Monday, July 8, 2019

Fermenting Vegetables

Prior to the invention of canning and refrigeration, fermentation was one of the most common methods used to store vegetables.  Fermentation of vegetables is currently experiencing a Renaissance among young people who have discovered that fermented vegetables are tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare.  Fermenting vegetables is a valuable skill for homesteaders, preppers, and survivalists to learn.  Fermenting is actually easier, and requires less equipment than canning.  It should be noted that fermentation is not a long term storage technique.  You don’t ferment vegetables and plan on storing them for years.  Fermentation is a method used to store vegetables from a Fall harvest for use until the first Spring crops are ready for the table.  We’re talking about a matter of months; not years.   

Canning, as most of you know, requires a lot of equipment.  It requires canning jars, lids, rings, a water-bath or pressure canner, salt, and in many cases vinegar and sugar.  Fermenting requires only a glass or ceramic container and salt.

Fermentation takes place when the good bacteria known as lactobacillis converts the sugar in vegetables to lactic acid which preserves the vegetables.  Lacto-fermentation is actually a 2 part process.  The vegetables to be preserved are placed in a mixture of salt and water called brine.  The salt-water does not affect the lacto-bacillis which goes to work on the vegetables.  The salt-water does affect the bad bacteria by killing it off so the vegetables don’t spoil.  After a few days the lacto-bacillis will have converted enough sugar to lactic acid to keep the vegetables preserved. 

So, let’s get into how you do this.  The first thing that you will need is the vegetables that you are going to ferment.  I happened to have a few small heads of cabbage left in my garden, so I decided that I would turn them into some old-time fermented sauerkraut. 

If you are making kraut you need to shred up the cabbage.  You can do this with an old-time kraut cutter, a Mandolin, or a butcher knife. 

Before you shred your cabbage, remove several of the large outer leaves and set them aside for later use.  

I’m only making a couple of quarts so I am using a butcher knife to cut the cabbage into quarter inch slices.

When your cabbage is shredded you need to place it in a large bowl and weigh it so you'll know how much salt to use..  I would recommend a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl.

Now you need to add your salt.  Don’t use iodized salt.  It will give your vegetables a funky taste.  The best salt to use is pickling salt, or you can use kosher salt or non-iodized sea salt. 

For kraut, I use one tablespoon of salt per pound of cabbage.  There is a lot of info about fermenting on the internet.  I recommend that you do some research on the question of how much salt to use with different vegetables.  Personally, I always err on the side of too much salt.  It’s simple enough to rinse your finished vegetables in fresh water before you eat them, and this will remove any excess salt.

So, sprinkle the salt over the top of your cabbage and then use your hands to gently massage the salt throughout the cabbage.  The salt will, almost immediately, begin drawing water from the cabbage.  Set the cabbage aside and let the salt do its work. 

Check the cabbage every half-hour to see how much liquid it has produced.  Squeeze a handful to see if it drips then toss the cabbage a little with your hands and set aside again.

At some point, after 2 to 4 hours, squeezing the cabbage will cause liquid to rain out of it.  When this happens your cabbage is ready to go into jars.

The cabbage needs to be packed very tightly into the jars, so you will need a wooden spoon or a section of dowel rod for a packing stick.

As the cabbage is packed into the jars it will release more moisture.  It should actually release enough moisture to keep the cabbage covered.  In this case I actually had to pour a little liquid off as the jars filled up.  Keep adding cabbage until the jar is full to just below the shoulder (the curved in part at the top) of the jar.

Now is where those whole cabbage leaves that you saved come into use.  You want to take a leaf or two and fold it into a flat plug that is larger than the mouth of the jar.

This plug is shoved down into the jar so that it wedges under the shoulder.  The plug should be beneath the brine and should hold all of the shredded cabbage down under the brine.  Remember, if the cabbage and plug stay below the liquid, only the good bacteria will live, and the cabbage will ferment.

When the plug is inserted you can put a lid on the jar.  Leave the lid a little loose.  As the cabbage ferments, gas will be produced, and the contents of the jar will expand a little.  You want the lid loose enough for the gas and possibly a little liquid to escape.

It’s a good idea to set your jars in a shallow pan in case they over-flow a little.

You also need to either cover the jars with a cloth or put them in a dark place while they ferment

Check the jars every few days.  If they get a white fuzzy growth on top, throw them out.  If they get a little white growth on top that is not fuzzy, spoon the white stuff out and recap and cover the jars.  Be sure to keep all of your vegetables, including the plug, under the liquid.

