for my zone and the seed packet directions.

So there.

Except they really aren’t doing all that well. It’s been really cold at night. It’s been dry. All we have to show for it is one lone pea plant peeking out of the ground (I planted two full rows) a few radish sprouts and a sprinkling of lettuce sprouts. The swiss chard and spinach seem to be refusing to do anything.

pea sprout

And oh, I’ve been looking. You can frequently find me stooped over a mostly empty garden, peering intently into the soil, trying to decide if any speck of green is indeed a seedling–or a dreaded weed.

So, this week, you’ll see me out there again, only I’ll be reseeding a few places. I think I’m just going to shoot for overkill, here, and then continue to stare at the dirt.

When you can’t grow ’em, buy ’em.

I already know that I’ll probably have to pick up a few extra pepper plants to make up for the large bells that have done NOTHING. But while I was at the greenhouse this weekend–looking for onion sets–I saw these beauties. STRAWBERRIES!!

 

strawberries

 

Naturally, I forgot all about anything else and immediately bought a flat of them. Upon their arrival, my husband was motivated (maybe by visions of future strawberry shortcake) to abandon his giant plumbing/digging project and till up a spot for planting.

 

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They’ll go in early this week nearby the berry bushes. Which, by the way, barely survived our brutal winter. Only thing growing are new shoots peeking up out of the ground. No fresh blackberries for us this year. Gotta just try to keep those new shoots happy and hope for the best.

The strawberries were kind of a gift for my oldest daughter, who had a tiny patch when we lived in the city and has been talking about planting them ever since we moved. A girl after my own heart!

So there’s what’s growing–or not–as the case may be. With fuel prices climbing and–therefore–food prices doing the same, I’m really hoping and praying for a plentiful harvest season. In the meantime, though, I suppose the big picture lesson here is if you’re trying to grow your own food, you have to be relentlessly persistent. Watch the weather (cause it seems like we get a giant wind storm every time I want to put something in the ground), tend to the seedlings, plant, plant and plant some more.

But just remember one very important thing. It’s really the Lord who brings in the harvest, spiritual or otherwise. Sooner or later, all we can do is sit and wait and let this process He began do it’s thing.

But I still might stare at the dirt.

 

How are things growing in your neck of the woods?

 

 

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DIY Nourishing Body Butter

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This post contains affiliate links. But these are pretty much the products I used for this project, or at least a close second. 🙂

It seems like I have wanted to do this FOREVER. Every time I purchased a bottle of lotion for us I never really did feel good about what we were slathering all over our skin. I was never comfortable with what was making it’s way into the bloodstream of my youngest who sometimes struggles with her immune system.

Well, I finally jumped in. And I have to say, making your own body butter/lotion is ridiculously easy. Kind of shameful that I waited so long!

My list of ingredients might look on the long-ish side. But don’t worry. All you really need is shea butter and coconut oil. Everything else I added in is just extras to make this lotion a little more healing for my daughter’s eczema. But the first two on the list will still give you a wonderful, nourishing moisturizer. And although the initial cost of getting all this stuff may seem overwhelming, remember that you’ll be able to make more than one batch from your purchase.

Whipped Body Butter

  • 8 oz. shea butter
  • 4 oz. extra virgin coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond oil
  • 1/4 cup herbal infused olive oil (I had some Calendula from the herb garden–but if you don’t have any herbal oil, just use all almond oil. Jojoba or avocado oil would be great for really dry skin too.)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp pure Vitamin E oil (I added this for it’s preserving effect as well as it’s ability to help heal the skin–but it’s optional)
  • 20 drops tea tree oil
  • 15 drops lavender oil
  • 10 drops cedarwood
  • 10 drops geranium

lotion ingredients

A note about the essential oils. They are also optional. But if’ you’re looking to add a little extra healing boost for itchy, rashy or sensitive skin, you might want to consider investing in some. In my experience, tea tree oil is one of the best for itchy skin. It’s also anti-bacterial. The lavender helps to calm irritated skin. The cedarwood and geranium are newer to me, but I thought I’d give them a try, since they are reported to help promote healthy skin as well.

