Archive for March 19th, 2008

Screwing It Up - A Manual For the New Home Preserver

Sharon March 19th, 2008

Up until now, we’ve been focusing on doing things right, on what you should do.  It is time to shift our focus on to my personal failings (always one of my favorite topics ;-) ) and discuss what you should *not* do when storing and preserving food.  I would feel remiss if I did not offer you this useful advice.  Of course, being a food storage goddess, I’ve never actually done any of these things, but a very dear friend did ;-) .

 1. When you store many heavy jars of home-canned food on metal shop shelves, do not glance into the storage area and notice that the shelves are bowing and have an odd tilt to them, and then think “that’s interesting” because you have another urgent project in your head, and close the door and not do anything about it.  Not that I would know, but if you do so, you may experience a giant crashing noise, tiny pieces of pickle-scented glass in everything, a godawful mess and an extended period of cussing.

 2. When you make daikon kimchi, do not put the jar lids on very tightly and then forget that you have it fermenting, unless you enjoy a kimchi scented kitchen and the sight of bright red korean pepper liquid dying your ceiling.

3. Do not every convince yourself that you will get around to labelling the buckets…eventually.  Do it now, or accept that you will never figure out what’s in them without unpacking them.

4. Do not leave the lid off the oatmeal bucket and your two year old unattended while you talk on the phone.  Do get used to picking little things out of the oatmeal bucket before you eat them for a while afterwards.  Do not think too hard about what the things are.

 5. Unless you are sure your family is the sort of family that eats pickled figs, do not pickle figs - there are better uses for them.

 6. Do not lose the little magnet thingie that allows you take the metal jar lids out of the boiling water without a big hassle.  When you do lose it, make sure the tongs you are using to get the lids (with giant hassle) are long enough that you don’t dip your fingers in the boiling water while chasing the lids around.  Keep bandaids in kitchen.

7. Do not pick the tomatoes with no clear plan about when you are going to get to them.  Do not convince yourself that during a spate of 95 degree weather, a bucket of tomatoes will keep on the counter for just one more day.  Do not think the fruit flies will go away easily.

8. Do not expect your spouse or partner to believe you when they ask where all the dried sweet peppers and blueberries went to and you shrug and blame the children.  Do not even try to look innocent.

9. Do not expect to hang up herbs to dry like the pretty pictures without tiny bits of dried herb ending up all over the place.

10. Do not think that the children will buy the “black currant is just as good as strawberry” argument.

 11. When reading the recipe for ginger-pear chutney, do not think “that doesn’t sound like enough ginger - I’ll just triple it and see how it goes.”  Do expect to be the only one eating ginger-pear chutney for a decade or so. 

12. Do not think you are done preserving just because you’ve had a hard frost.  You forgot about the green tomatoes,  greens, cabbages and roots!

13. Do not think that just because you did something right last year, you can’t screw it up this year.  Hubris is always punished.

 14. Do not accept “well, maybe this is how it is supposed to smell/look as an answer.  Throw it out! 

15. Do not think that anyone will ever let you get away with buying commercial pickles or jams again - once you start, you are stuck for life.

 Ok, I’m off to Boston for a wedding - more next week!


Wheat Rationing? Seed Shortages?

Sharon March 19th, 2008

I’m hearing some interesting stories coming in about grain and seed availability.  What’s most interesting is that we aren’t just seeing problems in the Global South, but here in the US as well.

-Idaho Locavore reports that WaltonFeed seems to be out of most Organic Wheats. 

-Murray, a farmer and reader who produces organic seed for several small seed companies says he has had repeated calls from both existing customers and other seed companies seeking more seed - and he’s out of last year’s production.  Several companies that don’t normally buy from him are sold out of their normal varieties and desperately seeking substitutes.

-Perhaps most disturbing, a member of my food storage class from the Northeast reports that when she bought flour at Costco yesterday, there were set 50lb limits, and that the check-out person actually verified on her membership card that she had not previously bought flour at any other Costco.

 -Aaron tells me that there are no set limits at his local warehouse store, but that when he asked to buy 200 lbs, he was told that was “as much as we can sell you.”

- Littlebyte reports that her coop is experiencing “significant delays” in deliveries of several items, including whole wheat and whole wheat flour.  Their supplier told them that availability was tight throughout the system.

- As I reported yesterday, Fedco and Johnny’s seeds are out of some varieties and are experiencing much greater demand than usual.  A friend who runs an herb business tells me that her wholesale provider is also out of many seed varieties and says demand is way up.

As Aaron put it, we may be seeing the beginning of a real “threshold moment.”  Anyone else seeing delays? 

Note, it is not my claim that we are about to see massive food shortages - but I think we may see systemic problems with a few commodities, including wheat.  And there’s something about the psychological weight of not being able to buy bread that I think will connect the dots for folks about how serious this is.

 Besides all the usual culprits: biofuels, global warming  which seems to be proceeding apace, there’s also the danger of major wheat diseases, which the UN FAO suggests could cause famine. 

Since we’re already seeing violence over bread in places like Egypt, which is calling out the army to help stabilize the wheat crisis there.

 So, keep watching everyone!


Storing Seeds

Sharon March 19th, 2008

One of the essential elements of growing your own is having enough seed - as y’all know, this is a big subject for me this month.  One of the most important ways of staying secure is knowing how to store seed so that it will stay viable as long as possible.

 So, if you want to store seed for more than one year, you have several options.

 1. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry place. 

-This will enable your seeds to have about the usual storage life.  The estimated storage life of seeds is listed here.  I would note, however, that this is one of those YMMV things - I’ve had no trouble keeping spinach seed for several years, for example.   If you have a fridge, are very, very careful not to let them get moist (use silica gel and package them carefully), you can keep them in the fridge.  Me, I’ve got way too many seeds for that.

 2. Vacuum Pack Them

- Lack of air exposures will extend the seed’s life a bit.  You can buy pre-canned and vacuum packed seeds or pack them yourself with a food saver or a straw.  Remember, they still have to be cool and dark.  This should add at a minimum one year to their lifespan.

3. Freeze them.  Thanks to Pat Meadows for explaining how to do this to me.

-Obviously, this only works while the power is on, but will substantially extend the life of your seeds while the freezer is working.  I keep and use too many seeds to do this with all of mine, but I plan to use this technique for short lifespan seeds, such as onions, parsley and parsnips.

 Pat double packs her seeds in two layers of plastic, and before using them but after taking them out of the freezer, allows them 24 hours to come to room temperature before opening the packages, so that any condensation forms on the outside of the packet, not where it could hurt the seeds.

 Before you do any storing, however, make sure that any seed you grew yourself is completely dry and ready to be stored. 

And remember, never plant all your seed if you can avoid it - even the best gardeners have crop failures, and the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.  The reality is that seed varieties are lost all the time - it is never wise to assume that there will always be more of a particular variety.  So save a little extra, and store it carefully for next year.