S Tonin

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since Oct 17, 2015
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food preservation forest garden fungi homestead cooking trees
zone 6a, ish
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Recent posts by S Tonin

Eastern PA, same county as Paul Lutz above (hi sort-of neighbor!) but I live a bit south of him on a shaded north-facing slope (lack of sunlight even in clear areas is a problem), 1100 ft elevation, very stony loam soil (though most of my growing area is well into the subsoil since it was carved out of the hill).  Koppen climate zone is Dfa, hardiness zone is right on the dividing line between 6a and 6b (even with the polar vortex this year, we haven't hit 6a temperatures in the 30+ years I've lived here).

Fruits & nuts that I've established (or my immediate neighbors have) and do well despite poor conditions: Peaches, apples, raspberries (native black, cultivated red, cultivated yellow), blackberries (native), black currants, gooseberries, elderberries, concord grape, black walnut.  Also strawberries (not a woody plant but still perennial berry) and rhubarb (not woody or even a fruit, technically).   Also, probably not what you have in mind, but garden huckleberry (Solanium scabrum, the ones that look like nightshade) has the potential to be a self-seeding annual like tomatoes; I've had volunteers for a few years now (I only include them because I'm thinking along the lines of low-maintenance/ perennial fruit, in addition to trees/ bushes/ vines).

Poor producers: apricot*, blueberry, wild rose and climbing rose (I was hoping for a better showing of hips, even if they're not big producers like Rugosa).  

Plants too young to produce, but looking healthy (most started from seed): jostaberry, cherry, paw paw, aronia, mulberry, goji, chestnut (not sure if Chinese, American, or a hybrid; the seeds came from an Amish farm 30ish miles north of me, purchased at a farmer's market), English walnut.  Also, in theory I should be able to keep jujubes, but I killed my first round of seedlings; trying them again this year.

Things I can buy from local orchards/ berry farms within 15 miles of my house, or have seen healthy specimens of: pears (Bosc, Bartlett, Seckle, Asian types), apples (including crab apples), cherries (tart and sweet, black, red, and golden, so all kinds basically), peaches, nectarines, plums (Asian & European varieties), apricot, mulberry, redbud (we're not in its natural range but I've seen them in ornamental landscaping), hawthorn; elderberry, blueberry, currants, gooseberries, cranberries, shadbush/ serviceberry; grapes (not sure of the varieties, there are a few vineyards around), hardy kiwi/ kiwiberry, passionflower; chestnut, walnut (English and Black), hickory nut.   Also, not necessarily food producers, but edible/ seasoning/ medicine producers: sumac, juniper, spicebush, linden.

*I think my tree is a dud, being 20 years old and producing a grand total of one fruit (which got eaten by bugs before maturing), but apricots are touchy all over the region--they bloom too early and there's nothing around to pollinate them some years, or a freeze kills the blossoms or very young fruit.
2 weeks ago
I don't have a lot of luck with perennial anything (especially asparagus, though I have some hope that the stuff I started from seed a few years ago is finally going to produce enough for a meal this year, unlike the 4 different sets of crowns I've bought over the last 18 years), but some of my self-seeding annuals might as well be perennial because they just do what they want.  Mizuna, broccoli rabe, and Red Russian kale keep coming back (and the quandary there is "do I let them keep going, or do I do proper rotation in this bed?").  Sunflowers and amaranth, too.  And Lamb's Quarters, which I can't get rid of no matter how hard I try.

Chufa/ nut grass is supposed to be perennial, but it wasn't for me (I don't think it was well-established enough after the first year and the last two years have just been terrible with rain).  Burdock (gobo), on the other hand, has no problems, but I still haven't gotten around to trying to eat it; I have really compact clay/silt subsoil (carved out of the side of a mountain, about 8' below natural ground level) and I can't get more than 4" of root out without breaking it.
2 weeks ago

Gail Jardin wrote:Just a quick question about canning fermented foods. Since pressure canning kills bacteria, what if any benefit would come from the probiotics! Would canning kimchi or saurkraut destroy the health benefits? If so how can fermentations be preserved?

I think you'll get some of the benefits--even if the living organisms are killed by canning--due to the chemical changes that happen in the food itself during fermentation.  I think most people who can ferments like sauerkraut do it to preserve flavor, since some people don't like more mature sauerkraut.  Or they don't eat much of it and want to store it for longer than the food would hold otherwise.  A side note: water bath canning also kills the bacteria.  The only thing it won't kill are C. botulinum spores (hence why you need pressure canning for low-acid foods, since they can't grow in acidic foods).

