Dehydrating Food

Dehydrating Bell Peppers

Dehydrating Bell Peppers

Dehydrating Pumpkin

Drying Pumpkin in Kitchen

People have been dehydrating food for storage for thousands of years. It is one of the easiest and safest methods of preserving food for later consumption. Dehydrated food takes up less storage space and is lighter and easier to transport than other methods of storing foods.

For those folks looking to have an emergency food storage cache, it is an ideal method of storing food. Dehydrated food requires no refrigeration or other energy reliant methods of storage. Just keep it dry until you need to use it.

 In modern times we often scoff at some of the methods used by primitive people but they are no less effective today than they were hundreds of years ago.

 The old timers hung their meat and vegetables on lines or put them on racks in the sun (solar….novel idea, huh?) to dry. Sometimes they would build a smudge fire under them which served two purposes; it kept the insects away and the smoke both flavored the food and helped preserve it.

I have actually made jerky by hanging thin sliced venison on the clothesline when I lived in Arizona (this will not work in a humid environment).

 We dry some types of vegetables in our kitchen. We hang them (sliced thin) on cords stretched across the kitchen area. This works well for us as our kitchen is well ventilated (ventilation is necessary to prevent mold). It would not work well if we heated with natural gas or propane as these produce moisture as they burn. It would also not work well if you live in a very humid area. Here in Oklahoma the humidity is fairly low during late summer on into fall before the fall rains start. This is the time when most of the vegetables are coming out of the garden so this works pretty well for us.

 You can dry vegetables this way or you can place them on racks near any source of dry heat as long as you remember it is not the heat you are after it is the dry warm air and do not allow your food to get too hot.

 This old, time proven, method has the advantage of being almost cost free. All you need is some strong cord, or racks, and the time to turn your vegetable slices frequently to promote even drying.

 Today you can buy many different types of food dehydrators that are powered by electricity and they make the job simple and easy. They do not rely on the sun for warm dry air. They produce their own. They have the advantage of working equally well at any time of the year and many have timers so you don’t even have to watch them. They make it much easier and safer to dry meat (jerky) as they have the advantage of controlled heat and air circulation.

 Dehydrating food is still one of the safest, easiest, and most cost efficient ways to preserve food even if you choose to buy a food dehydrator. These foods are easy to prepare by soaking or boiling in water and cooking as you normally would or many such as banana chips or dried apples can be eaten without rehydrating.

If you are considering buying a food dehydrator, here is a selection from a company you can trust;

                              FOOD DEHYDRATORS

 

What It Takes To Go Offgrid

I get questions from people every day about what it takes to go offgrid. They just want “a little offgrid cabin in the country” somewhere. I ‘m going to tell you exactly what it takes and most of you aren’t going to like the answer.

Most of the people asking this question are driving a new car that costs them more for payment and insurance every month than I have to live on. They live in a home that costs them thousands of dollars a year for rent or mortgage payment. They spend thousands of dollars for entertainment (movies, cable TV, vacations, restaurant dinners) a year.

Most of these folks have a yearly income that would allow them to easily do or buy anything they want if managed properly. Yet most are having problems getting by payday to payday with most of their money spent before they even get it. Their credit cards are maxed out or nearly so, they have as much debt as the banks will allow, and they have no idea how to get out of the rut they have gotten themselves into.

They have absolutely no idea where they could come up with enough money for that little piece of land with an offgrid cabin on it. All the while they are spending enough money every year to pay for a nice cabin with small acreage. Did you get that? They are spending enough money every year to pay for it and have it free and clear, paid off, theirs free and clear.

Here is the part most folks aren’t going to like; you obviously don’t want that “little offgrid cabin” or you would make the lifestyle changes necessary to get it! People do things according to their priorities. If your priority is for an offgrid cabin, you will make the changes that will allow you to get it. If your priority is to have a new car parked in the driveway of a nice house in the suburbs that is what you will have.

My intention here is not to offend people; it is to make a point. Life consists of choices. The choices we make define us and make us what we are. In this life, I have never gotten something without giving up something else. You will never encounter a situation in life in which you do not have a choice to make. You may not like the choices available to you but you will always have a choice.

