storage crops

In the daily reckoning of what it takes just to feed ourselves well without creating destruction in packaging, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, questionable additives, social injustice, unethical treatment of animals and the climate-destroying one-two punch of tillage and transporting food long distances, it can be exhausting just to get food on the table. On the other hand, when we prepare food that eludes all of that, it’s a victory for the world we want to see, and a three-times daily victory feels pretty gratifying. Frankly revolutionary.

Given how precious the food we grow or buy is when it is produced in alignment with our values, we don’t want to waste it.

Storage Crops

One of the ways we’ve been shifting our thinking in an effort to reduce food waste is to learn about traditional storage crops. While it takes some time to put up the jams, jellies, chutneys, butters, vinegars, booze that fill our pantry, it takes little time, effort, space to put away storage crops. Autumn is the moment for this. Whether you have a garden or not, whether your potato and sweet potato crop failed (yes, they did) or your squash production can meet your needs (not yet), whether your land or your neighbourhood has nut trees bearing (yes!), whether you grow enough carrots, beets, parsnips to sustain your family all winter (not quite), you can still connect with farmers and put away food. These are foods that thrive when stored properly. This is not like buying too much food and seeing it molder at the back of the fridge.

Farm-to-Table

About now, middle November, a local farmer (who uses no-till, beyond organic practices) will bring us sacks of squash and root veg to store away. Squash sits on the staircase. Beets, carrots, parsnips go under damp sand in a box somewhere cool, potatoes in a sack go into a cool dark corner. Garlic is already hanging in a dry spot. We’ve cleaned and cured the walnut crop and it could last all year in the shell if they weren’t too good to resist.

Whole grains and the Winter Potager

Our grain mill further extends our storage since whole, unmilled grains last, stored dry and away from creatures, for years. We can leave cool, hardy greens like cabbage, kale, tatsoi, winter lettuce and our root veg standing in the garden til we need it, and in colder climates those could live under a low tunnel, or two, so there’s nothing wasted there.

There’s simplicity in creating meals this way. It’s a great relief.

toothpaste

Even for people who are really concerned about questionable ingredients found in soaps, cosmetic and household cleaners, making your own toothpaste is an unusual pursuit. Yet as recipes go, toothpaste takes a few easy minutes, avoiding toxins, sweeteners, dyes, packaging, shipping, and last-minute shopping trips. The pleasure of knowing how to meet our own basic daily requirements is something of a liberation. Over the years I’ve grown fond of making toothpaste exactly how we like it. The ingredients are inexpensive, store indefinitely, and go a long way.

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The ingredients

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1 cup Calcium carbonate – otherwise known as chalk or limestone flour. Most toothpastes use this as a base, and it makes sense to me to scrub my teeth with calcium. It makes a fine polish.

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1 TB Sodium bicarbonate – baking soda. I use this as a cleansing and polishing agent, but I don’t love the flavour and lately have been leaving it out and the paste is still effective, tastes better, and is smoother and gentler. Still, it’s an option.

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¼ tsp Sea salt – just a pinch. Salt draws out infection, and helps to heal the gums. I prefer sea salt for its broad mineral content.

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2 TB Birch sugar – otherwise known as xylitol. A sweetener with dental benefits, so they say.

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4 TB Coconut oil – unrefined. I use virgin coconut oil in toothpaste as a base, mostly for its anti-fungal properties. It melts at body temperature.

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Stevia – 2-20 drops, to taste. My children like sweet toothpaste, and this herbal sweetener is one we use frequently, as it doesn’t have much effect on blood sugar.

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Lastly, a flavour, to taste. We like peppermint oil – we use 1.5 teaspoons of an edible, organic extract. There are lots of possibilities for what flavour to use, orange, fennel, and I like that I can keep it mild for the children.

The method

Mix well together calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate if using, and sea salt. If finely ground, also mix in xylitol; if coarse crystals, dissolve in ¼ cup of hot water. Melt coconut oil if it is cool and solid, and mix it in. Begin to add water/xylitol water while mixing with a wooden spoon, using just enough to make a soft paste. Lastly, add a little of the peppermint oil and a few drops of stevia, until the flavour is to your liking.

Of course, I’m not a dentist or a doctor, so I leave you to make your own decisions for your teeth.

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We store our homemade toothpaste in a little pot, ready to use. You can even use the leftover paste from the bowl to polish your silverware, white crockery, and enamel, but that’s a story for another day.

an illustrated guide to comfrey

One excellent way to become more self-reliant about improving soil fertility and the health of the homestead is to grow comfrey. Comfrey is a perennial herb, related to borage, also known as knit-bone or boneset…also known as a terrible weed. Amazing how terrible weeds like dandelion, nettle, comfrey, are actually so terribly good at taking care of our needs. Comfrey’s taproot plumbs the depths of the earth, bringing up more minerals and well-balanced goodness than a hen can poop. Certainly more than chemist could mix. Once you’ve got comfrey, you can just make more, for so many purposes.

dividing-comfrey

The dynamic accumulator

Comfrey’s deep taproot makes it a dynamic accumulator, so we plant it around our fruit trees to pull up nutrition from deep in the soil; then cut back the leaves from time to time (say, when they’re a couple of feet tall) to mulch the tree. Best to bury those leaves under some other mulch to retain all the nutrients. Their broad leaves shade the tree roots, too, thank you, and pollinators love the flowers.

