9 Reasons Why Your Hen Stopped Laying Eggs

Raising chickens is a huge learning experience. My husband and I thought we had it all figured out. They’re just chickens after all! Then, one day, the nesting boxes were almost empty. We thought it was strange but figured it was a fluke. The next day proved it wasn’t a one-time event.

I was pretty baffled. Why did my dependable girls suddenly stop laying eggs? We needed those eggs, so we had to figure it out quickly. What did I do? First, I called my grandma who raised chickens on a farm for half of her life.

Then, I turned to Google. Google is everyone’s friend. There were the answers I needed. I was surprised that there are multiple reasons a hen stops laying eggs! Let’s take a look so we can solve the problem fast!

Reason 1 – Winter Causes Lack of Light

So, if it is wintertime, you’ve already figured out your issue. Many breeds continue to lay through the winter, but the production slows down greatly.

A hen needs 14 to 16 hours of daylight to lay a single egg. In the dead of winter, she may be lucky if she receives 10 hours. It is a natural period of slowing down. Many people like to add supplemental light, but I also pick not to do so. I believe that chickens are designed to have this decrease. Ultimately, not supplementing with light allows the chicken’s egg laying to span over more years.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if you want to supplement. Just keep in mind that changes in weather and light can lead to a decrease in egg production.

Reason 2 – Temperature

Temperature, just like the light, is a huge factor in your hens’ egg production. If you have a sudden spike in temperature, hens can stop laying eggs. Our girls tended to dislike anything about 90 degrees really. I don’t blame them!

Likewise, really cold days can cause a decrease in egg production. Your hens have to adjust to the temperature.

Reason 3 – Diet Issues

If it isn’t wintering time, your next step should be to consider your feedings and supplemental choices. Chickens need a steady diet of fresh food and water. If you forgot to feed your chickens for a day or two (humans do these things), hens can stop laying altogether.

If your feeding schedule wasn’t disrupted, another good step is to make sure that your hens are eating quality food. They also need to have regular access to greens and foraging for bugs. Even though it is fun, avoid giving too many treats. It can stop them from eating their healthy food. Instead, send the kids to pull weeds to feed to the chickens. That’s being productive!

Chickens need a balanced diet, just like you and I! They need to have appropriate amounts of protein, calcium, and salt. Remember, fresh water is crucial for egg production.

Reason 4 – Broody Hens

I love a broody hen, but that broodiness stops egg production. Instead of laying eggs, your hen is now focused on defending and hatching those eggs for the next 21 days or more.

You can try to break a hen of her broodiness, but I prefer just to let her go. Broodiness is a great way to create a self-sustaining flock. Also, it can take days or a week to break the broodiness. Letting her hatch the eggs is less work for you!

Reason 5 – Molting Time

Do your girls suddenly look just plain ugly? It might be time for molting. Molting is normal, but they often look as if they had hard few days. It isn’t a time when your chicken flock looks the best.

Molting is when your chickens shed their old feathers and grow new ones. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy and time for a hen to grow new feathers. Sometimes, to compensate for the energy sucker, hens will stop laying eggs.

Don’t worry; molting will be over soon, and eggs will start again soon! Molting often goes along with season changes. Our chickens tend to molt around fall or late summer.

Reason 6  – Age of Your Hens

Hens won’t steadily lay eggs for their entire life. At some point, they enter chicken retirement, or so I call it. Hens lay steadily between six to nine months (depends on breed) up to 2 years old.

Don’t worry; chickens do lay eggs after they are two years old, but it does tend to slow down. It isn’t abnormal for chickens to lay up to 7 years old. We have chickens that are four and five years old still laying steadily, but not daily.

It is up to you whether you want to keep chickens who entered egg-laying retirement. If you only have room for a small flock, it can be hard to keep a chicken that isn’t productive. It is an individual decision; there is no right and wrong answer!

Reason 7 – Pests and Diseases Invade

Another major reason that your hens stopped laying eggs is that there is a pest or disease bother your flock. The two most common issues are lice and mites. A really bad infestation can stop a flock from laying regularly.

There are some signs that your flock is sick. Here are some things to identify:

  • Abnormal poop
  • Not laying eggs
  • Coughing or making strange noises
  • Quits eating or drinking
  • Chickens are unable to stand up

Colds in chickens often produce slim in their nose area. Chickens will breathe with their mouth open due to nose blockage. You might notice their combs turning pale or constant itching.