1. Measure out and melt the shea butter and coconut oil until they are completely melted in a double boiler over low heat. (Don’t skip this. You’ll get a grainy textured lotion.) I just put the butters in the mixing bowl for my Kitchen Aid and set the mixing bowl over a small pot of simmering water.

2. After the oils are completely melted, add in the remaining ingredients. Stir gently just to combine.

3. Set the bowl of melted oils outside in the cold, or in your refrigerator for a couple hours, until they are almost completely solid. You don’t want them rock hard. Think room temperature butter.

melted butters

This is what mine looked like after it cooled and hardened a bit.

4. Using a hand held mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the oils on medium speed for a minute.

5. Scrape down the sides and bottom (especially important if you’re using a stand mixer) and crank the speed up to high. You’ll probably need to stop the mixer every now and then and scrape down the sides again. Whip it for a few minutes, getting lots of air into the mixture, until it begins to become light, fluffy and shiny. It will sort of look like meringue.

whipped butter

6. After you feel like it is all well mixed and whipped, it’s ready to scoop into jars or containers for storage.

This recipe made 2 pint jars for me. If you feel like you may not use it up in a month or two, just cut the measurements in half.

We love this stuff! My daughter keeps telling me over and over how good it feels. Her skins is much softer and holds it’s moisture a lot longer. And the essential oils give it a light, herby fragrance.

Enjoy!

 

This post is part of Wildcrafting Wednesday.


Make Your Own Sourdough Starter–So Easy!

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(This post contains affiliate links. Small commission for me, same great value for you. Thanks!)

I’ve been a little obsessed lately. Maybe more than a little. You see, a few weeks ago, I decided to try to get another sourdough starter going. I’ve done it before, a few years back, and I really missed baking with it.

So I went through the very simple process of making a starter and I was pleasantly blessed with the best starter I’ve ever had. And we’ve been flying through the flour ever since.

Why Sourdough?

What’s the big deal about sourdough, you ask? A few things. First, we love the chewy crumb and slightly sour flavor that it lends to breads.

But mostly, I use it for the nutritional boost it gives. The process of souring does wonders for whole grain baked goods. In the case of wheat, it begins to break down the gluten, making it easier to digest for most. This long ferment also helps neutralize phytic acid that’s in most whole grains. This little booger likes to bind up all the helpful vitamins and minerals we’d like to get out of our baked goods. If we don’t do something about it, then all those nutrients pass through our system, unabsorbed, and we end up a little on the deficient side of things.

Plus, it’s super frugal. I eliminate the need to buy prepackaged yeast and can make a fabulous bread with just flour, water and salt. Sourdough breads also keep longer before mold or staleness sets in, meaning less waste.

Making Your Own Starter

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There are most certainly good places where you can pick up a dehydrated starter. Lots of folks have good luck with this site. And you may end up with a more vigorous starter that way. But I’ve had success with a homemade starter in the past, so that’s the route I go.

Ready for the ridiculously simple directions? Here you go.

1. Combine rounded 1/3 cup all purpose flour and 1/3 cup filtered water in a glass bowl or jar. Ideally you’d do this in the morning. Stir, stir, stir (with a wooden spoon)–trying to incorporate as much air as you can. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and cover with a cloth napkin, paper coffee filter or cheesecloth, secured with a rubber band (or canning ring if you’re using a jar). Place in a warm spot where it will be undisturbed. (Like the top of your frig or some other warm place.)

2. 12 hours later, do it again.

starter 2

3. The next morning–you got it–feed your starter another rounded 1/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup filtered water. Before bed, feed it again.

Getting the picture? For about a week, you want to feed your starter in the morning and again at night, being sure to stir in lots of air. Every other day or so, pour your starter into a clean bowl so the sides don’t get nasty. After only 2 days, I began to see bubbles. By the end of the week, my starter had a wonderfully yeasty, fermented smell.