You can choose to have that “little offgrid cabin” or you can choose to continue in a lifestyle you have previously chosen and built for yourself.

It took many years for me to discover this for myself and only one year for me to get my own acreage and “offgrid cabin” after the decision was made. It is paid for free and clear and I refuse to bring anything on my place that isn’t paid for when it gets here.

It is your choice to make; you can have that “little offgrid cabin”, or not. It is entirely up to you.

Lee’s Ridge Offgrid System

Lee's Ridge Solar System

Solar Array

Lee's Ridge Offgrid Wind Generator
Lee’s Ridge Offgrid Wind Generator

Since I have been asked by several of my readers what kind of offgrid electric system I use here on Lee’s Ridge, I’ll explain my system in the hopes that it will save someone who is just starting out a lot of the headaches I’ve had trying to figure things out.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’ve been completely offgrid for more than 15 years. In the area where I live no outside power is available so if I wanted electricity, I had to make it myself. When I first started information was hard to find and I wound up having to experiment with what worked and what didn’t. Also I had to figure out what was cost effective. Not being particularly affluent cost was and is important.

There is much hype on different websites and other media extolling the virtues of one type of system over another. On Social Networking sites like Facebook, every day I see posts about “how to do this or that for free or a little bit of nothing”, or how to build a wind generator with a car alternator and a fan blade, and if you want to believe that hype, you’re welcome to it. I’m not going to try to sell you anything, just tell you what works for me. Yes, you can buy some of the things you will need through my Amazon links but frankly, I don’t care if you do or not. The commission rate is so small that it will not impact my budget at all. If you do buy through the links on my website, THANK YOU, it helps pay for the website, but do not feel obligated.

My home (humble though it is) consists of 2 buildings. I built it that way for convenience. One building is kitchen and bath, which allowed me to put all the plumbing in one building. The other is living area and bedroom with a small office area. For each building I have a separate solar system.

The kitchen building uses electricity mainly for lights (12 volt RV fixtures). The refrigerators (2) both are propane as that is the most economical and cost effective type. Electric fridges use a compressor which is huge energy consumption. The propane fridges and water heaters can be found at any RV salvage yard for a reasonable price. We also run 12 volt fans in the summer almost constantly.

The kitchen solar system consists of a 60 watt solar array which can be bought from Amazon. The 7 amp charge controller comes with the solar array. I use 2, 6 volt golf cart batteries to store the power until I need it. This provides more power than I have ever used.

The bedroom and office system consists of one 120 watt solar array and one 50 watt panel. I also have a 250 watt wind generator attached to this system. My charge controller is a Coleman Air, C 60 PWM (60 amp). I use 4 golf cart batteries (6 volt wired in a series to produce 12 volts) to store power. I can run this system down if used too much on the numerous cloudy days in a row that we often get in the winter.

The bedroom system powers 12 volt lights and inverters for computers, satellite uplink for internet, modems and routers. We run 12 volt fans in the summer, sometimes all night.

Lest anyone should think I’m a purist about it I also should tell you that I also have a back-up generator which I run to power electric drills, saws, battery chargers (for too many cloudy days in a row), and other things around the place. Oh, I should mention the air conditioner which I run in the evenings when it’s hot and the wife’s vacuum cleaner also require the use of the generator.

My water system for the house is gravity flow from a 1200 gallon tank on the hill above the house which I keep filled with a gas water pump. I also use a gas pump to irrigate gardens from the creek in the summer growing season.

If you look around my site you will find articles about our systems and how we put them together, and other things of interest to an offgridder or anyone interested in living a more independent lifestyle, and a page of links to most of the equipment I’ve described here. If you care to buy through my links; Thank You. I’ll receive a 4% commission.

After doing considerable research and testing I have finally found what I believe to be the best panels at the best price. They have a 25 year guarantee and shipping is free. These are the panels I buy for myself;
Ramsond Mono Crystalline Solar Panels

 

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

 

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Home Grown Sweet Potatoes

You prepared your beds, planted your sweet potatoes, and watched them grow into beautiful vines during the summer months. In the last few weeks you’ve noticed the ground around your plants start to bulge with the forming sweet potatoes. You are probably wondering when it will be time to harvest them and how it should be done.

Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow. Unlike regular (white) potatoes, you do not want to wait for the plant to die. The reason for this is that sweet potatoes will not die until they are frozen back by cold weather. You do not want your plants to freeze or get frost on them as this causes them to release chemicals that will cause the sugars to start to break down in the potato and shorten their storage life.

You will want to cut the vines off at the ground 2 or 3 days before you harvest your sweet potatoes. This will cause the skins to toughen and help increase their storage life. You can wait up to a week before you dig them if the ground is not wet or too cold but I wouldn’t wait any longer than that as they could start to rot.

To actually harvest your sweet potatoes, start well away from the plant and dig carefully toward the plant. This way you will not damage the outer laying potatoes. Dig with care not to damage the potatoes as this will shorten the storage life of them. As with anything else, a few are going to be damaged in the process. Just set them aside for immediate use.

Once they have been dug they need to be dried for 3 or 4 days before they are stored away. Lay them out in one layer in a place that is well ventilated and out of the direct sun. This will further toughen the skins so they will keep well.

To store sweet potatoes place them in an area that will not freeze or get too hot. They need to be kept away from moisture. They can be stored in more than one layer but I like to put something in between the layers like cardboard or dried hay. I have stored them successfully for 8 to 10 months in this way. Be sure to check them frequently to ensure they are staying dry and if any go bad remove them quickly to prevent them from causing others to go bad from contact with the bad ones.

 Sweet potatoes are tasty, nutritious, and easy to grow and store. They are also one of our favorite treats here on the “Ridge”, so we try to grow a lot of them. They are a hardy plant and anyone should be able to grow them with a little effort. If you didn’t grow them this year, plan on growing them next year. It isn’t too early to start preparing your beds now, and have them ready for the spring planting.

Here’s to a good harvest for you and me, too!

For information on growing sweet potatoes check out this article; Growing Sweet Potatoes .

Preparing For Winter

 

Fall has finally found us here on the “Ridge” and it is time to switch gears and think about the winter ahead. Along with the cooling relief from the hot days of summer, the fall season brings with it more than a change in the weather. It is time to think about finishing up the summer activities and prepare for the cold weather that is surely coming in a few weeks.

Fall is a busy season here as it is time to harvest and store the summer vegetables from the garden as well as prepare the cold tolerant plants by mulching heavily. We also mulch our fruit and nut trees to give them some protection from the cold. Now is the time when we collect seed from our healthiest plants to dry and save for planting next year. It is also a time to reflect upon the results of the summers activities and begin to plan for the next spring when the cycle will begin all over again. We will consider improvements to the garden areas, and buildings. We will plan and start repairs to our equipment and tools.

We heat exclusively with wood so it’s time to get some firewood cut and stored away. Winters are relatively mild here so we don’t have to get in an entire winters supply all at once. We can cut wood throughout the winter but we want to start out with a good supply to avoid having to get out and cut wood in the rain or snow. The wood stove gets checked out as well as the stove pipes cleaned and any that need it get replaced.

It’s time to take the A/C unit out of the window and store it away until next summer and check the house for air leaks and seal them up. It’s time to put the warm rugs back on the floor and dig out the winter blankets for the bed as well as winter clothing for ourselves.

We do not keep livestock anymore but we do have dogs, cats, and chickens, so we need to prepare for their comfort as well. The dog’s houses need fresh straw to keep them warm during the cold winter nights. The chicken yard and house and the nesting boxes are cleaned of chicken litter and old straw it is piled to age until spring when it is used in the garden. The chickens get fresh straw in their nesting boxes which we change about once a month year around.

Yes, fall is a busy time here on the “Ridge”. There is plenty to do for everyone. Fall is the time when the leaves change so we always make it a point to find time to ride around our area and enjoy the beauty of our mountain environment. The colors can be brilliant if you catch them at the right time and the hillsides are a beautiful sight. The deer, wild turkeys, and squirrels are also busy making their own preparations for the cold winter ahead so we see them on almost a daily basis.

That is why we live back here offgrid in the woods. We have post card views out of all our doors and windows without even leaving the house.

