Do You Know What to Do If Your Water Becomes Contaminated?

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Back in 2015, the EPA spilled millions of gallons of toxic waste into a river in Colorado. This single event turned an entire river system orange with over 3 million gallons of toxic water containing heavy metals such as manganese, copper, zinc, and cadmium. Wells and municipal water systems in 3 states were tested for possible contamination.

This was just another reminder about how vulnerable our water supply is . . . one of many reminders over just the past few years. There are a whole slew of threats that can compromise our water—natural disasters, industrial abuses, government accidents—the list goes on.

So that leads me to the question I want to ask you today: Do you know what to do if your water supply becomes contaminated during an emergency?

When disaster strikes and your water supply is disrupted or contaminated, safe drinking water will quickly become your #1 Priority. Who will make sure that your family has the water they need to survive? You, that’s who.

Plain and simple, you need to be ready to take care of your own.

The ability to turn nasty water into pure, safe drinking water in an emergency is an essential skill for pretty much everyone, so I’ve asked water purification expert Glenn Meder if he would update the TGN Community on threats to our water supply. He very kindly agreed, so if you want to learn how to take care of your family’s water supply in an emergency situation, I hope you’ll join us next week for this free online class.

In it, Glenn will teach us how to provide our families with safe drinking water independent of municipal sources or supply chains for long periods of time, and how to assess a water emergency and make smart decisions.

Here’s the important info:

It’s Been 4 Days Without Electricity. Now What?
(How to Provide Your Family with Safe Drinking Water in a Massive, Long-term Blackout) 

Thursday, June 28

7:00 p.m. CDT (8:00 p.m. EDT / 6:00 p.m. MDT / 5:00 p.m. PDT)

Reserve Your Spot Now

Glenn’s an expert on this subject. He grew up working in his family’s water-treatment business, and he has a better understanding of the details of water treatment than anyone else I’ve ever met.

So, needless to say, we’re pretty excited that he’ll be offering this class to our TGN Community. I promise you’ll be glad you took one hour to review this lifesaving information.

(Oh, and, when you register for next week’s free class, Glenn will send you Water in an Emergency, a simple, practical e-guide to water treatment after an emergency. It takes you beyond bottled water and shows you how to be prepared to produce your own safe drinking water for extended periods of time. You’ll want to print it out and have it with your emergency supplies as a quick reference.)

 

The post Do You Know What to Do If Your Water Becomes Contaminated? appeared first on The Grow Network.

A Kid’s Perspective on Home Butchering

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It’s Just the Facts of Life

Ever since I can remember, I have grown up with home butchering. Whenever we got some kind of poultry or livestock, we always had the intention of butchering them later on, so it was never a surprise to me when Fluffy the bunny was in our stew the next week.

In my eyes, they weren’t really pets, but they weren’t really livestock, either. We just had animals that I loved to snuggle, and then later . . . loved to eat.

That was that, no hard feelings.  

A Kid's Perspective on Home Butchering 1

Should You Name Your Meat Livestock?

My favorite part has always been when we first get the animals and they are all so cute and tiny. As soon as I heard that a new litter of bunnies had arrived, I would race out to the garden to marvel at the pink little squirmy blobs. Of course, I wouldn’t pick them up until they were old enough, but the moment they were, those poor little bunnies would be dressed up in bows and sent through little obstacle courses made out of cardboard boxes and various bits and pieces from around the house.

My mom always insisted that I didn’t need to take the bunnies out to the trampoline to learn how to jump, but I was sure that it was my job to teach them this important life skill.

Some people have a rule that they don’t name their livestock, but I’ve never had a problem with it. As soon as I could tell them apart, they all had names. Some of my favorite names were BunBun, Officer Hoppers, Gravy, and Pinky. It seems like every litter had a bunny or two named Fluffy. (Thinking of names is hard—sometimes you have to reuse a name a few times!)

Even when they grew bigger, I would often bring them inside and continue to dress them up and snuggle with them against my dad’s will.

One Benefit to Home Butchering Is Learning Anatomy

When it came time to butcher the bunnies, I would help my mom round them up and bring them to the barn, where I would then pick out who goes first. This sounds really morbid, and my 7-year-old self didn’t think much about it, but I would determine who gets butchered next by how much they liked snuggles. If you were squirming to get away, you were next . . . .

I have a vivid memory of one time when my mom was butchering a rabbit and my brother, who is 2 years older than me, was crying and pleading for her not to do it. I didn’t really understand why he was so upset about it, because I knew that’s why we had rabbits in the first place, and I really liked rabbit enchiladas . . . soooo, what’s the problem here?

A Kid's Perspective on Home Butchering 1

That was also the very special day that I got to hold a real heart for the first time. For as far back as I can remember, I have always been intrigued by anatomy and how the things inside of your body work, so I would always hang close to my mom and ask what that weird organ was and if I could touch it. I thought the heart was the coolest organ, so when I got to hold one for real, I was ecstatic.

It’s a Badge of Honor

I was much more involved with the bunnies because they were nice to snuggle with, but when we had chickens, I would sometimes play with them when they were at prime cuteness.

A Kid's Perspective on Home Butchering 3

Although I don’t mind the butchering of our chickens, I do mind defeathering 50 to 70 chickens in one day. Usually we will get a hundred or so baby chicks in the spring, raise them up, and then butcher them all in the summer. Not all of them survive getting here and growing up, but still, 50 chickens is a lot of birds to pluck, even with 4 or 5 other people helping.

My brother and I would invite some of our friends over to help, and to our surprise, they were all excited to learn about home butchering.

Actually, most of the kids in our neighborhood wanted to learn how to process a chicken.

My mom says this is a skill that all kids used to know, and apparently, most kids are into it if given the opportunity. Even my older brother became proud that he could teach his buddies how to do it.

I enjoy having the bunnies and chicks around for a while before they land on the dinner table. There is one kind of animal, however, that I am ready to butcher as soon as we get them . . . geese. I’ve never liked geese, and I never will. They’re bullies, they hiss at you for no reason, and they poop anywhere and everywhere that they can get their butts to.

You can tell me that geese aren’t that bad, and they are actually sweet animals on the inside or whatever your reasoning is for liking geese—but in my opinion, having goose stew is like sweet, sweet revenge.

It’s Important to Honor the Full Circle

I’m sure that each kid is going to have a different reaction to home butchering. Although not every 7-year-old is going to want to play with all of the organs in a rabbit, I do think it’s nice to include kids in the butchering process somehow.

It’s a good learning experience about death and giving thanks.

A Kid's Perspective on Home Butchering 4

My mom and I would always do a little ceremony and sing a special song after each rabbit died to recognize its life and what it was giving us. If you want to see her perform this ceremony, it’s in the butchering section of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD set. You can click here to pick up your own copy. (There’s also some footage in there of me doing dishes when I was little.)

The whole butchering process really made me think about where my food is coming from—and about how much of a blessing it is for a living being to give its life for my nourishment.

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The post A Kid’s Perspective on Home Butchering appeared first on The Grow Network.

From Bacon to Baby Backs: Hog Butchering at Home

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CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about hog butchering. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.

This is part four in a multi-part series on processing pigs at home. If you’ve been following along, in the previous posts, we’ve covered preparing for the slaughter, making the kill, and post-kill processing including hair removal, evisceration, and head removal.  We are now onto the hog butchering process.

In case you missed those earlier posts, here are the links:

Article #1: “Preparing for a Pig Slaughter”

Article #2: “The Pig Slaughter”

Article #3: “Hog Processing: Skinning, Scalding, Scraping, and Eviscerating”

Hog Butchering While the Carcass Is Hanging

Now, it’s time to turn a carcass into useful meat cuts on the homestead. At the grocery store, you usually find tenderloin, pork chop, Boston butt or shoulder roasts, precooked hams, presliced cured bacon, and baby back ribs.

You can certainly try to duplicate these cuts at home. However, when you process at home, you have more options about how to make your cuts. Since we only process a few pigs a year, we try new techniques for making roasts, ribs, and chops each time. But, there are a few key cuts we always make.

1. Make the Belly Cut

The first cut we make is to remove the belly. Doing this makes it easier to remove the tenderloins and to cut the carcass in half.

Pig ribs are very similar in shape to human ribs. They start wide near the sternum, then taper toward the waist. The belly area, which can be used for bacon, is basically the fat-covered muscle area that runs between the two sides of the ribs and in the bone-free area between the ribs and pelvis.

Some bacon lovers even cut up and over the ribs and use the back meat for bacon. This works well with market-style pigs like Yorkshires. However, with our pasture-raised Berkshires, there’s just not enough fat marbling to make good bacon from that area.

The only tricky part about removing the belly is that as the ribs begin to widen, there are soft-floating ribs that are tender enough to slice with a knife. Sometimes, in our eagerness to get more bacon, we cut too close to those floating ribs and end up with bits of them in our belly cut.

In the photo below, you can see where I cleared them on the first belly I removed, but nicked the first one on the other side and had to readjust my knife before continuing to remove the belly.

The non-skin side of the belly is covered with a layer of fat called leaf-lard. Use your fingers to pry that layer of fat off the meat. You can render that separately for use as “pastry lard” (if you have enough of it). Or just lump it in with the rest of your lard trim for later use.

Once you have removed both sides of the belly, next up is the tenderloin.

2. Remove the Tenderloins

The tenderloin is the most tender cut of meat because those particular muscles don’t get as much use as areas like the shoulders. They are located inside the carcass, on either side of the back bone near the hind legs. Some people call them filets because of their fish-like shape.

Tenderloins should be removed before you begin to halve the carcass. Once you locate them, gently cut around the connective tissue holding them in place. Work slowly so you can get every bit of this delicate cut.

3. Split the Carcass

Now you are ready to split the carcass into halves. Cut a line down the skin and meat side of the back as a guide. Then saw from the inside of the carcass following the spinal cord. If you get off course, back your saw up and straighten your cut.

Now that you’ve got your carcass cut into manageable pieces, you can take it off the gambrels and over to your work table. This is easiest if you have two people, each taking a side, and remove the halves simultaneously. If you have to do this alone, put a tarp down to catch the other half of the carcass in case it slides off the gambrel when you remove the first side.

Hog Butchering on a Tabletop

For the rest of this process, we use a stainless steel table and keep a few large cutting boards handy to cube trim for sausage and clean up roasts.

1. Remove the Hocks and Trotters

Hocks and trotters come off first for us. We use a knife to cut at the knee joints and a saw to go through the bone.

We aren’t so fond of eating these, so we use them as treats for dogs or chickens.  They don’t mind the hair and skin, so we don’t bother scraping these areas.

2. Separate the Hams

We cure and cold-smoke our hams so they can be stored without refrigeration. For country ham curing, we like to keep just a short hock on the ham (as shown in the photo above and below).  For prosciutto-style hams, we just remove the trotter (foot) and leave the hock long.

I like to rotate the ham around the hip joint to find the narrow point for separating the ham. Leave the ribs facing down on the table and roll the skin side of the ham in the opposite direction. Cut around the meat to the bone. Then use a saw to cut through the bone.

The last step is to trim up the ham to make the front face mostly smooth for curing.  Any scraps of meat or fat you remove can be put in a trim pile for use in sausage or as cubed meat for stewing.

3. Remove the Back Fat and Skin

From this point forward, there are lots of different ways to butcher a pig. I love pork skins. So, I try to remove the skin and back fat in large slabs. I put the skin-side down and use my knife to separate the skin from the meat.

Once I have a large slab, I trim off any residual meat for my sausage meat pile. I put the fat in our freezer to chill it, because that makes it easier to remove the fat from the skin.

4. Cut the Pork Loin

After you have removed the fat and skin, you can see the long strip of muscle that runs along the spine next to the ribs. This is the loin.

We’re not big fans of pork chops, so we usually cut this into 3-4 roasts. We prefer to use the fat for lard and sausage, so we don’t leave much on the loin.

5. Separate the Ribs

We love our ribs, and pigs can have between 15 and 17 of them. We have no problem sucking meat off the bone or even off the floating ribs.

We like to cut what we call “dinosaur ribs.” Basically, we separate the shoulder from the ribs. Usually though, we break the shoulder area about 4-5 ribs down from the neck.

We use the saw to cut off the spine so we can fit the ribs in our pot. We follow the spine closely, though, rather than cutting down the center of the ribs to make classic baby back ribs.

6. Cut the Shoulder and Picnic

The shoulder is the area above the front leg or picnic. The meat in the front leg has lots of silver skin and is not very tender. We usually cut that up and use it for sausage. Then, we cut multiple 2-pound roasts from around the shoulder blade.

For one of our shoulders, though, we kept the leg with the shoulder, removed the skin, and slow roasted that entire primal cut. We also saved another one to try cooking in a hot smoker in order to make a several-month supply of prepared pulled pork to enjoy all summer long.

Miscellaneous

As you are making all these cuts, you’ll be able to cut trim from odd-shaped roasts, areas around the bones, and in spots where the meat has more ligature. You will also be able to cut extra fat from your belly cut, the back, and around some of the muscles. As we are making our other cuts, we also cut all that trim into pieces that fit into our grinder and throw the fat into one bowl and the meat into another to use for sausage later.

The bones that we cut from the meat—such as the spine, shoulder blade, and front leg bones—go into the stockpot for making bone stock.  Extra bits of skin that aren’t used for pork rinds also go into the stock to make gelatin. You can read more about how we make bone stock here:

Read More: “Benefits of Bone Broth: Myth or Magical Mystery?”

Hog Butchering in Warm Weather

In cold weather, we can allow our pig to hang overnight to chill the meat. This makes hog butchering a lot easier. However, when processing in late spring (as in this photo series), we have to work quickly to get everything safely processed.

We have a marine cooler lined with frozen bottles of water sitting in the shade ready to hold cuts.

We don’t use ice because we don’t want our meat cuts—like the belly or hams—to take up extra water before we cure them. We keep a fan blowing in the area where we are working to keep insects away.

