Planting Corn in Stations

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Before I moved to Central America a couple of years ago, I always planted corn in rows, one plant every 6-12 inches, 1.5-3 feet apart.

Like this:

Planting Corn in Stands

Then a farmer taught me the local method of planting corn in stations, and I’ve found it really saves prep time.

Read More: “Hand Pollinating Corn for Seed Saving”

Instead of tilling an area, you just take a string trimmer (or scythe or whatever may be your weed-clearing weapon of choice) and scalp the ground right down to the dirt.

Then knock loose holes in the ground about 2.5 feet apart, plant 4 kernels in each hole, and feed with manure or whatever high-nitrogen material you have.

In a few weeks, the corn will grow taller, but the weeds you knocked down will also return. Come back with your string trimmer and knock all the space between the corn back to bare earth.

In a few more weeks, the corn will be tall enough to take care of itself and shade out the weeds. Eventually, you harvest the ears, then turn the ground over to grow something else.

It’s really an easy system. You can see a patch I planted this way in this video.

This method of planting corn can also be used in a pigeon pea/corn intercrop system like I wrote about here.

As I remark in the video, I’d really love to try this in a typical lawn. Imagine doing this in the midst of an expanse of St. Augustine or bahia! What great fun.

Here’s a large patch of corn growing this way:

Planting Corn in Stations on Hillside

See how it was done? It’s the same method of hacking holes into the soil and planting kernels. 3-4 seeds are planted in each hole and the corn grows nicely that way in a small clump. Between clumps is about 2.5 feet in all directions.

This method seems to work very well on slopes, as the roots of the weeds and grass hold the soil together, whereas tilling it all and row planting corn could lead to serious erosion issues.

The harvests are decent as well — I haven’t noticed a drop off in productivity at all. The wider spacing also means you can often grow corn without any irrigation, depending on your climate.

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Book Review: The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making

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One self-reliant project that I enjoy, but haven’t got around to videotaping is home sausage making. I believe that the ability to cure and store meat is a vital skill to anyone interested in producing a majority of their own food (vegans and veggies excepted). I can deal with a lot of things, but a life without bacon and sausage are just not worth dealing with (IMHO).  All preppers need to know how to How to Harvest Your Livestock and Wild Game Luckily I found this little gem. The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making is a

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Growing Lettuce From Seed

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Growing Lettuce at Home

When lettuce is mentioned, many people think of the standard iceberg lettuce found in supermarkets and restaurant salads. But that is changing quickly with the growth in popularity of different types of lettuces, mainly due to the flavors and colors that they offer. When you’re growing lettuce from seed at home, you can choose from the full spectrum of seed that’s available.

At farmers markets, health food coops, and organic food stores, a big variety of lettuce types have cropped up.  Their colors range from deep red to mottled greens, all the way to almost white.  And their flavors vary from noticeably sweet to tangy, and slightly bitter.

Iceberg lettuce, originally bred as a hybrid, is now offered as open pollinated varieties and has been around long enough to be considered by some as an “heirloom”!

Eating with the Seasons

We have come to expect lettuce year round. We’ve been educated by the supermarkets about what our vegetables should look like, what they should taste like, and when they should be available. And for most of them, we expect them to be available all year.

Many people are surprised to learn that lettuce is a cool-season crop.  It will bolt, or go to seed, readily during late spring and early summer months.

Where I live, it is best to plant lettuce early in the spring and then again in late summer or early fall when the temperatures start to cool off.

Infographic: Save Our Seeds

Better Lettuce Seed Germination

Lettuce seeds won’t sprout when soil temperatures are above 80° F.  But they will start to Freckles-LettuceWeb1-germinate as low as 40°F, making it ideal for early- and late-season planting.

When temperatures are too high, a plant hormone is produced that stops the germination process. This is called thermo-inhibition. This trait is a carryover from wild lettuce that originated in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds were to sprout under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.

Choose Heat-Resistant Lettuce

Thanks to traditional plant breeding, several varieties of lettuce have been selected for heat-tolerant characteristics. And some of these are open-pollinated, meaning you can save the seeds from year to year.

