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Homeschooling The Well Prepared Child: September 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Save The Seeds- Tomatoes


     Tomatoes are the most versatile plants to grow for my family. We eat them on salads, in soups and stews, in salsa (we eat a lot of salsa) or just sliced up in a bowl. I long to be able to can them. Stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomatoes and green chilies, salsa, spaghetti sauce... Not only do homegrown tomatoes taste amazing, adding tomatoes to anything adds a higher nutritional content. Tomatoes even have medicinal benefits as well. 
       Although it was not OUR garden that blessed us with tomatoes, my awesome neighbor did! She had more than she could handle; while we had zip, zero, nada out of 3 tomato plants. What happened? I'm not sure. I suspect the soil we planted them in was not so great. I tried bunny poo, Epsom Salts, and other stuff. The cherry tomatoes did great, but they were in another section of the garden. Next year, tomato plants will be planted in our front yard, where the soil is best. We are hoping the new ones we planted late summer will produce something... But odds are, we are out of luck! Needless to say, we are making sure our next years crops will be high yield! 
     Previous attempts at saving tomato seeds consisted of saving stray seeds left on the cutting board. We placed them on napkins and let them air dry. They stuck to each other and the napkin. It was a huge nasty mess and I was not even sure how to store them. We wanted to try again, but were not sure what to do.  
     While the kids and I were making salsa one night, our tomatoes were extremely juicy and they made the salsa too runny. We squeezed the tomatoes out into a bowl before chopping them. So there was this bowl with all of these seeds. Seeds from the biggest, juiciest, yummiest tomatoes ever! They were begging to be saved! How, when they were covered in tomato goo? My first thought was tulle from my sewing shop. It is durable, has plenty of tiny holes, and would allow water to drain easily! My daughter ran to the sewing shop and cut us a big piece to use. She spent nearly 15 minutes trying to get the goo off from around the seeds. It worked but it was not as easy as we had hoped. We left them to dry inside of the tulle resting on a wash cloth. Within a couple of days, they were dry, and beautiful. The looked exactly like the seeds that come from the store. Success!
     It was the very next night that I saw a post on how to save tomato seeds using fermentation. It said the seeds separate from the goo after being allowed to sit in a little water for a day or 2. Of course we had to try it out! You can never have too many tomato seeds, right?
     My daughter worked on the tomatoes, while I worked the camera. She started by cutting the tomatoes in half and squeezing the pulp into an old plastic container. 

  Naturally, she had to sample some of the leftovers!

     We added water to the bowl and diced up the tomato remains for our salad at dinner. Waste not, want not! The tomato goo sat on the counter for 2 days. It was a little stinky already, and a little "GROSS!" to my girl, but she managed to get over it. She got out the strainer, laid the tulle inside and got to work rinsing the seeds. Took less than a minute! Amazing! 

Yes, that is a very old strainer. It was my mother's when I was a child. It's close to 40 years old!
We actually call it a colander, but people look at me funny when I call it that.  

     Next we laid the tulle pouch on a plate covered by a wash cloth. As it slowly dried, I played with the pouch, separating the seeds from each other. Finally, they were dry enough to take out of the tulle and be placed on a plate to finish drying. 
     The turned out quite pretty, don't you think? 
     The last step was to see if they would germinate. We placed one seed from our first attempt and one from our second attempt in a cup of soil in the bathroom window. Within a week, we had tiny little sprouts growing. They BOTH germinated. We will be using these plants as part of our 'Winter Garden' this year.
     I do have to say, fermenting the seeds made it a lot easier to get the goo off from around the seed. Both processes worked, however, I would highly recommend fermenting them if you are trying to save your own seed. I know it takes longer because it needs to sit in the water for a day or two, but it sure was less frustration trying to get them clean! 

Do you have any tips for seed preservation? Let us know. 
We love your comments! 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Save The Seeds!