After the cabbage has fermented for about a week, remove the plug and take out a fork full of cabbage.  Rinse this fork full under a little warm water to remove the excess salt and give it a taste.  In the case of these jars they were not quiet fermented to my taste so I let them ferment for three more days.

After ten days it tasted like good kraut to me, so I put the jars in the refrigerator.  When the kraut is placed in a cool environment, like a root cellar, the fermentation will slow way down.  When placed in a cold environment, like a refrigerator, fermentation will nearly stop altogether.

I rinse the kraut as I use it to remove excess salt.  I also do not heat the kraut as this will kill the pro-biotic bacteria that make fermented vegetables so healthy.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Heirloom Cranberry Bean Seed from Wal-Mart?

I was recently buying some groceries at Wal-Mart when I came across one pound bags of cranberry beans for 92 cents U.S.  Cranberry beans are a kind-of pinto looking bean, only the markings are a distinctive cranberry red with some of the beans being almost solid red. 

I like to experiment with different types of heirloom plants, and I had actually looked at cranberry beans on an heirloom seed website.  The website was selling their cranberry beans for $3.00 U.S. for 40 beans.  This seemed a little rich for my taste so I took a pass on them.  And here I am now looking at a pound of cranberry beans for 92 cents.  Now 40 beans this size weigh just a hair less than one ounce (28 grams), so a one pound bag should contain around 640 beans.  That means my $3.00 dollars will buy me 40 beans from the website or 1920 beans from Wal-Mart, so I figured, “What the heck, I’ll give it a try.”  I remember when I was a kid, if my dad was going to plant black-eyed peas, he’d just buy a bag of peas at the grocery store and plant them. So I was hoping this would still work for me 60 years later.

There are a couple of things that could go wrong with this plan.  For one, the beans could be hybrids that would not reproduce true to type, or they could be genetically modified to produce sterile seeds that won’t germinate.  I reasoned that both of these scenarios were pretty unlikely.  I haven’t really ever heard of hybrid beans.  They may exist, but it seems that a little selective breeding over the years has made beans pretty much perfect, so what are the advantages of hybridizing them?  As for genetic modification with a terminator gene, I think that this is usually reserved for big money crops like corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans.  I don’t think cranberry beans are that big in the agri-biz world.  In fact, these at Wal-Mart are the first ones I’ve seen outside of a seed catalogue.  So, long story short, I think these are probably a genuine, non-hybrid, non-GMO, heirloom seed.  Time will definitely tell.

The second thing that could go wrong is that these beans may be pretty old which could lower their germination rate.  Unless seeds are properly stored; which is to say cold, dark, and dry; their germination rate will decrease each year until at some point it’s not worth the effort to plant them.  Another thing that could affect the germination is if the seeds have been exposed to high heat.  One advantage of buying from a reputable seed company is that the seed will, most likely, be fresh and properly stored to assure good germination.  But, as you can tell from the numbers above, premium seeds mean premium prices.

The only way to tell if the seed is going to germinate is to plant some and see if it germinates, and the only way to see if it is heirloom seed is to raise a crop and plant seed from it next year to see if it will produce another crop.  If it works I get a lifetime supply of cranberry beans.  If it doesn’t work, I’m out 92 cents and a little labor.

So I took my Wal-Mart cranberry beans and planted 80 of them.  I planted them ¾” deep and about 6 to 8 inches apart in 2 rows that are about 8 inches apart.  I tamped the soil down over them, and watered them in. 
The first beans started breaking ground on the 6th day after planting.  On the 9th day the beans were up and growing.  I had 67 beans that germinated.  If my math is right that’s a germination rate of about 84%. 
This looks to be about the same as the pink-eyed purple hull peas (on the left below) that I planted from saved seed, and maybe a little better than the Kentucky wonder beans (on the right below) that I bought at the feed store.
So, the first hurdle has been cleared.  The beans germinated.  Now I need to see if they produce any beans.  I’ll up-date this post in a couple of months, and hopefully will include pictures of me picking cranberry beans.

Friday, August 24, 2018

13 Things You’ll Wish You had when Your Smart Phone is Useless

I recently watched a video called “Thirty Things Your Iphone has Replaced.”  It’s pretty interesting to see how many things that used to be common accessories in everyone’s homes 25 years ago, have been made obsolete by the smart phone.  One good example would be that most families used to have a set of encyclopedias.  Who buys encyclopedias now that you can go on your internet connected smart phone and look up anything you want?

