Homemade Pickles – Two Ways!

If you saw our last post, you’ve seen how many cucumbers The Yager Homestead is producing, and how huge they are! We are making them faster than we can eat them. Although our neighbors appreciate the random bags of cukes on their doorstep, we’ve got to find a better way to process these.

img_3046-1

We’ve had two straight days of hauls like these, which is a lot for 3 people!

Guru Penny, as you’ll remember from her advice about gardening and Garden Aprons, mentioned she had a great recipe for homemade pickles – a little sweet and plenty of dill. We, along with our extended family members, LOVE pickles. E is basically going to turn into a pickle one day. So we decided to give it a go.

Guru Penny’s recipe calls for the pickles to sit for about 3 months. As we’ve mentioned before, patience is a virtue that B lacks. So, we found another recipe from a friend that only takes about 3 weeks. We have plenty of cucumbers to spare, so we decided to try both!

First – Penny’s recipe:

Materials:

  • Cucumbers!
  • 1 quart of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1/2 cup (or less) of sugar
  • 3/4 cup pickling salt (we used Kosher salt)
  • 1 sprig of dill per jar
  • Garlic cloves (optional)
  • Jalapeno (optional)
  • Onion (optional)
  • Jars, rings, and lids

IMG_3054

The first thing we did was sterilize the jars. They had been sitting in storage for a bit, so who knows what kind of germs they were harboring. To do this, we filled a large soup pot with water, turned the burner on high, and let the jars simmer for about 5 minutes. Then, we took the jars out of the water (using a secure-lift jar gripper). Let them dry upside down to make sure all the water drains.

Next, we started the brine. We added the ACV, water, salt, and sugar to another pan. We brought the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. We let it boil for just a minute, and then removed it from heat. ACV is a strong smell – if you’re like B, you’ll need to turn on a vent or open a window.

IMG_3056

While the brine was beginning to boil, we cut up our cucumbers. For spears, we cut them into sixths. For slices, we used a 1/4″ slicer (we like them thin and crunchy). B sliced part of a thumb, but luckily the cucumbers were untainted. Oh, and B was okay.

IMG_3058

This was only like 4 cucumbers! You can see we still had more to go in the background.

Next, we added our ingredients. For our purposes, we just used a clove of garlic and a sprig of dill for each jar. However, if you like spicy or other flavors, this is the time to add jalapenos, onions, parsley, or whatever other flavor you want. We added these first, and then stuffed as many cucumbers in as possible. If your cukes are long, like ours, you may need to cut off the ends so the jar can seal. After you’ve added your cukes, carefully pour the brine mixture into the jars. Pour it as close to the top as you can, making sure to cover all of your cucumbers. If you don’t cover a portion of the cucumber, it’ll be a bright green of a fresh cucumber instead of the green of the dill.

IMG_3063

We should have added a little more brine to the second from the right. Live and learn.

At this point, we were ready to close and seal the jars. We brought our water in the stew pot back to a simmer (not a full boil). We put a lid and ring on each jar, and slightly tightened each one. Using the jar lifter, we set our jars into the simmering water. The water should come up to about an inch from the top of the jars.

IMG_3065

We covered the pot and let them simmer for about 5 minutes. Then, we lifted them out of the bath and let them cool. This is the fun part, because while the jars cool, you get to hear the POP of the lids letting you know they’ve sealed. Two of ours popped, so we will store them in dry storage. For the two that didn’t, we will store them in the fridge. Penny’s recipe will sit for 3 whole months (again, patience) so we have a while to wait.

IMG_3078

For the second recipe, use distilled vinegar instead of ACV, and omit the sugar. The rest of the process is the same. The second recipe only needs to sit for 3 weeks instead of three months, so we should have a treat pretty soon! We will report back!

We labeled our jars to let us know what day we can enjoy them. We are so excited to be saving and storing our food for future use! What veggies do you can, and what process works for you? We’d love to learn more!

-TBE

Using Ash in the Chicken Coop

If you raise chickens, you know that they have their own, unique way of bathing that doesn’t involve water.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “mad as an old wet hen“. Surely there’s something to that.

Image result for wet hen

Credit: Google images

So, the chickens have their own technique called a dust bath. Basically, the chicken sits in the dust, flaps its wings, and moves around so that the dust coats its feathers. The dust prevents pesky parasites like lice, mites, and many others.

We’ve seen quite a bit of rain in East Texas up until recently. My Chicken Coop happens to butt up to a pasture where rainfall can collect. It makes for a muddy mess most of the time, but more importantly, no dust for The Sassy Ladies – Rose & Blanche. So we decided to build an artificial dust bath.

A big part of homesteading is upcycling, or reusing things you might have normally thrown away for a better purpose. We noticed we had some wood ash from our fireplace that needed cleaning, and decided to repurpose it for our dust bath.

IMG_2975

Pretty gross, huh? This is a winter’s worth of wood ash for us (it’s not much, Texas had a mild winter this year).

So, we scooped it out into a bucket.

IMG_2976

IMG_2981

Clean!

We supplemented with a little diatomaceous earth, which is really good for killing microscopic bugs. The sharp diatoms pierce the exoskeleton of the bugs, allow for desiccation (or drying out).