I mean, I'm no master fermenter or food historian or anything, but traditionally the reason behind fermentation was simply to preserve food (the health benefits were secondary).  Some of it was just to extend the life by a few days in an era without refrigeration, like some types of Asian pickles; stuff like sauerkraut and kimchi was really meant to last a few months over the winter; some of the fermented fish products (Asia, Scandinavia, and ancient Rome all have really unique traditions) or bean pastes (doenjang, miso) had to go for a year or better before they were even ready to eat.  I think ferments are generally one of those things that have a best-by date and there's no real way of extending that without significant loss of quality.  I mean, you could probably freeze or dehydrate something like sauerkraut or lacto-fermented carrot coins, but you'd still lose the texture and, in the case of dehydrating, the probiotics would be killed from the heat (like low-temperature pasteurization).

I think in general, the more salt, the longer the shelf life.  Stuff like umeboshi (salted pickled plums) can last basically forever.  You can extend shelf life of the more fragile, shorter-term ferments by keeping them as cold as possible without freezing once they've reached the desired state of fermentation, but even then you're only buying yourself weeks or months, not years.

2 weeks ago

Ben Zumeta wrote:I bet someone here can explain how dehumidifiers work like Dan Ackroyd as Jimmy Carter on SNL, but my understanding is that they can leave chemicals in their water reservoirs. I very well could be wrong, but I assumed this is why every one I've ever had has very clear warnings not to drink it, and that's why I don't use it on edibles

After doing the laziest of Google searches, it seems like the search results are in agreement with what I suspected from experience: the main reason they tell you not to drink the water is the possibility of contamination from microorganisms.  I know the water collection bucket of our dehumidifier gets super slimy; they can harbor all kinds of algae, bacteria, molds, you name it--whatever's floating in the air and lands on the water.  There's also the possibility of leeching of heavy metals from the coils or the solder used on them, which would then bioaccumulate in plant material.  None of the sites I looked at provided any data or indication of lab testing or anything, either, so the heavy metal contamination is more in the realm of speculation, I think.  Honestly, even knowing that isn't going to stop me from using it on my tomatoes or whatever when I have the energy to waddle it out to my plants, since I probably get worse every day from my very hard well water running through 30 year old corroding pipes.
1 month ago

Casie Becker wrote:It sounds like you have experience with the different lids out there and are still using ball.  I've been eyeing the tattler lids, in you experience are they a poorer choice?

I'm still on the fence about the Tattlers.  I don't use them often because they're kind of a pain (getting the lid and gasket just so, remembering to crank down the band, trying to get the damn things off the jars without damaging anything, too expensive to give away to people who won't return them), but I do like how they've performed so far.  I've never had one not seal or lose a seal (though much smaller sample size than with regular lids) and I have jars of jelly that are 3+ years old with strong seals.  I've been using them for 4 or 5 years now (but only one or two at a time, on jars I know won't leave the house and that I'll be the one opening) and the gaskets are still looking good--no dry rot or anything.  I always intend to use them more, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, so.  

Basically, I'm glad I have them as an option, and I wouldn't discourage anyone from investing in a box.  I don't remember the math I did when I bought them, but I don't think I've personally broken even just yet (edit: I did a quick search and it takes about 8 uses/ lid to break even with the cost of Ball for the widemouth lids and I didn't look up regular mouth).  Personally, I'd like to have a few more boxes for a worst-case scenario (not even a SHTF situation; Ball is owned by some megacorp and if they close up shop we'll all be left in the lurch), but it's a relatively low-priority want.

Oh, and I do have to say I'm not impressed with using them just as a regular (non-canned) jar lid.  They don't keep out moisture as well as a Ball lid and I'm pretty sure you can't use them with a vacuum sealer (though haven't tried it).  I wouldn't use them on like, dehydrated or dry food in the pantry for any length of time, especially if it's humid--drastically shortens the shelf life because the seal just isn't good without heat and pressure.
2 months ago
The bread in a jar might look cute and seem like a nice gift, but it can harbor botulism (as well as other bacteria and molds).  It's basically the same as oven or open-kettle canning, which exposes the food to air before sealing; once sealed it creates an anaerobic environment that, when combined with a low-acid food, makes it the ideal environment for all kinds of nasties.  It might be okay for a few days (like any other bread stored at room temp), but not long-term storage.  That Boston Brown Bread you can buy in cans is manufactured under specific conditions that can't really be created in the home.