Y’all have a good winter and stay warm and dry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Need To Know About Solar Panels

 

When most people set out to buy their first set of solar panels they are thinking about getting free energy from the sun and have very little or no understanding of how solar panels actually work or the different types of panels available and what the characteristics of each are.

Basically, there are 3 different types of solar panels available for the homeowner, today; Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous.

  1. Monocrystalline; These panels are made from slices of one large silicon crystal and connected together to gain the voltage desired. Monocrystalline solar panels are the oldest type of panel and have been made for many years (they were developed in 1955). They are the most efficient panels available and are smaller than the other types for the same wattage. They are durable and long lived. These are the panels used when a high reliability is required as in satellites and telecommunications applications and can last for 50 years or more. Monocrystalline solar panels cost slightly more than the others due to being more difficult to manufacture.
  2. Polycrystalline; these panels are made of slices of many smaller silicon crystals connected together. They are 14 to 23 per cent less efficient (depending upon the quality of materials used) than monocrystalline solar panels therefore making it necessary to have a larger panel to produce the same wattage. Polycrystalline solar panels cost less than the other types and are more common. They also degrade faster than the monocrystalline solar panels and will have to be replaced sooner. Another drawback is the larger size.
  3. Amorphous; amorphous or thin film solar panels are relative new on the market. They were developed in 1976. They consist of a thin film applied to a substrate which can be glass, plastic, or a flexible material. These are the panels you typically see on solar calculators and other small solar powered devices. An important thing to remember about the amorphous solar panels is that they are going to lose 10 to30 per cent of their efficiency in the first 6 months due to the Staebler-Wronski effect (depending upon the quality of materials used). Another important factor is that the amorphous solar panels have about 50% less efficiency than monocrystalline solar panels. This means that amorphous solar panels will require twice as much space as monocrystalline solar panels to produce the same amount of energy. Amorphous solar panels are currently the most expensive panels you can buy.

There are other types of panels currently being developed but they are not commercially available at this time and will be expensive when they do become available.

Now that you have read this you know more than most of the people that are going to try to sell you solar panels. My first array of panels are polycrystalline and they have done a good job for 15 years but are now starting to degrade and produce less power than they did when they were new. If I had gotten monocrystalline solar panels for a few dollars more, I wouldn’t be adding more panels to make up the difference (you get what you pay for). You can be sure that the solar panels I’m adding to my array are monocrystalline.

Here is a link to the panels we are now using here on Lee’s Ridge. After much research we have found the best panels at the best price and they come with free shipping and a 25 year guarantee;

                         Ramsond Mono Crystalline Solar Panels

 

The Homestead Dog

Homestead Dog

Homestead Dog

 

Of all the integral parts of any working homestead there are none quite as useful and versatile as the homestead dog. The perfect homestead dog does not have to have a pedigree (he couldn’t read it if he had one), he does not have to be any particular breed although some folks prefer their favorite breed over others in fact, the only requirement is that he fulfill his duties faithfully. Some of the best homestead dogs I’ve seen came from the local shelter and were of mixed breeding.

The homestead dog provides 24/7 security for your homestead. Whether it is keeping the foxes and other varmints out of the chicken house at night while you are asleep, or keeping the coons, rabbits, and armadillos out of your garden, or warning you of larger predators, he is on duty and alert at all times. He will catch rats and mice, gophers and moles.

A good homestead dog will provide hours of companionship for you and your children as well as protecting them from any threat (including snakes and other dogs) that appear. He is just as eager to chase a stick, ball, or Frisbee, as he is to chase a rabbit out of your garden.

Care of your dog is important, as with any other asset a certain amount of maintenance is necessary to keep your dog healthy and able to do his job. A good quality dog food (table scraps are usually not sufficient although he will enjoy them greatly), clean water, and a healthy living environment. You will need to give him some protection from fleas and ticks as well as keep his shots up to date.

To have a good dependable homestead dog you will have to invest some time in training. Teach him basic manners and not to chase the chickens and cats from the start. It is always easier to teach them from the beginning than to let them develop bad habits then try to break those habits. Teach him that it is not alright to dig in your wife’s flower bed before it becomes an issue (your wife will appreciate this). If you have no experience training dogs or just want to learn more about how;  Click Here!.