"All the gardening knowledge in the world will be of no use, 
if you do not have seeds to sow." Kamay Flemens

     For years we have saved seed packets from various stores. Just recently choosing to buy heirlooms to grow and save. Heirlooms are seeds that have been grown, harvested, and saved from generation to generation. However, seeds bought in packets, do not last forever. My endless thoughts of 'what if there were no stores' prompted me to get serious about saving our own seeds from the garden. Because I believe in teaching and learning as a family, we researched how to save seeds, picked the best fruits, and harvested them together. (Although, my daughter actually did most of the seed harvesting for us. I assisted and took photos. :) )
     I heard once, when saving seeds, to use the best of the best. Best plant, best producer, best tasting fruits and vegetables. We did not harvest seeds from our mini plants because we never want mini plants again! We still have plenty of the cherry tomato seed packets, so we did not save those either. We also choose plants we knew we would eat or be able to use for trade or barter. There is no point saving seeds from plant varieties your family turns their noses up to unless you have another use for them. 
     Here is a bit of what we saved. Not everything was photographed...

Okra- Carefully split the okra length wise, being careful not to cut the tiny seed balls. Use your thumb to gently pop the seeds out. When finished, make sure all green plant material is removed. Set aside for a week or two to insure full dryness. I am interested to see if this worked. They looked nothing like what I used from my store bought seed packet. 

 They dried all wrinkly and I don't remember the seeds in the packet looking quite like that. This photo is before they dried fully. 

Field Pumpkins- Carve open pumpkin top and remove all seeds. Rinse seeds in a strainer and make sure all pumpkin pulp is removed.  They sat in the strainer for a few hours so that most of the water dripped away. Then, we placed the seeds on a plastic plate and moved them around often to insure even dryness and to keep them from sticking together. 
Cucumbers- While making pickles, we had tons and tons of seeds left in the bowl from cutting the cucumbers. My daughter just collected them from the bottom of the bowl and took out all the seeds that had been cut in half. She used a strainer to wash them and make sure there were no pieces of flesh with them. Just like the pumpkins, we let them stay in the strainer for a few hours to make sure the excess water had time to drip off. 

Jalapenos- Although we do not eat these much except for in salsa and for spicy pickles, we saved the seeds from some jalapenos we used for a FAIL at cheddar poppers. While we cored them, we dropped the seeds into a bowl. They dried in the bowl for a couple of weeks.
 (When harvesting seeds from any spicy pepper, please use gloves! USE THEM! The seeds and the core are spicier than the green flesh. Even though I washed my hands thoroughly, and my hands did not burn, everywhere I touched on my body after that BURNED LIKE WILD FIRE! I just so happened to be suffering from allergies and had itchy eyes. It was brutal! If you do happen to get burned by the oils in the jalapenos, milk helps. I used a washcloth to scrub my hands and face with the milk. Raw milk from any source is better. Raw sources include cows, goats and even humans. Yes, booby juice works too, or so I hear.. no booby juice around my house anymore.)

Cantalupe- A friend of mine brought a cantaloupe to me from her father's garden. It had a lovely texture and was sweet and juicy. After digging out the seeds from the center, I placed them in the strainer and washed all the goo away from them. They drip dried and were placed on a plate to finish the drying process.  

Bell Peppers- They have been a test this year. They were not as big as a store bought bell pepper. I am not a big fan of them, but I wanted to use them in salsa. I never got the chance. We did not have the tomatoes we needed at the time to make salsa with them. When we had tomatoes, I had already cut up the bell peppers to save seeds or had given them away. We did test eat them raw. It is not something my family enjoyed. They will be good for trading and bartering if needed. 

Tomatoes- Now this one I will go into more depth on in another post. They are a huge staple in my household and I believe we could nearly live off of them. My whole family loves tomatoes. Before we got serious in seed preservation and looked up how to save tomato seeds, we tried a couple of ways to dry the seeds. First, we took the seed pulp from a tomato we cut and placed them on paper towels. The seeds stuck to the paper towel as it dried and they were not very nice looking. I tested one to see if it would germinate, and it did. Then we brainstormed ideas on how to do it so they would come out cleaner.. but that is all in THIS  post. :)

     Now at this point, can you imagine what my kitchen looked like? There were plates, cups, bowls, and paper towels all over the place. It drove me nuts! I don't have very much room in our house. There is no pantry, laundry room, spare room at all to store all of the drying seed containers we had at this point. I finally got smart and gathered every small container we have and put all of them in a casserole pan. Safe, secured, compact storage! It took a few weeks to actually feel they were all sufficiently dry enough to store away.  We used a variety of different small recycled packages to store our seeds in. A variety, because, we couldn't eat enough Tic Tacs fast enough. We are all about FREEcyle! :D 

     Have you tried seed preservation? 
Save The Seeds!
More great seed saving advice and FREE PRINTABLE SEED PACKETS at 104 Homestead

For a great definition of heirlooms, hybrids, organics and all the other seed lingo, check out Underwood Gardens post. 