It might take yours a little longer. Everything depends on several factors like humidity, temperature (I keep my house at about 67 in the winter, but we put the starter in the laundry room which is probably consistently over 70.), and what little critters you have floating around in your air.

You see, a sourdough starter captures the natural yeasts and bacteria present in the air. So when you feed the starter, you’re feeding those microorganisms. As they feed and multiply, they release the gasses that make the starter get bubbly and foamy.

One note–by the end of the week, you’ll have quite a bit of starter. About 4 days in, after mine was already showing plenty of signs of activity, I would pour off just a little every day. This is recommended by other instructions I’ve seen, but not all.

When is it ready?

starter 3

This is one happy, bubbly starter!

For most new starters, a week is about all the time you need. But it could be more for you. Especially if your house is cool. An active starter will smell sour or yeasty, be very bubbly–almost pillowy on top–and will expand a bit with each feeding as those bubbles increase the volume of the flour and water.

Next week, I’ll share how to maintain a healthy starter and then we’ll get into my new favorite no-knead artisan sourdough bread recipe (which is the easiest thing you’ll ever make), plus links to gobs of other sourdough favorites. Crackers, tortillas, pizza–the possibilities are mouth watering.

* A couple notes:

  • It is important to use filtered water, or at least non-chlorinated water. The chlorine and other additives are there to kill bacteria. And you’re trying to grow it. I’ve used exclusively filtered water this time around and have noticed a big difference (My bottled water is long gone and things are just fine with my pitcher filter).
  • I used unbleached all purpose flour. I know many of you would like to go all whole grain. The truth is, other than rye, most have the best results with AP flour. After you have a vigorous starter going for a while, you can begin to sub out some of the white flour with the whole grain flour of choice. But the starter is only a portion of the total flour in the recipe. I’ve used whole wheat flour in many recipes, along with my AP flour starter, with great results.
  • If you want to go whole hog on this sourdough thing, I’d really recommend the Sourdough E-Course at GNOWFGLINS. (Affiliate link) It’s full of expert videos, recipes and just about anything you can think of related to sourdough. (I’ve taken a few of their courses before and HIGHLY recommend them.) Here’s the link for their Sourdough Ebook (which I also LOVE)

Are you a sourdough lover? Ready to get started on your own?!


Kicking My Advil Habit for My Gut’s Sake

Please note: I’m NOT a doctor or medical professional. Just a mom trying to stay healthy. Please do your own research or consult your physician. And please know, if you are plagued by chronic pain and painkillers are the best option for you, this is not meant to criticize. I’m not in your shoes. This is just something I’ve been thinking about for my minor aches and pains. 🙂
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This week I’ve been trying to listen to a few of the interviews in the Gluten Summit. It’s pretty heavy on the science jargon, since it was designed by doctors for mostly doctors. But since it was free, I though I’d give it a chance. It’s more curiosity than anything else, since both my daughter and I have the same autoimmune conditions (allergies, eczema, asthma) and because I seem to have a sometimes fussy belly and deal with migraine headaches occasionally.

In most of the interviews so far, they spend a good bit of time talking about gut permeability and what that can mean for your health. If you’ve never heard of it before, gut permeability or leaky gut, as many call it, refers to a condition where the small intestines has become irritated or inflamed due to allergens, irritants, stress, illness, etc. and develops openings large enough for undigested proteins to permeate the gut wall and travel into the blood stream, where the immune system usually begins to mount an attack against it. So you get antibodies building up in your system to gluten or dairy or whatever it is that is irritating you.  Many believe that leaky gut is the primary cause for allergies and a host of other autoimmune conditions.

Leaky gut (and healing the gut) is the primary basis for books like The Maker’s Diet, and Gut and Psychology Syndrome (or GAPS). I happen to agree with these interviews and books mentioned above, in that the health of our intestines, or lack thereof, is crucial to the proper functioning of our immune system and really our entire body.

But this is supposed to be about Advil, or more specifically ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

There have been times in my life where I felt like I lived on my generic ibuprofen. Pain was chronic, and I couldn’t just stay in bed all day, so out came the little orange pills. Right now, it’s not as bad. My back is doing well. My headaches have diminished.

