Grow Your Own Popcorn!  The little things in life make the difference.

Grow Your Own PopcornLast night we enjoyed a very special treat.  We shared a bowl of popcorn.  But it wasn’t just any old popcorn and we didn’t eat it with a casual disregard as most people eat popcorn.  We savored each piece and smiled.  This popcorn was extra special and extra sweet because we grew it ourselves!

I bought a pack of pink popcorn seeds a few years ago from West Coast Seeds.  I didn’t plant them immediately because I was worried about cross pollination with the other corn.  Last year, though, I had a spot in my garden needing seeds, so I popped them in the ground.  The patch was only about 4×8 ft, and my rows were relatively close together, but I planted the entire pack and left them alone to see what would happen.  The seeds sprouted and developed like any corn, and grew to about 5 or 6 ft tall.  They were smaller than a normal corn plant, and thinner.

popcorn pink watermarkedThe package said that the corn is mature when the kernels are pink and then they should be allowed to dry on the stalk. The squirrels started to get into them so I picked them and let them dry in the house.  I was worried that they hadn’t fully developed because the cobs were small, and they weren’t uniformly pink throughout.  I left them alone for months… almost scared to try them to see if they would pop.

Last week my daughter pulled all the kernels off the cob and we put them in the air popper.  They popped!  And it was the best bowl of popcorn we have ever had.

Can you harvest and plant the seeds?
If you have other corn that flowered at the same time, or if your neighbours did within a fairly large radius, then likely your corn will be cross pollinated with another variety and it might not grow true popcorn.

What if my kernels don’t pop?
Always test a small amount first to see if they will pop.  If they don’t, soak them in water for a few days, dry them off and try them again.  They might not have quite enough moisture in them.

Do they taste the same as regular popcorn?  
No.  They are better ;)  I actually thought they were slightly sweeter.  In my opinion it was the best tasting popcorn ever, but my taste buds could be biased because I grew them!  They were delicious, and the popped kernel, along with the dried kernel, the cob and the plant itself, are a bit smaller than normal.

Was the percentage of corn that didn’t pop similar to store-bought popcorn?
I would say there were a bit more kernels left at the bottom of the popper afterwards than a good quality store-bought popcorn, but MOST popped and it was hugely successful.  My inexperience and the fact that I harvested them a bit early could have influenced that too.

How many cobs do you need to get a whole bowl full of popcorn?
This is a tricky question since I didn’t count the cobs that I used.  I would say we used about 4-5 cobs of corn to get a medium sized bowl of popcorn.

Are the popped kernels pink?
No they aren’t.  Just the unpopped kernels. :)

A couple quick tips on growing corn:
Corn likes to be grown in fertile soil so plant in soil that has been boosted with manure or compost, watch for pests especially when the plant is small (cut worms, slugs etc) and keep it nicely watered through the drier months.  Don’t plant until your soil is warm (in my location in Canada corn shouldn’t be planted until about May).  Corn needs to be planted in at least a 4×4 grid (4 rows across by 4 rows deep) to allow for proper wind pollination.

Where to buy seeds:
In Canada:
West Coast Seeds
Saltspring Seed Company

In the United States:
Victory Seeds
Rare Seeds

 

If you have a bit of space to grow some extra seeds, give popcorn a try!  I guarantee that you will love the taste and you will savor each bite.  And remember, its the little things in life that make the difference.  

Living On What We Have: A Month of No Groceries

Living On What We Have
Planting.  Weeding.  Watering.  Harvesting.  Canning.  Dehydrating.  Freezing.  When October finally arrived this year and things gradually started to slow down I would stop periodically and gaze lovingly at my full pantry shelves over-flowing with over 700 jars of stored food, the freezers full of our own meat, fruit and vegetables, and jars of dehydrated fruit.  Then I went to the grocery store and came home with more food.  When my husband’s aunt heard the number of jars of food I had canned and told me that was 2 jars of food a day we needed to eat, for 365 days, not including the food in the freezers or the dehydrated food, I finally realized what we needed to do… we needed to stop buying food.  With buckets of beans in the freezer and pounds of carrots still underground why was I coming home with vegetables?  Surely we could stop buying food and eat what we had. Canning shelves 2014d watermarked

I have a tendency to hoard the food I worked so hard for, but realistically it all needs to be eaten before we harvest it again next summer.  A plan began to take shape in my head.  I had  read a blog post about a couple who stopped buying groceries for a year.  They had their exceptions: they bought from local farmers and markets, or traded and bartered.  This is a neat idea, and helps support the local farmers, but in November in Canada there isn’t much to buy from local farmers, and besides, we really already have it all.  We have fresh eggs and milk, and so much food preserved we would last a long time if we could never buy food again.  If they could go a year, surely we could go a month!

