Jan 18, 2017

7 Gardening Hacks that DON'T Work

Winter on the homestead is a pretty quiet time. Other than caring for animals, doing a little winter canning, and the usual household stuff everyone does, there's not a lot of "homesteady" things going on. Except in my mind.

Because January is the perfect month to finalize garden plans, deciding exactly what I'm going to plant and where. So if I seem a little garden-centric lately, that's why.

As usual, I fuel my passion for gardening by browsing Pinterest gardening boards. I love looking at gorgeous gardens - especially food gardens - but this browsing also exposes me to some of Pinterest's...oddities. Namely, bad gardening advice. So you don't waste your time, money, and heart on bad gardening advice, here are the top gardening tips I see that really don't work.

1. Use eggshells (or egg cartons) for seed starting. These tiny containers don't allow seedlings to grow big, strong roots...And if you transplant your seedlings into bigger containers (or directly into the garden) before they have strong roots, your chances of success plummet. That said, starting containers don't have to cost a fortune. I'm partial to the plastic, lidded containers some greens and salads come in. You can also use the similar plastic containers that bakery goods come in, or tubs from store bought potato salad and the like. (More about using such containers here.) You can even make small pots from toilet paper tubes.

2. Plant your tomatoes with eggshells, Epsom salts, etc. It's true we need to feed the soil in order to feed our plants, but by the time all these organic materials have totally broken down and are available to give the plant nutrition, the plant may already be spent. It's far better to prepare the soil with lots of good, finished compost, shortly before planting. (Or, put uncomposted organic matter in the soil at least a season before planting.)

3. Plant everything in pots. Plant everything close together. This is not to say you should never do these things; they just not always the best route to take. A common myth among gardeners is that wide-spaced vegetable garden rows were first used when fuel powered tractors took hold of farming. Um...no. They were used long, long before that because plants that aren't very close to each other require less watering! Wide spacing allows their roots to spread, which gives them more access to water in the ground. So plant close together if you wish, but give plants room to grow and breathe (to avoid disease), and know that you'll have to water closely spaced plants more frequently. And if you plant in pots, understand that your plants will also need more watering than if they are planted in the ground (because the soil in pots dries out quickly). By the way, you know what the worst containers are? Those trendy metal ones. Put those in full sun and the soil in them will dry out very, very quickly. (P.S. One type of plant I do recommend growing in pots are herbs that tend to spread and take over the garden.)


4. Grow tomatoes in upside down containers. Here's the thing: Healthy tomato plants have big, long roots. Those upside down containers don't give them nearly enough root room - which means your plant will not give you a good harvest. Plus, tomatoes are heavy drinkers (so to speak), and as I already mentioned, things grown in pots require additional watering.

5. Use a planting guide. Often these are apparently supposed to be universal. That is to say, they are designed for someone in California, or Montana, or New York, or Missouri to use. But all those places have different climates. (In fact, all those places have multiple gardening climates.) So such planting guides are pretty useless. If you need help knowing when to plant what, your best bet is to look at your local extension garden website. (And if the website doesn't help, call your local extension office. Click here to find your local extension office.)

6. Worry about companion planting. Okay, so some people really do believe that some plants grow better next to certain other plants, or that some plants don't grow well together at all. But in my experience, as long as you pay attention to the plant's soil and light requirements, this is definitely not the case. For example, common companion planting advice is that peas and beans
(Courtesy of
don't grow well next to onions. Well, I've grown them together many times and had a great harvest. So my advice is to not get caught up in this type of advice.


7. Grow potatoes in towers. There is one persistent myth I see all over the internet: Grow 100 lbs. of potatoes in a 4 square foot potato tower. Long story short: It's not true. Read why - and learn better ways to grow potatoes - here.

