Category Archives: Our No-Acre Homestead

The No-Acre Homestead, Faster Than the Speed of Sound

At least that’s what it feels like around here, lately. Despite not keeping at all current on posts, the No-Acre Homestead has been plugging along, if not flying at warp speed. I’m going to try to post more frequently, albeit much more briefly. Hopefully, that will keep the lines of communication flowing better than they have been!

Here is today’s offering…harvested from our Edible Driveway during my first cup of coffee.

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Red cabbage, harvested at dawn from the No Acre Homestead

The red cabbage was planted in November, and produced all winter. All in all, we had nine heads of cabbage, and countless loose leaves plucked as we needed them, from a circular raised bed just 30 inches across.

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The fertile cabbage bed, just 30 inches across. Filled with scrumptious compost, it kept us stocked for over half the year.

Now that’s intensive planting!
And, no one can deny that red cabbage is indeed ornamental. People plant it in their front yards all the time, but rarely seem to eat it.
If there’s one thing that’s true about life here at the No-Acre Homestead, it’s that we never let good food go to waste!
Happy gardening.

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“Forward” With The White Hamon Sweet

Did you know that there are two kinds of sweet potatoes?  Here, in the Mid-Atlantic area, we are accustomed to the orange sweet.  But there is another variety, for years considered more adaptable to our climate. The white sweet potato lacks its cousin’s beta-carotene hue.  But for those of us lucky enough to taste this heirloom, the white sweet is a favorite for its rich flavor and creamy texture.

For unknown reasons, the white sweet fell out of popularity.  Finding one now takes a bit of persistence.  But the search is worth the effort.  The white sweet potato that you will hold in you hand will have been grown from slips from the best of the previous year’s harvest.  Those potatoes will have been sprouted off the potatoes from the year before that.  Each year takes the sweet potato farther back in time. Each sweet potato that you touch has been touched by hundreds of generations of families.  And each sweet potato that you cultivate will continue forward into time, as long as there are hands willing to keep it safe.

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Here at the No Acre Homestead, we were lucky to have four White Hamon Sweets as part of our winter CSA box.  They had been handed down as slips, for generations, by families in Pennsylvania.

We ate one.

It was good.

We ate two more.

Then I immediately set up the last White Hamon to grow.  I didn’t want to risk forfeiting our chance to take part in preserving this treasure for the future.

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 Starting a white sweet potato is ridiculously easy (like most things, once you know the guidelines, I’ve found). Skewer the potato with 3 or 4 evenly-spaced toothpicks.  Balance it in a wide-mouth jar, pointy side down.  That is the root side. The rounder end it the stem end, and you still may see a scar where the white sweet was once connected to the vine. New plants, called ‘slips’ will grow from here.

Fill the jar almost to the top with water.  The less chemicals, the better, in both the water and the potato.  Then place it in a sunny window.  Or as in our case, here in the north-facing Homestead, give it the best daylight you can manage.  This actually works.  Can you see in the picture above, in the middle of the jar, a faint horizontal line?  That is the new root growing, after just one day in the jar.

Life really wants to continue.

From this point on, I’m sharing photos from Food Skills for Self-Sufficiency. I have not advanced my sweet potato to the photogenic stage quite yet.

This is what the white sweet potato will look like in a few weeks. The gorgeous foliage is entirely edible. And, yes, it’s the same sweet potato vine that you see in hanging baskets all summer. (photo courtesy of Skills for Self-Sufficiency)

Just keep the water topped off, and be gentle in handling the mother plant.  When the slips are about 5 or 6 inches long, they will easily break off.  That’s when you can plant them, about 18 inches apart into loose soil, if your garden is ready.  Or into pots until the time is right.  Perhaps you’d just prefer to keep them in containers?  A secret weapon for front-yard gardeners, sweet potato vines are gorgeous in their own right. The same potato can be used  to sprout again, if you would like more plants.

How awesome is that?

This was our fall harvest from the same plants

This wheelbarrow-full came from the slips from just one sweet potato. One of these will be the mother for the next year’s harvest. (photo courtesy of Skills for Self-Sufficiency)

For more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge, take a peek at these blogs:

  1. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | SimplySage
  2. Book Review: You’re Already Amazing | Living The Seasons
  3. Weekly Photo Challenge: | Winning Shots
  4. Weekly Photo Challenge: looking FORWARD to the future | The Voice from the Backseat
  5. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | Anotherdayinparadise2′s Blog
  6. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | purrsonal mewsings
  7. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | My Thoughts like Balloons
  8. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | It’s Just Me: My thoughts and happenings of the day…
  9. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | Tami Clayton
  10. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | Rainbow Bakery
  11. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | Pishikera
  12. Featured Image (Weekly Photo Challenge) : Forward | Jejak Langkah
  13. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | wildersoul
  14. Weekly Image Of Life: Blessing Of Hope | this man’s journey
  15. Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward | Nicola Anthony
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Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Capsaicin Balm

