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Container Potatoes: Gardening Anyone Can Do

14 May

I’m pretty sure potatoes are the absolute most controversial food when it comes to paleo / primal eating. I don’t eat them every day, but I do eat them. If you aren’t opposed to potatoes, you may be interested to know that they are dead easy to grow. Potatoes are kind of a miracle plant that turns dirt into food even under poor conditions. If you have any yard space at all, you can plant them in the ground. If you have no yard space, though, or want a method that makes for a simpler harvest, read on:

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes grow well in containers

Potatoes are really easy to grow in containers. The down side is that the soil to grow them in and the container itself are usually more expensive than just buying potatoes. This pot is one I have had for a long time, and the potting soil in it is, I’m sure, long since devoid of any organic value. So if you have a container, especially a large one, that has outlived its usefulness, this is a great way to revitalize it. I amended the soil with some compost since we had plenty. There are lots of ways to repurpose other items to use as pots, too, and you can sometimes make your own “potting soil” a bit cheaper by mixing vermiculite/pumice, compost, coconut coir, etc. (although this isn’t always any cheaper than just buying potting soil).

You can buy special seed potatoes, but I rarely do. I started growing these potatoes when several weeks worth of produce-bin potatoes sprouted and I wanted to cut my losses somewhat. As long as you start from organic potatoes that have already sprouted, you should be fine. You can plant each potato whole or you can cut the individual “eye” sections apart.

Plant the potatoes fairly deep. If you have the wherewithal, plant the potatoes in a container that’s only partially filled. As the vines grow, gently cover them most of the way with more soil; this will cause the plant to produce more tubers and makes better use of a deep container.

After a couple of months, start poking around gently in the soil to see how big the potatoes are getting. I like to harvest them when they are still tiny, like this:

I often feel like small potatoes

I often feel like small potatoes

These were washed then fried whole in tasty fat for my dinner Sunday night.

The easiest way to harvest is to dump the contents of the container onto a tarp and sift through until you find potatoes.

You can also let them grow much longer and get actual decent-sized potatoes this way. I have been told and am currently experimenting with, but can’t yet confirm, that you can harvest a round of new potatoes (like these) then re-plant the vines and grow more. If you want to do this, you have to be very careful about digging up and replanting the plants to keep them intact.


Homemade Butter

23 Apr

When I was a little girl, my mom read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to me and I loved them. We made a lot of food together that was inspired by the books, and my mom even sewed me some costumes; I remember a sun bonnet in particular that I think I had her make for me and then refused to wear specifically so that I could emulate Laura. I can trace a lot of my interests as an adult back to these experiences, really.

My love of butter is no secret. Every so often I’ll get the urge to make my own butter. It’s not any cheaper than buying butter, and it isn’t even necessarily more tasty than some of the luxury butters you can buy, but it’s just so fun that I can’t resist. Plus, it’s one of those kitchen tricks that people just go nuts for — if you ever bring homemade butter to a potluck, no one will say “All you brought was butter?” rather all you will here will be “You made butter!?!?!?”

The process is stupidly simple: you agitate heavy cream until the fat clumps together (the butter) and separates from the watery liquid (the buttermilk). Usually when I make butter I either shake it in a mason jar (tip: it works better if you add a well-washed marble) or just use the stand mixer. Once the butter separates, use a very clean tool (traditionally a special paddle) to press out all the buttermilk, rinsing with a little water to get it all out, then salt it and serve however you please. Better butter comes from better cream, so start with the good stuff, and to make it even better culture the cream first. I haven’t really experimented with this yet, but it’s next on my list.

A friend of mine has a miniature ceramic butter churn that I’ve been coveting for some years now. At the urban homesteading store the other day (oh, Portland!) I found one of my very own! This size doesn’t come with a dasher (the plunger part), so I had to rig up one on my own with some scrap wood, but today I got to live out all my pioneer dreams:

The finished product

The finished product

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!

Future Food: Introducting my Adorable Chickens!

22 Apr

Better Half finally convinced me that chickens would make great pets. Okay, I got some farm fresh eggs from a coworker and they are AMAZING and I want to eat eggs like that every day, so I got on board with the backyard chicken thing. In our city you can have up to four hens. We decided to start with babies because they are ZOMG SO CYOOOOOT! that we couldn’t resist. Presenting for your enjoyment, my future flock:

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It's pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she's named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it's a Drag Race reference] and I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell and I'm sorry to everyone I've just offended and alienated.)

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It’s pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she’s named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it’s a Drag Race reference] and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell and I’m sorry to everyone I’ve just offended and alienated.)

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

We got “sexed” chicks, which have been determined with 95% accuracy to be female. There is still a chance one might turn out to be a cockerel. This has sparked a lively disagreement between Better Half and I — if we end up with a rooster, I will eat him; this apparently is the Wrong Answer. For now I hope that it isn’t an issue. We’ve also had some lively discussion about what we’ll do when the chickens reach the eventual end of their egg-producing years. The bottom line is, I’m surprisingly non-sentimental about food animals. These chicks are adorable, but some day, they could be food, and that’s okay. (I think this is why I failed at veganism.)


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