A Day in the Slow Life

A Day in the Slow Life @ Common Sense Homesteading

Annette at Sustainable Eats tagged me in a meme that asks participants to share “a day in the slow life”.  I have to say, from what I’ve read so far, most of the “slow life” folks have pretty busy days.

In an effort to get this posted in time for Simple Lives Thursday, I’m going to try to recollect this past Monday.  The days sometimes seem to run together.  There’s always so much I’d like to do, and then there’s what can reasonably be accomplished (at least by me, an individual who requires sleep). [Read more…]

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Root Cellars 101- Root Cellar Design and Use

Root Cellars: The Low Cost Way to Store Over 30 Fruits and Vegetables Without Electricity.  How to design a root cellar?   What can I store in a root cellar?

We built a root cellar under our front porch.  Typically, if you’re building new your porch floor is formed out of a concrete slab, you need to put a foundation wall under it anyway, so why not put this area to good use?  Even if you can’t deal with (or don’t want to deal with) traditional root cellaring (storing vegetables and fruit), you could use the space as a wine cellar, gun cabinet, place to brew beer, a battery room for your PV/Wind system or simply more storage.  I highly recommend including a root cellar as part of your emergency preparedness planning if you can, as it’s a great low-cost, no-energy way to store food and extend the shelf life of fresh produce. [Read more…]

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The Parsnip Squid and The Rock That Moves

parsnip squid

What is it?  A creature from the deep?  Captain Nemo’s worst nightmare?  Nope – just this year’s harvest of parsnips posing as a parsnip squid.


Parsnip harvest

What I love best about parsnips is that they are ready to harvest when very little else is available.  I always overwinter my parsnips (i.e., leave them in the ground over winter and harvest them in the spring).  The freeze/thaw cycle converts more of their starches to sugars and makes them absolutely delicious.  Come late March/early April, the boys and I head out to where we’ve buried the plants the previous fall under a thick layer of straw.  My stepdad swore up and down that the ground wouldn’t freeze if you covered it in this much straw, but mine surely did, so we had to wait to dig until the frost was gone. [Read more…]

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Beet Kvass and the Purple Bull

Sorry for not posting much lately.  We’re facing some transitions and it’s keeping me busy juggling all of the various projects and responsibilities (Candy, I’m sorry, I think I killed your sourdough starter).

On to recent projects.  November has been much drier than October, so I’ve been out in the garden doing a little more work that often doesn’t get done until spring.  The boys and I have been cleaning, mulching and fertilizing the raspberries.  To keep my paths clear in the raspberry patch, I put down a heavy layer of cardboard and/or newspaper and cover it with marsh hay or straw.  To fertilize, I usually use aged horse manure from our neighbor (thanks, Ryan), but this year in addition to the manure we’ve got some worm castings from my nephew at Whitetail Organics.

Soon it’ll be time to bring in the last of the root veggies (carrots and beets) and store them in the root cellar, but for me they hold best in the garden until it gets really cold.  I dig up a bucket or so at a time for a meal and a few in the fridge – or to ferment for yet another probiotic beverage.  I’ve still got two batches of kombucha  going strong on one corner of the counter, and I’ll post about my flavor experiments with those later, but since I have plenty of beets I figured it was time to tackle kvass.

Beets have a lot of health benefits, but I freely admit they are not my favorite vegetable.  I grow them, we eat them, just not a lot of them.  Pair that up with the fact that the mangels can easily grow to be around football size and not get fibrous, and that I grow red, golden and mangel beets, and you’ll find that we usually have plenty of “excess” beets available.

I haven’t yet invested in a juicer, but I found this article  on the health benefits of beet juice or “purple bull” as they called it, to be interesting.

Beet juice increases endurance and can help to extend time of excercise by as much as 16%, a new study says

Nitrate that reduces O2 in the human body accumulates in beets. Reducing O2 in the body, this nitrate interacts with the muscles and heart in such a way that it allows for longer exercise and greater endurance. This is the case with both moderate- and high-intensity exercise.

A recent study by scientists from the University of Exeter and Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth involving eight men between the ages of 19 and 38 found that men who drank half a liter of beet juice everyday for 6 days had significantly more endurance than the control group at the end of those six days.

The authors of the study speculate that humans may have increased endurance from beet juice due to the fact that nitrates in the body transform into nitrogen oxide and this nitrogen oxide reduces the usage of oxygen in mitochondria. The authors say that such a reduction in oxygen usage could not be made by any other known methods today.

So, I may be wrong, but I would think that you could get some of that same beety goodness from beet kvass, without the juicer and potentially in and even more readily absorbed form.

