Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homesteading Blog Honorable Mention

Hello there!

I'm so excited to share with you that this little blog has received an honorable mention by From Scratch Magazine as one of the top homesteading blogs!

If you haven't visited From Scratch Magazine, it's such a great resource for the homesteading community. The bi-monthly publication shares everything from gardening and farm animal-keeping tips to recipes, DIY projects, and homestead tours. Be sure to check it out. It's FREE! 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Testing Old Seeds for Viability

Each year we always wind up with lots of leftover seeds for most of the vegetables we grow in our garden. We try to reuse what we can, but after a few years it becomes hard to determine whether it is worth it to plant them in case of low germination rates.

old seed packets from last year or the year before

new seed packets that I received as a Christmas gift :)

That is where testing old seeds for germination can help save some money by reusing old seed! I think it's a good idea to do this anyway with saved seed from your garden to see if you are doing a good job of seed saving methods.

To test for germination, the process was pretty simple and there are multiple ways you can go about doing it. What I did was begin with a wet paper towel, place roughly 10 seeds onto the paper towel and then fold it two or three times on each other with the seeds in it. Label the paper towel and seal in a plastic bag or other airtight container.

tomato seeds placed on a wet paper towel

paper towel folded over and placed into ziplock plastic bag with a label

Make sure the paper towels remain moist. I placed several seeds with labels on top together in one plastic bag to save on plastic baggies.

In about 3 to 10 days, you should be able to check and see if your seeds have germinated. With ten seeds, you want to have at least 6 of them germinate to have a good rate. If my rate on a particular veggie is less than 60%, I will plan on buying a new packet of seed for that plant.

The pickling cucumber seeds did fantastic- they passed with flying colors!

The KY Wonder Pole Bean seeds passed as well- these were given to me by a family member

This year in addition to using a lot of our leftover seeds, we plan to purchase new some hybrid tomato seeds (canning and slicing), Sungold cherry tomatoes, some spinach, strawberries, October beans, peppers, herbs, potatoes, onions, and garlic.

Seed catalogs- I love looking through them during the winter :)

It's almost time to start our seedlings for veggies to be transplanted in the early spring. Yikes!  Have you planned out your garden yet?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More on Shuck Beans: Stringing, Drying, & Cooking

I've had a lot of interest in my post on shuck beans, so I thought I'd expand on this topic and talk a little bit about my experience with making this southern mountain delicacy. Shuck beans were a way to enjoy beans during the winter, and from what I understand traditionally were eaten around the Holidays.

I first learned about and tasted shuck beans (some people call them shucky beans or leather britches) from my mother-in-law. She is from Harlan, Kentucky and grew up eating these beans.

The first time we dried shuck beans we really didn't know what we were doing--in fact, we didn't de-string them well enough. Oops! We strung them up and hung to dry in a cool spot in our house, and then I brought them home to KY with me for my mother-in-law to teach me how to cook.

These shuck beans were in the spring house of a mid 19th century home in Yancey County, NC. They had obviously been hanging there for many many years!

Instead of the traditional way of boiling with some sort of pork fat, she let them cook for a long time on the stove with olive oil for a healthier version. They actually turned out not too bad, but not nearly as good as I had had before. The next time we made them she brought back some wonderful shuck beans from famous heirloom gardener Bill Best, and we made them at my house together. They were very tasty.

To start, you need your beans. We grew greasy beans in our garden last year, along with some half-runners which I've heard are some of the best kind to use for shuck beans. If you can't grow your own, see if your farmer's market has some of these varieties. Some farmer's markets will even have already dried shuck beans ready for cooking :)

Next you will need to remove the tough strings from all your beans. Then with a needle and thread, string them together in bunches and hang up in a dry cool spot. You may also be able to use a food dehydrator for faster drying of the beans. Or, you can break them into smaller pieces and let them air dry in the sun. Most of the time your beans will need to dry for at least a couple of months. I believe you can dry them for a very long time before they go bad.

Once they are ready for cooking, you will need to soak them overnight. Once soaked overnight you can start cooking them with whatever type of fat you plan to use. Some people use salt bacon, some use fatback, others canola oil.

one of my first attempts at hanging beans up to dry

A failed attempt at shuck beans--these beans I did not let grow large enough before picking. 

traditional shuck beans cooking on the stove

Cook the beans in enough water to cover until boiling and them simmer for a couple hours more or until very tender. Continue cooking until the water has cooked all the way down, stirring to avoid scorching the beans.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with shuck beans. Any tips for cooking them that I left out above? Please share!