Related Posts:
* Newbie Vegetable Gardening Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them 
* The Pros and Cons of Raised Bed and In-the-Ground Vegetable Gardens
* Starting a Vegetable Garden on a Budget 
* 10 Tips for Brand New Vegetable Gardeners
* Getting More From This Year's Garden

Jan 14, 2017

Weekend Links

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.
_____

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."Psalm 51:7
__________


* It's been pretty cold here on the homestead. In fact, there's been a bit of snow! We only get snow maybe once every 15 years or so, so everything pretty much shuts down once the flakes start falling. The kids loved, it though - and so did the puppy! In fact, I had a hard time getting him back inside...and then he kept telling me he needed to go potty, but all he really wanted to do was play in the snow!

* Recall of some Tupperware seasonings due to possible Salmonella contamination. 

* Cat food recall.  

* Chip N Dip bars recalled due to undeclared potential allergen.

* I'm finally getting back into fermenting! My sauerkraut is almost done, and my kombucha SCOBY is growing! Here's how to make small batch sauerkraut (I promise it's easy) or a SCOBY.

* Is 2017 the year you're going to start a food garden? Or start sowing seeds instead of expensive nursery transplants? Then please check out my book on seed starting

* Thinking about getting goats? Here's a free e-course to help prepare you!

* 90,000 Christians killed in 2016 (1 every 6 minutes). 


Oldies But Goodies:

* Starting Veggie Seeds NOW - Even if it's Snowing!
* Free Films for Garden Inspiration
* How Mommies Can Make Prayer Their Ministry
* Popular Pins: Little House on the Prairie Birthday Party


Jan 12, 2017

Parenting for the Future, Not for the Right Now

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

So often in parenting, we parent for the right now. We need them to behave...right now. We need them to obey, be quiet, do their school work, do their chores...right now. But how often does the future come into play as we parent each day?

Recently, I've been reading Strong and Kind by Korie Robertson and Chrys Howard, and one small section really grabbed me:

"[God] created Adam and Eve as grown adults. He saw His creation in its adult form, and then He worked backward. We must be able to see our children as adults if we are to start putting the traits in them today that we deem important for tomorrow...You can apply this method in a couple of different ways. One is visualizing how you would like for them to be as adults and then prioritizing and teaching them those behaviors."

Prioritizing the behaviors you most want to see in your adult children? This is parenting for the future, for sure.

How might that play out in real life?

Well, I have one child who is stubborn and strong willed. This doesn't necessarily have to be a negative thing. How can I teach her to use her strong willed personality in a way that's pleasing to God? I can teach her about Christian martyrs, for sure. (The Torchlighters DVDs are an excellent resource for that, by the way.) I can teach her the difference between being true to God and being worldly. I can teach her to stand up for others. I can teach her to be stubborn for God. In fact, recently I've been telling her, "Be stubborn about doing what's right."

When I visualize the man I hope my youngest child will become, one thing that comes to mind first is that he be willing to work hard - for his family, for God, for what's good and right. Right now, he can honestly be a bit lazy. So if I want him to grow into a hard working man, I need to start training him to embrace work now.

What about your kids? What kind of people would you like them to become? How can you start training them to be those people today?



Jan 9, 2017

Vegetable Garden Inspiration and Ideas

I've been without a real garden for three years. Three! But now we are (somewhat) settled on our homestead, and this is THE YEAR I finally get to garden again! I am both excited and overwhelmed. Although I've been dreaming of a huge garden for decades, I know I have to take it slow. It takes a lot of time, energy, and yes, some money, to establish gardens, and I can't do it all at once. Nevertheless,  I'm slightly obsessed with the garden photos and plans I'm finding on Pinterest and elsewhere this winter, excited to build a new garden from scratch, and I'm trying not to have too many grandiose ideas. But whether we have only a tiny amount of space for growing food, or acres of it, it's fun to look at what others have done and dream. I hope you find these photos as inspiring as I do!
French potager.  Courtesy of Tetue.
Large raised bed vegetable garden.

Dreamy potager.