The super-nutrient feed

We feed comfrey to our chickens, ducks and goats too. I cage smaller plants to keep them from getting browsed to death!

The fertiliser

We make a comfrey fertiliser to feed to other plants, as you would with nettle – simply cover with water, or not, put a lid on it, and allow to decompose til liquid. Then dilute to use. Smelly yet effective.

The healer

If anyone in my family shatters a bone again, boneset makes an excellent poultice. As a salve I swear by comfrey for aches and pains, it works extraordinarily well to reduce inflammation. A homesteader’s salve most definitely.

Make more comfrey

Now, we like to have plenty of comfrey plants, but one must tread the line carefully. Common comfrey will self-seed until there’s nothing in your garden but its offspring (unless you have goats to control it!) and once established, that root is determined to stay. On the other hand, Bocking 14 doesn’t self-seed very well, so it stays put – then if you want more comfrey, there’s nothing to do but dig it up and divide it.

Luckily, that’s easy. Have a look.

To propagate comfrey, dig up a healthy plant over a year old. Pull apart and even cut your root pieces, plant them just below the surface of the soil, and keep them watered til they are established. At the lakehouse, some creature regarded this as a root vegetable buffet, so it may be worth laying an old screen on top for a bit if you’ve got voracious squirrels or other root thieves lurking.

Then let everyone thrive on your useful weeds.

making traditional rhubarb soup

Kiiseli is a fruit soup from Finland that generations of my family grew up making. This family recipe is drawn from my mother’s best advice, her 1966 Finnish cookbook, a peek through my grandmother’s 1948 cookbook and a family friend’s 1933 cookbook. It’s a recipe you can easily grow in your own garden, too. With all that research, your kiisseli should make a fine old fashioned (yet gluten and dairy-free!) dessert.

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The ingredients

We’re going to need:
1 litre water
750 grams chopped rhubarb
200 grams sugar or alternative, to taste
4 tbsp fine potato, tapioca or arrowroot flour

The method

Cook the rhubarb in the water for a short while til softened. Add sugar to taste. (I like to pop up the sweetness with a few drops of stevia, and drop the sugar.) My mother usually adds the strawberries when finished cooking to retain their freshly picked flavour. Dissolve potato flour in a small amount of cool water and then stir the solution very well into the rhubarb mix, heating til it just begins to boil. Take the soup off the heat, and sprinkle a little sugar on top to prevent a skin forming. Serve it cool.

Eating rhubarb soup with ice

Double cream or ice cream is gorgeous with kiiseli. In spring we love combining rhubarb & strawberries, or in the summer, blueberries & raspberries. I love to think of all my relatives, a long time ago, maybe on the farm in Finland, making kiiseli, eating it together round the table. We have pictures of our children as toddlers, painted with rhubarb soup.

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Fruit potager

Rhubarb and strawberries are both easy, early perennials to grow in a corner or pot somewhere, we have ours as a pretty understory to a fruit tree, white wisteria, marshmallow plants and hollyhocks. I look forward to the moment our rhubarb is tall enough to twist off stalks for rhubarb soup!

a short guide to foraging and preserving nettles

The old-timers would take bitters in early spring, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens. Nettle is good for all of us here on the farm, and can be used in many ways. In early spring we head out foraging.

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Harvest the nettles

The moment to forage stinging nettles for fresh eating and preserving is a dry day in early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves, long trousers and sleeves and great respect for the plants are required. I keep a bit of calendula or comfrey salve to hand for stings. We like to use a pair of snips and a burlap sack, and we just cut the top few leaves, plenty of them as they dry down to very little! Then we take them home to preserve.

Preserve the nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. They should crush to a powder. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good warm, dry day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp. Fresh or dry, or a combination of both, you can make them into a nettle tincture.

Store the nettles

I love to have a store of dried nettle and tinctures put away for the year. As a tincture they store indefinitely. Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring.

Use the nettles

A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to provide me with mineral-rich tisanes as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength and are particularly good to help counter my iron-deficiency. You can make fresh nettle soup, pestos, ravioli too.

Nettles for flora and fauna

When the nettles are older they’re no longer safe for teas and soups, but they are excellent for making a liquid fertiliser for the garden – simply cover with water, put a lid on it, and allow to decompose til liquid. Then dilute to use. Goats love to eat nettles fresh, and our ducks and chickens like them if we crush them first to remove the sting. How great to create fertilisers and fodder from the wild larder! Closing the loop on fertility and feed is a huge step toward greater community-reliance.

dried-nettles

Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions, medicinal tisanes, fertilisers and fresh eating is a very old, trusted practice. It feels good to continue it.