And I know I'm late on this, but about the jar lids not sealing--I've been having more trouble this year with the new Ball lids than I ever had before; I've been canning for 15+ years and rarely had bad seals, but for the last two years it seems like every batch of canning I do has at least one or two lids that don't seal right out of the canner or loosen up after a day.  I don't want to be that guy, but I don't think all the problems I've had are strictly user error.  I've emailed Ball and got no response.  I would call, but I have terrible social anxiety and the potential stress isn't worth the money lost so far.  

Past that, other causes of no-seals, false seals, and broken seals are:
-using old and slightly deformed bands.  They don't apply the correct consistent pressure to the lid while in the canner and after the jars are removed, which can cause the seal to be very weak or not form.  Rust spots inside the threads can make a jar feel fingertip tight when it's not actually tight enough to make it seal.  I try out every band I'm going to use every time, even the brand new ones.
-cracks or chips on the rim of the jar.  It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes you don't even notice them until it's too late.  Cracks are especially insidious because they can hold a seal for months until enough air gets through to cause problems.
-Tightening the band of a jar right out of the canner.  The bands usually loosen up and that's fine, it's supposed to be that way.  If using Tattler lids, the opposite is true; they need to be cranked down tight as soon as they're out of the canner.
-dirty jar rims.  I wipe mine with square of paper towel dipped in white vinegar.  Sometimes liquid (and fat) comes out during pressure canning, but I've never had that leakage be the cause of a seal failure.  Yet.  Anything's possible, I suppose.
-not properly cooling jars, especially when pressure canning.  I always put a towel over my jars straight out of the pressure canner and let them cool slowly, usually at least 12 hours under the towel and another 12 before I put them away.  Drafts can cause the jars to crack, but there's also the metal lids and sealing compound to think about.  Also moving them when too hot can cause the seal to break.
-lid/ sealing compound temperature.  Used to be a bigger issue when the compound needed to be warmed to soften; it's now formulated to be used at room temp (for Ball/ Kerr/ Jardin brand, at least).  I've had most of my seal failures when I pre-warmed these new lids in simmering water, which is still supposed to be an acceptable thing but not best-practice.  For me, simmering is a hard habit to break and I still do it like 90% of the time, which might or might not be the actual cause of my problems.
-extreme temperature changes, especially rapid ones, or cycles of extreme temperature changes (also see below point about resealing).
-storing jars with bands on.  Never do this.  Temperature changes can make the metal expand, putting pressure on the lids that loosens the gasket.  It can also make a false seal undetectable; a lid that would normally pop and blow off in storage stays in place and may even reseal with temperature changes (and resealing is bad, as you've lost your sterile environment).
-related to the above, stacking jars or storing them with weight on the lids.  Not only can it cause a seal to loosen and break, it can also stop spoiled food from being detected (and cause broken seals to reseal, etc).  You might even lose a jar if too much pressure builds up and causes it to break.

The spoon test is great for jars, though some lids never sound right even when the seals are intact (at least to my ears; Orchard Road is a decent brand but they don't ping and the tone is off when tapped).  And it doesn't really work for Tattler lids.  The best test is to just pick the jar up by the lid (without the band) once it's fully cooled.  If it has a bad seal, you'll know it (you might also have a mess if you're a little too enthusiastic about the process; don't lift the jar more than 1/4" off the counter).  This won't weaken or otherwise affect a good seal.
2 months ago

Casie Becker wrote:Just yesterday I finally figured out pumpkin makes a really tasty savory pancake. Eggs,onions (I precaramelize them), garlic, fresh ginger, black pepper, and a splash of wotchershire sauce.  

The second batch using dehydrated pumpkin and adding ground flax was even tastier. They're like a gingery potato pancake.  They even pass all of my mom's new dietary restrictions.

Casie, can you give an approximate recipe or a how-to for your pancakes?  I'd really like to try this!  Did you rehdrate the pumpkin first or use it ground like flour?  About how much flax, and was that in addition to the egg?  Are they thin like a crepe?  Thanks in advance
2 months ago
The biggest upside for me is the feeling of security in having undeveloped land around me--I have resources, even if I'm not utilizing them right now.  

A close second is being surrounded by nature.  The wildlife can be destructive, but it can be the best free show you'll ever see, too.  Like a herd of deer converging on and chasing a feral cat, or a hawk picking a squirrel right off the birdfeeder, or a jake trying to pick a fight with itself reflected in a chrome bumper.  Sure, you can see that stuff on YouTube nowdays, but nothing beats seeing it live.  And I'm always discovering new things, like a bug or fungus or weed, even though I've lived on this land for (most of) 30+ years.