My partner, Matt, and I, work as a team. As one of us butchers, the other immediately takes the cuts and puts them in the cooler if more processing is necessary. Roasts and ready-to-cook cuts are immediately packaged and put straight into the freezer.

Fall or early winter is certainly our preferred time to butcher. But there are ways to make processing safe at home even in warmer temperatures.

Now that we’ve got hog butchering wrapped up, our next installment in this series will be on some post-butchering preparations, like making country ham and bacon. In the meantime, I am going to go cook up those tenderloins and savor the flavor of pork that’s been raised, processed, and prepared at home.

How about you? Do you have any hog butchering techniques, cuts, or preparations you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

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The post From Bacon to Baby Backs: Hog Butchering at Home appeared first on The Grow Network.

Summer Kitchen In A Suitcase?

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During last year’s Home Grown Food Summit, the president of SUN OVENS International, Paul Munsen, very kindly donated not one, but two SUN OVENS for us to give away as prizes.

But it was a bit crazy: Nikki, who manages all of our incoming e-mail, was bombarded with inquiries about this particular prize.

Easy outdoor kitchen: cook with the sun using a sun oven!

(And about the Survival Still . . . but I’ll come back to that in another post.)

Anyway, people were asking Nikki so many questions about how the SUN OVEN works, that I contacted Paul and asked him to ship me one so I could create my own video review of it!

You can watch me unbox a SUN OVEN and cook with it for the first time here:

Once I tried it, I could immediately appreciate why SUN OVENS have been on the market for more than 30 years now.

This is a quality product.

And in the middle of a Texas summer, I gotta tell you, I really appreciate being able to cook outdoors with it.

Easy outdoor kitchen: cook with the sun using a sun oven!
Easy outdoor kitchen: cook with the sun using a sun oven!

If you’re interested in learning more about the SUN OVEN and how it can benefit your family, Paul will be hosting a really great workshop for our TGN Community next week:

Review of the Sun Oven

Spring Into Summer: Harness the Sun to Save Money & Live Naturally

Thursday, June 21, 2018

6:00 p.m. PST / 7:00 p.m. MDT / 8:00 p.m. CST / 9:00 p.m. EST

A 60-minute online class with live Q&A

FREE TO ATTEND . . . but you must register here:

https://www.sunoven.com/grow-network-registration

Hope you can make it!

Easy outdoor kitchen: cook with the sun using a sun oven!

P.S. Don’t forget . . . . Paul has spoken at the last two Home Grown Food Summits, so if you’d like to geek out and prepare some questions IN ADVANCE for him, you can always rewatch the presentations if you purchased lifetime access to these events (Lifetime access is no longer available, but if you already own them, you can rewatch them!):

  1. “Harnessing Solar Energy on the Homestead” was his presentation at the 2017 Home Grown Food Summit.
  2. And “Cooking With the Power of the Sun” was his presentation at the 2016 Home Grown Food Summit.

P.P.S. You won’t want to miss this webinar. Paul has promised to cover topics that will include how to:

  • Use a SUN OVEN in ways that go beyond just cooking, like pasteurizing water, dehydrating, and sterilizing potting soil.
  • Bake, boil, steam, and roast complete meals (that’ll never burn!).
  • Naturally dehydrate fruits and vegetables, or make jerky.
  • Reduce your utility bills (and keep your kitchen cooler!) while enjoying baked roasts and breads all summer long.
  • Naturally kill bug infestations in grains or dried foods.

And so much more.

Again, you can register for this FREE class here: https://www.sunoven.com/grow-network-registration

Plus, you’ll see on the registration page that Paul is giving everyone who registers a FREE COPY of his e-Book “Emerging from the Emergency,” a 120-page disaster preparedness guide that helps you plan to survive any tragedy or disaster.

So make sure you download a copy of that, too!

(This review of the SUN OVEN was originally published on July 17, 2017—but the 2018 workshop really is happening next week! 🙂

 

The post Summer Kitchen In A Suitcase? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Congratulations, May Certification Graduates!

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Congratulations to the following Community members on completing one or more of our Certifications in May!

As many of you know, one of the perks of membership in our Honors Lab is FREE access to several amazing certifications in our Honors Lab area—and lots more are in the works.

These Certifications dive deep. They’re essentially multi-lesson master classes, full of practical know-how so you can immediately start reaping benefits for yourself, your family, and your garden.

(And if you’re not an Honors Lab member yet, you can gain access to these Certifications + lots more perks of membership by joining today. Click here to learn more!)

 

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production Certification

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production 

In this awesome certification, TGN blogger (and homesteader extraordinaire!) Tasha Greer covers everything from breed selection and coop design to flock health and egg storage — plus lots more….

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing this Certification:

  • Brian Moyers
  • Nanciann Lamontagne
  • Sharon Companion
  • Suzette Carlin

 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification

This 8-week course teaches the principles of bio-intensive gardening—one of the easiest, most sustainable ways to produce big, delicious fruits and vegetables!

It covers everything from starting and transplanting seedlings to the basics of garden beds and soil, and from making compost to garden maintenance. There’s even a section on harvesting and processing grains!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members for completing the Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification in May!

  • Downing
  • Nanciann Lamontagne

 

Home Medicine 101 Certification

Home Medicine 101 Certification

The Home Medicine 101 Certification is a perennial favorite in the Honors Lab!

This eight-week class teaches you how to remedy:

  • Burns, stings, and rashes,
  • Wounds and lacerations,
  • Coughs and colds,
  • Fevers,
  • Indigestion,
  • Anxiety and insomnia,
  • Muscle pain, and
  • Topical infections …

… with readily available plants you may already have growing in your backyard!

Congratulations to the following Community members on completing Home Medicine 101:

  • david jones
  • ginaBacigalupo Zappia
  • goldenangel0819760
  • JessicaPatel
  • Kerry Lowe
  • MarilynSunia
  • Nanciann Lamontagne
  • Nelly P
  • Ray Harney
  • Shelli Haun
  • Sherriamaro

 

Instant Master Gardener Certification

Instant Master Gardener Certification

In just 8 lessons, The Grow Network’s Instant Master Gardener Certification reveals gardening secrets, tips, and tricks that most people spend years discovering.

Lessons include:

  1. “The Secret to a Green Thumb”
  2. “How Much Land Do You Need?”
  3. “The Power of Herbs”
  4. “The Easiest Way to Prepare a Garden Bed”
  5. “Three Facts About Seeds Every Master Gardener Knows”
  6. “Transplanting Baby Plants”
  7. “The Four HUGE Advantages of Backyard Food Production”
  8. “A Homemade Fertilizer So Powerful, You Could Create a Business Out of It”

Congrats to the following Honors Lab members for completing this powerful certification in May:

  • ChimneyFieldFarm
  • Daviddulock
  • Diane Massey
  • jbartlett
  • Nanciann Lamontagne
  • Whtwtrldy

 

Saving Quality Seeds Certification

Saving Quality Seeds

Learn how to save seeds that will ensure an abundant harvest in years to come with the in-depth information in TGN’s Saving Quality Seeds Certification.

This 7-lesson Certification teaches which plants are easiest to save seeds from, how to plan your garden with seed-saving in mind, how to do a garden soil inventory, the basics of dry and wet harvesting, the best way to store seed, how to determine seed quality—and more!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing this Certification:

  • Nanciann Lamontagne
  • Suzette Carlin

We’ve also got several more certifications in the works, including “Making Medicine,” “Growing Mushrooms,” “Raising Ducks,” “Beekeeping,” and “Growing Medical Marijuana.” We’re working with some fantastic experts on these, so you’ll definitely want to check them out in the Honors Lab once they’re ready. Exciting stuff! 🙂

 

The post Congratulations, May Certification Graduates! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Congratulations, March and April Certification Graduates!

Click here to view the original post.

Congratulations to the following Community members on completing one or more of our Certifications in March and April!

As many of you know, one of the perks of membership in our Honors Lab is FREE access to several amazing certifications in our Honors Lab area—and lots more are in the works.

These Certifications dive deep. They’re essentially multi-lesson master classes, full of practical know-how so you can immediately start reaping benefits for yourself, your family, and your garden.

(And if you’re not an Honors Lab member yet, you can gain access to these Certifications + lots more perks of membership by joining today. Click here to learn more!)

 

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production Certification

NEW! Backyard Chickens for Egg Production 

In this awesome new certification, TGN blogger (and homesteader extraordinaire!) Tasha Greer covers everything from breed selection and coop design to flock health and egg storage — plus lots more….

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing this Certification:

  • Cherlynn
  • Connie
  • daviddulock
  • Debbie Kennedy
  • Diane Massey
  • Donna Detweiler
  • Downing
  • griesjoe
  • Heather Duro
  • Jennifer Walton
  • Joanna Newcomer
  • Luetta
  • Mark Davis
  • MikeF
  • Nata Porter
  • Rebecca Potrafka
  • Scott Sexton
  • suzan.mckillop

 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification

This 8-week course teaches the principles of bio-intensive gardening—one of the easiest, most sustainable ways to produce big, delicious fruits and vegetables!

It covers everything from starting and transplanting seedlings to the basics of garden beds and soil, and from making compost to garden maintenance. There’s even a section on harvesting and processing grains!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members for completing the Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification in March and April!

  • bonhil777
  • Cherlynn
  • elizsiracusa
  • griesjoe
  • Heather Duro
  • Joanna Newcomer
  • Kathryn Magoon
  • Lauren Premo
  • Linda Clardy
  • Mary Ellen Rowe
  • MikeF
  • Richelle John
  • Sharon Companion
  • Shelli Haun
  • susanna.schuch
  • suzan.mckillop

 

Home Medicine 101 Certification

Home Medicine 101 Certification

The Home Medicine 101 Certification is a perennial favorite in the Honors Lab!

This eight-week class teaches you how to remedy:

  • Burns, stings, and rashes,
  • Wounds and lacerations,
  • Coughs and colds,
  • Fevers,
  • Indigestion,
  • Anxiety and insomnia,
  • Muscle pain, and
  • Topical infections …

… with readily available plants you may already have growing in your backyard!

Congratulations to the following Community members for completing Home Medicine 101:

  • alyssabpanico
  • AmyMatter
  • andreasexton
  • Anna-Marie
  • barb.stinson
  • bayetdelatour
  • bonhil777
  • Brenda Nicholson
  • cathyneumans
  • CeceliaStubbs
  • Cherlynn
  • ChristieWeixel
  • Chuck Belshe
  • CindaDunham
  • crowe.martin
  • DavidColley
  • Denise Poundstone
  • Diane Massey
  • Dianne
  • Donna Raygoza
  • elizsiracusa
  • equussue
  • ewbroach
  • fostermom30
  • Gee
  • Greg
  • griesjoe
  • handhinternatl
  • Jamie Carels
  • jasabelle6
  • Joanna Newcomer
  • KarinHolzscheiter
  • Katrina Rhoades
  • Kevin White
  • KrisLaubach
  • Lann
  • Lisa Petrillo
  • M
  • Marilyn Nepper
  • Mary Anne Chase
  • Mary Linda Bittle
  • michaelbuzel
  • nancybekaert
  • nicolette_b_2000
  • NINITAKELLER
  • NoeleneChadwick
  • ntcherneva
  • philipcabrams
  • rikkamojica
  • rleneraigoza
  • Shane Kraus
  • Sieglinde
  • smith4536
  • suzan.mckillop
  • tjm5
  • Tracy

 

Instant Master Gardener Certification

 

Instant Master Gardener Certification

In just 8 lessons, The Grow Network’s Instant Master Gardener Certification reveals gardening secrets, tips, and tricks that most people spend years discovering.

Lessons include:

  1. “The Secret to a Green Thumb”
  2. “How Much Land Do You Need?”
  3. “The Power of Herbs”
  4. “The Easiest Way to Prepare a Garden Bed”
  5. “Three Facts About Seeds Every Master Gardener Knows”
  6. “Transplanting Baby Plants”
  7. “The Four HUGE Advantages of Backyard Food Production”
  8. “A Homemade Fertilizer So Powerful, You Could Create a Business Out of It”

Congrats to the following Honors Lab members for completing this powerful certification in March and April:

  • 4cheers4u
  • Angel Nance
  • Barbara Maneja
  • Bill Burger
  • bonhil777
  • Bonnie Guffey
  • cathyneumans
  • CeceliaStubbs
  • Cherlynn
  • Constantine Spialek
  • Dale M Sieting
  • Denise Poundstone
  • dianamlott
  • Donna
  • Downing
  • Edge
  • EllenHomeister
  • griesjoe
  • Heather Duro
  • HeidiRockwell
  • Janet MacLennan
  • janicepizzonia
  • Joanna Newcomer
  • Kali Mason
  • Kathryn Magoon
  • Lauren Doyle Kerins
  • MarieCrum
  • Marilyn Nepper
  • Mary Ellen Rowe
  • MikeF
  • Nadia Cassar
  • preacher
  • Rebecca Potrafka
  • Selene Staehle
  • Sharon Companion
  • Shelli Haun
  • susanna.schuch
  • suzan.mckillop

 

Saving Quality Seeds Certification

Saving Quality Seeds

Learn how to save seeds that will ensure an abundant harvest in years to come with the in-depth information in TGN’s Saving Quality Seeds Certification.

This 7-lesson Certification teaches which plants are easiest to save seeds from, how to plan your garden with seed-saving in mind, how to do a garden soil inventory, the basics of dry and wet harvesting, the best way to store seed, how to determine seed quality—and more!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing this Certification:

  • Carol Williams
  • Cherlynn
  • griesjoe
  • Heather Duro
  • Joanna Newcomer
  • Mark Davis
  • MikeF
  • Sharon Companion
  • Shelli Haun

 

 

We’ve also got several more certifications in the works, including “Making Home Medicine,” “Backyard Meat Rabbits,” “Bird-watching,” and “Beekeeping.” We’re working with some fantastic experts on these, so you’ll definitely want to check them out in the Honors Lab once they’re ready. Exciting stuff! 🙂

 

The post Congratulations, March and April Certification Graduates! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Hog Processing: Skinning, Scalding, Scraping, and Eviscerating

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CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about hog processing. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.