Some examples are Saint Anne’s Slow Bolting, Summertime, Black Seeded Simpson, and Jericho. Just because these are heat tolerant doesn’t mean that they will grow through the summer. It only means that they won’t bolt or turn bitter quite as quickly.

Growing Lettuce from Seed: Tips & Tricks

Thanks to ongoing research on lettuce traits, there are some techniques home gardeners can use to extend the sprouting for lettuce seeds into the warmer months. The optimum soil temperature for most lettuce seeds is 68°F, with some varieties sprouting in the 40-75°F range. The temperature of the soil must be taken—not just the air temperature, which can be several degrees different.

Imbibing or soaking the seeds in cool water for 16-24 hours in a well-lit area before planting will increase the germination percentages greatly. Red light has been found to be the best color, but if you don’t have access to a non-heating red light, sunlight or full-spectrum light was found to be almost as good. In warm conditions, soaking the seeds in the dark can actually decrease their germination rates. And soaking for less than 16 hours has little to no positive effect on germination rates.

Read More: 7 Tips to Start Seed Like a Professional Grower

Extending the Lettuce Season

Successful methods of extending the season for lettuce in the garden include laying a thick mulch of straw or wood chips on the ground at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. This insulates the soil from becoming too hot and helps to preserve moisture in the soil.

Lightly shading the lettuce plants can provide enough of a temperature drop to keep them from bolting, sometimes up to 3-5 weeks. Shade can be from a shade cloth or a row cover on a low tunnel, or by companion planting tall, wide-leafed plants such as some types of pumpkin.

The traditional rule of thumb of “plant early and plant often” can be adjusted for lettuce as “plant late and plant often.”  When temperatures start to drop, be ready to start more lettuce seed for a second harvest in the fall.

Read More: A Cheap and Easy Way to Extend Your Growing Season

(This article was originally published May 22, 2014.)

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Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

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Easy Ways To Maximize The Harvest In Your Unheated Greenhouse

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Read part 1 in this series here.

For those of us living in northerly regions, using an unheated greenhouse in the winter may seem far-fetched. And yet, it’s perfectly feasible. Even way up north in hardiness zone 3, a simple greenhouse covered with flimsy plastic sheeting can give you a winter harvest. Greenhouse “glazing” (be it plastic sheeting, or polycarbonate or glass panels) can help replicate the climate 1.5 zones to your south; and further coverings inside the greenhouse (such as floating row covers) can give you the leeway of another 1.5 zones. In this way, a zone 3 winter becomes a zone 6 winter. While zone 6 isn’t exactly tropical, its climate supports the growth of cold-hardy vegetables.

The key here is “cold-hardy.” An unheated greenhouse won’t do for heat- and sun-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, or melons. But with a little thought, planning, and experimentation, you should be able to harvest salad greens, leeks, hardy root vegetables, and cool-weather Chinese greens during the winter months.

Building the Best Greenhouse

The location of your greenhouse and how it’s constructed will have a huge impact on your harvests. Before you start building, consider the following:

  • Ideally, a winter greenhouse should be situated against the south-facing wall of a house, garage, or outbuilding (such as a shed or chicken coop). That way, it will be protected from northerly winds while also benefiting from ambient heat.
  • If it’s not possible to build your greenhouse against an existing wall, its freestanding north-facing wall should be opaque (ideally painted black) so that it absorbs and retains heat.
  • Make sure the location isn’t shaded.
  • A foundation laid below the frost line will both protect against frost heave and insulate the soil within it.
  • The angle of the roof is crucial to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. Optimal roof angles differ depending on latitude. To figure out the best angle for your location, consult the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource published by the University of Minnesota.

How Cold is Too Cold?

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may be able to get by solely with passive solar and ambient heating. In colder regions, you may need to supplement some warmth. There are a number of ways that you can generate and/or trap heat without resorting to electricity or fuel.

Especially if you are setting a foundation below the frost line anyway, a sunken greenhouse can provide the warmth plants — especially root vegetables — need. As the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource explains, soil located 4 feet below the surface stays at a steady 40-50℉ regardless of air temperature.