I am always trying to learn more about natural approaches to wellness. I enjoy the connection to the environment as well as the sense of accomplishment when I concoct a solution to an ailment in my own kitchen or garden. Lately, I’ve been dealing with some irksome pain, and trying to moderate my use of those harsh oral pharmaceuticals with all of their troubling side effects. I’ve learned that there are so many options available for topical pain relief. Arnica, aloe, menthol, eucalyptus, and willow bark, for example, are all wonderful additions to the herbal medicine chest, and very helpful. Last week, however, my doctor recommended trying a capsaicin rub for persistent neurological pain. Our discussion jogged a distant memory about neurotransmitter function, the role of the mysteriously-named Substance P in pain sensation, and the unusual effects of capsaicin on the sensory system.

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A bowl of seriously hot peppers. These dried on the plant in the garden, and I picked them just before using. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

In a nutshell, Substance P delivers the message to your central nervous system that you are in pain.  Capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, blocks Substance P from being made. No messenger…no message delivered.  The cause of the pain is not affected, just the feeling.  So capsaicin acts as an analgesic, without the nasty side effects of a lot of the prescription drugs that are recommended for chronic pain. Capsaicin balms and rubs are available over-the-counter.  But some have ingredients to which I am sensitive.  And all of them are darn expensive.

Thank goodness I have a kitchen!

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I used some tiny hot peppers and regular grapeseed oil to begin. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

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I didn’t bother to trim the peppers, because I planned on straining the extract. I just put them in a small saucepan, covered with the grapeseed oil, and snipped around with some scissors to increase exposure of seeds and ribs. I brought the whole thing to a simmer, and then turned down and left for a day with the lid on. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I was so excited by the aroma and color on the next morning that I forgot to take a picture.  But I did pour the whole thing into a mesh strainer to catch the spent peppers.  The extract could certainly be used at this point as a muscle rub (isn’t that easy?) but I know I tend to get a little clumsy when I am in pain.  Oil would guarantee a mess, and probably some unintended discomfort if I splashed it anyplace sensitive.  So I took another step.

Because I wanted to firm up the extract, I added 2 Tbl vegetable wax (the pellets in the photo) and a dollop of vegetable glycerin to maintain pliability (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

Because I wanted to firm up the extract, I added 2 Tbl vegetable wax (the pellets in the photo) and a dollop of vegetable glycerin to maintain pliability (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

 

This was stirred until it was completely melted.  The color is just amazing. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

This was stirred until it was completely melted. The color is just amazing. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

Then, because I wanted to make sure that the balm was really, really powerful, I decided to add a few aggressive shakes of cayenne powder to the mix.  I brought the pot to a simmer again, to make sure all the essential oils of the cayenne were released.  Then I cooled just slightly to handle.

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My super-duper straining apparatus. I wanted to make sure any cayenne particles were removed. So I used my jelly funnel and a muslin bag (real cheesecloth would work, too) The jar is the final vessel for the rub. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I had to work somewhat quickly, because the vegetable wax hardens as it cools.  I’m sure there’s another use for the lees and the muslim bag, but, encrusted as it all was with spicy wax, I just tossed them into the compost.

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The final product. Homemade capsaicin balm, no artificial ingredients and costing just pennies. It looks and smells delicious, is food-grade, and feels great on sore muscles. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I haven’t used enough of the homemade capsaicin balm to know if it will help me stay off some of the pharmeceuticals.  But I can tell you that it definitely feels warm and wonderful directly on sore muscles!

Do you have any home remedies that you rely on?  Feel free to share your recipes!

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Close to the Dirt, Far From Normal

Confession ( or rather, Stating the Obvious): I’ve been lax about finishing that pesky “About” page. I haven’t yet organized my blog roll. And there are a couple of reader awards that I was delighted to receive, but less enthusiastic about writing the acceptance notes. I intended to participate in at least one WordPress writing challenge per week, and haven’t been consistent.

If the rest of the things on my To Do List received such blatant prompting as the ones I’ve been getting for my blogging, I would be a super-achiever, with a spotless home, flourishing seedlings, and a productive studio. Also, my abdominal muscles would ripple as I accomplished all these things with grace and serenity.

Truly, I do not always arrange the day's harvest in such an artistic manner.

Truly, I do not always arrange the day’s harvest in such an artistic manner.

