Solar Panels. Elderberries. Sugar Beets. Huckleberries. And More.
I’ve taken a regular sabbatical from blogging to spend more time with my family, and get caught up on tasks that can’t wait. Anyone who blogs knows how important it can be to step back for a short time and reevaluate priorities. Writing can become all consuming. I have to be careful not to let my blog demand more of my time than I can afford to give without taking from my family.
I did want to catch you up a little on what we’ve been up to.
Off Grid Progress
We got our solar panels up and running a few weeks ago. I’ll be writing a detailed post on our system and the installation soon. The panels are currently running our chest fridge and freezer. We’re still on the grid though. We’re monitoring our kW usage every day trying to wean ourselves off of our appliances. Currently we average about 20-25 kW per day. We need to get down to about 5 kW before our system will be able to sustain our needs. The stove, water heater, and well pump are our biggest energy hogs. Our next projects include a solar shower (for hot water), a well pump house (to cover the hand pump so we can pump in any weather and to protect the pressure tank from freezing), installing our rain barrels (for more water storage), and completing the outdoor kitchen (which has morphed into something totally different than we originally planned). Once we’ve completed these projects we should be able to cut our need for the electric stove, the water heater, and the well pump.
Summertime brings abundant harvests. It’s hard for one person to keep up with everything that could be done. Many days I just have to give in to the fact that I can’t do it all. It would take a village to harvest and process all of the garden produce, wild edibles, medicinals, herbs, fruits and berries that need to be picked all at once. You just do as much as you can, thank the Father for the abundance, and let nature enjoy what remains.
Our elderberries did exceptionally well this year. I’ve picked several buckets full and have enjoyed experimenting with them. It’s tedious work picking the soft berries from their tender little stems, but it’s worth the effort. I’ve had fun trying new and interesting recipes.
I made an old fashioned drink mix called a shrub (which is pretty much a non-alcoholic cordial), which the kids liked but I thought had too strong of a vinegar aftertaste. I made our favorite immune boosting elderberry syrup, and froze a bunch of berries to make future batches of syrup. I made an elderberry vinegar for dressing vinaigrette and marinades. I made an elderberry pie, which was delicious. I made elderberry ketchup, which was good with steak but not really good with fries. And I dehydrated a bunch, which we’ve been tossing into oatmeal and muffins.
I decided not to make jelly because I have entirely too much jelly as it is. We don’t drink, so elderberry wine didn’t sound appealing to us. Though I may eventually try making it for my grandparents to enjoy.
- Elderberry Pie (I used a single crust and topped it with a brown sugar crumble instead)
- Elderberry Muffins (I used butter instead of oleo, and no wheat germ)
- Elderberry Vinegar (for salad dressings and marinades)
- Elderberry Catsup
- Elderberry Shrub (a Colonial-times drink)
- Elderberry Immune Boosting Syrup (thanks Wellness Mama! I love this one ’cause it doesn’t use sugar.)
Making Sugar From Sugar Beets
Speaking of sugar… our sugar beets were big enough to harvest, so I plucked them up and played a little. I only planted a handful since I didn’t really know how well they would do. These were grown from non-GMO seeds (rareseeds.com). Ideally, they should be harvested in Fall when the weather has cooled. I think you get better flavor from the chill. I planted them a little too early for my area, I think. I might possibly have been able to leave them in the ground a bit longer, but I was afraid root maggots might destroy them.
I hope to do a more thorough tutorial on extracting the sugar from sugar beets, but basically this is what I did:
- Cut the tops off.
- Scrub the roots well; cut off any bad spots.
- Slice the root like a cucumber, quartering larger chunks.
- Place pieces in a pot, cover with water, and boil gently for about 15 minutes, or until soft.
- Mash the pieces with a potato masher to help extract the juice, then strain it off.
- Return the liquid to the pot, and continue simmering until the liquid is reduced to about a quarter of the original volume (I ended up with 4 cups of liquid, which reduced to 1 cup syrup).
- Store in the fridge.
My Conclusion: The syrup was indeed sweet, but it left a beet-y aftertaste in my mouth. I just made this yesterday, so I haven’t tried cooking with it yet. I don’t think it would be good to sweeten drinks, but I think it might work in baked goods. I’ll have to figure out how to use it. (Any suggestions??) It really took some effort to scrub the sugar beets clean. Although it’s cool to have a way to make sugar at home, I’m not sure sugar beets are my top choice for small scale production.
I’ll be so grateful if we ever get a root cellar dug. My kitchen is overflowing with trays, baskets, and shallow buckets of potatoes and other produce. We harvested a little over 100 lbs of potatoes this year. I’ve been freezing and canning them, and trying to cook with them as much as possible. As you can see, some of them have turned green with exposure to the sun, but I just peel that off before using them.
Despite some early Blossom End Rot on our tomatoes, we still had a pretty good harvest. As always, I froze the tomatoes as I picked them ripe, and canned them once I had enough to fill a good amount of jars.
I still have enough tomato sauce to last us another year from last year’s canning, so this year I’ve focused on canning diced tomatoes and salsa. I was very excited to be able to make salsa completely from my garden produce, only having to buy the spices and vinegar. The recipe is Wonderful Salsa. I ate some fresh, and it was delicious (though a little hotter than I expected). I haven’t tried any canned, yet. I’m hoping it doesn’t get too hot over time.
I was collecting ground cherries to make into a Ground Cherry Pie, but my little man sneaked into the kitchen and helped himself. I found him on the floor with a mouthful, surrounded by the papery wrappers. If this isn’t the best reason to garden, I don’t know what is.
There are still plenty of ground cherries on the vines, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to bake a pie. This is our first time growing them, so it’s all new to us.
Canning Chicken Stock
As I’ve been cleaning out our chest freezer, I’ve been amazed by how much chicken and veggie scraps I had in there! Whenever I make a roasted chicken, I put the leftover carcass and the organs in a ziploc bag and toss them into the freezer. The same goes for vegetable trimmings: onions, carrots, celery, garlic- their peelings and tips go into freezer bags to be stored for future stock.
Here’s the recipe I use, and how to can it: How To Can Chicken Broth
Drying Red Clover
I’ve been collecting red clover as I find it growing around our yard, and drying it for a liver-cleansing tea. I learned the hard way that you have to be careful drying them outdoors. Where we live, many days are too humid. High humidity will turn the blossoms brown and will result in a poorly dried product. Properly dried red clover should still be purplish. The blossoms I tried to dry outside ended up turning a yucky brown. The dehydrator was the only thing that worked for me. I’m going to have to figure out a non-electric alternative, where humidity can be controlled.
Today: Huckleberries and More
My children just brought in some huckleberries from the garden, so it looks like Huckleberry Pie will be today’s experiment. So many new things to learn and do in life. It’s funny how nature decides my days for me. I make no plans, knowing full well that when I wake up in the morning and look around there will be a half-dozen tasks needing immediate attention.
Today, the grapes need harvesting. The squash and zucchini need picking… again. There is corn to be harvested, and ripe raspberries calling out from their canes. The parsley needs to be picked and dried, chives need to be trimmed and frozen. The dried oregano I have hanging needs to be infused in oil. Mustard seeds need to be threshed, dried dill seeds need to be collected from their heads. The garden needs weeding, sprouting sweet potatoes need to be planted, and the garlic harvest absolutely must be dealt with today, some has already begun to spoil.
And here I sit, telling you all about it.
My day calls me back to its tasks. May your days also be productive and fulfilling.