Have you ever stopped to consider the miracle contained within a tomato seed? I’ve always planted seeds, but until this year, I’ve purchased them from a seed catalog or that rack in the grocery store. This year I’ve taken the time to save seeds from my own harvest to plant again next year, and it’s given me an opportunity to really consider what a seed is.
I love heirloom plants, and they are the only plants you can save seed from. A little tidbit of gardening know how is that a non-heirloom or hybrid plant creates seed that is either sterile or that won’t grow a plant like the parent plant. Most of the plants and seeds sold in the nurseries or in seed packets are hybrids. They have been bred for certain plant characteristics like size, early ripening, etc. But that breeding has made them not able to be perpetuated without buying the plant or seed again. That doesn’t fit with my self sufficiency lifestyle so I plant heirlooms!
This year I planted 30 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and I wanted to save seed from each variety. I had no idea how much work this would be! To save a tomato seed you must harvest the tomato, take out the seeds and pulp, ferment the seed/pulp mixture for four days, stirring every day to break up the mold on top, clean the seeds of the pulp, dry them completely, then bag them. The added fun – I had to keep all the 30 varieties labeled through this process so I didn’t mix up the seeds from different varieties.
At one time I had 30 paper towels spread all over my kitchen table filled with drying seeds, and my son asked what they were. I told him tomato seeds from our tomatoes and he said “Wow! That’s a lot of tomatoes!” I looked at the seeds and my perspective changed. Each one of those tiny seeds holds all the genetic material necessary to grow a huge tomato plant, producing hundreds more tomatoes. Isn’t that a miracle? How is all that information squished into that tiny little package?
Digging up gold
As I’ve harvested this year, I’ve felt a little closer to that miracle. We spent Saturday digging our root crops. From a 8×4 foot bed we dug 50 pounds of sweet potatoes. You couldn’t even see them when you looked at the bed. As soon as we started digging we hit the jackpot (see our harvest picture below). Another 75 pounds regular potatoes came out of another 2 x 20 foot bed. I’m so grateful for the bounty of Mother Earth and God’s generosity in sharing all this with me and my family. This hymn says it well:
Thank you for this bounty, God
that you give to me
for grain that grows within the field
and fruit upon the tree
Thank you for the little seeds
that in the spring are sown
and with your gifts of sun and rain
have through the summer grown
Thank you for the farmers, Lord
and bless them for their toil
as now they gather in the fall
this bounty from your soil
On Saturday I spent the entire day harvesting. I was dressed in my gardening flannel shirt and beat up jeans, and was filthy by late afternoon. We had a neighborhood Halloween party to go to, so I threw on a floppy hat, my cowboy boots and went as a dirty farmer! I don’t think most people realized I wasn’t dressing up- that is who I am most every fall weekend, and I love it!
If not in the garden, I’m sweating next to the stove preserving the harvest. I do use electricity and gas to preserve, but I also utilize a lot of methods that don’t use utilities as all. I promised you my information about preserving the harvest without electricity last week so here it is. These are skills that you may need someday, so print this off and save it somewhere.
Give something a try this year. Buy a 50 pound bag of potatoes and keep it in your garage. Dry the last of the season apples. Save some seed from an heirloom melon you buy (maybe that Halloween pumpkin). And stop and give thanks to God who created it and to the farmer who toiled long and hard to bring it to your table.
Have a beautiful fall week!
Dr. Michelle Jorgensen
Food Preservation Without Electricity
1. Cold Storage
- always choose firm, mature, unblemished fruits and vegetables, and handle them carefully
- Difference between maturity and ripeness. Ripe produce is best for cellaring
- Some items cannot be stored together because they release a gas called ethylene. Ethylene gas is a ripening agent, which hastens the decomposition of other produce.
- For example, apples, pears, and tomatoes produce high amounts of ethylene and should be placed higher than other foods, and near vents if possible.
- Winter squash, onions, potatoes and garlic are stored more successfully if cured at a temperature of 80-90 degrees F for 10 days before being placed into storage
How to store individual crops
- Cabbages: hang upside down by their roots from hooks. Cabbage gives off ethylene gas, so do not store cabbage indoors; the odor will fill the house. Cabbage prefers cold (32°F to 40°F), humid (80 to 90 percent RH) conditions.
- Onions and garlic condition for long storage by “curing” or drying in a well-ventilated place for 2 to 3 weeks, or until their outer skins make a rustling sound. Onions and garlic prefer cool (40°F to 50°F), dry (60 to 70 percent RH) rooms. Can withstand light frosts (to 34°F) with heavy mulching.