But the universe today, via the WordPress elves, has asked me to share Six unusual things about myself. Acceptance of the Beautiful Blogger Award requires sharing Seven unusual things about myself. I’m not going to wait for the postman to request Eight items before handing over the mail. I get the message.

The No-Acre Homestead is firmly planted in middle suburbia. On 1/10 of an acre, we have our house, driveway, walkway, two sheds, deck, and patio. And in the spaces in between, we grow as much of our own produce as we can. Year-round, and camouflaged to conform to the community covenants.

The pride of the Homestead is our compost. We add all of our kitchen scraps. Even the dairy and meat. The rule of thumb is to keep those last items out, but we have a secret ally in composting. To our delight, last year we welcomed our first visit of the Black Soldier Fly. Their young, the less-attractively-named Compost Maggot, will eat Anything. I never thought I would love a maggot. But now I think to save some fat or fish heads for them when I am cooking, much the same way I save special tidbits for our other pets.

Do not look away!  There is a hidden beauty in this pile of kitchen waste.  Compost maggots!

Do not look away! There is a hidden beauty in this pile of kitchen waste. Compost maggots!

My favorite scent is clean, rich soil. In fact, that’s the smell of true compost, and the reason that we have been able to have such a huge pile of “garbage” piled between neighboring townhouses. Healthy compost smells good. I don’t think our neighbors even realize that our kitchen waste is piled just a few feet from their deck.

I’m a total convert to raised bed planting. Container gardening works for our tiny nooks and crannies, but the raised beds, made of recycled plastic and filled with our homemade compost, are almost magically productive. I’ve been able to harvest herbs and greens all winter, with pathetically little effort on my part. In fact, by all rights, that parsley should have smothered under the ice-covered plastic sheeting. Due to health issues, I never got around to making cold frames, so things just piled up.

Raised beds and good compost create a productive garden in a tiny space.

Raised beds and good compost create a productive garden in a tiny space.

Health issues aside, no matter how rough I feel, I always wear lipgloss. Even if i am still wearing the sweatshirt I slept in, that spot of color goes on. No matter how busy I am, the lipstick gets reapplied. No matter how dirty I get in the garden, my lips look glamorous. Is that the artist in me, seeking to create a spot of beauty? Or am I channelling my Grandma, who “dressed for work” in a 1950s era department store every day of her life, despite changing styles and her retirement many decades earlier?

As I look out the window just now, I am happy to see the garbage truck come by. And the recycling truck. Every week, I am again grateful for them. I’ve lived in rural areas where I had to haul my own trash ( although some neighbors stored it, or burned it). I’ve lived in cities where the negotiations to dispose of trash were convoluted and expensive. So it may be a bit strange that trash trucks make me happy, but I’ve got my reasons. You’d think that after a couple of decades of living in this County that I’d be over the whole curbside waste perk, but it still delights me.

So there you have it, folks. Another little smidgen of sharing on my part. Eventually, I’ll have enough to write that “About” page without too much effort. And of course, I’ll be wearing gloss on my lips, and have dirt on my hands.

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Award process: step 1,share 7 things about myself. Check. Step 2, post the Award image. Check. Step 3, nominate more blogs…check back later on today! The pup needs her walk Right Now!

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From “Cauldrons and Cupcakes”, Happy Groundhog Day!

According to Nicole at “Cauldrons and Cupcakes“, the energy shift that marks the start of 2013 actually begins on February 2 this year. Quite an auspicious day, as in this part of the world, we officially start looking for signs of Spring. And 2013 promises to be a turning point for the better, according to Nicole’s projections for us all: “This year you are being empowered to make your life work, and for it to look more like the life you dream for yourself.”
Good stuff!

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Keeping warm at a Groundhog Day celebration early this morning in Pennsylvania. (photo courtesy of The Daily News)

Update: once again, after I posted this, I received the Daily Prompt from WordPresswith a cue to ‘write a post connecting  a global issue to a personal one’.  Global= energy shift, local= Groundhog Day celebrations, and personal=Happy Birthday to me!  How’s that for a slam-dunk on the assignment?

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Parsley in the Snow

The No-Acre Homestead has been in a winter lull, but things are stirring, and growing season has never really stopped here.  We woke up to some unexpected snow this morning, but the earth has already been warmed by the past few 60+ degree days.  There’s no stopping Spring now.

Coolest crocus ever....and in more ways than one!  Bursting through the snow,  it's sunny-yellow petals are veined with a unique purple color.

Coolest crocus ever….and in more ways than one! Bursting through the snow, it’s sunny-yellow petals are veined with a unique purple color.