Beet Kvass (adapted from Nourishing Traditions) and featured at www.feelgoodeats.com

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon notes, “One four ounce glass in the morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver, and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.” (p. 610)


3 medium organic beets
¼ cup whey (innoculant)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
2 quarts filtered water*


Slice off the beet greens and save them for another purpose (beet greens are loaded with nutrients and can be prepared like chard or kale). Slice off the bottom of the beet and thoroughly scrub and peel. Coarsely chop the beets and place in a tall glass container.

Add the filtered water, sea salt, and whey and stir to combine. Cover securely and keep at room temperature for 2 days, stirring a few times. After 2 days, strain out the beets and discard, transfer the liquid to mason jars and store in the refrigerator.

*Don’t use tap water if it is chlorinated because chlorine will inhibit the fermentation process.

Spiritual food for the New Millennium CSA has some interesting variations for beet kvass on their website.  I haven’t tried them yet, I’m still sipping on my original batch, but in case you’ve got more time or even more beets than I have, check them out and let me know how it goes.

Here’s how my own beet kvass experiment played out.  First, I needed whey.  I  dumped a carton of plain, organic, full fat yogurt in my jelly strainer and let it sit, covered with a dish towel, overnight.

straining yogurt
This yielded about a pint of whey and some yogurt cheese.
making kvass
I strained the thicker whey through a towel at the top of a jar.  The yogurt cheese I used later like ricotta to stuff some manicotti.
Once they whey was obtained, I grabbed a few beets and assembled the rest of my ingredients.  That big yellow clodhopper in the middle is a mangel, the other two are an Italian heirloom variety called Paonazza D Egitto.
beet kvass ingredients
Pack the beets in the jars.
beet kvass before
Add whey, water and salt, cover, mix well (I gave it a good shake) and place in a quite corner for a couple of days.  To brew a second batch of kvass from the same beets, dump off part of the liquid, leaving a couple inches in the bottom, add more water, cover, shake and let sit for two more days.  (The kvass left in the bottom of the jar acts as your starter instead of just the whey and salt.)  Here’s what the jars looked like at the end of the second batch.
beet kvass after

And here’s what I ended up with in total at the end of the week.

beet kvass finished

There are about four quarts of kvass and the leftover beets go in the compost pile.

I’d have to say that I found the taste of the second batch better than the first.  The first tasted more salty and earthy, like a really strong electrolyte drink.  The second was smoother, more fruity, and more effervescent.  They’re all living in the fridge at this point as I drink my way through them, but I’m considering putting the earlier batch out at room temp to ferment a little more.  The second batch is still quite active – I actually have to release the pressure regularly on the jars because there is so much gas buildup.

As I’ve been digging a little more on probiotics, I’ve found that not only can they help you fight off colds and flu (see my Green Sense article on this topic), they can actually improve your brain function.  I’ve seen other real food bloggers mention the GAPS diet, but hadn’t looked into it much.  I think after reading this article I’ll be adding the book to my reading list.

Here are few excerpts from the review:

Understand How Poor Digestion Affects Mental Health in the Book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”

“Through studying the health of hundreds of patients with autism, learning disabilities, psychiatric illness and other problems, Dr. Campbell-McBride discovered that in all cases these children and adults had digestive problems, often of a severe nature. Through her research, she has determined that there is a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods that can severely affect brain chemistry. She coins this as “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” or GAPS.

Poor bacterial flora and digestion are at the heart of serious health problems. When children are born with intestinal bacterial imbalances or “gut dysbiosis” they tend to have a compromised immune system and are prone to illness. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that often the intestinal tract of children who have autism is caked with hard fecal material. This terrible condition of course would lead to enormous and serious health consequences. She brings to light the profound statements of Hippocrates (460-370 BC) that, ”All diseases begin in the gut,” and of the father of modern psychiatry, French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel (1745-1828), that “The primary seat of insanity is the region of the stomach and intestines.”

But what exactly happens in the gut that can upset brain chemistry? Dr. Campbell-McBride provides us with a magnificent explanation of the cascade of events that can occur when digestion is not supported by a healthy gut flora. A child or adult who eats a diet that is high in difficult-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains and processed foods, will continue to encourage the underlying condition of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that people with damaged flora will even crave the very foods that support the survival of the unhealthy bacteria often to the exclusion and refusal of others.

Where most research on poor digestion focuses on unhealthy intestinal flora, Dr. Campbell-McBride’s work uniquely points to many problems with gut flora actually beginning with an unnatural growth of the fungus, Candida Albicans, in the stomach when it is not producing enough acid. She discusses that this overgrowth interferes with the first step of digestion by causing the stomach to produce inadequate amounts of the hydrochloric acid necessary to break proteins into “peptides” before entering the small intestine. For instance, under normal circumstances, the gluteomorphine and casomorphine proteins in wheat and milk are broken down in the stomach in the presence of proper amounts of stomach acid. However, with less stomach acid, these foods in fact begin to ferment in the stomach and are not broken down into peptides before passing into the small intestine. Besides causing an inadequate digestion of foods, the pressure of the gas created from this fermentation can lead to acid reflux, esophageal problems and even hiatal hernias, which are some of the most common digestive problems that people experience.