This is part 3 in a multipart series on slaughtering pigs on the homestead. In previous posts, I wrote about preparations for the slaughter and making the kill. You can read the previous entries here:

Read More: “Preparing for a Pig Slaughter”

Read More: “Pig Slaughter”

Now, we are moving on to hog processing. Here’s a quick overview of the basic steps that we’ll cover in this post:

  • Step #1: Choose How You’ll Handle the Pig Hide
    • Option #1: Remove the Hide
    • Option #2: Remove the Hair
  • Step #2: Remove the Head
  • Step #3: Disconnect the Rectum
  • Step #4: Risks in Evisceration (Gutting)
  • Step #5: Remove Internal Organs
  • Step #6: Chill the Carcass

Step #1: Choose How You’ll Handle the Pig Hide

Option #1: Remove the Hide

After you make the kill, you have a few choices about how to handle the pig hide. Some people prefer to skin a pig. This is probably the fastest, easiest method and requires fewer tools. However, if you want to use the pig skin for curing, in your bone stock, to make pork rinds, or to make leather, you’ll want to remove the hair first (see “Option 2: Remove the Hair” below for more details).

I have never removed a whole hide on a pig. I have skinned other animals, and it is easy as long as you are comfortable using a sharp knife. I prefer to remove the head and tail before skinning. Then, you need to cut a few openings through the skin, like seams, and use the tip of your knife to gently separate the skin from the muscles and fat.

I start skinning at the feet by opening a seam around the hooves and along the inside of the legs and working the skin free from the muscles with the knife. Next, I make a slit from the neck to the pelvis on the bellyside and work the skin away from the muscles until it is loose on both sides (like flaps). Your cuts should only be skin deep—don’t cut into the belly yet.

In male animals, you need to separate the penis and urethra from the skin. The penis area is visible, and you can find the urethra by feeling around with your fingers starting from the penis. The urethra feels like semi-hard tubing or  straw. Cut around the penis and under the urethra until it is free from the skin.

Don’t disconnect the urethra from the rest of the urinary tract yet.  You’ll remove it later when you eviscerate.

If the pig is hanging by the hind legs, work the skin over the hind quarters and down the back, then move on to the sides, and finish with the front shoulders. Using this method, gravity works for you and the hide comes off in one piece.

Option #2: Remove the Hair

There are a couple of different ways to remove hair. Both involve scraping the hair off the pig after heating the skin to loosen the hair follicles.

Straw Scalding to Remove the Hair

A few years back I wrote a blog series about our first pig slaughter. We had a lot of awesome reader comments and suggestions on hog processing. One of the ideas came from Anne. She said:

We raised and butchered many pigs growing up. Instead of the scalding to get hair off we burned straw to singe it off and then scraped. Laid the pig on a bed of straw first and did the burning and scraping in sections.

Glen also chimed in with his experience:

Instead of heating water to scald the hog, we buried it in straw and set that afire. You found that some areas weren’t sufficiently scalded to allow for easy scraping, and we had a similar situation. Whereas you spent “a lot of time, elbow grease, and [disposable razor blades],” we hit the stubborn areas with the flame from a propane torch to make them scrape-able with normal effort. Don’t overdo the flame, burning through the skin into the meat! Just fan the torch over the stubborn areas enough to make the scraping work with reasonable effort, similar to the properly scalded areas.

I haven’t tried this method yet. But, I wanted to share Anne’s and Glen’s experience since this also seems to be an effective and common way to remove hair.

Water Scalding to Remove Hair

Water scalding is our method for softening the hair follicles. We heat a tub of water to 155°F. We use a hoist to raise and lower the pig carcass into the water. For smaller pigs, you can use a 55 gallon drum. For pigs over 225 pounds, though, you probably need something larger.

We modified an old oil drum to make it work like a big bath tub. This took a lot of cutting and welding. But, the shape allows us to put multiple propane burners under the tub to heat the water faster. You can use any kind of vessel that holds water, fits your pig, and is safe to heat.

The key to a good scald is to get the water uniformly to about 155°F before you lower your pig into it. Use a paddle or a 2×4 to stir the tub and mix warm water over the burners with cool water near the surface. We also made an insulated lid to fit our tub so that our water heats faster and retains more heat between pigs.

You need a way to lift your pigs into the water. Friends of ours use their front loader. We use a manual engine hoist rigged over a scaffold.

You need a way to attach your pig to your hoist. We make a slit between the hind ankle bone and the tendon. Then we push each side of a gambrel through the slits.  We also use a gambrel on the front hooves as a directional to help lift and lower our pig safely into the water.

We lay chains over both sides of our tub in the water under the pig. Then we use the chains to agitate the pig in the water, if necessary, to keep the hide from sticking to the hot metal of the scalding vat and to readjust if some areas aren’t underwater.

Air temperature impacts scalding time. Also, every hide is different. Start pulling on patches of hair after about 2 minutes of soaking onward. As soon as the hair is easy to pull out, raise the pig out of the water and immediately start scraping. Scalding too long sets the hair.

Also, keep a bucket handy. If areas of skin start to cool before you get them scraped, pour hot water from the scalding tub over the area to warm it up.

Pig Slaughter -Scraping

Photo by Tim Miles

Scraping

When you get a good scald, scraping is easy using a tool called a bell scraper. It’s not very sharp and the handle and the cupped shape of the blade work well to scrape the hair without ripping the skin.

We scrape the hams, back, belly, and jowl areas first while the scraping is easiest. After we have our key areas hair-free, then we work on the hocks, the rest of the head, and the front shoulders. Removing the hair on these parts of the hide is less critical for our later processing.

For tough patches, we use flat razors or even dull knives to fine-tune our scraping job. Once the carcass is scraped, hose off  residual hair and hang the carcass at a height that makes it convenient for you to squat down and remove the head.

Photo by Tim Miles

Step #2: Remove the Head

To remove the head, you need to cut a ring through all the meat and ligature down to the bone. We cut high on the back of the head so we leave more meat with the shoulder area. We cut below the jowl meat on the nose side so we can make bacon from the jowls.

After you have cut through to the bone all around, have one person hold the carcass steady while another twists the head by holding the ears. The head will twist off. You can manage this alone, but it’s easier with two people.

If the head doesn’t come off with twisting, you probably still have some meat or ligature to cut through. You should not have to saw through the spine to remove the head.

Step #3: Disconnect the Rectum

Hang your carcass at a height where you can easily reach the anus.

Pigs have chubby cheeks—and yes, I mean butt cheeks. This makes it hard to get your hands where you need them to cut out the rectum and tie up the anus. The first thing I do is cut through the pelvis bone on the belly side of the pig to give myself more space to work.

As a rule, cut meat with a knife and bone with a saw. I slice through the meat covering the pelvis bone and then saw through the pelvis bone. Similar to a human pelvis, the organs are behind the pelvis bone. As long as you aim your saw toward the sky through the legs of your pig and stop sawing as soon as you break through the bone, you won’t hit anything dangerous.

Also, similar to a human stomach, there is a layer of fat underneath the skin area just above the pelvis, so as long as you don’t cut through the fat while you are starting this process, that is a fairly safe zone, too.

With the pelvis bone cut, I cut a wide round hole around the anus to make sure I don’t hit anything important. Then I connect the line I started at the pelvis bone up to my circle cut around the anus. This way you can see the shape of the rectum (the poop pipe connected to the anus) and avoid puncturing it. You can use your fingers and the tip of your knife to cut the connective tissue holding the rectum in place.

Work carefully with your knife until the rectum is freed and can be pulled up a couple of inches to allow you to tie it off with twine to prevent spillage. Do not remove the rectum at this point, the goal is just to free it up so you can pull it through with the other internal organs from the belly side.

Pig Slaughter - Tasha Gutting

Photo by Tim Miles

Step #4: Risks in Evisceration (Gutting)

When we first started processing pigs, I was terrified of evisceration. Every article I read about hog processing emphasized not to accidentally cut the intestines like it was a criminal act.

There are some bad things that could be lurking in your pig’s intestinal tract. Bacteria and parasites like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Trichinella spiralis, Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli can all be found in a pig’s gut.

In fact, except for Trichinella spiralis and Toxoplasma gondii, which have mostly been eradicated from modern pork production, these bad things are commonly and routinely found in retail pork products from your grocery store or local butcher! Yet, despite being the most consumed meat worldwide, pork products have lower rates of foodborne illness than other meats.1)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12001

Pork products are only relatively safe to eat because they are chilled, well-cooked, or long-cured prior to consumption. As long as you apply the same processes to your pork products at home, your risks are the same at home as they are at the grocery store. Even if you bust a gut!

Busting a gut is stinky and messy. It also makes extra work because you will want to carefully hose off your carcass. So, do be careful, just don’t be paranoid! And keep a hose handy just in case.

Step #5: Remove Internal Organs

Pigs have large chest cavities and a lot of ribs. Before we begin cutting through the belly to free up the organs, we like to cut through the breastbone. Like you do with the pelvis, slice through the skin and muscle tissue over the hard sternum. Then use a saw to cut through the breastbone. Keep your saw parallel to the breastbone and stop sawing once you break through the bone.

As explained in the skinning section, in male pigs the penile area and urethra needs to be freed up and moved aside before you start cutting into the belly to get to the organs.

Now, get your gut bucket ready. Position it under the neck area of the pig, between your legs, while you face the belly. Insert your knife carefully under the fat and tissue where you cut the pelvis. Face your knife blade back out toward you from underneath the pig’s belly fat and skin so it is facing away from the organs. Cup your hand around your knife, to use the back of your hand to hold back the organs inside your pig and prevent punctures. Then cut a seam down the belly.

As you start to unzip the pig, the organs will start to fall toward you. Direct them toward the bucket between your legs. Once your seam connects to where you cut the breast bone, use your fingers and your knife to rip and cut any connective tissue and free up the organs. There are shiny whitish diaphragms on either side of the ribs along the back that need to be cut free with a knife and scraped out. Otherwise most other organs you can work free with your hands and occasional cutting.

We keep the kidneys, heart, caul fat, lungs, and liver (remove the gall bladder). I separate those out as I come across them and put them in a different bucket.

For our friends who use a front loader in their pig slaughter, they don’t use a gut bucket. They drop the viscera on the ground and scoop them up later with their front loader and bury them.

The important thing is to have a plan for how you will dispose of the parts you don’t want to eat. We dig a large trench in advance and bury the organs right after processing to avoid drawing unwanted animals to our slaughter area.

Step #6: Chill the Carcass

At this point, you have a hanging pig carcass that has been split from sternum to anus. The carcass will still be warm,  especially if you scalded the pig. To make butchering easier, you want to chill the meat and allow the fat to firm up.

Most people try to process when the overnight temperatures will be close to refrigerator temperatures so they can allow their pig to hang outside or in an unheated outbuilding to chill.

Make sure to chill your pig in a location where it won’t be bothered by other animals like coyotes. Hanging high, under lights, or in shelters can help.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you processed a pig?  Do you have any tricks to share?  Are you thinking about it? What are your concerns? Please use the comments section below to share your views and experiences or to ask any questions.

Also, if you’d like to read more on hog processing before we move on in the series, you can check out my earlier posts from my first time processing pigs:

Read More: “Part 1: Raising Hogs”

Read More: “Part 2: Hog Killin’”

Read More: “Part 3: Hog Cookin’”

 

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References   [ + ]

1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12001

The post Hog Processing: Skinning, Scalding, Scraping, and Eviscerating appeared first on The Grow Network.

5 Keys to Food Security in Extreme Weather, for Home Gardeners

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Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about the findings of a joint task force of experts from the U.K. and U.S. The group had released recommendations for Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System. You can read the original post on food security here: 

Read More: “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers”

Quite frankly, that report was pretty scary. It detailed all sorts of reasons why our global food supply was in serious jeopardy. When that report was released in 2015, I had noted how relevant it was in light of a number of catastrophic weather events going on at the time, wreaking havoc on crops and raising food prices in some areas.

Now, just a couple of years later, the situation has become even worse. Hurricanes, mudslides, drought-related fires, disrupted weather patterns, wars, and more have caused crazy fluctuations in food supplies around the world.

In March 2017, the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) released a Global Report on Food Crises 2017.1)http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf In that report, they indicated that the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity had increased by 35% since the release of the 2015 report.

Quite a bit of that lack of food security was related to conflict. However, catastrophic weather events like droughts had also driven up the costs of staple foods, making them unaffordable for large groups of people.

If you think this can only happen in poor, war-torn countries, then consider this. In the U.S. in 2017, there were at least 16 weather events that cost over a billion dollars each and resulted in losses of crops, livestock, and other resources, as well as of homes, businesses, personal property, and lives.2)https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017 In 2016, there were 15 of these weather catastrophes; in 2015, there were 9; in 2014, there were 8; and in 2013, there were 9.

It might be too early to say that 15-16 catastrophic, billion-dollar weather events is the new normal for the U.S. However, new data modeling shows that there are real risks that both the U.S. and China might simultaneously experience catastrophic crop losses that could drive up prices and send more countries into food famine in the coming decades.3)https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study

In 2017, due to a weakened dollar, food prices in the U.S. increased by 8.2%.4)https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099 That trend hopefully won’t continue in 2018, but between weather and world volatility, isn’t it better to bank on building your own food security independent of global markets and events?

We think so, too! So, we want to give you some ideas to help you build your own food security at home.

Food Security Recommendation #1: Understand Your Risks

Building on the ideas from our earlier post on “Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers,” it’s really important to know the risks for your area and plan your gardening practices to be resilient even when disaster hits.

Many  governments and global non-governmental organizations have made predictive models for the likely regional effects of climate change available. You can use these models to identify trends in your area. Here are a few example models available:

Even if you don’t live in one of these areas, a quick Internet search for “climate change impacts” for your area should give good results. This search may link to articles about impacts as well as to modeling tools. Focus on search hits from government or academic websites for more comprehensive, peer-reviewed climate change data.