And so we began.

My goal was to make sure that my pantry was full of baking necessities, and I bought extra local cheese and butter, freezing the butter.  Other than that, I did not buy anything extra.  We didn’t buy any packaged or prepared food.  We had a case of our own apples in the fridge, and I dehydrated some bananas and apples.  Our garden still had carrots, lettuce, chard, kale, broccoli and radishes.

Within the first week all fresh store-bought produce was gone.  We were relying on the garden, cool-storage and freezer for vegetables.

Starting in the second week we had below freezing temperatures for ten days.  This finished off much of the garden, and the escaped pigs finished off the rest.

By the third week I discovered we were running low on chocolate chips.  Horrors!  :)  We did without.  Pretty much everything else was still well stocked.  Even the canning shelves didn’t look like there was much taken out of them.  The only thing I craved was greens… a nice big salad!  This kick-started an indoor greens garden project.  A few days later I had sprouts growing in jars and in dirt, and the lettuce and mustard green had sprouted.  No one needs greens that come from Mexico in the winter.  We can grow our own.lettuce 1 weekwatermarked

By the fourth week our fridge contained pretty much just jars.  Jars of milk, jars of homemade yogurt, a jar of homemade mayo, relish and sauces, jams, canned fruit etc. The kids grabbed dehydrated fruit for snacks instead of fresh fruit from the fridge.  The frozen blueberries became more important, and the dehydrated apples, pears and bananas were brought out.  We were missing things like avocados, oranges, bananas, tomatoes and greens.  All of those things, though, are either not local or are not grown here this time of year.  We used a lot of frozen peas, corn and beans, the last of the carrots out of the garden, and squash or pumpkin became a feature. Still though, there was no sense of need or depletion of our stores.


eggs and milk watermarked

LESSONS LEARNED

Our month without groceries has taught us some valuable lessons.

It’s greener.

  • No grocery shopping means no plastic bags.  You can’t even get upset with yourself for forgetting the cloth bags.  The opportunity is simply not there.  You are getting greener.
  • No grocery shopping means almost no recycling.  We didn’t stock up on packaged food so there was no packages to recycle or throw out. After all our hard work preserving food all summer, we really CAN preserve enough to THRIVE, not just make it through, the winter.
  • Much smaller carbon footprint. If you aren’t driving to the store you aren’t burning fossil fuels to get there.  And neither are you buying food that came from somewhere far away, that has, itself, a significant carbon footprint.

You save money.

  • To start with you can’t impulse shop.  If you aren’t there to see it, you won’t be buying it.  The end.
  • You aren’t affected by advertising.  2 for 1 apple juice! Too bad I am not going to the grocery store to buy it!
  • You aren’t buying any prepared food which is a lot more expensive than buying the raw ingredients with which to make it.  You use what you have which uses things up and keeps you from buying unnecessary food.

Value your food

  • You learn pretty quickly the value of treats.  Food that we didn’t have, such as fresh out of season produce or tropical fruits, can be truly enjoyed and valued when eaten as a treat rather than every day. My seven year old daughter came home with an uneaten mandarin orange in her lunch box. When I questioned her about it she told me that a boy had brought a box of mandarins to school to share with the class.  Everyone had one.  She took hers home because she remembered that we couldn’t have oranges this month and she wanted us all to share it.  For supper that night, along with our meal we had a little slice of orange cut up neatly by my daughter and placed on each plate.  She had learned how to value a treat, and how to share it with others when she could have eaten it all on her own without us even knowing she had it.  <3
  • You learn to value the resources you have in your freezer, on your shelves, or in your garden.