Reason 8 – Changes in Routine and Life

Chickens are like kids; they love routine and habits. If you change their routine, egg production could change. Changing or redesigning their coop can disrupt production. We added an addition and moved their run; our chickens didn’t like that for a few days!

Another change could be when you introduce new chickens to the flock. Sometimes, hens will go on a strike and stop laying eggs. How dare you add new chickens! Luckily, chickens will adapt if you give them a few days or week.

Reason 9 – Predators

There is a chance your girls are laying eggs, but a predator is eating them. Predators love fresh eggs as much as we do. Snakes are famous for eating eggs. It can give you a startle to find a snake in your nesting box.

If you think this is your issue, the best step is to figure out how predator-proof your coop. Try to add more hardware cloth, extra netting and close up any holes where they might enter. These predators are small and smart!

For us, our issue was that we disrupted their routine. We changed their coop design and added new members within days of each other. Our girls apparently were protesting all of the changes! They started laying again within days. Our breakfast table was thankful for the start up again!

6 Reasons Your Tomatoes Aren’t Ripening

Tomatoes are my arch nemesis. I work hard each year to plant enough tomato plants to provide the right amount of tomatoes I need for canning. Without fail, something goes wrong. Sometimes, my tomatoes don’t turn red. One day, blight infected my tomatoes. It’s always something.

For me, I like to find the answer to my questions. Why is something happening, or not happening in this case? In the case of tomatoes not turning red, there are some definite reasons.

Why Tomatoes Turn Red

There is a whole, scientific reason why tomatoes turn red, but let’s sum it up to make it easier to understand.

Lycopene is a chemical naturally found inside of fruits and vegetables that cause them to develop their color. Lycopene isn’t just found in tomatoes; it is in watermelons, apricots and more. Almost 80% of the lycopene you need in your diet is found in tomato products.

Believe it or not, your body processes lycopene better when it is heated. Sources such as ketchup and tomato sauce are perfect for getting lycopene into your diet!

Why do you need lycopene? It is valuable in the fight against heart disease, as well as some cancers (colon, pancreas, bladder, ovaries, and breast to name a few).

6 Reasons Why Your Tomatoes Aren’t Turning Red

One: Longer Time to Maturity

On each seed packet, you will find an average time for maturity for every vegetable you plant. You might be tempted to overlook this date, but I encourage you to pay attention! Certain varieties take less time to mature.

If you have a shorter growing season, you will want to select varieties with a shorter maturity time. It is a good idea also to plug in some longer growing varieties. You can rest assured knowing the shorter varieties will at least yield some fruits for you.

Two: Temperatures aren’t Hot Enough

Tomatoes love warm temperatures, which is why you can’t plant them until well after your final frost date for the season.

Unfortunately, our weather in Ohio has been rather unpredictable, and chilly summers are becoming an issue. As I write this, it is the beginning of August and the high for the day barely touched 80 degrees. That is insane!

Sometimes, you will notice your tomatoes turning pink but never reaching the redness needed to indicate ripeness. They lack in flavor, but they will typically ripen if you leave them on your countertops.

Three: Temperatures are TOO Hot

On the flip side, your tomatoes can be too hot for your tomatoes to ripen. High temperatures happened a few years ago, leaving my harvest in ruins. Yes, they love the heat, but they don’t want to roast on the vine.

The ideal temperatures for ripening are 70 to 75 degrees F. Once the temperatures go higher than 85 to 90 degrees F, the plant is unable to produce the correct amount of lycopene to create the right pigments. The green ones on your vine will stay green for a long time.

Four: You Picked Tomatoes That Aren’t Red

If you grow heirloom plants, there are a lot of varieties that aren’t red. You can buy tomatoes that ripen to pink, yellow, white, orange, purple, and green! They make great additions to the dinner table and farmer’s market stand.

It is easy to forget what varieties you plant. You need to mark each variety, so you know what to look for in ripeness. For example, we always grow Brandywine tomatoes. Brandywine ripens to a beautiful pink, but they never turn red. If I forgot, I would let the entire harvest go to waste waiting for red tomatoes to arrive.

Five: Blossom End Rot

Do your tomatoes have black lesions on them, small or big? If so, you have blossom end rot. It is a disease caused by low calcium in your soil. It is highly suggested that you add natural sources of calcium to your soil during the growing season.