Small veggie bed. Courtesy of Carol Norquist.
Beautiful countryside vegetable garden

Circle of raised beds

Lovely walkway of bean teepees

Another neat bean tunnel

Tomato tunnel
Front yard veggies. Courtesy of D Huw Richardson.

Meandering stone garden path

Old screen door as a gate to the garden

Kitchen garden plans

Discover more inspiration - plus gardening how-tos - on my Gardening Pinterest board.
Backyard Delight. Courtesy of Gillyan9.


Jan 4, 2017

How & Why to Get Started with an Electric Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot - with 31 Pressure Cooker Recipes!

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

There are three main reasons pressure cooking is fantastic:

1. Pressure cooked food retains 80-95% of its nutrients - the most of any cooking method.
2. pressure cooking reduces energy use by 70% or better (depending on what type of pressure cooker you use).
3. Using a pressure cooker, you save a lot of time!

What I love most about using my Instant Pot (which is an electric pressure cooker) is that sometimes I save on total cooking time...but always, I save personal time because I can throw the food in the Pot and walk away. There is literally NO need to stir, adjust settings, or check on the food until it's ready to eat. This means extra time with the kids, to write, to read...to do whatever I want. I love that!

Some people are scared to pressure cook because they've heard horror stories about pressure cookers exploding. This used to happen back in Grandma's day, but as long as you follow some very basic guidelines (found in your pressure cooker's owner manual), it doesn't happen with today's electric pressure cookers.

Others wonder what on earth they'd cook in a pressure cooker. A simple answer is that if you'd normally slow cook it,  boil it, braise it, or steam it, you can pressure cook it. And today's pressure cookers even off more variety. For example, the Instant Pot (IP) allows you to saute, make yogurt, proof bread, and even bake some things. Another thing I love about my IP is that usually I only have to dirty one dish to make a meal - the pot or "bowl" of the pressure cooker. (Fewer dishes and more free time? How can you beat that!)

So far, I've cooked perfect, easy peel hard boiled eggs; super quick (unsoaked) dry beans; yogurt; meat; stock; and (oh yeah) meals in my IP. (Oh, and whole, fall-off-the-bones, chicken that's so much better than anything I've roasted before!) It's so easy! And the food is really delicious. In fact, I've made several of my slow cooker recipes in my IP and my family strongly believes they taste much better when pressure cooked. I'm at the point now where I don't want to cook...unless it's with my IP. I love it that much.
Cheesecake can be tricky to bake...but not in an Instant Pot!
Why an Electric Pressure Cooker?

For years, I've used my wonderful Presto pressure canner for occasional pressure cooking. (Read this to clarify the difference between pressure cookers and pressure canners.) But it was a bit of a pain. Not only is my Presto hard to clean (because the pot is so large it doesn't fit in the sink), but I had to keep checking on the pot, making sure the pressure was where it was supposed to be.

But with an electric pressure cooker, there is a removable pot (Instant Pot is the only pressure cooker I'm aware of that has a stainless steel pot (remember that non-stick coatings are unhealthy). This pot can go right into the dishwasher. In addition, there is no need to regulate the heat of the stove top and adjust as necessary. In other words, an IP is about as hands-free as cooking gets!

Why An Instant Pot?

Instant Pots cook at a lower psi, which makes them a bit safer than other pressure cookers. In addition, they are highly versatile, with yogurt, saute, and slow cook features. (Though I understand the slow cook feature isn't perfect. I personally haven't tried it yet.)
An antique pressure cooker. Thank goodness for modern tech!

Instant Pot Recipes

* Hard boiled eggs. So easy and they peel easily every single time! Place 1 cup of water in the IP stainless steel pot. Add the trivet. Place eggs on the trivet. (You can stack eggs on top of each other, if needed.) Put the bowl in the IP and shut the lid. Turn the vent to "Seal." Press "Steam." Press the "Adjust" button until it reads 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes are over, let the IP do a natural release for 5 minutes. Remove the stainless steel pot from the IP (using hot pads), remove the eggs, and dunk in cold water for 5 minutes.