During one of the interviews, I caught just a hint of a phrase about drugs contributing to leaky gut. And then I remembered that I’ve heard that ibuprofen can have a harmful effect on your stomach or gut, if taken often. Could I be causing further damage to my gut every time I take the stuff? So I went a step further. I did a search on the connection between it and leaky gut.  And I found a host of articles linking these painkillers with it. Yikes!

image credit

So the seemingly harmless OTC drug I’ve been taking for YEARS may have been causing damage to my intestines. I’m not happy with that. Now, I’ve not had some kind of scope to see what things are like down there. I’m not trying to be an alarmist. I haven’t been diagnosed with IBS or Crohn’s or Colitis. But some of that runs in my family. And I am concerned about the health of my gut–repairing any damage and keeping it healthy to prevent future problems. I also don’t want to start my kids on this road.

What will I do about pain, then? I’m still having migraine headaches a couple times a month. I also get leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, and you know–that time of the month stuff (sorry guys–but it had to be said). Right now, here is my strategy…

For headaches and migraines it will be most important to avoid triggers. For me this means

  • staying well hydrated and keeping my blood sugar stable. (I notice I get them more when I’m out, not eating and not drinking enough.)
  • I will also be more diligent about taking my cal/mag supplement, since I’ve read that magnesium deficiency can contribute to headaches.
  • I’m going to dig deeper into one of my favorite natural health resources Prescription For Nutritional Healing to check out what herbs and supplements are recommended for migraines. (Amazon affiliate link)
  • And since I can see a connection between migraines and my hormones, I’m going to continue to take a hormone balancing herbal complex. (I already take this, and it helps, but I need to be more consistent about it.)

For my leg cramps and restless leg I plan to

  • Keep exercising, making sure I stretch my lower legs well.
  • Epsom salt soaks in the tub. Epsom salts are a magnesium salt and a good soak is a great well to get some magnesium absorption through your skin which can help alleviate these cramps.

And to keep my monthly symptoms tolerable

  • Keep sugar and bready foods limited during that time. Mom always told me you crave what makes it worse at that time. I think she’s right. I definitely notice a difference when I eat too many treats or starchy foods.
  • Keep taking the herbal supplement mentioned above. I also like to add in this tea. If I drink it often during that time, I notice that it really does help. (Keeps my mood more mellow too, which everyone around here appreciates.)

I really believe the biggest key for me lies in what I eat and drink. Woman cannot live by coffee and sweet bready goodness alone. No matter how many times I test that theory. And now that I want to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, my dependence on OTC painkillers, I’m going to have to be consistent about what goes in my body.

For all of you I’d ask, what are your pain triggers? Do you find yourself popping those little orange pills all the time–just to make it through the day or night? Is it possible that it’s something you’re eating–or NOT eating?

We’re all different. And what causes problems for me (or what works for me) might not be an issue for you. But I do know that gut health needs to be a priority for all of us. I have seen in my own family what neglecting it can do. And it’s terrible. None of us want to live like that. So I’m challenging all of us to think of the hidden culprits, and do something about it.

How do you feel about OTC painkillers?

This post is also part of the Healing With Foods Friday at Purposeful Nutrition.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission for any purchases made through these links. But I really do love this stuff! Thanks!

My Simple, Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

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Monday we talked about getting a regular cleaning routine going. Just to keep myself accountable, I’ll let you know that on Monday I vacuumed the downstairs and worked on laundry. Yesterday I dusted the downstairs. I’d love to have gotten a little more in, but the kid’s schoolwork has been challenging this week, and that has taken up more time than usual.

Another homemade cleaner? I know. There are about a billion recipes for homemade cleaners out there. You weren’t exactly waiting with baited breath to know another one. Too bad. Gonna share anyway :).

Because, like many of you, I have the DIY books and web pages all bookmarked. And the more I read, the more confused I got. Or maybe I didn’t have some special ingredient. So I put it off and used up my supply of not so friendly store bought stuff.