When insufficiently digested food enters the small intestines without adequate stomach acid, the pancreas in turn does not get the signal to release adequate pancreatic juices. Because people with GAPS lack healthy bacterial flora, they also lack production of enzymes called “peptidases.” These enzymes normally are produced by the enterocytes on the microvilli of the small intestine and will further break down proteins and carbohydrates into usable nutrients. With poor flora, the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract also becomes damaged and “leaky gut syndrome” develops. Therefore, the undigested casomorphine and gluteomorphine proteins, which resemble the chemical structure of opiates like heroin and morphine, are absorbed into the bloodstream unchanged and can cause severe interference with brain and immune system function. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that “There has been a considerable amount of research in this area in patients with autism, schizophrenia, ADHD, psychosis, depression and autoimmunity, who show high levels of casomorphines and gluteomorphines in their bodies, which means that their gut wall is in no fit state to complete appropriate digestion of these substances.”

Undigested carbohydrates, poor digestion and candida overgrowth in turn result in the production of the chemicals ethanol and acetaldehyde, which have profound consequences on brain chemistry and development. With these chemicals, a person can technically be considered “drunk” after a meal of carbohydrates even though they consumed no alcohol. We all know that alcohol is extremely toxic, especially to a developing fetus or a child. Besides reduced stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes, the following are some of the effects of a prolonged presence of alcohol from an overgrowth of candida in the body: damage and inflammation to the gut lining and resulting malabsorption; nutrient deficiencies; stress to the immune system; liver damage; accumulation of toxins, old neurotransmitters and hormones that can cause abnormal behavior; brain damage that can lead to lack of self control, impaired coordination and speech development, aggression, mental retardation, loss of memory and stupor; peripheral nerve damage; muscle tissue damage and weakness; metabolic alteration of proteins, carbohydrates and lipids and pancreatic degeneration.

There’s a lot more to the review, but you get the idea.  An unhealthy digestive system leads to unhealthy brain function.  Maybe this is yet another contributing factor to the rise in autism, ADHD, depression and all the other mental health issues that are affecting our society today?  We all know that drug companies stay in business by promoting the latest miracle pill, so you’re not likely to see a lot of studies on this material, but I think it’s worthwhile for us to do a little experimenting of our own and evaluate the results.  The flavors are different than what we’re used to, so it can be a little challenging to get the family to go along with the plan, but I keep experimenting and I know eventually I’ll find options that they even enjoy.  This food journey goes on one forkful, on sip, at a time.

This post has been added to the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival, and Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.
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Thinning Carrots and Mulching Potatoes

Now that the bulk of planting is finally done (other than adding a few things later in the season for fall and winter harvest and maybe a few more flowers – you can never have too many flowers), it’s time to settle down into regular maintenance. Weeding, mulching, thinning, staking – turn your back for a couple of days and it’s amazing how much things can change (and get out of control).

The root veggies planted from seed are coming along nicely, so they need to be thinned out so they are not overcrowded. I’ve tried planting more thinly, but then it always seem to happen that they don’t germinate well for some reason or another and I up up replanting. Thinning is easier for me. My mom never thins, and I didn’t when I first started, but the roots grow so much nicer when they have more room. The last few growing seasons have been short on rain, too, so more room equals less stress on the plants.

You can see in the “before” pictures that the carrots are growing in bushy little clumps without much wiggle room between plants. The goal for the first thinning is so have about an inch between them.

carrots before

carrots before 2

Here’s the after. Much easier to see individual plants. As they grow, they’ll get thinned again, and the small carrots will end up as salad fixings, and the larger carrots will be left for winter storage.

carrots after

The potatoes are around a foot tall, so they are ready to be mulched or hilled to get more plant undercover to produce a better harvest. I prefer mulching, as I find it easier to move around leaves and straw than dirt. Also, if it gets rainy in fall (not a problem recently, but it does happen), you don’t end up with such a muddy mess. Given that I mulch almost all of my garden anyway, this is just a better all around solution for me.

I saved several bags of leaves from my in-laws last fall (and actually stored some of my root cellar vegetables in leaves, which worked well), so my Kennebec potatoes received a leaf mulch this year. The leaves also acidify the soil, which reduces potato scab. (Note to self – avoid planting potatoes in beds that were occupied the previous year by brassicas that were mulched with lots of composted manure, as too much nitrogen contributes to potato scab….sigh…garden rotation is not as straightforward as it seems.)

potatoes before

potatoes after

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