Alternately, a trench or hole in the center of your greenhouse, filled with manure, will generate heat as the manure breaks down; and as a bonus, you will always have fertilizer easily at hand! Another option is to create heat sinks by filling black 55-gallon drums with water. The barrels absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. If you’re up for it, more complicated systems include solar heating and circulating water heated with solar power.

Regardless of how — or even if — you provide supplemental heat to your greenhouse, keep in mind that plants also need sunlight to thrive. During the shortest days of the year, growth will come to a standstill regardless of how warm your greenhouse is.

Choosing the Best Vegetable Varieties

As noted above, it’s essential to focus on cold-hardy vegetables for your unheated winter greenhouse. It may take some experimenting to find which varieties work best in your zone and your greenhouse’s microclimate, but to help you get started, consider these:

  • Cold-hardy salad greens, including endive, radicchio, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, collard, and mustard greens. Plant your greens in succession (perhaps one tray a week) and, when ready for harvest, cut what you need, leaving some green behind. The plants will continue to grow so that you get a second (and possibly third) harvest.
  • Root vegetables such as parsnips, beets, turnips, and carrots. As an added bonus, to deal with cold temperatures, root vegetables convert their starches to sugars, which act as a sort of natural anti-freeze. The increased sugars mean sweeter-tasting veggies.
  • Pak choi, Chinese cabbage, and other similar cool-weather Chinese greens.

Timing your Seedlings

It’s best to start your seeds in late summer or early fall so that your seedlings are well established before extreme cold hits. However, you can sow throughout the winter. If you choose to plant during the coldest months, start your seeds indoors or use a heat mat for seed propagation. Tender seedlings are more sensitive to the cold and need a solid start before they’re left 24/7 in an unheated greenhouse.

Why Bother?

You’re not alone if you’re wondering whether digging a four-foot “basement” for a greenhouse and calculating the optimal roof slant is more work than it’s worth. But, if you’re reading this, it goes without saying that you already know the benefits of gardening, whether in winter or summer: the joy of dirt under your fingernails; putting tasty, nutrient-dense produce on your table; cost-savings compared to purchasing bland supermarket vegetables; and self-sufficiency. Using an unheated greenhouse in the winter brings extra benefits, including the cost-savings over a heated greenhouse, supporting the environment, and the joy of proving those folks wrong, who think it’s impossible to grow fresh vegetables in the depths of winter.

Kids and Animals: Natural Explorers

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What Is Magical to a Child?

Kids and animals are a magical combination.

Nature holds a fascination for all people, but kids are especially entranced by the natural world. As adults, we are sometimes too busy to “stop and smell the roses,” but kids are always more than willing to explore and discover new things.

Animals, domestic and wild, are also natural explorers. Pairing a child up with a dog, cat, or other furry friend creates a lifelong bond between child and animal.

From plants to bugs to animals, the natural world provides a classroom perfect for learning.

Kids and Animals 1

Perfect Partners

Kids and animals are perfect partners. There are many studies that show the positive effects that pets have on kids, including the following:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Heightened sense of responsibility
  • More physical activity
  • Better social and emotional health

As with people, building trust is key to developing a healthy relationship with all animals. Kids are naturally geared toward succeeding at this. Their small size and soft voices calm and soothe, paving the way to a lasting relationship.

But that is only the beginning. Animals are also key to a healthy ecosystem and provide countless learning opportunities. How can we teach kids that animals are even more than our fluffy friends?

Can We Get a Puppy?

Whether it is a puppy, fish, or kitten, every kid has at some point asked for a pet. They swear they will take care of it, feed it, water it, and play with it … but they quickly lose interest once the novelty has worn off.

One way to ensure that they follow through and stay interested is by showing them how beneficial animals are to the home.

Dogs are normally the first type of pet a child will want.

With their furry faces and playful nature, it’s no wonder that they are a child’s dream pet. But dogs can be so much more than just a cuddly companion.

Dogs can help by guarding chickens and other livestock; by herding cattle and, in some cases, kids to safety; and by protecting their territory against predators and threats.

Most dogs have a natural instinct to protect.

Through proper training and good treatment, that instinct can be honed, making the dog more than just a pet.