Reap the health benefits

After eating homemade food for a month when you DO have processed food you are a bit overcome by the intensity of the salt, the sugar and the flavor.  Your body has adjusted to how you are cooking and it no longer tastes bland; it is just what food tastes like.  But when you are hit with the over-salted, over-sugared, over-fatted processed food, your body rebels by feeling sick.  I ate a candy and within a few minutes developed a headache and felt sick to my stomach. It is amazing how quickly our bodies become used to and even addicted to flavoring, salt, sugar and fat.  After “cleansing” our bodies of it, we realize exactly what we are doing to our health by eating processed food in the first place.

Habit changes

  • “Any habit can be broken in 30 days” I read once.  Well, I don’t know how accurate this is, but I certainly know that our lifestyle has been altered significantly after completing this challenge, and I know that it won’t swing back to how it was.  Every single day for thirty days I have had to come up with 3 meals a day and lots of snack ideas with only what was in the house.  This makes for simple eating, and crafty thinking.  Who needs a granola bar for a snack when you could have sliced apples and cheese?  We will be looking deeper into the cupboards now rather than running off to the store.
  • During this challenge I taught my seven year old daughter how to read recipe books and follow recipes.  Now, when she is looking for a snack that isn’t already there, she pulls out a recipe book and makes it from the ingredients we have on hand.
  • With our craving for fresh greens I took on projects I had never done before, like sprouting beans and growing lettuce indoors.  This challenge has helped us look for alternatives rather than just automatically buying something.

How Long Could We Go?
Before the invention of the grocery store people just DID put up enough food for the winter.  It was a matter of life or death.  Today, we don’t have to although we could.  Is it doable?  Well, that depends on how far you take it.  We did buy supplies so that we could bake and continue to eat pretty much the same as we ever did.  That’s just storage though.  We didn’t grow the wheat or oats. Without those supplies we would be living a far different life, and adapting to a different diet. Our quality of life might decrease much further though, and I wasn’t prepared to force my family into something that wasn’t a group decision.  Judging from the one month of no grocery shopping, we would definitely have enough meat, potatoes, flour and canned food to last us the year.  We would not have enough fresh fruit or dehydrated fruit just from our own supplies.

What can we improve on for next year?
In order to go more than a month without fresh fruit we would have to dehydrate more. The kids love fresh fruit and I don’t see why we need to make them do without for extended periods of time unless we have to.  We still have a lot of frozen vegetables but I think we would need to add more next year if we were to get through a winter comfortably.

Will we do the challenge again?
I am sure we will!  In fact, after just one month my canning pantry hardly looks like it has been touched yet.  The freezers are still loaded and the food must be eaten.   And in keeping with Christmas this year, eggnog can be made from eggs and milk produced on our farm, and the ham in the freezer sounds particularly tasty for Christmas.  Christmas treats can be made with whole ingredients with not much difficulty, and with a large stash of pumpkins, frozen apple slices and lard, the pies won’t be lacking! Maybe by Christmas the lettuce will be ready to harvest :).

Ready for the challenge yourself?  
Ever wonder how long you could go without buying food?  Ever wonder how prepared you would really be to spend a winter without groceries?  You could try it even just for a week to get some kind of an idea of what it would be like!  We now know we could go through the winter with the food we have, although we would miss the fresh fruit.  With a little ingenuity though, it is definitely doable, and has made me feel just a little more sustainable in this crazy world of ours.

Eva's cookies watermarked

 

Why I am Not Vegetarian: A Homesteader’s Perspective.

Lets start with this.  If I couldn’t raise my own meat or source it locally and sustainably I would be vegetarian.

Why I am Not Vegetarian

I have been attacked many a time by readers who say I can’t claim to be “green” when I eat meat.  Hold it right there.  Since when does the definition of being green have anything to do with eating meat?  I found a good definition of green:

What is the definition of green livingGreen living is a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.
-sustainablebabysteps.com

Does it say anywhere in there that green means not eating meat?  It does not.  That said, I don’t actually like the term “green” anymore… it doesn’t seem deep enough, or meaningful enough.  Anyone can recycle their garbage and use safer cleaning products and be considered “green”.  And really, is that actually very green?  Or is that just our everyday responsibility in today’s world?  Lets go deeper, and get far beyond green-washed consumerism.   I prefer the term “sustainable living”.  And I also like Wikipedia’s definition of it.