* Dry Beans 

* Yogurt 

* Risotto

* Brown Rice 

* Frozen Ground Beef 

* Taco Meat

* Sloppy Joe Meat 

* Stock or Bone Broth

* "Rotisserie" Chicken 
 
Yogurt made in my Instant Pot.

* Chicken Breasts

* Chicken & Dumplings 

* Salmon 

* Beef Stew

* Kalua Pig

* Baked Potatoes 

* Mashed Potatoes 

* Potato Salad 

* Crispy Potatoes 

* Loaded Mac & Cheese 

* Lasagna 

* French Onion Soup 

* Split Pea & Ham Soup 

"Roasted" chicken is fall apart tender in an IP.*
* Baked Beans

* Steamed Broccoli

* Breakfast Hash 

* Ham, Egg, and Cheese Casserole 

* Cheesecake 

* Chocolate Pudding 

* Applesauce 

* Popcorn



Other Helpful Links:

* Pressure Cooker Recipe Converter
* How to Convert a Recipe to a Pressure Cooker Recipe 
* How to Convert Old Pressure Cooker Recipes
* 10 Things You Need to Know About Instant Pot
* 8 Instant Pot Basic Techniques
* My Pinterest Pressure Cooking Board


* Photo courtesy of Joe Randazzo.

Dec 31, 2016

Weekend Links & Updates

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!
Ball Heritage jars will soon be discontinued.


 In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.   
"
I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.  But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.  And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven"

Luke 12:8-10

 
* Three weeks ago, my doctor told me I had diabetes. My blood sugar was high: 260. And my AC1 test, which indicates where the blood sugar has been in recent months, was 9.5%. At 9%, the medical guidelines are to put the patient on insulin. But after talking to my doctor, he gave me three months to get my blood sugar down. He gave me Metformin, which decreases liver glucose production, and suggested I go on a Keto diet. I did, and a few days ago, I had my first normal blood sugar test! I am doing a very strict and very low carb, high fat version of the diet: Nothing made from any type of flour, no rice, no fruit, no veggies that are higher on the glycemic index, and no sugar or any type of sweetener. My hope is to eventually get off the medication, since it does have side effects (like sleepiness) and can be hard on the kidneys and liver. Keeping it up is going to be the hardest part :)  Fortunately, I rarely feel deprived. Even at Christmas, I ate turkey, green beans, and broccoli salad. The food was good, and I was satisfied. I do miss popcorn, though...

* Recall on Herr's potato chips.

* Recall of Treehouse Foods mac and cheese.
 
* Cuisinart recall.

* Ball, the maker of a popular type of canning jar, just announced that come January 2017, they are retiring their colored canning jars. If you want some, now's the time to buy them! 

* If you've had a hard frost, and if there's not snow on the ground, now is an excellent time to gather dandelion leaves for eating because the cold weather takes away much of their bitterness. Try picking some, then saute them up for dinner!  Or preserve some by freezing, dehydrating, or canning for later use. You can also put the leaves in smoothies.

* Can Probiotic Foods Really Lower Blood Sugar?

* This is so spot on. We're Killing Our Kids and Calling it Love.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Why Every Housewife Needs Safety Goggles
* How to Use a Whole Ham
* 15 Bean Stew Recipe


Dec 28, 2016

How to Make Yogurt in an Instant Pot

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

I'd been eyeballing electric pressure cookers for a while, but since I could use my Presto pressure canner as a pressure cooker, I was hesitant to spend money on another kitchen gadget. Then I learned about the Instant Pot. This pressure cooker is so versatile, on Black Friday, I took the plunge...and I'm so glad I did! Later, I'll type more about this super handy machine that has pretty much taken the place of both my stove and my crock pot, but today I want to show you how it makes yogurt.