Want to start your own vault of survival gardening seeds without preserving them yourself?  Survival-Seed-Vault-

This post contains my Amazon affiliate link to a survival seed vault. Although, I have not ordered from them, it is something I would like to purchase in the future. If you happen to buy one, let me know what you think of it!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why We Prep As A Family: Part 2

Knowing is not enough: we must apply.
Willing is not enough: we must do.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

     If I had to feed my family from what I grew in my garden this year, we would have starved. It just was not a good year for us. I have read thousands of articles and web pages about gardening. We researched, prepped, learned, asked questions... and still it was not enough. 
     We tilled, weeded, watered and hoed. Still could not keep up with the grass and weeds in my garden. My daughter and I fertilized, hand pollinated, and pruned. Still our plants would not flourish. It wasn't all bad... sort of. 
     Although my best producer this year was cucumbers, I was only able to put back about 20 jars of pickles. We ended up eating half of them already. (Well, the hubby and kids did at least!)
      I dehydrated some zucchini and was able to put up one jar. Sadly, our zucchini did not grow anymore after that. 
          Water Melons and yellow squash grew to be mini fruits. (I'm including photos just in case you think I am exaggerating..) Oh ya, the corn only produced about 6 ears and they too were pretty small.

     Out of 3 tomato plants, I got a total of one tomato. It was strangely shaped and looked as if it had worms in it. Cherry tomatoes did okay. However, they only ripened a few at a time and were pretty much eaten off of the vine. 

      Onions were fabulous, but I stored the other half of the bulbs I did not plant in the freezer and they were mush when I pulled them out to plant a second round of them. 
      My lettuce was too bitter for the family to enjoy. It became treats for the livestock. Spinach and carrots were eaten by the moles. Okra is growing slowly but surely... but only enough to have as a side dish once a week. 
     We also lost one of our fruit trees we planted last year. It was growing great, had fruit developing, and then suddenly, it was dead. I can only suspect that maybe the moles ate the roots? 
What did go good? Jalapenos. (Insert WTHeck face here)

     The animals on our farm are about the same as our garden. We added rabbits. Too small to even try to have as a meal. They will be our 'mommys'  instead. We added a buck just last week. It will be a month or so before we know if he figured out what to do. Now honestly, I am not really even sure I can butcher a rabbit. So we will be selling the kits instead. At least for now. 

       Chickens... What can I say about our chickens... Out of 2 FFA chickens, 3 store bought, 4 hatchlings from the school, and 2 bartered Jersey Giants, we have 5 hens. Maybe 2 of them are laying and not on a daily basis. I have 5 roosters to send to freezer camp. It has been so hot, I have not even wanted to attempt it. I have found chicken butchering to be a very stinky job in the summer. If I had to do it, I could. Right now, I do not have to.
     We actually managed to NOT get attached to our feeder pig. He will be heading off to the butcher in about a month. Hopefully. I have still not made an appointment. I need to get on that asap. 

     What have we learned this year? Being a farmer is not as easy as it seems. We believe our soil needs a lot of amendments before we try to plant again next spring. We also need to build an area for a compost pile. We have a bin right now and it is full to the gills. We also need to do some more research on the fruits and vegetables we want to grow.  
     Understand though, it does not matter how much research or book learning you cram into head. You have to put your knowledge into practice. There are so many things that can go wrong; even if you are knowledgeable. Things happen. If we had an emergency this year and had to rely on my preps and gardening to feed us, we would have starved. At least right now, I have time to fix things. Practice more. Try new things. I am grateful for these learning times. 

What are you doing this year to 'walk the walk?'