You have to love the idea, though. Because the majority of homemade cleaning recipes are safe for your family and incredibly wallet friendly.

It all started with the familiar standby. Vinegar and water. I had been using that to clean windows for a while. Simple, effective, and no–your house doesn’t smell like pickles when you’re done.

Then little by little, I began to purchase a few extras like liquid castile soap and essential oils. (Don’t be scared about buying essential oils like I was. Sometimes you can find a decent brand at a store like GNC for not a lot of money. And they last forever.)

Finally, I’ve settled on this.

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In a 32 oz. spray bottle I combine…

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (I’ve even made citrus vinegar with grapefruit rinds–easy and smells great!)
  • 2-4 Tb liquid castile soap depending on how soapy you want it (I like this brand.)
  • several drops of tea tree essential oil–around 15 (this is the kind I have)
  • fill the remainder of the bottle with warm water

The low down on the ingredients. We all know vinegar is great for a deodorizer and disinfectant. It also helps shine faucets and mirrors. The castile soap is non-toxic and brings a little lubrication to the party to remove stubborn grime. I like tea tree soap and tea tree oil because tea tree is antibacterial, making this a great cleaner for the kitchen and bathroom (or cold and flu season).

We use this on sinks, toilet seats, mirrors, counters, floors and to lightly dampen a cloth to dust. I don’t use too much of the soap in mine, so it doesn’t need rinsing. And the only smell left behind is clean–with a hint of tea tree, which I like.

And when I say we. I mean we. This stuff is so safe, I feel very comfortable letting my six year old help wipe down her bathroom sink. (It’s the cutest thing.)

But let’s say you want to make a homemade, less toxic cleaner with what you’ve got NOW. No problem. Just do the vinegar, a squirt of whatever dish liquid you have and fill the rest with water. It’s not completely natural (unless your dish liquid already is) but I figure it’s still leaps and bounds better for you and your family than the nuclear yellow stuff at the store–and super frugal.

There you have it. My contribution to the world of DIY cleaners. (I also use baking soda + water as a soft scrub…just so ya know.)

Your turn. Got a homemade natural cleaner to share?

 
 
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, your price is still the same, and I get a small commission. I only link to products I either own (or are on my wishlist). Thanks!

My favorite way to preserve pickles

Yes, another post about pickles. You might say I have a problem with the humble cuke. That I’m obsessed, even. Fine. That may be true.

I canned dill. I canned bread and butter. Did a jar of refrigerator pickles just cause I had leftover brine. And I thought maybe I was done. But our sad little plants finally started growing, and growing. And the perfect little pickling cukes started coming.

A batch of kosher dills, tucked in the pantry to ferment.

A batch of kosher dills, tucked in the pantry to ferment.

Lacto Fermentation

But there is another way besides water bath canning to preserve those little babies. Lacto fermentation. This, my friends is the WAY old school way of preservation. Before pressure canners and mason jars. Think barrel pickles. Just cucumbers, water, salt and spice.

In lacto fermentation, you allow veggies to sit submerged in a salt brine (some add whey) at room temperature for a few days. I only need about 3 days during the hot summer. The pickles will get bubbly and the brine will cloud up. The presence of the salt keeps other unwanted micro critters from taking over, and allows the beneficial microorganisms lactobacilli to develop. In the end, the pickles are preserved, still crisp, just salty enough but with a nice tang, and you have the added benefit of ingesting helpful bacteria for your gut. After the fermentation period, they’ll keep in the frig for quite a while. But mine don’t last that long. 🙂

I used the brine ratio from Cultures For Heath’s recipe for Kosher Dill Pickles which is pretty much the same as this method from Shannon at Nourishing Days and just added garlic, peppercorns, a little red pepper flakes, dill seed, and some pickling spice. A couple bay leaves helps keep them crisp (cause I don’t currently have a source of grape leaves–it’s the tannic acid in the leaves that keeps them crispy). I’ve even added a pinch of black tea leaves. I’m a little new to this, so for all the tips on lacto fermenting pickles and keeping them crisp, here’s another post by Shannon that’s really helpful.