I've long been an advocate of homemade yogurt. Not only is it much cheaper, but it's healthier, too. There are no weird chemicals or artificial ingredients in it, and you control exactly how much sugar (if any!) to add. For some time, I made yogurt in my crock pot, and thought it was easy as could be. But I've since learned it's even easier in an Instant Pot.

An added bonus: Now I can make more yogurt at one time (which means I have to make it less often). (But if you don't want to make a full gallon of yogurt at one time, you can easily make small quantities of it instead.)

How to Make Yogurt in an Instant Pot

1 gallon milk* (makes about 4 1/2 quarts of yogurt)
6 oz. container of plain or vanilla store bought yogurt that contains "live active cultures"
1/2 cup of powdered milk (optional, for thickening. The photos here are of yogurt that hasn't been thickened)
Even without thickener, my whole milk yogurt is pretty thick.

1. Begin by making sure everything you'll be using is very clean. Run utensils through the dishwasher, wash your hands thoroughly, and then sanitize the Instant Pot's stainless steel bowl by doing the following: Put 1 cup of water in the bowl, and turn the valve to "Sealing." Press the "Steam" function. Press "Less" (a.k.a. "-") until you've set the IP to run 1 minute. Once the IP has done this, release the pressure and pour the water out of the bowl.

2. Scald the milk. Some people consider this an optional step, but it is recommended, no matter what kind of milk you're using. Without it, it's possible for a strain of dangerous bacteria to develop in the yogurt. Pour the milk into the IP bowl. Push the "Yogurt" button, then push the "Adjust" button once so the display reads "Boil." When the IP display reads "Yogrt," you're done scalding. (For me, using a gallon of milk, the scalding process takes about 30 minutes. It should take less time if you're using smaller quantities of milk.)

3. Now wait. The milk needs to reduce in temperature so you don't kill the active cultures you're about to add to it. You want the milk to be about 115 degrees F....Or, if you're like me, just wait until you can put a (clean!) finger into the milk comfortably. Use common sense here, and don't burn yourself! (The waiting takes about 30 - 40 minutes if you're using a full gallon of milk.)

4. Add the container of store bought yogurt, stirring in a zig-zag pattern until the yogurt is completely dissolved in the milk.

5. Put the lid back on the IP. The valve can be in any position. Press the "Yogurt" button, then press the "Adjust" button to achieve the amount of time you want the yogurt to sit. Eight hours is typical, but some people prefer to have their yogurt sit for longer; just remember, the longer it sits, the more tart it becomes. You will need to let the yogurt sit for a minimum of 6 hours, or it won't thicken. When this time is up, don't worry if the yogurt looks thin. It will thicken once it chills. It should, however, be thicker than milk.
Stirring in fruit.
And that's it!

At this point, I spoon the yogurt into canning jars and pop them in the fridge. Let them sit overnight so the yogurt can thicken. When you're ready to serve, you may notice watery stuff on top of each jar. That is whey. Stir it into the yogurt, if you like (it's got lots of good nutrients), or pour it off. (It's an excellent treat for chickens!) Don't dump it down the drain, because it has the potential to acidity rivers or other natural water sources (depending upon how waste water is treated in your area). For more ideas on what to do with whey, click here and scroll down.

With future batches, you can use your homemade yogurt as a starter. (I use 1 cup.) Over time, though, the cultures in your homemade yogurt probably will weaken, and periodically you may need to use store bought yogurt as your starter.


If You Want Less Yogurt
I like to add mashed fruit to our yogurt.

If you need less yogurt, just use less milk and add about 1 teaspoon of store bought yogurt per 1 cup of milk.