Food Security Recommendation #2: Consider Using Permaculture-Based Landscape Design

There have been so many weather-related disasters recently that it is hard to know what to prepare for anymore. In California, extreme dry weather and winds made for a devastating fire season. Then, the loss of vegetation from the fire season led to severe mudslides during torrential rains. Parts of Australia have also been suffering similar catastrophic cycles of drought and flooding.

In Western North Carolina where I live—a locale that we chose specifically because it is expected to be less impacted by climate change (e.g., sea levels rising, coastal hurricanes, etc.)—we’ve had extended dry periods followed by heavy rains that led to lots of vegetation losses in our area.

Drought-flood cycles are extremely damaging to plant life. In dry periods, plant roots dehydrate and shrivel. Soil also shrinks from water loss. Then when heavy rains come, the soil and roots no longer have the water-holding capacity they once did. Rather than the rain being absorbed, it sits on top of dry, compacted soils in flat areas, causing flooding. Or it moves downhill, taking topsoil and vegetation with it as it goes, causing mudslides and flash flooding in other areas.

When you use permaculture design in planning your foodscapes, you take into account these kinds of cycles of drought and heavy rain that would otherwise be damaging to vegetation. In fact, you make them work for you. Simple solutions like catching and storing water high on your land can help you better weather the cycles of drought and flood.

By applying permaculture principles, you can help safeguard your food security by making your landscape more resilient to weather extremes and diversifying your food supply to ensure you get good yields regardless of weather.

To get an idea of how permaculture works, check out this tour of Zaytuna Farm given by Geoff Lawton.

Also, if you want a short but powerful introduction to what permaculture can do in extreme landscapes, check out these titles by Sepp Holzer:

Food Security Recommendation #3: Manage Your Microclimates

Every property has microclimates. For example, in North America, it will almost always be a bit warmer along the edges of a south-sloping blacktop driveway. This is because the path of the sun will cast more sun on southern-facing slopes. They are literally like sun scoops, catching its rays.

food security - blacktop asphalt

“Closeup of pavement with grass” by User:Angel caboodle is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Additionally, dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. If you painted that same driveway white, it would still be warmer due to its southern slope. However, the white paint would reflect light and heat away from the driveway and would keep that same area cooler than with a blacktop driveway.

The physical mass of blacktop asphalt material also acts as a heat sink. It draws in heat during the day and releases  it back into surrounding areas as air temperatures cool at night. The same driveway made with light-colored concrete might not absorb quite as much heat as an asphalt driveway due to its color. However, it would still act as a heat sink by virtue of its mass.

The shade of a large oak tree creates a cooler area than the dappled shade of a pruned fruit tree. Large bodies of water will help regulate extreme temperatures. A wide, stone knee wall around a raised bed will insulate the soil inside better than thin wood boards because of its mass. Boulders in your landscape are also heat sinks. Even things like black trash cans can impact temperatures directly around their vicinity.

Gaining a basic understanding of how colors attract light waves, learning how different kinds of mass (rocks, soil, trees, etc.) store heat and divert wind, and knowing the path of the sun at different times of the year in your area can help you use microclimates to moderate the effects of extreme cold and heat. Using your slopes, like north-facing slopes to keep things cooler and south-facing slopes to heat things up, can also help. Working with shade patterns to minimize or maximize sun exposure can help moderate hot and cold temperature extremes.

For example, I live in USDA planting Zone 7a. With the extreme cold weather we’ve had this year, our conditions were closer to Zone 5.  Some of my plants—like rosemary, which is hardy to zone 7—were killed by the cold. After our last risk of frost passes, I plan to replant rosemary bushes in front of our south-facing house and mulch them with dark stones. In that location, even if we have Zone 5 conditions again, my rosemary should make it just because the heat mass from our house and the stones, the southward orientation, and the wind protection give it the right microclimate.

Cold frames, greenhouses, and underground areas (e.g., walipinis) are also good ways to create microclimates on your property to ensure longer and more secure food production in extreme conditions. Check out this post from Marjory to learn about building your own underground greenhouse.

Read More: “Underground Walipini Pit Greenhouse Construction”

Food Security Recommendation #4: Go Big on Organic Matter in Your Soil

If I pour a bucket of water over some of the heavy clay soil in my landscape, water runs off on slopes. In flat or cratered areas, it sits on top, eventually making a big muddy mess that becomes algae-covered if we don’t have enough wind or sun to dry it out.

If I pour a bucket of water over the same approximate amount of area in one of my vegetable garden beds, loaded with compost, the bucket of water soaks in. Even on sloped beds, the water sinks and stays put rather than running off.

Soils that are high in organic matter are more porous and spacious than compacted soils.

If you try the same experiment with sand, the water will also soak in as it did in my garden bed. Unfortunately, it won’t stay there. Come back a few hours later and that water will be gone, which means it is not stored in the root zone for later use by plants.

Soils that are high in organic matter also preserve moisture better than sandy soils.

In order to hold water in your soil during droughts and catch it during heavy rains, you need a lot of organic matter in your soil. Here are a few easy ways you can up your organic matter quotient at home.

  1. Add compost.
  2. Mulch with things like wood chips, straw, old hay, grass clippings, and mulched leaves.
  3. Plant, then chop and drop cover crops like grain grasses, clover, mustard, or chicory.
  4. Use no-till or minimal till practices and leave decaying roots and plant matter in the soil.

Check out these TGN posts to learn more about these methods.

“No Till Gardening: Homesteading Basics (VIDEO)”

“Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds!”

“From Weeds to WOW: The Weed Island”

“No Bare Soil! Vegetable Garden Cover Crops”

Adding organic matter not only slows the flow of water in your landscape and sinks it deeper into plant roots, but it actually sinks carbon dioxide, too.

Yes! Building soil that is higher in organic matter can actually help solve our CO2 problem. And solving our CO2 problem will moderate the disastrous effects of climate change and can mitigate future weather extremes. (No, this one answer won’t solve all our problems—but if lots of us do it, it will help!)

Food Security Recommendation #5: Remember ABC—Always Be Cover-cropping

Plant roots are like plumbing for your soil. They create little channels that help divert water down into the earth so it can be accessed by the plant and other biological soil inhabitants. By growing something in your soil at all times, you keep those pathways open for water to filter down into the soil.

For annual growing areas, planting cover crops in off seasons is critical. However, even for the rest of your landscape, having some sort of cover crop is necessary for extreme weather resilience.

Many of us grow lawns as our primary perennial cover crop. Traditional lawns, though, are shallow-rooted and do not contribute much to soil health. Growing grasses with deeper root systems like perennial rye and other prairie- or meadow-type grasses can be even more beautiful and give you deep roots to help sink water further into your soil.

Using vegetative perennials (i.e., that die back in the winter) with expansive root systems is also a great way to prevent soil erosion and build biomass in your landscape. Yarrow, Russian comfrey, curly dock, burdock, vetches, and even invasives like mints are useful for covering bare soil in a hurry. Since these plants lose their leaves each year and can be heavily pruned in the growing season, they make great green manure or mulch plants, too. Tap-rooted trees like black locust and paw paw also drill water and air down deep into your soil.

In addition, having a continuous cover of plants (or leaves from those plants) keeps your soil cooler on hot days and warmer on cool days. This protects all the biological life in your soil like bacteria, fungi, worms, and more so that they can work year-round. Their continued hard work means that your soil will get better year after year so that your plants will have more disease resistance and resilience during bad weather streaks.

Bare soil  = No biological life = More pests, more diseases, and greater weather sensitivity for your plants

Covered soil = Year-round biological workers = Healthier plants better adapted to your weather extremes

If you are willing to do the research and the work, there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate your risks from a changing climate and more volatile weather patterns. These ideas are barely the tip of the iceberg (which is lucky for us since glaciers are now melting at an alarming rate)!

What about you? What other ways are you safeguarding your food security against extreme weather patterns?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.fao.org/3/a-br323e.pdf
2. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017
3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/15/climate-change-food-famine-study
4. https://www.thebalance.com/why-are-food-prices-rising-causes-of-food-price-inflation-3306099

The post 5 Keys to Food Security in Extreme Weather, for Home Gardeners appeared first on The Grow Network.

Drying Herbs the Easy Way

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My favorite way of drying herbs is to use nylon mesh hampers that have cloth handles. These were designed for college students, and they come in various colors. They are also collapsible for easy storage, so we have several of them and we usually dry four to five different herbs at a time.

We have installed hooks used to hang plants in the ceiling of our carport, and we loop the hamper handles over the hooks. Since we have a lot of wind in our area, looping the handles over a second time secures them from being blown off the hooks, and the herbs can dry in the shade of the carport.

The herbs need to be stirred up occasionally to separate them and make sure they are getting enough air, and it is easy to just hit the bottom of the hamper a couple of times as you go by. Some dry within just a couple of days.

If it is going to rain, it is best to take the hampers down and hang them indoors. Even though they are protected when they’re under the carport, it is still better to put them in a place away from the moisture while they are drying.

Drying Different Herbs

When I am drying herbs on stalks, I cut the whole stalk and put it in the hamper.

When I dry leafy herbs like comfrey, which are more compact, I leave the stems on the leaves and put just a small amount of leaves in each hamper. I stir these more often.

As you put the herbs in the hamper, you will get more of a feel for how many to put in as you see how much they compact. I usually don’t fill the hampers more than one-third full.

Storage Tips

When the herbs are dry, just strip the leaves down off the stalks.

For comfrey or mullein leaves, wear gloves and crumble the leaf off the stems. You can use a coffee grinder if you want to powder some of the dried herbs.

Store the dried herbs in separate bags. When the herbs are in the bags, you can crumble them up some more. I prefer using the gallon-size plastic storage bags, but not the kind with sliders.

You can also store the dried herbs in jars.

Keep the stored herbs out of the light, in a pantry or other cool area.


This article by Sharon Devin was submitted for The Grow Network’s 2015 Writing Contest and was originally published on June 15, 2015. Thank you, Sharon!

 

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Congratulations, February Certification Graduates!

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Congratulations to the following Community members on completing one or more of our Certifications in February!

As many of you know, one of the perks of membership in our Honors Lab is FREE access to several amazing certifications in our Honors Lab area—and lots more are in the works.

These Certifications dive deep. They’re essentially multi-lesson master classes, full of practical know-how so you can immediately start reaping benefits for yourself, your family, and your garden.

(And if you’re not an Honors Lab member yet, you can gain access to these Certifications + lots more perks of membership by joining today. Click here to learn more!)

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification

This 8-week course teaches the principles of bio-intensive gardening—one of the easiest, most sustainable ways to produce big, delicious fruits and vegetables!

It covers everything from starting and transplanting seedlings to the basics of garden beds and soil, and from making compost to garden maintenance. There’s even a section on harvesting and processing grains!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members for completing the Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification in February!

  • Robert Held
  • Scott Sexton

 

Home Medicine 101 Certification

Home Medicine 101 Certification

The Home Medicine 101 Certification is a perennial favorite in the Honors Lab!

This eight-week class teaches you how to remedy:

  • Burns, stings, and rashes,
  • Wounds and lacerations,
  • Coughs and colds,
  • Fevers,
  • Indigestion,
  • Anxiety and insomnia,
  • Muscle pain, and
  • Topical infections …

… with readily available plants you may already have growing in your backyard!

Congratulations to the following Community members for completing Home Medicine 101:

  • cathy.marcotte
  • DeniseChristensen
  • emull
  • Heather Duro
  • James Douglas
  • RoseBruno
  • Barefoot Kent
  • Catherine
  • JaneMcCutchen
  • George
  • Ruthie Guten
  • Bonnie Guffey
  • Shelley Buttenshaw
  • Debbie Kennedy
  • cathieonline
  • Emma May HunterHunter
  • janetch2008
  • russraiche
  • ShirleyJohns
  • Markkroneberger
  • Sharon Companion
  • joysong42
  • Carol Harant
  • jonhg
  • Lisa Cannon
  • Ericka Bajrami
  • rachelthudson
  • Patricia McBurney
  • PamWatros
  • Scott Sexton
  • Jane Mobley
  • Kim McClure
  • Waylon Olrick
  • Lisa Carroll

 

Instant Master Gardener Certification

Instant Master Gardener Certification

In just 8 lessons, The Grow Network’s Instant Master Gardener Certification reveals gardening secrets, tips, and tricks that most people spend years discovering.

Lessons include:

  1. “The Secret to a Green Thumb”
  2. “How Much Land Do You Need?”
  3. “The Power of Herbs”
  4. “The Easiest Way to Prepare a Garden Bed”
  5. “Three Facts About Seeds Every Master Gardener Knows”
  6. “Transplanting Baby Plants”
  7. “The Four HUGE Advantages of Backyard Food Production”
  8. “A Homemade Fertilizer So Powerful, You Could Create a Business Out of It”

Congrats to the following Honors Lab members for completing this powerful certification in February:

  • Robert Held
  • PatriciaWolfe
  • tnsh5699
  • Lisa Carroll
  • Scott Sexton

 

Saving Quality Seeds Certification

Saving Quality Seeds

Learn how to save seeds that will ensure an abundant harvest in years to come with the in-depth information in TGN’s Saving Quality Seeds Certification.

This 7-lesson Certification teaches which plants are easiest to save seeds from, how to plan your garden with seed-saving in mind, how to do a garden soil inventory, the basics of dry and wet harvesting, the best way to store seed, how to determine seed quality—and more!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab member on completing this Certification:

  • Scott Sexton

 

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production Certification

I’m excited to announce that we’ve put the finishing touches on another multi-lesson, deep-diving Certification, which has just been added to the Honors Lab:

NEW! Backyard Chickens for Egg Production 

In this awesome new certification, TGN blogger (and homesteader extraordinaire!) Tasha Greer covers everything from breed selection and coop design to flock health and egg storage — plus lots more….