- Potatoes Condition for long storage by “curing”. Sort and remove any damaged or suspect (soft) potatoes for immediate use. Place firm, unblemished potatoes in a single layer, in the dark, at 45°F to 60°F for 2 weeks. After curing, store potatoes in a cold (32°F to 40°F), dry (60 to 70 percent RH) location. Store potatoes in complete darkness.
- Pumpkins and winter squashes harvest after vines are killed by a frost. Leave stems on during storage to protect fruit against disease. Cool to warm (40°F to 60°F), dry (60 to 70 percent RH) room. Place them individually on shelves or hung in mesh bags.
- Root crops, including beets, carrots, celeriac, horseradish, parsnips, rutabagas, salsifies, turnips, and winter radishes, may be stored in-ground for several weeks, and can withstand light freezing (to 28°F) with heavy mulching. In the cellar, store only beets, carrots, horseradish, parsnips, and salsifies. To store in the cellar, cut off the tops, leaving a 1-inch stem, and place in baskets or boxes. To optimize moisture in dry storage rooms, layer the crops with sand or sphagnum moss. Root crops prefer cold (32°F to 40°F), very humid (80 to 90 percent RH or more) conditions.
- Pome fruits, like apples and pears, stored as near freezing (32°F) as possible, in very humid (80 to 90 percent RH or more) conditions. Layer in sand, sawdust, or sphagnum moss; pack into well-ventilated plastic bags; or wrap fruits individually in tissue paper and layer in boxes. Apples and pears give off ethylene gas; you may store them together, but away from other crops.
- Sweet Potatoes Dig up sweet potatoes in late fall as soon as the vines die, choosing undamaged tubers to cure for storage. Brush away dry soil, then cure in warm temperatures (80 to 85 degrees F) and high humidity (about 90 percent) for five to 10 days. Once cured, move to a cool, dry storage area (55 to 60 degrees F). You can wrap potatoes individually in paper and store in ventilated boxes or baskets.
- Dehydrating foods removes some of the water soluble vitamins, but retains the fiber, calories, minerals, and many vitamins. Natural sugars in fruits are concentrated for a boost of energy necessary for survival situations. Dried meats and fish are rich in protein and minerals.
- Food preparation – cut pieces. Equal size and thin enough to dry quickly. You need to slice the foods into thin pieces and place them in a current of warm dry air that will remove moisture without cooking the foods. Too much heat will dry the exterior of the food too quickly, trapping moisture inside the food.
- Keep your dried food in a dark, dry place with the coolest temperatures you can manage. Light will cause vitamins to break down, so keep it dark.
How to dry and store individual crops:
- Herbs and Greens: The easiest foods to dry are herbs and green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, dandelion greens and the like. They don’t need to be sliced up for uniform dehydration, they dry quickly, and many of them provide important minerals for our diet. If they crumble easily, they’re ready to store. Remove from stems and store in plastic bags, glass jars, or paper bags in a cool, dry place.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Drying fruits and vegetables requires a bit more preparation and drying time than greens. They must be sliced thin or chopped into small pieces for thorough dehydration. Blueberries, serviceberries, and other small fruits should be punctured to allow moisture to escape. Cherries can be cut in half and pitted, but larger fruits should be cut smaller, allowing the moisture to evaporate more quickly. Green beans, peas, beets, carrots, and the like can also be dehydrated. Cut into small pieces and spread in a single layer on a screen in the sun or over a low fire until completely dry.
- Meats and Fish: These are the most challenging foods to dry. Care must be taken to slice these foods as thinly as possible and keep them in a constant source of warm, dry air. Salting them first will aid in preservation. Remove all fat from the meat and use low fat fish for longest storage. Fat will go rancid much faster than meat. Salt or season and hang over a low fire. When your meat and fish is brittle it is ready to store. It will keep for a few weeks without refrigeration, but if you can keep it in a cold storage room, it will last for most of the winter.
- This is an age-old technique. Good bacteria and bad bacteria must stay in balance.
- The process of putting food in water (with a little salt as the bad bacteria do not exist well in a salty environment) and letting the LABs – the lactobacillus bacteria – eat, reproduce, and develop – is called fermentation.
- It’s as simple as that: a fruit or vegetable, in a slightly salty brine will yield a fermentation that is really good to eat, as it produces the same lactobacillus bacteria your body has and needs for digesting and protecting you.
