Readers’ tips about vegetable preservation, weed control, pest repellants, how chickens can help in a no-till garden, and more.
We live on a small homestead, and we grow a substantial amount of our own food. With three growing children, I need to have a surplus of everything. My family loves tomatoes, so we grow a lot of them. The problem we were running into was how to store what we needed for winter in a very limited space. Then, a “eureka” moment came to me. Now, I can store hundreds of tomatoes in a quarter of the space, and they last us all winter long. Here’s how I do it.
First, my family and I pick the ripe, beautiful tomatoes from our organically grown plants. Then, I wash them and cut them into thin slices. I leave the skins on the fruits, which saves time and adds to the mix.
Next, I put the slices into the dehydrator and let it work its magic. When the tomato slices are completely dry, I take them out to let them cool for an hour. Once they’re cool, I use my blender to turn them into a powder, but you could also use a mortar and pestle. Then, I put the tomato powder into a clean, dry canning jar for later use.
When I want to thicken soups or add flavor to slow cooker meals, I take out a tablespoon at a time and add it to the liquid. One tablespoon is equal to one medium tomato. I’ve tried a variety of tomatoes, and they’ve all come out tasting great.
I’ve also used this method for onions, peppers, and butternut squash. Powdered butternut squash isn’t as creamy as it is when fresh, but I’ve never had any complaints from the kids. We’ve been using this method for four years now and haven’t had any problem with the powdered produce going bad. Of course, we eat it all before it’d ever have a chance to.
St. Joe, Arkansas
I keep a couple of clothespins in my kitchen. They work really well for holding tea bags or tied bunches of herbs while steeping. No more fishing out the herbs or tea bags! And you can clip the clothespin right to the side of the dish or pot.
Boonville, New York
I live in an off-grid house on a ranch in California. My nearest neighbors live over 5 miles away, so as you can imagine, we’re exposed to all kinds of wild critters. Here’s how I deal with them and how you can too.
First, buy a can or two of the cheapest tennis balls you can find, along with some ammonia. Put the tennis balls into a bucket and pour the ammonia over them. Let them soak overnight so all the balls are permeated with ammonia. Then, using rubber gloves, throw the balls under your house or in your attic to get rid of skunks, rats, raccoons, and other vermin. Within hours, the critters leave because they can’t stand the smell.
Dogs and cats won’t mess with the balls, and there’s no poison to hurt any animals.
I stopped using plastic sheeting in my garden to control weeds. I found that it dried the soil under the plants, even though it’s supposed to let water through.
I now use 3- to 4-foot-wide burlap and put grass clippings on top of it. It lets the water through, keeps the soil moist, suppresses the weeds, and the plants have never looked better. An added bonus is that there’s no more work at the end of the season removing plastic in the garden because the burlap rots on its own.
East Northport, New York
We love to grow tomatoes in the garden but hate to pull weeds. We tried straw mulch, hand-pulling, and newspaper, but eventually started laying corrugated cardboard down over the whole garden before planting. Now, we just use a bulb planter to make a hole, plant our tomatoes right in, and then put straw on top of the cardboard. We didn’t have to pull weeds at all this past summer!
Some of our boxed cereal goes stale every so often because we either didn’t eat it in time or my kids didn’t like the flavor. I grind the stale cereal up in my food processor until it becomes almost like flour. I substitute it for a quarter of the flour in my pancake and muffin recipes. No one even notices!
We shear our sheep every year, and even though I use most of the wool for filling, spinning, or felting, we have struggled with how to best use the dirty or undesirable portions of the fleece, called “skirting.” The first year, we cleaned the skirting material up a bit and used it for insulation in the final layer of our cob oven project. Five years later, our cob oven is still going strong. Since then, we’ve found that the wool works well as a weed suppressant. We’ve laid the wool down quite thick in front of our beehives to reduce the need to cut the grass in front of them. The bees don’t seem to care, it works extremely well, and it looks nice.
When my wheelbarrow is bumping along, it’s hard to keep my shovel and rake from falling out onto the ground. I’ve found that large cable cuffs from the home improvement store make great tool handle holders while I’m pushing or pulling my wheelbarrow!
We recently got a woodstove and needed a way to keep our son from getting too near. We simply bent a hog panel that we bought for about $19, attached some hardware cloth with zip ties, and screwed the edges to the wall.
When I clean my vinyl flooring, I use a solution of water and vinegar in my scrub bucket. Then, after the floors are done, I pour the solution into the cracks of my patio pavers and sidewalks to keep the grass and weeds from growing.
In fall, after harvest, I put down a 6-inch layer of hay in my fenced-in no-till garden. Then, I turn my chickens in. They tear up the hay, eat any seeds and bugs, and fertilize — all at the same time. By planting time in spring, the ground is covered in mulch. I put them out to free-range and then plant my early crops. I’m 72 years old, and this sure saves my back and makes planting easy.
I’ve seen friends poke a hole in bars of soap and hang them from their fruit trees. Irish Spring soap seems to work best because it’s scented so strongly. The trouble is that the soap melts in the rain.
I came up with the idea to enclose the soap in a plastic clamshell to protect it from the elements but still allow the scent to emanate around it. Simply put a twist-tie through the top and bottom of the box to hold it closed and leave a tail long enough to attach to your tree or trellis.
These have been very effective at deterring both deer and rabbits, and they last for years. I’ve hung these from sugar snap pea trellises, fruit trees, and on dahlia cages. They seem to work for about a 10-foot radius.
Colleen T. Bell
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