We’ve also got several more certifications in the works, including “Making Home Medicine,” “Backyard Meat Rabbits,” “Bird-watching,” and “Beekeeping.” We’re working with some fantastic experts on these, so you’ll definitely want to check them out in the Honors Lab once they’re ready. Exciting stuff! 🙂

 

The post Congratulations, February Certification Graduates! appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Pig Slaughter

Click here to view the original post.

CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about pig slaughter. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.

To read the first entry in this multi-part series on pig processing, start here.

Read More: “Preparing for a Pig Slaughter”

I really love raising pigs. Their innate joy for rolling in the mud, chasing each other around their paddocks, pig-piling, and enjoying long-lingering naps is inspirational to me. I honestly think they can teach us a few things on how to bring more joie de vivre to our human lives.

Unfortunately, not all pigs get to live like this. Some spend their entire lives in spaces so small they can’t run, play, feel the sunshine on their bodies, or use their powerful snouts for digging up dirt and searching for food.

So, whenever someone asks me how I can stand to kill pigs when they are so adorable and affable, I have my answer ready. And here it is.

Mental Preparation for the Slaughter

I have a deep and abiding love for pigs – not just the pigs we raise, but for pigs in general.

I can’t imagine eating a pig that spent its life in industrial squalor. I also can’t stand the idea that these beautiful, domesticated beasts would become hated feral pests, or be forced into extinction, if we stopped eating them. They grow to be hundreds of pounds. Their powerful digging ability, in the wrong locations, can decimate whole ecosystems. Their nearly insatiable appetites for both food and adventure is the reason why packs of feral pigs end up digging through trash in urban shopping areas. Without a cultivated, co-dependent relationships with human care-takers, more and more pigs would quickly become dangerous to us. This is why so many of them are hunted with impunity and hated around the world.

Plain and simple – in my opinion – the best thing for pigs is to be raised on small farms, by farmers who care about their well-being and do have a hard time killing their pigs on slaughter day.

My point in sharing this is not to proselytize my pig views. It’s because, for me, having a genuine love for pigs and meaningful philosophical reasons for raising and slaughtering them is the only way I can face doing the act when the day comes. Coming to terms with my reasons for doing this is my method of mentally preparing for the slaughter.

Preparing Piglets for Slaughter

My other preparations for slaughter day actually start well before that final moment. As soon as a new set of piglets join our farm family, I begin training them by feeding them in a line at the edge of the electric fence.

After a few days of standing close by as they eat, allowing them to become comfortable with my presence, I begin to touch the tops of their heads. At first they shy away, but after a few attempts, they let me scratch behind their ears. In time, we move on to back scratches, then belly rubs.

Petting piglets is a pleasure. Like puppies, they can easily get riled up and start nipping excitedly at your fingers and feet. So, I am really careful not to let this happen. Instead I focus on making them calm with my petting practices. If I am effective, they stretch out like cats do and bask in the affection. Then they flop over on their sides and expose their bellies as a sign of trust.

As much as I enjoy this bonding, it also serves other purposes. It helps if I need to inspect or treat them for health problems. Most importantly though, when their final day comes, our pigs come easily to the fence line for feed. I give them a calming pet on the head and behind the ears, as they put their heads down and eat.

They have no fear of death – not even as we take aim. And if something were to go wrong with our first shot, I can use this established pattern to lull them back to calm quickly so there is no unnecessary suffering.

Only when they are calm and quiet, and distracted by the food in front of them, do we take the shot.

Taking the Shot

When we first started processing pigs, we would stand back some distance and take our time waiting for the perfect shot. We’d seen this on videos and figured this was the best way to do it.

It worked well most of the time. But we had a couple instances of the pigs turning their heads at the last moment and the shot bouncing off their tough forehead plates. The pigs were then frightened and had to be coaxed and calmed for a long time before we could get them back in the slaughter zone. We even saw signs of stress in the meat of one of our pigs.

Now, since I take so much time to tame our pigs from the moment they arrive on our homestead, we stand just a couple feet in front of them and take the shot. This way we don’t miss.

The target for the shot is right between the ears and the eyes. If you draw an “X” in your imagination between these locations and then shoot for the center of the X, the pig will drop on its side and twitch with nervous convulsions.

We use a .22 rifle do to the job. But we suspect that at that close range a .22 handgun might work just as well.

Also, make sure you are not on the downhill side of the pig when you take the shot in case they roll in your direction when they drop.

Bleeding out a Pig

The shot stuns and immobilizes the pig so that you can then use a knife to bleed the pig. You don’t want the pigs to be in pain as they die, but you do want to keep their heart beating until the last of their blood flows from their body. This makes evisceration (gutting) much easier.

There are three common techniques for bleeding out a pig.

Cutting the Carotid Arteries on each Side of the Neck

The first method is to cut the carotid arteries on each side of the neck. The arteries basically run along either side of the throat. Because we like to make jowl bacon, we try to make our cut below the jaw line closer to the clavicle. Then we use that cut as the line for decapitating the pig later.

Since the pig normally drops on one side, you can cut the artery on whichever side is facing up first. The blood will run quickly and thickly if you have cut the artery. If it doesn’t, then you know you have missed and need to cut deeper. To cut the other artery, you usually have to flip the pig to the other side and repeat the procedure.

The pig will die faster if you cut both arteries. However, depending on the size of your pig and how they fell, it’s not always easy to flip them over or get your knife in position to cut the other side. If the pig is bleeding out quickly and shows no signs of suffering, sometimes you can just cut one side and still get a quick death.

Cutting both Carotid Arteries from One Side of the Pig

To get both arteries from one side of the pig, poke your knife through both sides of the neck tissue on the stomach side of the pig. Then face the blade of your knife towards the pig’s throat and cut until you cause both arteries to gush. This is the method most of the “old-timers” (experts of a certain age) seem to use in my area.

Photo Courtesy of Tim Miles

Severing all of the Arteries at the Heart Junction

Alternatively, you can severe all the arteries at the juncture where they meet the top of the heart. Plunge the knife in the space between the clavicle and the neck tissue and direct your knife towards the center of the pigs body at an angle until blood gushes. You can see a really simple diagram of the correct angle at this site.

Read More: https://www.hsa.org.uk/bleeding-and-pithing/bleeding

This method is a bit easier than cutting the carotid arteries. However, many people who use this method also tend to puncture the heart. The tissue damage and subsequent clotting can make the heart a little unappetizing if you plan to eat it.

Photo Courtesy of Tim Miles

With any of these methods, when the blood begins to slow, you can lift and lower the pig’s front foot to force pump any remaining blood.

Reflection

After the blood visibly stops flowing, before we drag the pig the few feet to our scaffold area for scalding, we pause to have a moment of silence and honor our now deceased pig. We also let out a sigh of relief at giving our pig the most merciful death we were capable of.

If you are processing more than one pig, you’ll probably be pretty surprised to realize that the other pigs don’t seem at all bothered by the loss of their paddock mate. In fact, they will often come over and push the dead pig out of the way so they can eat any food and blood on the ground.

Photo Courtesy of Tim Miles

When things go well, even your last pig of the day still has no concerns about what’s coming. However if things go wrong, such as you miss a shot and one pig squeals in fear, the other pigs do notice, and are wary of you until their moment comes.

We learned this the hard way our first year of raising pigs. Now, we strive never to have our pigs know the fear of death again.

Writing this is nearly as difficult as doing the deed. I have five pigs up in the paddock now who will meet this fate just a couple months from now. So, this seems like a good point to pause and go give them some pets and appreciate their perfect pigness while I can.

Next Up

Our next installment in this series will cover scalding and evisceration. Then, we’ll move on to butchering. And after that we’ll get to sausage making, ham curing, bacon making, and more. So, stay tuned for more posts to come!

Also, if you feel as we do and want to raise your own pigs, now is the time to start thinking about piglets.

Depending on breed maturity rates, you’ll want to get your piglets about 6-8 months before you plan to process them. Since you want fairly cool, but not freezing temperatures for processing, in many climates, most people starting thinking about getting piglets in spring time to have them ready by fall. Piglets from good breeders tend to sell out quickly, so if raising and processing pigs is on your radar for this year, start looking for your piglet source and get your reservations in early.

If you’ve managed to read this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts on raising and slaughtering pigs at home. Please use the comments section below to share your views, experiences, or ask any questions you may have.

Also, if you’d like to read more on pig processing before we move on in the series, you can check out my earlier posts from my first time processing pigs.

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Is It Raining? Get Outside and Do THIS!

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Those of you who know me know I love to play outside in the rain … barefoot, preferably. 😉

But there’s another reason rain draws me outside.

Beyond just irrigation, rainstorms serve another incredibly valuable purpose on the homestead: They show you where the water flows on your property—and where you might be having some problems.

In this new edition of Homesteading Basics, watch as I walk my property during a storm (after making sure all the hatches were battened down first, of course!) and glean some really valuable information—from clogged gutters to the best natural location for a new pond.

You’ll also see a little part of my property that’s almost magical. When my kids were young, we built a gabion with rocks and chicken wire to help slow the flow of water in an eroded spot. We never did anything else to that area, but we still had something pretty cool happen there. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the video.

Then, I’d love to know: What’s your favorite way to slow the flow of water on your property? Share your tips in the comments!

 

The post Is It Raining? Get Outside and Do THIS! appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Kidney Wrap: Prepare Your Body For Winter

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Have you ever heard of a kidney wrap? It’s a simple but powerful technique to take care of your body during the winter months.

It soothes the adrenals and ensures your body will be ready to have a fabulous spring. This amazing health technique used to be well known by folks who lived in cold climates, and you’ll recognize the truth of it when looking at the fashions people wore in old photos.

Learn how to protect your own body with a kidney wrap in this video featuring Doug Simons (the master herbalist who teaches “Treating Infections Without Antibiotics”).

(This is an updated version of an article originally published in October 2013.) 

 

The post The Kidney Wrap: Prepare Your Body For Winter appeared first on The Grow Network.

Congratulations, Members, on Completing These Certifications!

Click here to view the original post.

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing one or more of our Certifications!

As many of you know, one of the perks of membership in our Honors Lab is FREE access to several amazing certifications in our Honors Lab area—and lots more are in the works.

These Certifications dive deep. They’re essentially multi-lesson master classes, full of practical know-how so you can immediately start reaping benefits for yourself, your family, and your garden.

(And if you’re not an Honors Lab member yet, you can gain access to these Certifications + lots more perks of membership by joining today. Click here to learn more!)

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification 

Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification

This 8-week course teaches the principles of bio-intensive gardening—one of the easiest, most sustainable ways to produce big, delicious fruits and vegetables!

It covers everything from starting and transplanting seedlings to the basics of garden beds and soil, and from making compost to garden maintenance. There’s even a section on harvesting and processing grains!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members for completing the Bio-Intensive Gardening Certification!

  • Brian Moyers
  • Debbie Kennedy
  • Jennifer Walton
  • Alice Krueger
  • Ann Kudlicki
  • Carole Barrett
  • Chantal Turcotte
  • David Clark
  • Diane Jandt
  • Ellie Strand
  • Fern Cavanaugh
  • George Griggs
  • HP P
  • James Tutor
  • Keith Gascon
  • Kristina Head
  • Lori Rupp-Reagle
  • Lyndsy Schlup
  • Marlene Wild
  • Michael Clayton
  • Michael Oden
  • paulasmith
  • Rachel Tardif
  • Revola Fontaine
  • Robert Wohlfiel
  • Rogers George
  • Saunya Hildebrand
  • Shawn Skeffington
  • Stephen Biernesser
  • Stephen Bolin
  • Susan Faust
  • tnsh5699
  • William Torres

Home Medicine 101 Certification

Home Medicine 101 Certification

The Home Medicine 101 Certification is a perennial favorite in the Honors Lab!

This eight-week class teaches you how to remedy:

  • Burns, stings, and rashes,
  • Wounds and lacerations,
  • Coughs and colds,
  • Fevers,
  • Indigestion,
  • Anxiety and insomnia,
  • Muscle pain, and
  • Topical infections …

… with readily available plants you may already have growing in your backyard!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members for completing Home Medicine 101:

  • Raelene Norris
  • Alfredo Moreno
  • Alice DeLuca
  • Alice Krueger
  • Alta Blomquist
  • Amanda Gossett
  • Amy Blight
  • Amy Marquardt
  • Andrea Hill
  • Angel Hartness
  • Angela Wilson
  • Anna Zingaro
  • Anne McNally
  • Annette Coder
  • Antony Chomley
  • Arlene Woods
  • Barry Williams
  • Beth Zorbanos
  • Bohn Dunbar
  • Bonnie Shemie
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Brian Moyers
  • Camilla-Faye Muerset
  • Cara Hettich
  • Carol Bandi
  • Carol Ryerson
  • Carole Barrett
  • Carolyn Winchester
  • Carra
  • Catie Ransom
  • Chantale Mitchell
  • Charles Marian
  • Chelsea
  • Cherisbiz
  • Christi Crane
  • Christina Hawk
  • Christine Lawler
  • Christine Sadilek
  • Cindy Farley
  • Constantine Spialek
  • Craig Mackie
  • Cynthia Parker
  • Dale Bolton
  • Daniel Shook
  • Danielle Stenger
  • Dave Danner
  • Debbi Sander
  • Debbie Ford
  • Debbie Hill
  • Deborah Scribner
  • Debra Jensen
  • Debra Miller
  • Denise Callahan
  • Desiree Garcia
  • Diane Devine
  • Diane Jandt
  • Diane Massey
  • Dianna Burton
  • Don Wong
  • Donna Detweiler
  • Donna Norman
  • Dr. Carol Viera
  • Ellen Reh-Bower
  • Emily Bell
  • Emma Dorsey
  • Felicitas & Leandro Cometa
  • Fern Cavanaugh
  • Gail Maynard
  • Gary Flinchbaugh
  • George Griggs
  • Gilbert Sieg
  • Gina Jeffries
  • Ginger Cline
  • Hannelore Chan
  • Heather Munoz
  • Helen Bailey
  • Helen McGlynn
  • HP P
  • Irida Sangemino
  • Jamie Birchall
  • jamingo62
  • Jane Burkheimer
  • Janna Huggins
  • Jaudette Olson
  • Jessica Bonilla
  • Jessica Conley
  • Jim Hadlock
  • Jodee Maas
  • John Kempf
  • Jouski
  • Joyce Tallmadge Tallmadge
  • Judith Johnson
  • Julene Trigg
  • Julian San Miguel
  • Julie Kahrs
  • Juliet Wimp
  • Justin Talbot
  • Karen Brennan
  • Karen Suplee
  • Kat Sturtz
  • Katherine Keahey
  • Kathy O’Neal
  • Kathy Williams
  • Kelly Pagel
  • Kim Adelle Larson
  • Kim Kelly
  • Kim Osborne
  • Kimberley Burns-Childers
  • Kimberly Dolak
  • Kimberly Martin
  • Kristen Fitzgerald
  • Kristen McClellan
  • Laura Elliott
  • Laura Riches
  • Laurie Swope
  • LeanneTalshshar
  • Leediafast Bailey
  • Leslie Carl
  • Liann Graf
  • Linda
  • Linda Adair
  • Linda Beeth
  • Linda Cavage
  • Linda Grinthal
  • Linda Maes
  • Linda Raymer
  • Lisa Emerson
  • Lisa O’Connell
  • Lois Pratt
  • Lori Rupp-Reagle
  • Lori Spry
  • Lyudmila Kollin Kollin
  • Mandi Golman
  • Mandy Allen
  • Marcel Legierse
  • Marie Kidd
  • Marilyn Lange
  • Marjorie Hamrick
  • Marlene Moore
  • Martha Stanley
  • Mary Atsina
  • Mary Coons
  • Mary Dove
  • Mary Holt
  • Mary Sanderson
  • MaryAnn Kirchhoffer
  • Michael Hedemark
  • Michele Langford
  • Michelle Messier
  • Mike Scheck Scheck
  • Millicent Drucquer
  • Mimi Neoh
  • Monika Thompson
  • Nancy K. Young
  • Natalie Burton
  • Nellie Bhattarai
  • Nikki Follis
  • Nikki Thompson
  • Pamela Morrison
  • Patricia Scholes
  • Paula Frazier
  • Pete Lundy
  • Phil Tkachuk
  • Rachel Tardif
  • Rebecca Hale
  • Rebecca Riddle
  • Renee Hume
  • Revola Fontaine
  • Richard T. Tungate
  • Rick Horton
  • Robert Harris
  • Robert Kennedy
  • Robin Marshall
  • Rochelle Eisenberger
  • Rodger Huffman
  • Rogers George
  • Ruth Hester
  • Ruth Macrides
  • Ryan Johnston
  • S. Henshaw
  • Samantha Stokes
  • Sandi Huston
  • Sandra Mikesell
  • Sarah Cowan
  • Sarah Schwartz
  • Shalise Klebel
  • Sharon Marsh
  • Shawn Elmore
  • Shelly B.
  • Shelly Vogt
  • Sherry Hofecker
  • Steve Frazier
  • Sue Mortensen
  • Susan Abdullah
  • Susan Auckland
  • Susan Friesen
  • Susan Gray
  • Susan Phillips
  • Suzanne Oberly
  • Tammy Gresham
  • Tamora Gilbert
  • Teresa Elston
  • Teri Moote
  • Terra Eckert
  • Terry Bomar
  • Theresa McCuaig
  • Theresa Schultz
  • Tracie Velazquez
  • Wanita Martinelli
  • Wendy Meredith
  • William Torres

Instant Master Gardener Certification

Instant Master Gardener Certification

In 8 lessons, The Grow Network’s Instant Master Gardener Certification reveals gardening secrets, tips, and tricks that most people spend years discovering.

Lessons include:

  1. “The Secret to a Green Thumb”
  2. “How Much Land Do You Need?”
  3. “The Power of Herbs”
  4. “The Easiest Way to Prepare a Garden Bed”
  5. “Three Facts About Seeds Every Master Gardener Knows”
  6. “Transplanting Baby Plants”
  7. “The Four HUGE Advantages of Backyard Food Production”
  8. “A Homemade Fertilizer So Powerful, You Could Create a Business Out of It”

Congrats to the following Honors Lab members for completing this powerful certification:

  • Brian Moyers
  • Debbie Kennedy
  • Dianne
  • Jennifer Walton
  • Aldo
  • Alice Krueger
  • Andrea Hill
  • Annie Degabriele
  • Barb
  • Beth Zorbanos
  • Bonnie Tyler
  • Bryson Thompson
  • bydawnsearlylite
  • Christina Hawk
  • Christy Dominguez
  • csells815
  • Cynthia Parker
  • David Clark
  • Debbie
  • Debbie Kennedy
  • Deborah Gonzales
  • Debra Frazier
  • Debra Hollcroft
  • Doc Hecker
  • Elmer Caddell
  • Gary Conter
  • Gayle Lawson
  • Geraldine Christmas
  • Gregg
  • HP P
  • Ibeneon
  • James Judd
  • Jamie Barker
  • Jeanette Tuppen
  • jeff780
  • Jennifer Johnson
  • JoAnn
  • Joe Prohaska
  • John Kempf
  • Karen
  • Karyn Pennington
  • Katycasper
  • Kcasalese
  • Keith Gascon
  • Kenneth
  • Laura Mahan
  • Leah Kay Olmes
  • Lisa Blakeney
  • Lori Rupp-Reagle
  • Marti Noden
  • Mary Falkner
  • Megan Venturella
  • metaldog227
  • Michael Clayton
  • Michael Merriken
  • Michael Dirrim
  • Nicole Mindach
  • Philip Vance
  • Rachel Tardif
  • Robert Wohlfiel
  • Robin
  • Rogers George
  • Ron Atkinson
  • Samantha Straw
  • Sammabrey
  • Sandy
  • Shawn Skeffington
  • Sheila Robadey
  • Sherry Ankers
  • Sherry Baer
  • Spraygsm
  • Stacey
  • Teddy Plaisted
  • Teresa Wolf
  • William Torres

Saving Quality Seeds Certification

Saving Quality Seeds

Learn how to save seeds that will ensure an abundant harvest in years to come with the in-depth information in TGN’s Saving Quality Seeds Certification.

This 7-lesson Certification teaches which plants are easiest to save seeds from, how to plan your garden with seed-saving in mind, how to do a garden soil inventory, the basics of dry and wet harvesting, the best way to store seed, how to determine seed quality—and more!

Congratulations to the following Honors Lab members on completing this Certification:

  • Debbie Kennedy
  • Brian Moyers
  • Diane Jandt
  • Gary Conter
  • HP P
  • Janna Huggins
  • Phil Tkachuk
  • William Torres

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production Certification

I’m excited to announce that we’re putting the finishing touches on another multi-lesson, deep-diving certification, which will be added to the Honors Lab very soon:

Backyard Chickens for Egg Production 

In this awesome new certification, TGN blogger (and homesteader extraordinaire!) Tasha Greer covers everything from breed selection and coop design to flock health and egg storage — plus lots more….

We’ve also got several more certifications in the works, including “Making Home Medicine,” “Backyard Meat Rabbits,” “Bird-watching,” and “Beekeeping.” We’re working with some fantastic experts on these, so you’ll definitely want to check them out in the Honors Lab once they’re ready. Exciting stuff! 🙂

 

The post Congratulations, Members, on Completing These Certifications! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Tablet Weaving Loom Using a Wooden Stool

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Tablet Weaving Loom Using a Wooden Stool While there are a lot of great prepping skills out there to learn, there are some that most people bristle at. Buying guns and learning how to make fire couldn’t make you feel more powerful. Then you realize that your tactical pants are going to get ripped. Once …

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The post Tablet Weaving Loom Using a Wooden Stool appeared first on SHTF Prepping & Homesteading Central.

Preparing for a Pig Slaughter

Click here to view the original post.

CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about pig slaughter. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.

Raising and processing your own pigs at home is a great way to provision your family with a year’s supply of meat. If you start with weaned piglets that are about eight weeks old, it takes around four to six months to raise your pigs to “market weight,” which is around 250 pounds.

A 250-pound pig, also called a hog, will yield about 140–145 pounds of meat products. Anything you can’t eat, you can trench compost to improve your soil (assuming you have a place on your property at least 50 feet from your wellhead or watershed to dig a trench). And if you want to do some extra processing, you can also grind bones into bonemeal for your garden and make a year’s supply of bone broth to up your protein and gelatin intake.

Read More: “Benefits of Bone Broth: Myth or Magical Mystery?”

Raising pigs is the easy part. They simply require adequate space to root inside a really robust electric fence, fresh water, a lot of food, and a three-sided shelter for weather protection.

Training your pigs to the wire when they are small is important, and if you can find piglets that are already wire-trained, that’s even better.

When they are young, or if you raise them through winter, you may also need to give them some bales of straw to use as bedding to help keep them comfortable and avoid weight loss during cold spells.

Planning for the slaughter, though, can be a bit daunting.

Technically, you can field dress a pig, like you would a deer, by basically removing the guts and hide. But, if you plan to make any kind of fancy products like bacon and cured ham or pork rinds, then you really want to think about your setup and plan to have on hand all the necessary equipment that will make your pig slaughter as easy and organized as possible.

Here’s what we do to get ready for our hog processing each year.

Assemble Your Team

One person can slaughter a hog. But we find that having two to four people available to help makes the process a lot easier. And if you plan to make it a whole-day event and do multiple pigs at once, like we do, having more help for shift relief makes things go much faster.

We tend to make our hog killings a bit of a community event by inviting friends interested in learning to come for the experience. However, making sure that you or your helpers have the necessary skills for each task is the most important factor.

We tend to plan our team with the following skills in mind.

The Shooter

If you get in the habit of standing in front of your pigs while you feed them, your shooter will basically be able to shoot the pigs at almost point blank when processing day comes. This way, there is no chance of missing the mark. But, even with such an easy target, an experienced shooter is a good team member to have. We also like to have a second shooter ready just in case something goes wrong with the first shot.

The Sticker

This person sticks the pig in the heart to bleed it out after the shot drops the pig in convulsions. The sticker can also be the shooter, but in this case, you’ll need someone nearby for the shooter to pass the gun to. That person can then put the safety on the gun, and put the gun back in its case so no accidents happen. Alternatively, you can set up a chair, table, or even picnic blanket to set the gun on if your shooter is your sticker and there is no one there to take the gun.

The Heavy Lifters

We personally raise our pigs a bit bigger than 250 pounds, so we like to have two strong people who can help haul the pigs the 15–20 feet from their paddock down to our scaffold.

 

Pig Slaughter -Scraping

The Skinner or Skin Scrapers

If you plan to skin your pig, that’s pretty much a one-person job. But if you are scraping, a few extra hands get the job done quicker. Up to four people speed up the process, but if you get more than four sets of hands on the hog at once, you just start running into each other and flinging hair on the person below (yuck).

The Gutter

Gutting is delicate work, but intestines are also heavy. So you want someone with steady knife skills and the ability to hold back 40 pounds of innards with their elbow during the “unzipping.”

The Splitter

Splitting a hog carcass down the spine with a saw is extremely physical work. You can use power saws to make it easier. But it still requires a fair bit of strength and stamina. It’s also a bit easier if you have two other people hold the sides of the carcass to steady it while the person operating the saw cuts through.

The Butchers

You need one skilled butcher who can find their way around a carcass to cut off the bacon, hams, Boston butts, etc., and who can distinguish pork chops and roasts from sausage meat. But after those initial cuts, butchering is the part of the process where more hands really make light work. Quite a bit of hog processing is sausage making, and that means cutting your meat and fat into chunks or strips that will fit in your grinder. There is also a lot of curing and packaging to be done. So if you want to involve people interested in learning, this is the part of the processing where almost anyone can get in on the action.

Prepare Your Equipment

Beyond having the right people with the right skills lined up for your pig slaughter, you also need to prepare your equipment.

We’re minimalists on the equipment front because we like to do things fairly “old school.” But we still have a pretty lengthy list.