Teaching kids that there are some tasks a dog could help with around the homestead and making children a part of the training process, if not responsible for it, will ensure that their interest and enthusiasm stays focused.

The Wow of Meow

Kids love cats. They are playful, soft, and oh-so-cute as kittens. They are also natural hunters and lethal tools for the homestead.

Having a few outdoor cats not only reduces any mice, mole, or vole problems you may have, but also teaches kids how every type of animal and pet has a different purpose.

Kids and Animals: Life Lessons

It is easy to get attached to an animal that you see and spend time with every day. However, it is important for kids to understand not only the purpose of animals, but also the role they play in the food chain.

It is our job to care for and treat well any animal in our care, but we must also remember that any animal we intend to eat is not our pet.

Chickens are a wonderful animal to have on the homestead. They keep weeds down and pests at bay, and they help spread seeds and fertilize the garden.

But, most importantly, they provide us with food.

We have kept chickens on our homestead for four years now, and our boys have been a part of every life stage from freshly hatched chicks to full-grown hens.

Kids and Animals 2

Just like kids should be helpers in the garden from seed to harvest, they need to be a part of the raising and butchering of any livestock that will eventually end up on the table. They need to know and understand that the chicken they see in the grocery store was once a living, breathing bird that someone raised for egg or meat production.

When we butchered our first flock, our boys were a part of the process.

We talked to them about what the chickens had provided for us in life, and what they would be giving with their death.

Get the kids involved, but make sure to tell them why and how the butchering will happen. This will prepare them for the process and make it less scary to witness.

  • Talk about the purpose of the animal on the homestead.
  • Thank the animal for providing labor and food.
  • Tell the kids what will happen when the animal is butchered.

Animals are the messengers of the tree, and trees the gardens of animals. Life depends upon life. All forces, all elements, all life forms are the biomass of the tree. —Bill Mollison

Call of the Wild

Nature provides so much fodder for both the imagination and the mind. Even if you don’t live on a farm or in a remote area, you can likely find an animal to study.

Frogs and fish are a great way to introduce and study life cycles. The boys caught a frog in our swales one day and started asking questions:

  • Where do frogs come from?
  • How do they grow?
  • Why aren’t they bumpy?

Kids and Animals 3

So many great questions, and all stemming from simply capturing a little frog!

These moments of curiosity and wonder can quickly turn into a brief lesson on life cycles and biology that will make a lasting impression on an interested and engaged child.

Dangerous Animals

Talking to kids about animals can also help prepare them for potentially dangerous situations.

Predators are a part of life, and teaching kids how to react when faced with certain predators can prepare them for these situations.

Coyotes and foxes are common animals in our area, and with chickens it becomes even more likely that we will encounter them at some point. We don’t want our kids to fear nature, but we do want them to have a healthy respect for animals and events that are outside of our control.

  • Talk about what certain predators hunt.
  • Discuss ways to be safe around them.
  • Explain what to do when threatened.

Teaching kids about animals and the role they play in a vibrant and robust ecosystem will help ensure that children treat them with care and respect. Kids need to understand that their job is to help by working with these partners nature provides.

Understanding the role animals play in a healthy ecosystem will help kids see the world for what it is—a garden of endless possibility.

The health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible. —Sir William Howard



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Book: Homegrown Whole Grains

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A backyard field of grains? Yes, absolutely! Wheat and corn are rapidly replacing grass in the yards of dedicated locavores across the country. For adventurous homeowners who want to get in on the movement, Homegrown Whole Grains is the place to begin. Growing whole grains is simpler and more rewarding than most people imagine. With […]

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Harvest Time the right time to Preserve!

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Harvest Time the right time to Preserve! Bob Hawkins “The APN Report” Listen in player below! Now that we’ve reached the Fall season, we’ve reached the time to harvest & preserve foods for the coming winter… or at least that’s what people have done from the dawn of time. Today, normal folk now count on … Continue reading Harvest Time the right time to Preserve!

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‘When Should I Pick It?’ — Harvesting Essentials For 12 Popular Vegetables

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‘When Should I Pick It?’ -- Harvesting Essentials For 12 Popular Vegetables

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Every novice gardener has done it — picked too early or waited too long to harvest their vegetables. Even experienced gardeners have been known to let excitement get the better of them when they see that first tomato turning red on the vine.