Remember, it is important for the well being of your dog(s) to spay and neuter them. You do not want him to go running off because of a female in heat or being the female in heat that is attracting male dogs that will fight and create an unpleasant situation for your dog, and yourself, as well as an unsafe situation for your children and other animals. You also do not want an unplanned litter of puppies.

In my opinion, a homestead is not complete without a homestead dog or 2 (we have 5 at present). A good dog will provide for you security, predator control, unlimited affection and unquestioning loyalty. All he requires in return is food, a little care, an occasional pat on the head or ear scratch. Nowhere else can you get such benefit for such a small investment.

Natural Cooling

In the times before electric air conditioning became widely available people used other means to keep their homes and other buildings cool. Over the years, many of these methods of cooling have been forgotten or largely ignored due to the relative ease of cooling with electric air conditioners.

In recent years builders have built well insulated houses without regard for ventilation or other natural methods of keeping a house cool. The windows in some houses are not placed strategically to catch a breeze, there are typically fewer windows, and some of them don’t even open at all.

Lately, there has been renewed interest in how the older homes were built to take advantage of the natural elements to lessen their dependence on mechanical air conditioning. Whether your purpose is to cut down on your cooling bill or eliminate it altogether, you can benefit by taking advantage of some of the methods used by the old timers that were off grid and had no access to electricity.

Here are just some of the methods they used;

  • Location; The old timers always tried to put their houses in a position to take advantage of the prevailing breeze.
  • They placed their windows strategically throughout the house to take advantage of available breezes.
  • They used higher ceilings to allow space for the hot air to rise out of their living area.
  • Some had double roofs with air space in between to prevent heating from the ceiling.
  • Many had underground basements for a cool room.
  • They would roof over an area between 2 buildings for a “breezeway”.
  • Many of the castles and abbeys in Europe had clay tile lined tunnels beneath them from which air was drawn into the building by opening the upper windows releasing the hot air and drawing in cool air from the tunnels by convective current.

These are just some of the many methods used before air conditioning was widely available. There are many more but these will hopefully get you thinking about what can be used to advantage in your own circumstances. Not every method is practical in all situations and some, like a second roof or tunnels for cool air, are downright expensive.

There are also many smaller things you can do to keep your dwelling cooler;

  • Put awnings over the windows to keep out the direct sunlight.
  • Grow shrubs around the house to keep the sun off the exterior walls.
  • Open windows and encourage ventilation in the night and early morning while the air is cool.
  • Keep an aquarium or indoor fountain as evaporating water cools the surrounding air.
  • Keep indoor plants for the same reason.
  • If you have 2 stories, keep the upstairs windows open and a couple open downstairs. This will set up convection current and draw fresh air into the downstairs windows.

There are an unlimited number of things you can do to keep your house cooler if you just think about it. None of these things is likely to keep your house as cool as electric air conditioning but, used together, some of these things will keep your house cooler and cut down on the air conditioning bill, and if you live in a place where it doesn’t get too hot, may eliminate the need for air conditioning altogether.

For this and other money saving articles of interest to off gridders and those that want to be off grid go to ; http://www.offgridok.com/ .

 

 

Container Gardening

 

Climbing beans in a bathtub

Climbing beans in a bathtub

Much has been made recently about container gardening. I think this is because people that have never gardened before are starting to try their luck with a small vegetable garden, or because many would be gardeners have limited space, as in apartment or city dwellers with only small area in which to grow their vegetable plants. Container gardening is an ideal solution to the problem of limited space or to cope with poor soil conditions.

Container gardening has many advantages over the old plant in the ground method but some of the more important ones are:

  • You can grow vegetables in any container that will hold soil.
  • You have a much greater control of the composition of your soil, including nutrients.
  • You have a much greater control of common garden pests.
  • You can ensure optimal moisture content of your soil.
  • It is easier to care for your vegetable plants (weeding, pruning, & etc.).

There are many more advantages but these are the ones that seem most important to me. Having good control of your soil, pests, and moisture, is ninety percent of the battle to ensure you have a productive and healthy garden.