Here’s what we use:

General

  • Deboning Knives—For gutting, head removal, and butchering
  • Knife Sharpener and Steel—For knife maintenance, as needed
  • First Aid Kit—With lots of bandages, disinfectant, and superglue to close skin cuts
  • Disposable Gloves—In case you get cuts that bandages won’t stick to and for anyone who prefers to work with gloves
  • Three Five-Gallon Buckets—To set up a washing station outdoors; we fill one with soapy water, one with bleach, and one with clean water to use for cleaning equipment, hands, and whatever else you use during processing

Pig Slaughter - The End of a Life

For the Kill

  • .22 Rifle With Bullets—For stunning the pig
  • Sharp-Tipped Knife—For sticking the pig to bleed it out
  • Two Ropes—To drag the pig down to our processing area
  • Hose—To wash the pig off before scalding

For Scalding and Scraping the Pig

  • Scaffold—For elevating the pigs into the scalding vat; a front loader or tripod will also work
  • Two Engine Hoists—We hang one over the scalding vat and another next to it to use to hang the pig for gutting. You can also gut the pig on a pallet on the ground if you only have one engine hoist.
  • Scalding Vat—Large enough to hold an entire pig, ours is a 250-gallon oil tank cut in half and welded into a horseshoe shape. For smaller pigs, 55-gallon drums work, too.
  • Hose With Sprayer Nozzle—With access to a clean water supply for filling scalding vat and using to wash the pig, hands, tools, etc., during processing
  • Cinder Blocks—For stabilizing scalding vat
  • Chains—For use to agitate the pigs in the scalding vat to keep them from sticking to the bottom (if the flame is on, as it often must be in cold weather)
  • Two Gambrels—These are placed through the front and back legs and used to hoist and direct the pigs when lifted and lowered onto the scaffold.
  • S-Hooks—For attaching the gambrels to the engine hoists
  • Propane Tanks and Burners (or Lots of Wood)—For heating the water in the scalding vat
  • Thermometer—For checking water temperature prior to scalding to make sure you reach 150–155ºF
  • Bell Scrapers—For scraping the hair from the skin

Pig Slaughter - Splitting a Carcass

For Gutting, Beheading, and Splitting

  • Bone Saw—For splitting the carcass and cutting through ribs
  • Deboning Knife or Knife with Gut-Hook—For gutting
  • Twine—To tie up the anus
  • Gut Bucket—A really large bucket to catch the guts and store them until you get a chance to take what you need and bury the rest
  • Smaller Bucket—For the organs you plan to keep, like the liver, heart, and kidneys

For Butchering, Processing, and Packaging

  • Large Cutting Boards
  • Large Cooler—This works great to hold the heads until you process. Just leave the lid off so the heads stay as cool as it is outdoors. Then, after you process the heads, you can use the cooler to organize your cuts until they can be packaged.
  • Lots of Buckets (or Pots, Bowls, and Whatever Large Vessels You Have)—For holding fat or meat chunks; and to use to brine heads, for curing bacon, etc.
  • Pressure Canner—For making stock and head cheese and to use to can stock and lard after processing
  • Slow Cooker or Other Large Stove-Top Pot—For making lard
  • Canning Jars and Lids—To hold stock and lard
  • Meat Grinder—For making sausage
  • Sausage Stuffer and Casings—If you plan to make links
  • Vacuum Sealer With Bags, Butcher Paper, or Freezer Bags—For packaging
  • Food-Grade Scale—For weighing cures and meat cuts, etc.
  • Permanent Marking Pens—To label your packages
  • Pillow Cases or Old Sheets—To use for curing hams
  • Parchment Paper and Twine—To use to keep the cure in place on the hams
  • Rope—For hanging hams

Pig Slaughter - Tasha Gutting

Storage, Space, and Special Planning Considerations

In addition to the equipment necessary for processing, you also need to make sure you have the space to do this. Pig slaughter is easiest when you have room to move and have planned where you will store everything while you work through that large amount of meat.

Short-Term Needs

You will need some fairly big, sturdy tables to work on. We have a stainless-steel table for breaking down the carcass and a really large picnic table that we cover with plastic and use to cube and cure meat. If it is really cold, we also use our indoor dining table covered in plastic and our kitchen island for doing the curing and bagging.

A stainless-steel or granite-topped table is also really helpful if you plan to make sausage links.

You will also need some equipment for safely storing your meat overnight so you can finish processing the next day. We put some of our meat on pallets in a truck bed, tied it in with tarps, and covered it with chairs to deter critters. We also hung some of it with our engine hoists.

But if you have a secure, unheated outbuilding, that would work best.

You will need a place to store your bacon while it cures for 14 days. You need to flip the bacon once a day, so this location should be easy for you to access. We usually use the same cooler we used for heads and cuts, and keep it on our front porch so we remember to flip the bacon daily.

Long-Term Needs

You need a place to hang your hams to dry for 60–75 days while they cure and for another 6–18 months while they age.

You need a freezer to store your bounty of meat for the year.

Special Considerations

If you plan to make fermented sausage, you will likely need a fermentation chamber to control humidity and temperature for a 30-day curing period or longer.

If you plan to smoke your meats, you will also need either a hot or cold smoker, depending on your preference. Cold-smoking is used for flavoring meat after it is cured by other methods (e.g., salt and Insta Cure). Hot smoking is usually applied to meat that will be used quickly or frozen.

Plan Your Recipes and Prepare Your Ingredients

We are total foodies, and so half the reason we raise our own pigs is so we can make our own gourmet products at home for a fraction of the cost we’d pay at gourmet grocery stores.

Before we ever set the date for processing, we plan which recipes we’ll use for making bacon, ham, and any other cuts we want to cure.

We decide what kind of sausage mixes we plan to make. Then we shop for items we don’t grow ourselves and make sure we have adequate stocks of everything else.

Regardless of which recipes we use, we always need large quantities of the following:

  • Sea Salt—For curing and seasoning
  • Demarara Sugar—For curing hams and bacon
  • Insta Cure No. 1—For bacon and smoked sausage
  • Insta Cure No. 2—For dry-cured hams and salamis
  • Garlic—For sausage and bacon
  • Wine, Beer, Water, or Milk—For sausage liquid
  • Spices—Marjoram, oregano, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, rosemary, fennel seed, etc.

I also like to make up my mixes for bacon, ham, and most of our sausages in advance of processing so that we don’t have to worry about tracking down ingredients when the meat starts coming off the carcass.

For example, I’ll make up ham cure in 50-pound increments, but then I’ll weigh the cure, divide by 50, and leave a note on the cure indicating how many ounces of mix to use per pound of ham. This year it was 1.2 ounces of cure to a pound of ham. So, my helpers weighed the hams. The first was 28 pounds. They then weighed out 33.6 ounces (1.2 ounces x 28 pounds of meat), and rubbed that into the hams before wrapping.

I also had parchment paper, twine, and pillow cases all ready so they could get the hams ready for hanging.

I do the same with the bacon cure.

I also prepare sausage spices in 20-pound batches so that as soon as we’ve got 20 pounds of the appropriate quantities of meat and fat ground, we can immediately start mixing up our first batch of sausage.

Check the Weather and Make the Final Call

About three days before our pig slaughter, we check the weather and make sure we are on track for our proposed date. Rain or excess wind are deal breakers for us, because we do most of our processing outdoors and we want to be as comfortable as we can be while we are doing this. If you have a large outbuilding to use, your considerations may be different. For us, we like daytime temperatures in the 45°F–55°F range and hovering above freezing overnight. If the weather looks good, we alert our team and start setting everything up.

We check the weather again the day before just to make sure our forecast still looks good. This year, we had a snow storm sneak up on us on our first planned date. So we had to cancel the day before. But the next weekend turned out to be perfect.

Even with good preplanning, you’ll inevitably forget something. Part of being prepared is knowing that you’ll still likely have to do some improvising the day of. Flexibility and ingenuity are also key skills that you want every member of your team to have.

Pig slaughter requires a lot of preparation and work, and you should know that going in. However, I find that if I keep in mind the fact that I am literally provisioning most of my meat supply for the entire year with those few days of hard work, it’s a lot easier to get through. And, at the end, I have the satisfaction of knowing where my food came from, how my animals were raised, and what went into their processing every step of the way.

I’m pretty experienced at pig slaughter now. But a few years ago, I was a total novice. You can read my posts about a first-time hog killing using the following links:

Then, stay tuned for some new, upcoming posts with more specific details about processing and product making from your hogs at home.

If you have experience at home processing or are thinking about doing it, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please share any thoughts or information you have in the comments section below.

 

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Stay Inspired for Sustainability: How to Find Your Own #Sustainability Crew

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In the last eight articles of the Apartment Homesteader series, we’ve discovered dozens of ways to live sustainably in our apartments and condos as apartment homesteaders.

But what about when the road to sustainability gets rough?

When your hours get cut at work and you have trouble affording organic food….

When you’re running low on time and it would be easier to simply run to Wal-Mart for shampoo and deodorant than make your own with natural ingredients….

Read More: “Homemade Shampoo Disaster”

When you just want to throw your food scraps in the garbage instead of taking them out to your compost pile or reusing them….

When it’s raining and it would be so much easier to drive your own car to work than to wait for the bus….

When you’re living as sustainably as possible but see on the news that 200,000 gallons of oil leaked into the groundwater in South Dakota and wonder if anything you’re doing is actually making any difference at all….

You’ll have your moments of, “Is this all worth it?” We all have those moments on our journey to sustainable living.

That’s where your homesteading community comes in.

Your #Tribe, your #Gang, your #Group….

Your #SustainabilityCrew can help keep you inspired to live your most sustainable life. They can inspire you to go that extra step when you lack resolve. They can inspire you to implement new projects in your apartment homestead and keep going when the going gets rough.

And best of all, your #SustainabilityCrew can help you see that what you do to conserve, reuse, and live sustainably in your apartment or condo can actually make a real difference in the world.

Here are some ways to find your #SustainabilityCrew as an apartment homesteader.

Your Online Crew

Congrats! If you’re reading this, that means you’ve already found The Grow Network, an incredible community of like-minded individuals to add to your #SustainabilityCrew!

Have you joined the Honors Lab yet? The Grow Network Honors Lab is where you become an insider in The Grow Network world. Join a group of homestead enthusiasts from around the world and get new publications and blog updates in your inbox.

Also, participate in discussions on The Grow Network’s Facebook page! Thousands of people with homesteads of their own or homestead dreams flock to The Grow Network Facebook page every day to participate in discussions, find projects to implement, or learn from the experts. Be sure to like and follow the page to get updates and be part of the #SustainabilityCrew online.

You can also head over to HungryHomesteaders.com, my personal homesteading website. I ask the question, “What defines YOUR most sustainable life?” I blog about homesteading projects, toxin-free living, travel, food, essential oils, herbal medicine, and all the ways in which we seek to live our most sustainable lives. Also, like my Hungry Homesteaders Facebook page!

Go where the homesteaders hang out online to find your online #SustainabilityCrew.

Your Local Apartment-Dwelling Crew

After a little searching around to find your online crew, go local to find some fellow apartment dwellers who are interested in joining the #SustainabilityCrew movement as apartment homesteaders.

Check for local Meetup groups on homesteading and green living topics. You might be surprised to learn that there is already a local group of green-living lovers who can help inspire you to keep up with your apartment homesteading dreams!

Another place to find your local apartment crew is to attend block party events or other neighborhood events and talk to your neighbors about apartment homesteading. More of your neighbors than you realize might have their own countertop or patio gardens! Swap tips and ideas to live more sustainably in your apartments.

Connect with your neighbors by inviting them to attend area farmers’ markets and conservation events around town. Besides gaining a new #SustainabilityCrew member, reaching out to your neighbors may also give you some new pals!

Your Local Homestead Crew

Get inspired to save for your own homestead land or to expand your apartment homestead operation by finding local homesteaders to learn from.

Not sure where to find the homesteaders in your area? Start by shopping local farmers’ markets. Many area farmers will attend and sell their produce or products at the local markets. Some may even have visit days already scheduled when you and the apartment homesteading pals in your local crew can go visit the farm and check out their operations.

Read More: “Build a Community in 9 Easy Steps”

Another great way to find your local homesteaders is to join a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) group or produce-box delivery service and contact the farms where the produce comes from.

Local conservation groups may also host events where you can meet like-minded homesteaders to add to your #SustainabilityCrew.

Be Your Own Crew Leader

Having trouble filling out your #SustainabilityCrew with local apartment-dwellers or established homesteaders? Be your own #Crew leader!

Start your own Meetup group to find people in the area who are interested in conservation and sustainability projects. Meet at your local public library or in an area park. Find an area homesteader who would like to host a “get inspired” rally for sustainable living initiatives!

Host Apartment Homestead Planning sessions in your apartment or in a central location of your apartment complex for residents like you who want to live sustainably but need a little help moving in the right direction.

Host “make & takes” for personal care products or cleaning supplies and help your friends live toxin-free lives like yours.

Whatever direction you choose, be your own crew leader and inspire other apartment dwellers to live more sustainably. You did it; now spark the fire of change in the people around you. 

Your Expert Mentors

Finally, cap off your #SustainabilityCrew with a dose of expert advice.

Learn from the experts to live your most sustainable life in your apartment.

You’re already in the right place. Marjory and other experts with The Grow Network know their stuff and can help you learn to live even more sustainably!

Have you attended a Home Grown Food Summit yet? If not, sign up for the Honors Lab and make sure you’re on The Grow Network e-mail list to get alerts when registration opens for the next online Summit in 2018!

Your #SustainabilityCrew will help keep you motivated to live your MOST sustainable life in your apartment homestead. Join the Apartment Homesteader Facebook group—and invite your friends!—and together let’s inspire the urban world to live sustainably as apartment homesteaders and #SustainabilityCrew members!

 

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Homemade Shampoo Disaster

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So I’ve been working on researching plants high in saponins—which is a natural form of soap. And I was delighted to find that the roots of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) are very high in saponins.

Pokeweed is also a fairly toxic plant. You can eat it if you harvest the leaves in the very early spring while the plant is young and before the stalks turn red. You have to boil it and discard the water at least twice (three times or more for those who worry a lot). So I probably should’ve been a bit more cautious.

By the way, the purple berries (also toxic to humans, but I’ve seen poultry enjoy them) make a really nice dye for cloth or buckskin.

Anyway, I harvested a big chunk of root and grated it up with a cheese grater. When I put that in water, I was delighted with how soapy the water got—it is soapier than yucca root. Let me point out that natural soaps like this never get quite as frothy as commercial stuff, but this was surprisingly soap like.

Between handling the pokeweed root and then washing my hair with it, I got a good dose of whatever else is in those roots. Oh dear, I got quite a headache and a bit dizzy! LOL. So let me be the first to tell you NOT to try this one at home!

Stick with baking soda and vinegar if that is what you are using. And my personal favorite to date is the egg/honey/lemon blend I wrote about in this post on homemade shampoo.

If you are wondering why I don’t just make soap using lye and fat … well, here is a short video that explains why not.

 

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(This article was originally published October 29, 2013.)

 

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Surviving A Cold Night With Nothing But The Clothes On Our Backs

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We greedily drank water, our cupped hands gathering it up from the little spigot on the “water buffalo”—which was an old army water tank mounted on a trailer. It held the main supply of water for the entire camp.

“No water bottles, no ChapStick, no flashlights—nothing but the clothes on your back” had been the directions. So we were all wisely filling up and carrying water the old-fashioned way: in our guts.