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual‘s or society‘s use of the Earth‘s natural resources and personal resources.[1] Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportationenergy consumption, and diet.[2] Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.

That’s a loaded definition and one worth working towards.  It also, incidentally, does not say anything about being vegetarian.

As many of you already know, and the rest of you now know, my aim is to grow food to supply my family with most of the food we need for a year. ON MY PROPERTY here in Canada.  Not from California or Mexico or Peru.  Right here, were I can see what is going into it, how it is handled, and how it is prepared or preserved.  I fall short of that year after year, but come closer every year.  The last year we have had more than enough meat to eat, produced right here on my property.  We raised meat birds and pigs, which filled our freezer. This year as well as raising meat, my canning cupboard has been filled with local, unsprayed produce and my own food.  My two freezers and extra fridge are stuffed full of meat, fruit and vegetables produced on my property.  Full to the point of considering buying another freezer.

Canning Shelves 2014b watermarked
If sustainable living is partly defined as reducing your carbon footprint by altering your diet to include mostly food produced on your own property, then I think we are pretty well covered.  Most grocery stores in my area are filled with fruit and vegetables brought in from California or further.  The carbon footprint to bring that food to Canada is huge.  My carbon footprint is tiny in comparison.

Kidney beans in a jar watermarked

Actually, my big discovery as to WHY I could never be a strict vegetarian (ie. vegan) occurred this fall.  I discovered that I can’t reasonably grow enough protein on my own property to supply my family of 5 without raising meat.   I grew kidney beans from my own seeds from last year.  I expected to grow enough to have a year’s supply.  I planted them in a section of my garden that was about 6 feet by 8 feet.  The plants grew and produced.  I allowed them to dry out on the bushes and I collected them to dry further in the house.  Then I shelled them and put them in a jar.  My total of beans for the year, from that size of space, was a 1 L jar full of kidney beans (as seen pictured above).  Now, I am not sure how many meals that would provide for my family but it isn’t very many.  Of course, I could have grown a larger field of beans.  In fact I could have grown an acre of beans and finally had enough to supply my family with enough protein to feed them.  If they didn’t understandably kill me first after feeding them only beans for the year.   I don’t actually own enough land to grow an acre of beans, but you get my point.

 


Joel Salatin quote
Now I see nothing wrong with living on beans.  Or lentils, or quinoa, or nuts, or any of a variety of these protein-high products, especially if they were grown in your garden or locally.  But in comparison, the amount of land I would need to grow enough protein to supply my family, when compared to raising meat is incomparable.  In fact I don’t truly believe I would be able to grow and harvest enough vegetables and grains on my 1.9 acres of land, most of which is forested, to provide my family with a balanced diet.  In Canada we have a smaller growing season, a cooler climate, and we are limited to how much protein we can grow.  I don’t even know where I could supply myself locally with enough non-animal protein for the year, from other farmers.  Lentils and quinoa, dried beans and nuts are just not grown here very much, because they require space, commercial harvesting techniques and equipment, and longer, hotter growing seasons to be even remotely efficient.

Pig

I can, however, provide meat for my family which in turn provides protein.  Lots of it.  So a zero mile diet, complete with lots of fruit and vegetables, and some meat, is doable.  And we are doing it.  Our chickens are free ranged and fed GMO-free feed.  Our pigs are fed exclusively on scavenged and organic bread, whey and vegetables.  Our goats provide us milk.  Our bees provide us honey.  Our garden provides us with lots of vegetables and fruit.  We source Canadian organic wheat berries to grind for bread.  We eat well, our animals are happy, and we know where our food comes from.  Right here in our back yard.

I live in Ontario, Canada and during the winter the only local vegan foods left to eat are frozen berries, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, yams and other root vegetables. Sustaining on those foods all winter would be impossible.  So you start importing coconut oil, gojis, cacao, maca, avocados, green salads, etc.  I realized that driving half a mile down the road to buy some eggs is a better option ecologically than buying all these expensive imported “superfoods.”  And when you do the research, the pastured, local egg has more nutrition than any of the superfoods I was paying 10 or 20X more for.  So after awhile I felt pretty counterproductive and hypocritical in my vegan stance.  -from Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Kaleigh Mason, an 8 year vegan. 

