Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Blog - Catherine of Yeah Baby It's Cold Outside

Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Hug a Tree With Me about my homemade all purpose cleaner recipe, and I’m excited to welcome Catherine from Yeah Baby it's Cold Outside to Townsend House:

Hi everyone. My name is Catherine and I blog about eco-living and parenting over at Yeah Baby It's Cold Outside. I am very excited to write a guest post here at Townsend House for the 2nd annual Ultimate Blog Swap. I decided to write about a hot topic in the eco nerd world today: Urban Homesteading. This, of course, is just a fancy way of saying getting back to traditional skills which increase self-sufficiency (most of which are very environmentally friendly.)

Picture a couple raising a family on a farm in the early 1800's. What do you see? A few animals providing meat and dairy? Handmade clothes drying on the line. A large garden providing not only food for the family, but also the livestock. You walk through the front door into the kitchen and down to the cellar. There are vegetable packed in sand, herbs hung up to dry and jars of preserved foods to survive the winter.

Sounds romantic, doesn't it?

But not everyone wants to live so extremely, and urban homesteading is a modern version that allows you to pick and choose what you most want to do yourself, while leaving you the option of going to the grocery store or (gasp) fast food chain, should you so desire. One of the more popular aspects of urban homesteading seems to be preserving food: whether home grown or from another source.

While I did not garden last year, I did take part in a community sustained agriculture (CSA) farm that provided me with lots of veggies. We paid for our share at the start of the year and received a weekly box of organic vegetable from June to October (the growing season in northern Ontario). As a veggie hater, my husband left it up to me to eat most of what we received. Naturally, I had lots of leftover veggies.

What's a girl to do?

I had recently purchased a few good books on urban homesteading and root cellaring (see below), so I decided to take a stab at food preservation. I made a few small batches of canned tomatoes, cured the leftover onions, garlic and gourds (of which there were many), and buried the potatoes and carrots in sand.

I would love to say that everything went off without a hitch, but that is not the case. While canning the tomatoes was relatively easy, I grossly miscalculated how much I needed. A huge mountain of tomatoes amounted to only about 15 jars of different sizes, which lasted me roughly two months.

The gourds cured nicely and were piled onto wooden shelves in a cool, dark spot in my basement. I used a few around December (two months after storing them) and they made a fantastic, warm comfort food. The ability to make roasted butternut squash soup in the middle of winter from your own veggies is incredible. Mind you, there is only so much soup you can eat before you think you will start dreaming of squash

I had read about vacuum packing beats with a food saver and storing them in the fridge. They sealed perfectly and stacked easily out-of-the-way in the crisper drawer. The challenge here was that they took up a lot of room in the fridge, when they could have easily been stored in sand. Also, for reasons I still don't understand, all of the bags lost their vacuum seal and puffed up like pillows. There must be some sort of gas that forms in the bag that lead to this. I only noticed this when the glass shelf over the crisper started to slant. By then it was too late. They had a weird slime that I was unsure of. They ended up in the vegetable graveyard (compost pile).

Lastly my experience with the carrots and potatoes was the most amusing. Packed in layers of sand in recycling boxes in the same room as the squash, they remained well-preserved for a large chunk of the winter. The only thing I didn't do as well as I should have is maintain a slightly damp sand. For this reason they slowly began to shrivel in the sand. By the spring I was of the mind that if I ignored them they would go away.

They did not.

This is a picture of what has happened during my stage of preservation denial.

So where does that leave me? By reading this you may believe that I failed miserably or that I wasted more food than preserved. What didn't work out ended up in the composter, contributing to this years excellent gardening soil. What went well gave me the confidence to try again this coming fall. One thing is clear, I will need to look at my failures objectively in order to make a more efficient and successful preservation system.

With no elders to help me, I am doing what I can on my own; trying my best to preserve my sanity while I deal with the reality of my homesteading dream.

Further Reading

The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan
Urban Homesteader Blog

Visit Life Your Way to see all of the Ultimate Blog Swap participants!

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