We poured the mixture into a pile in the coop. I recommend using an old tire or some sort of container to keep from losing your ash, but we didn’t have anything on hand.

IMG_2977

Since we only have two chickens, we think this is a good start until we can get a more established, permanent dust bath. The Sassy Ladies were pretty curious, and started eyeballing it as soon as we left the coop.

IMG_2978

They’re camera shy, so I every time I tried to take a picture of them using it, they ran away. I’ve said it before – chickens are jerks.

Enjoy!

-TBE

Cleaning the Stovetop

The Yager Homestead moved to our current abode about a year ago. The previous owners had just put in a brand-new electric stovetop. While we had grown used to a gas range, we were thankful for the gorgeous new appliance.

Unfortunately, T is a bit of a messy cook. That means, several scalded, stuck-on, pesky stains on the beautiful cooktop.

If you’ve owned an electric stovetop, you know that they can be very difficult to clean. You have to buy specific cleaners, and it can’t be scrubbed with anything abrasive, or you risk scratching the glass. This can make scalded spots particularly pesky, especially if you leave them for more than a couple of days.

As evident in our post about Cleaning the Microwave with Lemons, we try our best to avoid harsh chemicals around our food. So we began looking for ways to clean our stovetop naturally, but without breaking the bank.

Several articles mentioned using vinegar and baking soda. If you’ve ever done a fourth-grade science project, you know what happens when you combine these two. The acetic acid (vinegar) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) react to form water, carbon dioxide, and sodium acetate in an explosive way. In layman’s terms – they go BANG!

Image result for vinegar and baking soda volcano

Credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

In small quantities, this minor reaction should be able to eat through food residue, leaving the glass underneath clean and shiny.

We first cleaned the stovetop to get off all of the regular gunk that would come off with plan water. This left a few stubborn spots to try our experiment on.

We simply poured vinegar on the stubborn areas. Then, we sprinkled baking soda on top of it. It immediately began to react. We let it sit for about 15 minutes.

IMG_2936

After 15 minutes, we used a soft sponge to work on the clumped areas. Other blogs suggested using a razor blade to scrape off the junk, but we were worried it might scratch the glass. The sponge worked fine for us.

IMG_2937

Voila! There were a few spots left, but I think if we took a chance with the razor blade, they would come off fine. A success!

-TBE

DIY Cucumber Scrub

The garden at the Yager Homestead is thriving at the moment. The beautiful warm weather paired with late Spring rains is doing wonders for my cucumber plants.

But with only three of us in the home, what do we do with all the extra cukes?

Cucumber is chockful of B vitamins, which help stress and anxiety, as well as ascorbic acid that tightens the skin. It’s no secret that spas use cucumbers on swollen and tired eyes to freshen up the skin.

Image result for spa meme

Credit: Google images

B has begun to explore the personal product side of homesteading. We’ve tried our hands at homemade shampoo, conditioner, and shower melts. While searching Pinterest, we found a simple recipe for a DIY cucumber scrub. 

The few simple ingredients you need are as follows:

  • A fresh cucumber
  • Coconut oil
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Essential oil of your choosing

IMG_2913

First, chop up the cucumber into small pieces. Leave the skin on.

IMG_2914

Next, blend up the cucumber by pulsing it several times in a blender. We had to use a spoon to keep pushing the pieces closer to the blades.

IMG_2916

Add all your semi-liquid ingredients to the blender – 1/3 cup of coconut oil (this stays hardened at room temperature, so I popped mine in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it), 1 tbsp of honey, and 4 drops of essential oil.  I used Eucalyptus because I love the smell.

Pulse these together several times as well. The mixture should pour easily into a bowl.

IMG_2922

Finally, fold in your sugar (1 and 1/4 cups). Don’t blend it, because you need the sugar to stay thick for its exfoliating properties.

IMG_2923

All done! Put it in a resealable container and gift it to your friend for a thoughtful, homemade treat. Since this is made from fresh ingredients, it does have a shorter shelf life. Store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

IMG_2925

Vinegar – the Natural Ant Repellent!

I was working in the garden the other day, pulling weeds and grass runners that have sprung up after these lovely Spring rains and warm East Texas days.

As I pulled one particularly pesky runner, I noticed it intersected with a large pile of dirt at the corner of the garden. When it finally dislodged, a billion ants angrily swarmed all over the sides of the garden.

IMG_2719

Tiny little demons

The pile was getting quite large and close to my cucumbers, so I knew it needed to be taken care of ASAP. I’m loathe to use commercial bug and ant killers that close to my food. I used ant granules last time, but the thought of the chemicals seeping into the soil right next to my potatoes gave me the squirmies.

I had recently read about using vinegar as an ant repellent, rather than straight out killing them. It’s a bit more humane, and definitely more natural. I decided to give it a go and see how it worked.

IMG_2715

All I used was a plain bottle of distilled white vinegar. I poured a generous amount right into the middle of the ant bed, and some on the walls of the garden to discourage future settlers.