Since late summer and early fall is prime harvesting time, it is a good idea to go over some harvesting basics and give a few guidelines for the best time to harvest certain vegetables:

1. Tomatoes

Yes, it is tempting to pick these as soon as you see that they are red, but for the best quality and flavor, try leaving them on the plant for 5-8 days after they have gained full color. Then, at the end of the season, you’ll want to pick all the fruit before the first frost, regardless of ripeness. You can enjoy the classic “fried green tomatoes” or let them ripen indoors.

2. Zucchini

Zucchini will get huge if you let it – but don’t let it. These are best to pick when they are smaller and more tender. The ideal size is around 1 ½ inches in diameter and between 4-8 inches long.

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If you’re hoping for a few larger zucchinis at the end of the season, don’t worry – there always seems to be a few hiding that you don’t find until they have become rather robust.

3. Lettuce

Young leaf lettuce can be harvested pretty much as soon as it has reached the size you’d like to have it. If you are waiting for more mature and larger leaves, then harvest when they are between 4-6 inches long. For head lettuce, pick when the heads become somewhat firm but before they have formed seed stalks.

4. Carrots

Carrots can be a little tricky for some gardeners, since you cannot see what is happening with them under the soil. Examine the tops and harvest when the diameter is between ¼ to 1 inch. In order to get the best and sweetest flavor, try waiting until there has been a light frost. Be careful as you harvest, because bruising on this root vegetable can cause it to develop soft rot when it is in storage.

5. Beets

The tops of beetroots will begin to emerge as they become ready for harvest. Pick when they are between 1 ¼ to 2 inches in diameter.

6. Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts should be harvested when the small heads reach between 1 – 1 ½ inches in diameter. They are easily picked by holding and twisting. In order to speed up the maturation of this vegetable, remove the lower leaves along the stem.

7. Broccoli

‘When Should I Pick It?’ -- Harvesting Essentials For 12 Popular Vegetables

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For broccoli, you want to time it so that you harvest it when it has a nice big flower head but before any of the flowers have started to open. Cut the plant approximately seven inches below the head. Once the main head has been harvested, side heads will develop.

8. Cauliflower

When the curds have reached 2-3 inches in diameter, cover them by loosely tying the head into surrounding leaves. Cauliflower heads should be picked when they have reached full size but are still smooth and white.

9. Peppers

Peppers can be harvested green or ripe, depending on the flavor that you want. If harvesting green, wait until the fruits are full sized and are firm to the touch.

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For ripe (red, yellow, orange or purple) peppers, simply wait until they have reached their full color (generally about 2-3 weeks after reaching full size).

10. Sweet corn

You know that summer is in its apex when sweet corn starts to appear in farmers’ markets and at summer barbeque parties. If you are growing corn yourself, the time to pick it is when the silks have turned brown and dry and the kernels are completely filled. You can determine this by pressing on the husk with your thumbnail.

11. Watermelon

Watermelons should be harvested when they have reached full size – but given the variety of sizes that these tasty summer fruits can come in, how do you know it’s time? Gently turn the fruit and examine the spot where it contacts the ground. If this spot is a cream or yellow color, it means that your watermelon is ready to be harvested.

12. Winter squash

Unlike the summer varieties of squash such as zucchini, the rind of a winter squash should be firm and not easily penetrated by your fingernail. The point where the squash makes contact with the ground should be cream to orange colored depending on the variety that you are growing. If you are picking squash to be put in storage, leave about 2-3 inches of the vine at the top – this will help prevent rot.  While these garden vegetables are hardy and can withstand a light frost, they should be picked before there is a heavy one.

What harvesting advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

6 Life-Saving Uses For An Ordinary Glass Bottle (Don’t Miss The Video For No. 3!)

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6 Life-Saving Uses For An Ordinary Glass Bottle (Don’t Miss The Video For No. 3!)

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It can be frustrating to see litter and trash lying on streets and in fields, but for the savvy survivalist, some trash can turn into life-saving tools.