You can even make your yogurt in ready-to-go canning jars. To do this, change the way you scald the milk: First put the trivet in the IP, along with 1 cup of water. Put the canning jars on the trivet and pour the milk into the canning jars. (You may use any size canning jar that fits in the IP with the trivet in place. Most people use jam jars.) Set the valve to "Sealing" and push the "Steam" button. Push the "-" button until it's down to 1 minute. When the IP is done, push "Cancel" and allow the contents to cool naturally to115 degrees F. When it's time to add the store bought yogurt, add about 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of milk.


To Make the Yogurt Thicker

Add 1/2 cup powdered milk when you add the store bought yogurt. Or, strain the yogurt. (Straining will reduce the volume of the yogurt by half.) FYI: Store bought yogurt is usually thickened with gelatin or pectin.


How to Sweeten Your Homemade Yogurt

In the past, I've used honey or homemade jam to sweeten our yogurt, but recently I've found a better option - one that pleases everyone in my family (which is not easy to do!):

* Put 2 cups of fresh or frozen fruit in a saucepan placed over medium heat. If desired, add sugar. (I use 1 cup of cane sugar; my family thinks this mixture makes the yogurt taste like store bought.) Stir often until the mixture thickens a bit. If you like chunks of fruit, use a potato masher or two knives to cut up the fruit. Otherwise, puree the fruit mixture with a blender.

I store this mixture in canning jars in the fridge. For large servings of yogurt, I add about 2 - 3 teaspoons of this mixture to the bowl. It makes the yogurt no longer tart, but also not super-sweet.


f you’re going to make yogurt in little jars, anyway, you can sanitize the jars and scald the milk at the same time (as shown in the video). Add a cup of water and the steamer basket into Instant Pot. Pour the milk in the jars and place the jars in the cooker. Set the valve on the lid to “Sealing” push the [steam] button and then the [-] button until you get down to one minute. When the program is finished push [cancel] to turn off the instant pot and let it cool down naturally.

Read more: Instructions & VIDEO: How to make Yogurt with Instant Pot DUO & SMART http://www.hippressurecooking.com/video-how-to-make-yogurt-in-instant-pot-duo/
Step 1: Sanitation Ensure that all of the equipment, containers and utensils to be used in the yogurt-making process are carefully cleaned. This ensures that no other bacteria compete with the yogurt starter during the incubation. If you’re making the yogurt directly in Instant Pot’s stainless steel container, sanitize the cooker by running Instant Pot on the pressure steam program for one minute with one cup of water. Set the valve on the lid to “Sealing” push the [steam] button and then the [-] button until you get down to one minute. When the program is finished, release the pressure and then pour out the water. Then, scald the milk by pushing [yogurt] button and [adjust] until the screen says “Boil”. Let Instant Pot bring the milk to a boil until the screen says “Yogt”. If you’re going to make yogurt in little jars, anyway, you can sanitize the jars and scald the milk at the same time (as shown in the video). Add a cup of water and the steamer basket into Instant Pot. Pour the milk in the jars and place the jars in the cooker. Set the valve on the lid to “Sealing” push the [steam] button and then the [-] button until you get down to one minute. When the program is finished push [cancel] to turn off the instant pot and let it cool down naturally. For both milk that has been scalded in the pot or little jars, wait until the yogurt cools down to at least 115F/46C before proceeding to the next step. That can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (make sure to take the temperature with a clean thermometer). If you don’t have a thermometer handy, you’ll want to wait until the jars are cool enough to handle.

Read more: Instructions & VIDEO: How to make Yogurt with Instant Pot DUO & SMART http://www.hippressurecooking.com/video-how-to-make-yogurt-in-instant-pot-duo/
* What Kind of Milk to Use

I always use store bought, whole cow's milk. But truly, you can use any type of milk you like - except ultra pasteurized milk (UHT). If you use reduced fat milk, you will probably want to use powdered milk as a thickener, or at least strain the yogurt once it's done. I have even heard of people using coconut or almond milk to make Instant Pot yogurt. But whatever milk you choose, make it the freshest milk possible. That means you should use only an un-opened carton or jug of milk.