IMG_2722

I went out the next day, and the ant pile had moved on! I love this natural way of removing pests from the garden. The only thing you have to watch out for is to make sure you don’t get vinegar on your precious plants, because it will definitely kill them. But if you’re careful, I recommend it!

-TBE

 

Using Chicken Wire as a Trellis

The Yager Homestead had a weekend away. One of our best friends graduated with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, so it was off to Fort Worth to watch her graduate!

While we were gone, East Texas experienced a couple of significant downpours, and then some beautiful sunshine to follow (fickle weather as per usual in Texas). 

Image result for weather meme texas

Credit: quickmeme.com

Our cucumbers have been a little slow to grow. Guru Penny says we planted them a little early, and to be patient.

Patience is a virtue…that I lack.

But we got home this weekend, and saw some tiny vines reaching for the sky!

IMG_2717

Cucumbers produce many vines and runners, and the plants will spread out pretty far if you don’t contain them. So, we decided to give the cukes something to climb on!

Store-bought trellises can be pretty expensive. Even basic garden trellises on Amazon can run you upwards of $20, depending on the style and material (Iron Trellis – $21.99; White Trellis – $43.77).

The Yager Homestead is all about saving those dolla’ dolla’ bills y’all. So, while our cucumber plants are still small, we decided to use leftover materials we had around the house.

A few weeks ago, we finished up our chicken coop for the Sassy Ladies. We had a whole role of chicken wire donated to us, and we still have quite a bit leftover. We decided this would be the perfect material for some small trellises.

Since the chicken wire came in a roll, it was really easy to cut these into half-crescents to surround the plants. About a foot of wire did the trick. The wire is four feet tall, which is a little big for our small plants at the moment. So, we cut each section in half length-wise. We then pushed the chicken wire a few inches down into the soil and encircled about half of each plant.

Voila, DIY trellises for a fraction of the cost!

-TBE

 

The First Harvest

The Yager Homestead has reaped our first significant harvest!

If you’ll recall, I dug up a potato a few weeks ago, and cut a few leaves of lettuce. The potato was still pretty small, so we decided to let them grow a little longer before digging up more.

But this weekend, we had a craving for a good, southern, home-cooked mealMEATLOAF with all the fixin’s.

This seemed like a perfect time to see what our hard work had yielded.

Using my handy-dandy garden apron, we trekked out to see what we could get. East Texas has had some beautiful weather lately, with some showers here and there to supplement. This made our leaf lettuce very ready to be cut. A few of our spinach leaves were big enough to be harvested as well, so we cut a few of those too.

Then it was time to dig for potatoes.

B loves harvesting potatoes. There’s something about the surprise of it since you can’t see them growing that is just so exciting. The ground was cracked in several places, which Guru Penny has said means there are some big potatoes under there. After about 10 minutes of digging, we had hit the jackpot!

IMG_2668

We had dug up 8 beautiful potatoes, some pretty large! The skin was so tender it just rubbed off in our hands. There were more down in the soil ready to be picked, but since it’s just the 3 of us, we decided to let them grow a little longer.

IMG_2667

Our full haul

As you can see, we had a pretty good haul. We oven roasted the potatoes with oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and parmesan. The thin skins were deliciously crispy.

IMG_2725

Oven-roasted garlic parmesan potatoes! Yum yum!

Our Sunday dinner was delicious! We love growing our own!

IMG_2727

-TBE

Garden Apron

I have to brag on Guru Penny again.

I’ve been whining a little (okay, a lot) about maintaining my garden. When I go out to work in the garden, I have several things I need to carry out there (scissors, a bowl to collect, seeds for new plants, etc.). My garden is in the corner of our yard, so I try to multitask when I need to go out there. I’ll usually refill the chicken feed or water, or feed the other animals as well. This usually leads to me dropping things, tripping over Dean the Menace, cursing, and needing a break before I even started.

Because of my excessive whining, Penny decided to solve my problem with a Garden Apron.

IMG_2729

It’s got a pocket for my scissors, another pocket for seeds, a large pocket for gathering produce. It ties around the waist as well. She also made a smaller one for E, so she can help too!

Bonus point – they’re made out of a super cute canvas material that E can decorate! I’ll post an update with the finished masterpiece!

Order your garden apron at Penny’s website

-B

Shower Melts – The Perfect Gift!

So a few weeks ago we posted about how to make Lavender Shower Melts. They’re super easy to make, and only take a few ingredients that you probably have around your house already.

The Yager Homestead is all about saving money. We try to operate on a modest budget whenever possible. So we decided for Mother’s Day, instead of buying an expensive, impersonal gift, we would gift our mothers with these personal, homemade bath goodies.

For each mom, we made a batch of three different melts: the green melts were Eucalyptus Melts for sinuses; the pink melts were Peppermint Melts for headaches; and the purple melts were, you guessed it, Lavender Melts for stress relief.

IMG_2605

They were a hit! We packed them simply, wrapped in parchment paper and enclosed in a ziploc container to keep them fresh. Our mothers were so impressed that we had taken the time to make these thoughtful gifts for them. So if you’re looking for a late Mother’s Day gift, or just an inexpensive gift for anyone, keep these simple, quick shower melts in mind!

IMG_2606

-TBE