Archive for January, 2013

Fermenting Foods

Fermented food is one of those things that we all eat but most of us know little about.  Bread, Cheese, Wine, Beer, Cider, Coffee, Tea, Pickles, Sauerkraut, Salami, Miso, Tempeh, Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Yogurt, Kefir, Kombucha can all be fermented foods that you can make yourself if you like.  Why bother?  Well everything is better when you make it yourself, fermented foods store longer than the fresh version, and fermented foods are awesome for your health.

Fermentation is the process of turning carbohydrate or sugar into acid or alcohol through   yeast or bacteria.  For example wine is made by yeast converting sugar into alcohol or yogurt is made when bacteria converts sugar to lactic acid.  The acid or alcohol give us the flavors we seek to create and also act as a preservative for the foods.

Living on a homestead we will be doing a lot of food preserving for winter storage.  One method of preservation is fermentation.  It’s not like canning where the preserved foods last forever, but they will last much longer than the fresh stuff.  Think about pickles.  How long are fresh cucumbers good for?  How about the pickles?  They last quite a while in your fridge and are much more flavorful.  Preserved foods often don’t retain the nutrients of the foods when they were fresh.  Think canning again.  The heat required for canning kills much of the nutrients and enzymes that you would find in the pre-canned food.  Freezing is a little better than canning, but fermenting actually increases the nutrient value of the foods.


Our first attempt at fermenting. Fruit Mead.

Fermented foods are loaded with probiotics and enzymes that are created through the fermentation process.  Probiotics are great for your digestive tract and help with the absorption of nutrients.  Fermented foods are living foods that have active enzymes that also help with digestion.  As I mentioned before, most of the nutrients of the fresh food are preserved in addition to all of the good stuff added through fermentation.  I’m not sure how exactly, but apparently fermenting foods increases the availability of the vitamins the foods already contain.  I assume that this has something to do with the enzymes and the breaking down process, but I’m not positive.

I plan on working on our fermenting skills over the rest of the winter.  I think this will end up being quite a valuable tool to us in the long run.  Both for our health and for the longevity of our garden foods.


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Rocket Mass Heaters

Efficiency is a big deal in everything we do.  Heating a home with oil or a fireplace is not terribly efficient though.  Definitely not efficient enough for living off the grid on our homestead.  So what should we do instead? Build a rocket mass heater of course!

What is a rocket mass heater?  A rocket mass heater is a wood burning heater that burns sideways sending smoke into a heat riser which then sends the smoke out into a  bench and finally the exhaust lets out around 90 degrees.  I know that it sounds a little funny, but check out the picture below and I’ll try to explain it better.


The wood to burn goes into a small opening and is gravity fed into the burn chamber.  The “rocket” part of the stove is the super insulated heat riser.  The insulation causes it to burn hotter and more fully.  The super efficient burn is what causes the fire to suck in sideways towards the heat riser.  This does mean that you have to get the fire going before it is efficient.  All that means is that you will get some smoke back while you are starting the fire.  All this heat is then pushed out into a tube which is located inside a large thermal mass.  Often the thermal mass is a cob bench.  The thermal mass absorbs the heat, stores it, and slowly releases it into your home.  The benches only reach about 100 degrees so they are perfect for sitting on to warm yourself up, not burn you.  Once the heat running through the thermal mass finally reaches the exhaust point, it has cooled off to just above room temperature.

The reason this whole set up is so efficient is for a few reasons.  You get a complete burn. There is no wood wasted in ashes or creosote.  That also means less need to clean the system.  The burn is hotter than a standard wood stove so you are getting more heat from the system.  The heat is then absorbed into the system so all the heat that would normally just escape through the chimney is being stored for use in your home.  The actual exhaust is already mostly cooled off.  Basically, there is nothing wasted.

This is the most efficient heating I have found so far.  I plan on building a home with passive solar heating, but I will likely need something extra and this should do the trick.  So now to build a rocket mass stove to see how well that works for me.  A simpler practice project for us to start on.

Here are some links for more info:

Midwest Permaculture

Rich Soil

Inspiration Green



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Looking for Land

We are at the very early stages of our future homestead.  Actually, we haven’t even started the homestead yet because we don’t have any land.  Our major project this year is to finally buy some land after spending three years looking.

Last year, we thought we had found the perfect spot and were ready to deal with the banks.  Little did we know how ridiculous it was to get a mortgage for some land.  The rates were so high that we decided to wait until we could pay cash for the property.  We have the highest priority of NOT getting in debt.  Waiting one extra year should save us from that for now.

With our “no debt” goal in mind, we started looking at alternative style houses.  By this I mean house made from natural materials like straw bales or cob.  Houses that can be difficult to getting permits for in some areas.  That made it important for us to make sure we found an area that would allow this sort of building.  We had to broaden our location search and start thinking about moving farther than we planned.  If we are already possibly moving further we better make sure we get something perfect.  We ended up making quite a list of things that we needed out of our land and looking at everywhere in the US to see what met our needs.

Here’s the list:

  • Ease of gaining building permits
  • Hardiness zone (not too hot or too cold)
  • Rainfall (enough to grow a healthy garden)
  • Property prices
  • Ease of homeschooling
  • Types of severe weather (not tornado alley or too close to a flood zone)

I hope we aren’t missing any really important needs, but I think we have everything covered.  I would love to hear if there are any other good thoughts.

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Choosing Seeds

This is a very exciting time of year for me. All of the seed catalogues are coming in the mail. I could sit for hours looking through them all, trying to decide what is best for my garden. So much fun!

When I am choosing seeds for my garden, there are many factors that come in to play. I have a shorter growing season living in the north east, about 130 days. I prefer organic seeds when available. I try not to water my garden if I don’t have to, so the more drought tolerant the better. I like to garden as vertical as possible to save space and keep things from rotting on the ground so I like vining plants. I try to get as many heirloom varieties as possible.  The most important thing of all is to be able to save the seeds. I have not yet perfected this, but I do my best to buy seeds that will produce seeds that I can save. This means that I never buy F1 hybrids and aim for open pollinated seeds. That way the plants produce viable seeds for saving.

DSC_0189I also have to choose where to buy my seeds from.  I am cheap, so the inexpensive companies are always good.  However, I still like the organic and the heirloom plants, so I can’t get them too cheap.  I try to buy from places that are located close to me so that the plants were grown in the same climate as mine so I know they will do well.  My favorite place to shop is Pinetree Garden Seeds.  Not too expensive and all the good qualities.  I also use Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Johnny’s.  It does give me way too many choices having all these places I like though.

As much fun as I have picking out seeds, hopefully it is something that I won’t have to do for too much longer.  I am learning how to save seeds from the plants I produce so that I can truly get the best and cheapest seeds I can possibly get.  This does make picking out seeds that much harder though, I will have the same variety of everything for many years to come!


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