- Anaerobic fermentation- will not work in the presence of air. Must seal out the air somehow
- Examples – Cucumber pickles, salsa, beets, milk, kombucha, sourdough, sauerkraut
Fermented Crock Dill Pickles
5-10 grape leaves
12 lbs. pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
2 T mixed pickling spice
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and separated
4-8 heads of dill
6 quarts water
1 C cider vinegar
1 ¼ C pickling salt
Line bottom of crock with half of the leaves. Layer the cucumbers, spices, dill, garlic in the crock. Combine water and vinegar and salt until dissolved. Pour over veggies to completely cover. Put remaining leaves on top. Keep covered by placing a plate on top and weigh it down with a mason jar filled with water. Cover with a towel and store at room temperature.
If a white scum forms on top, remove it daily and rinse and replace plate. Should be ready in 2-3 weeks.
Remove pickles from crock, rinse in water, and place in storage jars. Boil the brine, let cool, then pour over pickles in jars. Store in fridge for up to 6 months.
7 lbs. cabbage, thinly shredded
1 ¾ C chopped green onions
1/3 C minced ginger
¼ C chopped garlic
½ C dried chili flakes
4 ½ T pickling salt
2 T sugar
Add all ingredients in layers, pounding in between each layer. By the time you are done, the vegetables will have started to release their liquid. Put them into container to ferment. Weight vegetables down to be entirely covered with brine by 1 inch. Skim foam or scum from the top every day and rinse the plate and weight. Done in 2-4 weeks. Put into container and store in fridge. Makes 3 quarts.
Basic Kraut measurements – 5 lbs cabbage with 4 T salt
4. Water bath/Steam canning
- High acid foods – water bath/steam canning; Low acid foods – Pressure canning
- Equipment: rings and lids (Tattler reusable lids are the best), jars, canners
- You’ll need to bring your canner of water to a rolling boil and keep it boiling long enough to sterilize your jars, fill them with hot food and liquid, and process them. This requires a steady source of even heat (especially for a pressure canner) and a clean environment for prepping the food.
- A pressure canner without a rubber gasket is the best because it has no replaceable parts.
5. Ice House
6. Curing Meat
- Curing is a technique which basically involves preserving the meat in salt. This was one of the most common ways of keeping meat fresh in the days before refrigeration.
- Meat spoils because it is a good place for bacteria to thrive in. Bacteria need water, and there is a lot of water content in the meat, especially the muscle fibers. This is solved by introducing salt. It will expel a lot of the water from the meat, and creates an environment where bacteria cannot develop and multiply.
- Half a pound of salt mixed with a quarter cup of sugar should be enough for ten to twelve pounds of meat. The sugar is necessary in order to counterbalance all of the salt
- There is another ingredient which, ideally, should be included: sodium nitrite. It is particularly effective at fighting off botulism. Use green leafy vegetables such as celery, spinach and lettuce. They all naturally contain sodium nitrite. You can add juice or extract and you will get the sodium nitrite you need.
- Cut the meat into slabs. Pork, beef or fish. Take a slab and cover it heavily in the salt mixture. Do this with the rest of the meat. After this place it in jars or crocks for storage. Make sure that the meat slabs are tightly packed together. Make sure that the temperature is below 38 degrees Fahrenheit, but that it is well above freezing.
- After about a month of storage, take the meat out. Take each slab and wrap it in paper or plastic. Either is fine as long as it is moisture-proof. This meat is now ready to be stored.
7. Brining meat
- Wet curing is known as brining. This technique involves you keeping the meat submerged in a salty solution.
- Cut meat and put in crocks the same way. Prepare brine by combining a pound of salt and half a cup of sugar to three quarts of water. Feel free to mix in other ingredients such as herbs and spices. Repeat this process until you have enough water for all of the jars. Fill each one up.
- Make sure that the meat is completely submerged. If you are having problems, place a weight on top. Take the meat to your storage area.
- Each week you will have to take the meat out of the jars, stir the brine well and then place it back. After four weeks of repeating this process, your meat is ready. If you find the brine to be getting too thick, you will need to replace it with a fresh batch.
8. Smoking meat
- Smoke has the same effect as salt of keeping away bacteria from your meat.
- Smoking uses indirect heat at low temperatures. The temperature should be anywhere between 150 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- There are many designs for building a smoke house.
- This process is known as hard smoking and it is a way of cooking your meat in a way that will not require refrigeration. The end product will look similar to jerky.
This information is not meant as medical advice. It is provided solely for education. Our practice would be pleased to discuss your unique circumstances and needs as they relate to these topics.