Choosing your containers is easy if you use a little common sense. You wouldn’t want to try to grow potatoes in a 1 pint flower pot, but a 5 gallon bucket would work just fine. As I mentioned above; anything that will hold soil will work, just allow for drainage so you don’t have water standing in the bottom of your container to turn sour and ruin your vegetable plants or drown the roots. My wife uses an old bathtub to grow pole beans and peppers.

You can build your own containers. We built a container for tomatoes using rocks for the sides and lined it with plastic sheeting. As long as you allow for drainage you can use anything you have. I saw an article by a guy that used 6 inch PVC pipe laid flat with 2 inch holes cut in the top every 12 inches or so for the plants. He put old socks over the ends of the pipe to hold in the soil and allow for drainage. This wouldn’t work well for root crops but it would be great for most anything else. You are only limited by your imagination.

The greatest advantage, in my opinion, is that you have complete control of what is in your soil. You can make sure the soil in your containers is optimized for the vegetable plants growing in it. Different plants require different ph levels and nutrients. You can make sure they have exactly the growing conditions they need.

It is not surprising that container gardening has become so popular. It allows you a degree of versatility and control you just can not get in a traditional vegetable garden. Even if you have never tried to grow vegetables before, you can have great results with your very first effort.

 

 

 

Mid-Season Vegetable Garden Tips

 

Your vegetable garden is all planted; things have come up and started growing. You may think that all you have left to do now is sit back and wait for your garden to start producing those juicy fresh vegetables you’ve envisioned picking off your plants. You can do just that, and if you get the rains just right, and the weeds don’t take over your garden, you’ll get some produce from your vegetable garden.

However; if you want to get the most return for your effort and investment in planting your vegetable garden, there are some things you can do to get the most out of your garden;

  •  Water; getting the right amount of water at the right time is very important to your plants. Sufficient water is necessary for your plants especially while they are still immature in order for them to mature into healthy plants that will produce quality vegetables for you. Failure to get regular watering will result in stunted weak plants that will produce poorly if they produce at all. This is slightly less important after they mature but if you want them to produce for you, you will see that they get regular watering.
  • Mulch; mulch will help your plants in 3 ways; it will hold moisture thereby reducing the amount of watering necessary, it will keep the sun from burning the roots, and it will provide nutrients as it decomposes. The best mulching material is compost that has already started decomposing, but any natural mulching material is better than none.
  • Weeding; when you allow weeds to grow around your plants they compete for the available moisture and nutrients. Weeds are much better competitors than vegetable plants and will starve your plants for moisture and nutrients. It is better to pull the weeds up by the roots just after watering than to cut them off at the ground with a hoe. Hoeing leaves the root systems intact to compete with your vegetables and grow a new weed.
  • Pruning; most vegetable plants need pruning to produce their best. Pruning your plants allows them to focus their energy upon vegetable production rather than unnecessary foliage. Some foliage is necessary so be careful to avoid over pruning as this can stunt or even kill your plants.
  • Shade; some plants benefit from shade during the hottest part of the day. Even plants that are supposed to grow in direct sunlight such as tomatoes and peppers can benefit from shade during the hottest part of the summer. I plant rows of field corn spaced around my vegetable garden to provide shade. During the early part of the season when the plants need direct sunlight the corn is short and doesn’t block off the sun, but as the season progresses into the hottest part of the summer, the corn is taller and provides needed shade for part of the day. The corn stalks also make good trellises for climbing beans or peas.
  • Pest Control; bugs and caterpillars can eat your entire vegetable garden. The best way I know to control pests without chemicals is to get out in your garden early and late and pick them off your plants destroying any eggs you find on the underside of the leaves. I have tried many natural remedies for pests but none of them work as well as disposing of them manually (my chickens follow me around when I do this waiting for me to throw them the bugs and caterpillars).

Now is also the best time to plan your fall vegetable garden. Some vegetables seem to do best if planted in the fall and allowed to grow all winter. Some of the veggies that do well in cold weather are; carrots, greens, garlic, and onions. There are many others but these are mainly what I plant.

There, you now have some ways to enhance the productivity of your vegetable garden without much effort. If you will do these things, you will be rewarded with many more vegetables for your effort, and a healthier better looking garden, too.