Privacy is nice.  I like being able to walk around looking like a slob, staying in my pajamas all day if I feel like it, with no one to see or judge me.  I like keeping the curtains open all the time.  I often find people tiring, so not having to do the dance of smiles and how-are-yous with five different people between my car any my front door is a slice of heaven in itself.  And the most noise we get from neighbors is the occasional dog barking (except for the guy with all the guns, who decides to fire his entire arsenal over the course of a few hours once a month, and the other guy who loves his newly-legal-in-PA fireworks).

Being able to leave cars and houses and sheds unlocked is great.  

It's so much cooler in the summer in the woods.  The humidity might be a little higher, but it's always 10F cooler here than it is in town or in the cities nearby.  We usually get the first frost a little later than everybody else, too (though the snow sticks around a lot longer and we get more of it than the low-lying areas, usually).

No one can see our yard from the road, so it doesn't matter if the grass is mowed or if I've got vegetables growing right next to the front door.  If I want to repurpose parts of a washing machine or old cabinets for outdoor uses, there's no one to cluck their tongues or get me fined by some governing body (within reason; townships get involved when the place looks like a junkyard).

This isn't a pleasant thought, but it's still a consideration: if my neighbor's house goes up in flames, I'm not as likely to lose my house because it spreads.  Similarly, I'm not directly affected when there's a problem with a gas or sewer line or any kind of industrial incident.
3 months ago
Trash is a big issue in rural areas; it's being discussed at length in this thread.  In my experience (and I live on a road that's been a notorious dumping spot for all kinds of garbage--stoves, sofas, tires, even a dead pony once), the locals aren't the ones doing the lion's share of the dumping.  People come from the more "civilized" areas (including the housing developments) to get rid of the stuff the garbage companies won't pick up (or charge an arm and a leg extra for).  

We didn't even have the option for garbage collection in my area until five years ago, so we drove our recycling 15 miles to another municipality's facilities (which we weren't supposed to do because our tax money wasn't supporting it).  Big stuff just sat around until we had enough to justify a trip to the landfill or the scrap yard (though, not much has changed there, even with weekly pickup).  When I was a kid my parents didn't keep a garden, so food scraps got thrown in the woods.  Everything else was burned, either in the wood stove (junk mail, paper egg cartons, packing paper) or out in the burn-barrel (non-recyclable plastics and food packaging, mostly).  We also kept a small trash can for things that had to go to a landfill no matter what--broken glass, batteries, that kind of thing--and that was tied up in a plastic shopping bag and thrown out at a gas station or in the dumpster at my mom's work (with permission).  We only had about one of those every two months or so.  For us, it was just impractical to hold onto all our household waste and drive it to the landfill every week, and we couldn't leave the garbage sit in bags because of the wildlife.

Honestly, I often wonder how much net carbon is being saved by not burning what little trash we generate, when considering the three separate garbage companies that now serve the area (no one has a contract with the township or anything, it's a free-market lover's dream of redundancy and waste and overcharging).  Five trucks a week (two garbage, two recycling, one combo) to serve like 50 households.  Luckily (ha ha) we only live about 15 miles from a landfill, but not all of the companies that serve the area use that landfill; one of them just has a transfer station and their garbage ends up in Maryland.  

One certainly has to confront their own waste when living rural.  
3 months ago
This reminded me of an article I bookmarked a few years ago about fundoshi (traditional Japanese underpants) for women.  They look like they'd be pretty easy to sew, and a good way of upcycling anything like old t-shirts or bed sheets.

I also saw an article in the (now long-defunct) magazine Craft: about using your favorite underwear as a pattern to sew your own from recycled t-shirts.  It was basically just tracing each panel and adding a seam allowance, and I think the elastic was just zig-zag stitched on.  There are probably like a million different tutorials out there to do it, I think it was a "thing" like 10 years ago when trendy people were all over recycling last year's unfashionable t-shirts.

And here's a free printable pattern for mini bloomers.  You need to create a login with an email address to download the .zip file to get the pattern.

Personally, I like to go commando when I wear skirts, but I stopped doing that in public after I accidentally flashed a kid and probably scarred him for life (it was a calf-length skirt, too, but it got caught on a box I was lifting and it was comedic and mortifying and I still wonder if that kid grew up to think I was some pervert).  I don't like going without when I wear any kind of pants (except boxer shorts or super loose pajamas) because it's just physically uncomfortable for me, especially the seam of jeans, and also because I need to wash the clothes more often.  With underwear, I typically wear jeans a full week without washing (the jeans, not my bits!).  Without, I don't even like having them on a second day because I don't want bladder infections, which I used to get a lot more of when I was in my "totally commando all the time" phase in my mid-20s.  Everyone's undercarriage is different, though--try it a few times and see if you like it.  
8 months ago