One such item that is commonly thrown away but can be re-purposed into a variety of different survival uses is the glass bottle.

Here are seven survival uses for an ordinary glass bottle:

1. Make a glass blade.

A glass bottle can be easily re-purposed as a tool or weapon, and specifically as a glass blade. We’re talking about everything from knives to arrowheads to spear points to practically any kind of razor-sharp instrument that you can think of. Just be careful not to cut yourself when breaking the bottle into the shape you need.

2. Boiling water.

In any kind of survival situation, you will always have to boil or purify water before you drink it. Drinking water that has been contaminated in any way whatsoever can sometimes be more dangerous than not drinking any water at all.

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Simply fill the bottle up from the nearest river or lake that you find, and then suspend it over a fire with some sort of cord. The water will begin to boil in just a matter of minutes, and any harmful bacteria or pathogens inside of it will be eliminated.

3. Starting a fire.

On a day where you have plenty of sun, fill up your glass bottle with clear water. Then, position that bottle in between the sun and whatever you’re using as tinder; charred cloth works best for this method. The sun will shine through the bottle and onto the tinder. Hold the bottle steady and roughly an inch or two above the tinder. (It requires patience.) Once the smoke starts to appear, gently blow on it to create an ember that can then catch flame.

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4. Transporting water.

Make sure that you have a cork or some sort of cloth to wrap around the top as a lid. If you’re electing to stockpile your water, then do so in a cool and dry location; storing water under the sun or in a hot room greatly increases the likelihood of harmful bacteria or pathogens developing in it.

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5. As a container.

You don’t just have to use your glass bottles to store water. You can also use them to keep water out. Store anything in your glass bottles that you need to keep dry, such as sugar, salt, cloth and medications.

6. As a portable torch.

Beyond using your glass bottle to get a fire going, you can also use it to maintain a fire, as well, specifically in the form of a torch. Clean up your water bottle from the inside-out, and make sure that you have a wick and some torch fluid on standby. Fill the bottom part of the bottle with water underneath the wick, and then the rest of the bottle with the torch fluid.

Pour a little bit of the fluid over the wick and then place it into the bottle. Light the wick and you have a torch.

What survival uses would you add? Share your tips in the section below:  

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How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

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How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

Feel that chill in the air?

As much as I hate to, it’s time to say good-bye to our tomato plants. Cold weather is coming and with it comes the tomato killing frost.

The good news is saying good-bye doesn’t mean you have to toss all the remaining green tomatoes out with the vine. Sure, you could eat fried green tomato sandwiches to your heart’s content. But the other option is to pick them and wait for them to turn red. 

Yes, you guessed it. 

There is a way to ripen green tomatoes indoors.

Here’s what you need to do:

Pick your mature green tomatoes, bring them inside and set them on the kitchen counter. 

That’s it. It’s that simple. 

In a few days to a few weeks your tomatoes will turn red. (Time varies depending on tomato variety, and what growth stage they were in when you picked them.) 

Here’s a picture of mine going through the counter top ripening process right now…

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

If you’re thinking, what if I have too many to leave on the counter?

If it isn’t practical to leave the tomatoes on your kitchen counter, there’s another method you can try. Sue Condlin, the Cooperative Extension Director of Lee County, North Carolina tells us how to ripen a large number of green tomatoes using newspaper and a box: 

If you have green tomatoes that are still pretty firm, and not showing any color at all, you can try this method. Pick the tomatoes, wash them, and dry them. Wrap in newspapers, place in a box in a single layer and store in a cool place. Tomatoes should not be allowed to touch. Store the box in a cool dry place, such as an unheated basement or garage. Check the boxes regularly for signs of ripening, and remove those that are starting to change color so they can finish ripening on your counter top.

Will ripening a tomato inside affect it’s flavor?

Probably. Nothing beats a vine-ripened tomato in the middle of summer.

However, tomatoes that are ripened indoors still taste better than any you’d buy at the store. I’ll attest to that. Homegrown’s always better, right? 

So, go pick your green tomatoes, and then share this post with a friend. 

The more green tomatoes we can save from the compost pile, the better. :)


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