Early last year, we turned an awkward parking space into our vegetable garden.  (“Potager“, I would prefer to call it, if I knew for sure how to pronounce it.)  Growing vegetables in the shaded, north-facing backyard was always a struggle.  The sunny driveway spot was too skinny for opening car doors, and always required juggling vehicles anyway.  We decided to rip it up and put in some raised beds.

Our Driveway Garden succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.  And, although a vegetable patch like this is not strictly to our local covenants, we received nothing but appreciative curiosity from the neighbors.

I decided to see if I could put it to work year-round.

The famed Driveway Garden at the No-Acre Homestead.  Blanketed in snow, but still productive.  An unusual use for a parking space, but far more useful to us.

The famed Driveway Garden at the No-Acre Homestead. Blanketed in snow, but still productive. An unusual use for a parking space, but far more useful to us.

My intention was to have actual cold frames constructed to keep temperature and headroom consistent for the plants.  I designed the frames and got the materials.  Unfortunately, my coordination weakened just at the wrong time for little projects like this.  Plastic sheeting and bricks from the walkway were used for this season, but I plan on taking the time this year to make the cold frames in advance.

Despite the gerry-rigged shelter, the Driveway Garden is still producing food for us.

Red cabbage thrives through winter.  It was planted into a raised bed filled with compost.  The wire is to keep the neighborhood cat out.

Red cabbage thrives through winter. It was planted into a raised bed filled with compost. The wire is to keep the neighborhood cat out.

Although I didn’t get around to transplanting two pots of hot peppers (unknown name), I did think to shelter them in the sunniest corner, and insulate them with a pile of dirt.  These have been going into our chilis and stir-fries all Winter.  Between these and what I intentionally dried in the fall, I hope to have enough hot pepper to take us through next harvest season.

Searingly-hot peppers may be creating their own micro-climate in this corner of the Driveway Garden.

Searingly-hot peppers may be creating their own micro-climate in this corner of the Driveway Garden.

This is the first year I have ever tried to save our own seeds.  I did get a bit off-track, and I still don’t have a corner set up to keep seedlings.  We’ll see how I do with this experiment in a few weeks, when things sprout (or not).  In the meantime, I have garlic and potatoes starting.  The garlic ‘could’ have been planted in December.  But I didn’t get around to it.  It looks like it is happy enough for now.  The great part about raised beds is that the dirt has been fluffy all winter.  I can go out with a spoon and plant a few cloves whenever I get a spare moment.

The garlic and potatoes seem happy to share a bowl on the windowsill. I plan on planting that garlic any second now...

The garlic and potatoes seem happy to share a bowl on the windowsill. I plan on planting that garlic any second now…

I am completely in love with the ability to reach out the front door and grab some parsley or lettuce right out of the snow.  Just wait til you see my plans for next year!

Buttercrunch lettuce and parsley, ready for picking. They've gone all winter without any human intervention under their plastic tent.

Buttercrunch lettuce and parsley, ready for picking. They’ve gone all winter without any human intervention under their plastic tent.

Does anyone else do small-space gardening?  Sneaky front-yard gardening?  What about starting seeds?  I’m eager to hear your ideas and experiences!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

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Growing up, winter was gray. Cold seeped up from the cracked concrete, through cinder block walls, through single-paned and oh-so-cold metal framed windows. Cold, and gray, until the snow came sometime around Thanksgiving. The snow was sparkling and beautiful, even as it became layered with city grime. No matter how caked in dirt, snow still had some mysterious way of collecting bits of light and bouncing it back. Winter was my favorite season. Once the snow came, everything was hidden, so anything was possible.

Moving South, living in the suburbs, putting in time on the planet and maybe even global warming have changed what winter looks like for me. It seems the cold comes from my bones as much as anyplace else these days. Snow is infrequent, fleeting, and cause for alarm down here. Where winter once was defined by shades of white and gray, softened shapes, and muffled sounds, it now is a season of heightened contrast.

Even where I have tried to control my environment, I haven’t been able to create softness. Instead…Sticky mud and shards of ice. The backyard shorn of its low green billows, sharp outlines of man-made structures at center stage. Most plants are rightly dead or dormant in December, yet the Nandina and the Camellia have burst into life. I didn’t plan to have red berries, pink flowers, green leaves and a blue door stack up like that in our tiny space. Despite my calendars and graph paper, Nature still had her way.

Winter is still my favorite season. It’s just the colors are not what I expected.

(This post was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge)

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The No-Acre Homestead Update: Reflections and Projections

I found the most uplifting treasure in my mailbox today! The first seed catalog for 2013!

It’s from Baker Creek, my favorite source this past year. The photographs of vegetables rival those in any high-end fashion magazine.