If it sounds a little intimidating, trust me, it’s not. You’re basically just layering spices, garlic and cukes in a jar and pouring the brine over top. You can customize the spices, herbs and garlic to your liking. Quick, easy and no giant canner heating up your kitchen.

A Note About Bacteria

I know we’re told that bacteria is the enemy…we’ve got antibacterial everything, specific cooking temps for all our foods and they even irradiate our veggies. But the truth is, your gut (digestive tract) NEEDS some bacteria. It needs help to digest and break down your food, to properly absorb nutrients. A little serving of probiotic foods like yogurt and fermented veggies can do a world of good.

And these pickles really hit the spot!

Have you tried any fermented veggies? What are your favorites?


How We’re Preserving the Harvest (So Far)

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Haven’t had much time to write lately cause the garden is hopping! For the last three weeks, we’ve been putting up the produce just about non-stop.

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First, let’s talk jam. Remember all those strawberries I boughtWell I bought more. (I know, I have a problem.) But they were once again $.99/lb. And they were the most beautiful, sweet tasting and smelling strawberries I’ve ever known. They were begging to become jam. 

So I poked around on the internet looking for a simple, low sugar jam recipe that didn’t require me to hunt down or order some fancy pectin or other what-nots. I settled on this oneThree ingredients. Strawberries, sugar and lemons. The strawberry to sugar ratio is just the way I like it. High on the fruit and low on the sugar. The pectin comes naturally from the strawberries and the lemons. We love the flavor. Fruity, bright and just sweet enough. The consistency is sort of like a freezer jam or like a really thick syrup. Not all that thick. I may experiment with another recipe next year, but for now, we’re pretty happy with this simple goodness.

I made a little over 20 pints in a couple days. Yeah!

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Moving right along to the beets. The beets are my mom’s gig. She’s tweaked a recipe for pickled beets that we are all quite fond of. Just enough sweetness, but not syrupy sweet like the kind you usually find at the store. We love ’em. Especially my 6 year old. Weird, I know.

 

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And last, but certainly not least, we have the beans. Oh, the beans. They are an event, beans are. If you have them, they control your schedule for quite a while. Not that I’m complaining. I’m grateful for the beans. All 105 quarts of them…and counting. I think at this point, I’ve kind of got it down to a science. Wait till you see this set up.

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Yes, that’s a turkey fryer under there. And off to the left, not pictured would be the propane tank. Sitting atop the high powered bomb, I mean burner, is the pressure canner. From the 1960’s–literally. It looks like some kind of nuclear containment vessel. Laugh if you want, but this little piece of genius (which we swiped from a Backwoodsman Magazine article) makes for some FAST pressure canning. The powerful burner can bring this thing up to pressure in about 3 minutes. No heating up the house, either. Downright awesome, if you ask me.

 

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Everyone helps with beans. Even my little niece. She’s actually quite the bean snapper.

 

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What else? Let’s see. I bought and froze about 6 gallon bags full of blueberries for smoothies and muffins this winter. We hope to have a large harvest of butternut squash in a few weeks. I’ll keep some in the pantry and roast, puree and freeze the rest for muffins or soup or whatever.

We’re still waiting to see what the tomatoes are going to do. Still haven’t eaten a single homegrown tomato. And it’s the end of July. That’s very sad, indeed. But the weather’s been crazy this summer (as in, I think WV just became a rain forest) and we’re not the only folks around here still waiting to pick that first tomato. I’m hoping we’ll have enough to can a good amount of sauce or crushed, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

All this makes for some serious hard work at times. But at the end of the day, I’m SO very grateful to be preserving all this food at it’s peak of freshness and flavor, not to mention saving some cash at the same time. There is something very satisfying to me about growing your own food, relying on God for the harvest and providing for the dinner table through hard, honest work. I never feel quite like that good after I leave Kroger. Just saying. 🙂

What are you preserving this summer?