It was just after dark and already cold. I zipped up my jacket the last few inches and wished there was a hoodie on it. The clear sky told me it would get much, much colder before it was all over. The full moon was going to be helpful. There was nothing around for miles except chaparral bushes. Well, OK, there were some saguaros or barrel cactus, scorpions, and kangaroo rats, too.

Most of the plant and animal life here had the attitude of stabbing you first and asking questions later. So the bright moonlight would at least help keep the kids from getting punctured.

(Twice a year my daughter and I attend primitive skills gatherings, where we join other adults and kids to learn, practice, and trade skills from the Paleolithic era.)

The real guide of this group was David Holladay. Like many of the others from camp, David had been picked up and featured in some crazy reality show (for David, it was The History Channel’s No Man’s Land). Cody Lundin of Dual Survivor, George Michaud of Mountain Men, and Jason Hawk of No Man’s Land are all regulars at these gatherings.

The thing about these guys is they are the genuine real deal.

Sonoran desert

So when word got around camp that we needed a leader to take the teens out for an adventure, David jumped in.

I would have been quite content to sleep in my comfy tent and double-thick sleeping bag, but when teens go out overnight, you need to have separate boys and girls camps.

And you really need a woman.

While all the other moms thought this was a fantastic project, uh, apparently I was the only one who was up for the whole enchilada.

“Thousands of people are doing what we are doing tonight,” David said, setting the tone for the evening as we circled together before leaving the main camp. “Thousands of people have been suddenly awakened out of bed, grabbed what they could carry on their backs, and are getting away into the night as fast as they can. Their homes behind them are being destroyed by civil war, by fire, by oppressive governments, by any number of things. Like us, they are going to walk for a ways and then they will try to find a place to sleep. Unlike us, they will not be able to return back to camp in the morning for breakfast.”

“You will be miserable tonight. It’s a cold night, and we are taking nothing with us into a harsh desert environment. You’ll experience tonight a small piece of what is a very hard reality for many people all over the world.  But you are really lucky; we are not that far from the main camp with your parents who love you. And we will be back after sunrise.”

We walked out into the desert. We played games in the moonlight, picking out buddies for a buddy system. We ran some foot races. We talked about what makes a good camping spot. We set up systems so everyone would stay safe.

David had brought the materials for a hand-drill fire and showed us as a group how to make a fire, even though none of us could do it alone.  We spoke in circle around the fire, sharing our deepest fears and hopes.

Teens can stay awake so long into the night!

Then we tried to sleep. In the girls’ camp, we readily snuggled up into a big puppy pile to keep warm, which helped. The boys roughed it out in their own ways around a huge bonfire, roasting on one side and freezing on the other.

The cold, hard ground sucked warmth out of everyone, and no one was really comfortable.

How much longer could these kids bear this? Most of them had only minimal experience camping.

The warm afternoon with its enthusiasm for adventure seemed so far away now.

But the thought of the homeless in other parts of the world kept haunting us and no one complained. And not a single kid left camp. They all hung in there.

“You have deep survival in your genes,” David told us. “All of your ancestors were survivors or you wouldn’t be here now. Humanity has faced plagues, famine, wars, floods, and every other form of disaster you can imagine. In your lineage are people who fled, or fought, or learned, or adapted. The people who didn’t make it, died. You are direct descendants of all those who survived. You have it in you even if you don’t know it.”

In the morning, way before dawn (well, this is one way to get teens to rise early!), we got up to watch the moon set. And then turned around to see a spectacular sunrise.

It was so beautiful. And empowering. Each of us knew we would never be afraid of walking out into a cold night if we had to. It really helps to be prepared.

We felt like champions.

And we were.

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published in April 2014.) 

 

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Planting a Living Fence (VIDEO)

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After a wandering bull ate my pigeon peas I realized I needed a fence — quickly.

Problem: I rent my property and really don’t want to spend money on new infrastructure.

Solution: Plant a living fence!

So I did, and I filmed the process so you can see what I did:

Isn’t that the greatest song ever to be used on YouTube?

No?

Okay, that’s fine. I understand. It really is terrible, isn’t it?

Back to the post.

I’m not a living fence expert by any means. Back when I was young I did help my dad and Grandpa plant multiple fences by taking long aralia cuttings and jamming them into the ground. I have also planted living barriers of blackberries, silverthorn and pyracantha, but they were more hedges than the interwoven sticks I’m now experimenting with. Yet I’m learning and testing now — and as you probably know, I’m rather insane when it comes to experimentation.

Since there were a lot of questions on this living fence/instant hedge, I posted a follow-up video answering some of them:

Species Options for Planting a Living Fence

For subtropical climates with little to no frosty weather, you could build a living fence with Gliricidia sepium, moringa, some aralia species, purple mombin, or even governor plum.

Farther north you can do this with willow branches — especially in wet areas.

Living fence made of willows

 

Living fences could also potentially be planted from the branches of species of mulberry, though I’ve had 0% success rooting mulberry by sticking branches in the ground.

If you don’t have any trees with branches that can be rammed in the ground to root, just plant almost any kind of tree seedlings in V shapes at 45-degree angles and tie them together at crossing points.

Dwarf apples, anyone?

There are a lot of possibilities for building a living fence. Interweaving the trees causes them to graft together over time and make an almost impenetrable barrier — even more so if you use a hard and thorny tree like osage orange!

As recounted over at Mother Earth News, “Easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, or sprouts from the roots, Osage orange is tolerant of a wide range of soils, resistant to drought, long-lived, and affected little by insects or disease. Planted at a spacing of 1 foot, in four years it makes a fence that is ‘horse-high, bull-strong, and hog-tight.’”

Osage orange is also one of the best woods for tool handles and bows. Bonus!

From the same article:

“Other thorny species that could be used to make living fences are pyracanthas, jujube, hollies, black locust (also fixes nitrogen), honey locust (which has high-protein seeds and pods for livestock and people), prickly ash, and rugosa rose (which has vitamin C-rich fruits, or ‘hips’).”

Other Side Benefits of Living Fences

Beyond just keeping out wandering livestock and nosy neighbors, living fences have some serious advantages.

Let’s run through a few.

1. A Living Fence is Free

Unless you buy seedlings to plant, you can start a living fence for free. In my case, all I had to do was cut some Gliricidia branches and plant them. As for potted trees or shrubs, you can start your own. I always keep a little plant nursery going with a lot of bits and pieces in it. Maybe a multi-species living fence would work? Imagine that! Bougainvillea, noni trees, purple mombin, alternating with nitrogen fixers… crazy! A 2-D food forest!

Oh man. I need to try that.

But the point is: free. Free is good.

2. A Living Fence Produces for You

A wire or wood fence is just a barrier, but a living fence is more than that. It’s a living, productive line of trees.

The top can be cut and fed to livestock or used as a green layer in compost. You can also let it grow taller and make the trimmings into plant stakes. Or charcoal/biochar.

Not bad, eh?

3. A Living Fence Supports Other Species

If your living fence is a nitrogen-fixing species, it will feed the plants alongside it.

A living fence can also serve as a trellis for yams and other species as well as a home for birds, beneficial insects, and lizards.

There are plenty of good reasons to plant a living fence and plenty of species that work almost no matter where you live.

My Gliricidia living fence is now dense and strong after growing through the summer. In another year it will be so strong that passing through it will be impossible.

Sorry bull, no more pigeon pea lunches for you!

 

*Willow living fence image via Rhian on Flickr. CC license.

 

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How To Stay Warm While Working Outside In The Cold

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As you start to live more sustainably you will be spending more time outdoors. And in the winter it can be tough to stay warm while working outside in the cold. Getting or cutting firewood, tending livestock, taking care of the orchards or greenhouse — all of these activities mean you’ll be outside, in the cold.

Sure, it may not be a full-on survival situation but, you are going to want to stay warm regardless! Here are my three best tips for staying warm and toasty during the winter months:

Cold-Busting Tip #1:   Wrap Your Neck! 

3 COLD-BUSTING TIPS How To Stay Warm While Working Outside In The Cold | The Grow Network

Your neck radiates more heat than any other area of the body. The head and feet are next on the list.  However, your neck is the most important area to keep warm. In my backpack (which also doubles as a purse), I keep a neck wrap. I’ve used it more times than I can count to stay warm during an unexpected cold front.

Have you ever started to get that scratchy feeling in your throat and you can feel the beginnings of a cold or flu coming on?  I like to wrap my neck while sleeping at night. I have found that this simple act seems to nip that sore throat in the bud! While I am no doctor, my theory is that by wrapping your neck, it creates a localized mini-fever, which possibly stops trouble before it has time to spread.

Check out this article on treating fevers — and when not to treat a fever.  The comments section of this particular article are especially amazing — click here to read how to assist a fever.

Cold-Busting Tip #2:  Stay Hydrated! 

3 COLD-BUSTING TIPS How To Stay Warm While Working Outside In The Cold | The Grow Network

For some reason, it seems harder to stay hydrated and drink enough fluids when it is cold outside. Of the many signs of dehydration, getting a bit chilled is usually one of the first to appear. Some other signs may be dry lips, dizziness when standing, and slower mental function. I find that making a quart of tea to sip on throughout the day helps me to drink more fluid. By using a quart sized mason jar I am able to easily keep track of how much I am drinking during the day.

I find tea helps to keep my body hydrated better than justing drinking straight water. My Grandmother was always drinking herbal tea that was nutritive. Good health is best achieved with gentle nudges! Sipping tea is a great way to help the process. Wildcrafting and/or growing your own teas is easy and can be a fun gardening project for the whole family.

Cold-Busting Tip #3: Prepare A Warm Space For Your Return

How to stay warm while working outside in the cold; gardening, chopping wood, or homesteading.

I picked up this tip when I got my permaculture certification. It is a lot easier to go out and brave the cold if you have a warm place to come back to! It doesn’t have to be a large room or even the whole house. But knowing that when you come back inside there will be somewhere warm gives you a psychological boost! I’ve relied on this for so many years that I don’t think about going outside without setting up my warm spot first!

Before you dress up and head out, throw a few logs on the fire and set the flue so you’ll have a warm spot waiting for you. If you are not heating with wood, perhaps you might run a tiny heater in a small room to have a “warm area” to return to.

Whatever you choose, knowing you have a warm place to come back to after working outside is vitally important. And you never know, if you have an accident outside, having a warm space to return to during an emergency may be crucial to your survival.

 

Do you have any tips or tricks to stay warm while working outside in the cold weather? Leave a comment — I’d love to hear them!

(This post was originally published on December 1, 2016.)


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6 Homesteading Skills You Need To Know—And Where To Get Them

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In this edition of Homesteading Basics, let’s talk about learning homesteading skills you need if you’re going to be a modern-homesteader, and where the best place is to get those skills.

Watch the video here: (video length: 2:38 minutes)

A True Story

My son was using the mower the other day and ran out of gas. 

He left it in the south pasture with the key turned on, and the battery died.

Now he’s off on a trip, and I’m stuck with a dead battery.

This got me thinking about all of the skills you need to be a modern-day homesteader.

Do you have the skills you need?

Here are some basic skills that you’re definitely going to need on your homestead:

  • Basic electrical knowledge
  • Carpentry skills
  • Plumbing knowledge
  • Animal husbandry
  • Gardening methods and techniques
  • Home Medicine

If you don’t already possess this knowledge, these skills can take a while to acquire.

Where to gain homesteading knowledge

One of the best places to get the knowledge you need is to attend a Mother Earth News Fair. They are held all over the U.S. There are a lot of different workshops in a two-to-three-day period. They offer the basic skills you’ll need for your homestead.

Here are a few other suggestions to help you improve your homesteading skills:

Your local farmer
See if he or she will give you a few tips or pointers on something specific, like animal husbandry. Offer to pay him or trade him something that he needs, maybe even your labor.

Big Box Stores
A lot of the big box supply stores offer Saturday morning classes in home improvement skills, including basic plumbing, electrical, and carpentry.

Local Community College
Many community colleges offer nighttime and weekend classes in auto repair, small engine repair, carpentry, basic plumbing, and electrical.

Online Classes
There are thousands of online classes from home medicine to gardening. Choose the one that gives you the knowledge you need and works with your schedule.

County Extension Master Gardeners
Master Gardeners are a community of volunteers trained in horticulture by the County Extension Office. You can become a Master Gardener by learning valuable plant and soil information. Then volunteer 40 hours during the year and give your knowledge back to your community. Check your local or state extension office for more information, or call your local Master Gardener hotline for more information on the public classes they offer.

Local Master Classes
In many places, there are local classes offered by specialty groups. For instance, Master beekeepers, Master composters, and others often offer classes for free or a small fee to attend. Look online for groups near you.

YouTube videos
There are hundreds of thousands of videos online to help you gain the skills you need in just about any area of homesteading.

Let’s improve our skills together.

Where are you getting the homesteading skills you need? In the comments below, let us know what skills you have and which ones you need.

The post 6 Homesteading Skills You Need To Know—And Where To Get Them appeared first on The Grow Network.

Teaching Children Homesteading Skills

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Growing up on a homestead offers not only the chance for a picture-perfect childhood, but also gives parents the opportunity to begin teaching the kiddos how to be self-reliant as soon as they learn how to walk! Children homesteading can be synonymous with children playing with these helpful tips.

Children Homesteading – Good for the Whole Family

Homesteading children are exposed to a myriad of learning opportunity on a daily basis. Each chance to help their parents and learn why they are doing what they are doing should be capitalized. Even a toddler has the capability to absorb information about their surroundings and be enthralled by all the sights, sounds, smells, and textures they can touch while helping do necessary chores around the farm.

The work will seem like play to the little ones! While older children and teenagers will likely come to view their given tasks as chores, hard word breeds not only good character. Besides, they’ll also get a sense of accomplishment when a task or project has been completed.

 

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30 Skills to Build While You’re Preparing to Homestead

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30 Skills to Build While You’re Preparing to Homestead There are many different skills you will need to be self sufficient and ready to homestead. If you’re don’t own that perfect piece of land yet, there is still time to start honing your skills in areas that will be advantageous when you finally get off …

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