But, this video got me to thinking about the flip-side of the smart phone as an information multi-tool.  What would happen if your smart phone was suddenly rendered useless?  What items would you wish that you had if your smart phone cratered?  What follows is a short list for your consideration:

Communication Devices

Although it is used for many other purposes, the smart phone is still primarily a means of communication.  The network of cell towers that supports this technology is extremely vulnerable to EMP attacks.  If an EMP attack ever occurred, cell phone service would probably end.  Some alternatives to the cell phone might include hardwired field telephones for close by communication, rechargeable walkie-talkies and CB base stations for wider area (but still fairly limited) communications, and shortwave radio for long distance communication.


It never fails to amaze me when people show up for a survival class and expect to use the compass tool on their cell phone as a real compass.  No, no, no, no!  So many things can go wrong with a cell phone or its related infrastructure.  They are far too unreliable to ever take the place of a real compass.  Spend the $10 and buy a real compass to stick in you bug out bag or glove box.


Google Maps and various GPS applications have made paper maps virtually obsolete.  Don’t fall into this trap.  You need to at least have a state road map.  Better still; buy several topographic maps of the area around your home.


Everybody uses the flashlight on their smart phone.  Yes, it’s very convenient, but have a back-up.  You need an LED flashlight, rechargeable batteries, and a solar battery charger.


No more looking things up on Google, no more reading e-books from Amazon; you’re going to have to go old school.  It’s a shame that books take up so much space, but it’s a burden you’ll just have to bare.  You’ll need books on gardening, plant identification, canning and food preservation,  first aid and medical guides, repair manuals, gunsmithing books; all of the practical how-to books that you can find.  You’ll need books for entertainment (stick to the timeless classics), and don’t forget the children’s books.  If you have room throw in a set of encyclopedias.


You won’t be playing Candy Crunch on your smart phone anymore.  Buy a deck of cards, some dominoes, a few dice, a set of checkers with board, and a chess set.  A few old school board games wouldn’t hurt either.  Yatzee once got my wife and I through six months without electricity when we were young.  Also, definitely buy a copy of Hoyle’s Rules of Games.  It has the rules and how to play every card and dice game you’ve ever heard of and a bunch that you haven’t heard of.

Pencil and Paper

Everybody takes notes, makes grocery lists, etc on their smart phones.  Without a working smart phone you’ll need to do it the old fashioned way with a paper and pencil.  Buy yourself a couple of boxes of pencils and a few spiral notebooks.  They don’t take up much space, and they could come in very handy.

Musical Instrument

You won’t be listening to that play list anymore after your smart phone bites the dust.  How about learning to play a musical instrument?  My wife and I belong to a re-enactment group that uses no gear more modern than 1836.  We always have a campfire with a group sing-along.  One person plays guitar, a couple of people play the boron (a kind of Celtic hand drum), one plays the harmonica, and another plays the penny whistle and sometimes the fiddle.  The rest of us sing along loudly and poorly, and we all have a great time.

Weather Instruments

No more weather app, so buy yourself a thermometer, a barometer, and a rain gauge.  Learn a little about cloud formations and weather prediction. 


The calendar and alerts function on your smart phone is very handy; but if your smart phone is useless, you’ll wish that you had an old time paper calendar.  Some businesses still give them away for free, or you can buy one or print one off of the internet.

Self Winding Watch

Hardly anyone under the age of 50 wears a wristwatch any more.  Most people just glance down at the screen of their ever present smart phone.  Knowing the exact time may not be all that important in a survival situation, but if you feel the need to know the time you will need an old fashioned wrist watch.  I would recommend a good quality self winding watch so you don’t have to worry about batteries running out.  I had a not so high quality self winder that lasted for over 10 years without repair.  Hey, if you have deep pockets buy a Rolex and you’ll probably be fixed for life.

Photo Album

If you have pictures that mean a lot to you; spouse, children, parents, etc; print them out and put them in a photo album.  You should do this anyway.  You could lose or damage your phone, and the pictures would be lost. 

Solar Powered Calculator

Unless you are an engineer or a math teacher you probably depend on the calculator on your smart phone.  You really should buy an inexpensive solar powered calculator as a back-up in case your smart phone becomes useless.

Well, there’s my little list.  Now, I have to admit that I don’t even own a smart phone, so I’m sure that some of you smart phone owners can come up with a lot of things that should be added to this list.  If you think of anything feel free to add it in the comments section below.