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My photographs, of course, are not so splendid.  But you can almost feel the sunshine when you look at the zinnias on the cover.  So welcome on such a raw, grey day.

I have plans to sit with a cup of tea and an afghan on my next day off, and read it cover to cover.  I need to go through it once, collect my thoughts and daydreams, and then go back with a notepad and start planning.

But before I do that, I reflected on this past year, our first in the Driveway Garden,  the cornfield, the Three Sisters Garden, and our adventures with the Compost Love-Child Squash. Here’s a few things I plan to do differently next year:

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1) No More Squash.  Nope.  None at all.  Three Sisters tradition or not, The No-Acre Homestead is just not big enough to give up valuable real estate to squash.  I know it’s a wonderful, versatile vegetable.  It’s easy to grow.  It’s nutritious.  Sigh.  We just don’t need four or five squash a day.  We don’t really like it.  And whatever squash we need, we can easily get from the CSA or the farmer’s market.

2) Potatoes…select them on purpose and grow them in a planned location.  This year, I just tossed some sprouting supermarket taters in an empty bed.  They flourished despite neglect and only 10 inches of soil.  Next year, I plan to pick several varieties, and figure out a deeper way to plant them.  (If you keep covering the vines as they grow, they will sprout more potatoes. Is that too cool?)  The trick for 2013 will be to devise a nice-looking structure for the potato plants, since our garden is in the front yard.  Ideally, you could plant them in an unused tire, and as the vines grew, add another tire and layers of clean straw.  When it’s time to harvest, you could just unstack the tires, and lovely clean potatoes would tumble out.  This, however, is not a front-yard-friendly plan.


3) Help the hops.  After years of keeping the Cascade and Centennial rhizomes corralled in flower pots, we finally had the opportunity to plant them in the ground this year.  There’s a saying about the growth of perennials: the first year they sleep, the next year they creep, the third year they leap.  We kind of planned on having a ‘sleep’ year.  Go figure…they leapt about like rabbits.  Mike put the 4x4s in place for an arbor.  By next year, we hope to have the crossbeams in place.  That will give the hops a place to climb and spread out, and also provide some shade for our Western-facing patio.

There’s a very long list of things I’d do differently next year.  The more I ponder, the more ideas I get.  I’ll be sharing them as I start making plans for spring planting.

What about on your homestead?  Any things you’d change next year?  Anything you’d definitely want to do again?  Please share!

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Makes Me Wonder

Sometimes, the pup and I veer off our daily route and venture into the woods in search of new sights, new smells.

Sometimes, we find very curious things.

Sometimes, the mystery is more interesting than the discovery.

 

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Using Green Tomatoes: “Apple Pie”

First an update on last week’s green tomato recipe: I made a giant batch of the faux Salsa Verde last week, with hope that we would have enough to freeze for enchilada cravings in February. The good news is that it was so delicious that we have absolutely none left this week. Not only did we use it over the roast chicken thighs, but also over scrambled eggs with some extra hot sauce for a healthy and hearty breakfast. I used it as a spread in my grilled cheese sandwich, and thinned with a little olive oil and vinegar as a salad dressing. And I can say with absolute conviction that tortilla chips dunked in the salsa are a very comforting snack during a hurricane.

I definitely plan to make up another batch, as we still have two giant bowls of green tomatoes to work with. But now I am in full-out winter recipe mode, thanks to the temperature shift. And I’m just loving this recipe for using those tart green tomatoes as a secret ingredient in a sweet dessert. If you didn’t know the pie filling was made of tomatoes, you would swear it was Granny Smith apples!

Just one of two giant bowls of green tomatoes, gleaned from our little No Acre Homestead in October. Necessity is the mother of (culinary) inspiration!

Green Tomato Pie (gluten-free)

In a large bowl, toss 4 cups chopped green tomatoes with 2 TBL apple cider vinegar and 1tsp vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, mix 1/4 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup rapadura or other sugar, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves. ( Ginger and allspice can be added to taste, if they are included in your usual apple pie recipe). Toss this mixture into the tomato mixture until incorporated.

Put this mix into an unbaked gluten-free pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees ( my default oven temperature) until the pie is golden brown. In my oven this takes about 40 minute, but I suggest checking after 30 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter.

I often add raisins or dried cranberries to my “apple” pie filling for a little bit of contrast in color and flavor. You could also top the finished pie with chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans.

This slice of green tomato pie uses two crusts…always an option. (photo courtesy of The Beachcomber ) Once again, I forgot to take my own picture!

I’d love your feedback if you try this recipe.  Happy Eating! 

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