There are lots of different arguments on both sides of the coin.  And there are lots of different reasons for eating the way we do.  And I respect (almost) everyone’s decision.  I have found studies that show the world can live entirely on a vegan diet.  I have found studies that show that we can’t.  I have found articles calling vegetarians hypocrites for eating plants because they are alive too.  I have found articles condemning meat eaters because they are taking a life.  I certainly can’t solve the world’s hunger issues, neither can I solve climate change or any other environmental issue.  But I can make a difference by sourcing my food sustainably, and teaching others how to do so themselves.  And before you tear a strip off me for not being green, I challenge you to take a good long look at your own food sources.

It’s not that vegans are right and vegetarians are wrong, or vegetarians are right and omnivores are wrong, or omnivores are right and carnivores are wrong – it’s about where we each choose to draw our line. Better still, to return to the arrogant view that ‘man’ thinks he is at the top of a food chain, Keith concluded “I’m not going to draw a line. I’m going to draw a circle.” We are part of the circle of life, just as any other animal is. They and we need to live and die to give back to the land, so that birth and death can continue. – The Vegetarian Myth

If you are not eating meat because you don’t think animals should be killed, that is your choice.  If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like how commercial meat is produced, and can’t raise it yourself, I applaud you.  If you choose to eat meat and source it sustainably, fantastic.  If you eat meat produced commercially in large factories where animals suffer horribly, may you learn something.  If you eat meat but don’t think you could ever kill an animal for meat, let me teach you.  Just PLEASE don’t be that person who just told me today that she feels sorry for the chickens, thinks she should be vegetarian, and then goes home and cooks up a commercially produced chicken that she didn’t have to see when it was alive.  That is too hypocritical for me.

So back to the beans.  I will continue to grow them and use them as an alternate source of protein but they will go hand in hand with the meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruit I grow to provide my family with an adequate supply of healthy, low carbon footprint food.

More reading:

Interview With An Ex-Vegan

The Vegan Myth

Fertile Soil Needs Animal Agriculture: Joel Salatin on Integrated Farming.

 

 

 

Surprise! Monsanto et al. Likely Own Your Seed Companies.

Where do you buy your seeds or seedlings from?  I was not aware until very recently that much of our garden seeds are now produced by companies owned by large pharmaceutical/chemical companies such as Monsanto, Dow and Bayer etc. These aren’t seeds that are genetically modified.  These are the plain old garden seeds you see in many grocery stores and nurseries.   What in the world are bio-tech companies doing buying up seed companies?  One can only speculate.  Control is a big word.  What they own they can potentially genetically modify?  Or, what they own they can eliminate, thereby supplying their own GMO seeds to the farmers who can no longer buy the seeds they used to use?

This chart shows us what seed companies are owned by which of the Big Six companies, the largest being Monsanto.  These seeds are NOT genetically modified.  But the patented seed (for example  Big Beef tomato seeds or plants) come from companies owned by these giants.

An article called Forewarned is Forearmed: Veggies owned by Monsanto by A Garden For The House provides a list of seeds and seedlings that are owned by Monsanto.  Take a look: you will be amazed at the plant names you recognise.  You can also assured that the majority of big box stores will be buying their seeds from these guys.

What can you do?  There are still some smaller seed companies around that are not owned by the Big Six.

Ask you seed supplier.  Do they buy from any of these seed companies?  Look for small, local seed companies who collect and sell their own seed.  I am buying from Salt Spring Seeds.  They grow and collect their own seeds.  Unfortunately they can’t ship to the USA because of customs regulations.  They do ship internationally.   Here is a link to a list of companies that do not buy seeds from any of these companies.  I didn’t make the list so I can’t verify it but it looks like a good place to start.

Look for local seed exchanges.  Don’t buy your seeds at all!  Trade them with other gardeners in your area.  Here is an article with a lot of links to seed exchanges.

Start collecting your own seeds.  Cheapest, safest way, hands down.

Where do YOU buy your seeds?  Can you recommend any seed companies that grow and collect their own seeds or buy only from companies that have no ties to bio tech companies?

This post has been linked up to Natural Parenting Group Blog Hop, Patchwork Living Blog Hop,  Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #16, Our Simple Farm link up, Living Well Blog Hop 31, Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday and  Hometead Barn Hop #51.