Blossom end rot also forms from uneven watering. If you have frequent downpours of rain, blossom end rot can result.

Six: Plants Don’t Receive Enough Sunlight

Another possibility is that you selected a bad location for your tomato plants. Tomatoes love heat and sunlight. The plants need at least seven hours of direct sunlight per day.

You might have picked a great location, but planted them too close together. Tomato plants need at least 18 inches to two feet apart, depending on the variety. Large plants, like the Brandywine, need two feet apart to receive adequate sunlight.

 

If all else fails, you can take some of your green tomatoes and put them in a cardboard box with a few ripened tomatoes. It should encourage the tomatoes to turn red! I know how it feels to have dozens of plants full of green tomatoes and end up with a pitiful harvest.

Canning Healthy Chicken Broth: Simple Instructions

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Chicken broth has dozens of nutritional benefits. Instead of purchasing cartons and cans from the store, learn how to can chicken broth at home!

We often make batches of chicken broth for soups. I try to make homemade chicken and dumplings at least twice a month. It is a great, easy meal and allows me the chance to make extra chicken broth.

To make homemade chicken broth, you first need to cook a whole chicken. Some people like to roast a chicken for dinner then put it in a pot to boil once the meat is picked off. I have a different method!

In a large pot of water, I boil:

  • a whole chicken
  • 2 to 3 large, diced carrots
  • 3, large stalks of celery
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • half of an onion, sliced
  • 2 TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP pepper

I boil everything together for typically three hours. At this time, I take the chicken out of the water and pull off any meat. From this, we typically make soup or chicken and dumplings.

Then, I put the carcass and new vegetables into the crockpot. You want to leave it on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. The chicken broth will be delicious!

At this point, you could simply enjoy the broth for soup that day, or you could can the chicken broth, which is my usual choice.

Canning chicken broth is very simple.

First, take your jars and wash them. This step seems silly, but inspecting your jars is important. Any imperfection or crack could cause your jars to break or explode in the canner.

Chicken broth is a low acid food, so you have to use a pressure canner. Don’t worry; using a pressure canner really isn’t that hard! Every pressure canner comes with a manual for detailed instructions.

Once your jars are washed, fill up your pressure canner to the indicated line inside of your canner. Your chicken broth should be simmering. Before you put the broth into the jars, you will want to strain out the fat. Some will still make it into the jars, but you do want to try to get as much out as possible.

Then, ladle the chicken broth right into the jars. You should leave a one inch headspace in your jars. Make sure that you wipe off the rims of the jars before putting on the lids and rings! If there is anything on the rim, your jars won’t seal correctly.

Now, it is time to put those jars into your canner. At this time, refer to your manual instructions. You want to make sure you are using the canner correctly. However, most require you to turn it to medium high heat and let steam vent out until the lid locks. You then cover the valve and let the pressure build.

Process the jars at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes if you are using pints. For quarts, process them for 25 minutes.

After, take them off of the heat and let the pressure decrease naturally. Don’t remove that valve cover! If the pressure decreases too rapidly, your jars can break.

Freezing vs. Canning Chicken Broth

I know plenty of people who prefer to freeze their chicken broth. I understand that. It is easy. Just stick the broth in bags or plastic containers. There is no need to process anything.

I prefer to see lovely jars of canned broth on my shelves because it reminds me of being self-sufficient. Plus, I don’t have to worry about losing power and losing all of my hard work! You can freeze it if you are short on time. It will take the same in the end.

Do you can your homemade chicken broth? We love to have jars available for when sicknesses hit. There is nothing like warm chicken broth when your stomach hurts, or heating up a jar for quick soups during the winter time.

   

 

Canning Green Beans: Raw Pack Method

We are in the middle of prime green bean season, where our plants are overflowing. Canning green beans allows you to put them up for casseroles and easy side dishes later in the year.

Canning green beans is different than canning jams and jellies. You will need a pressure canner; a water bath canner cannot safely can green beans. Green beans are a low acid food, which means botulism can grow faster.

If you are new to pressure canning, canning green beans is a great introduction. I prefer the raw pack method. What is a raw pack method? It means you will put the raw veggies in clean jars to the indicated headspace and fill the rest of the jar with boiling water. The pressure canner does all of the cooking for you.

Sound simple? Well, it is! Let’s get to it!

How to Can Green Beans – Raw Pack Method

First, you want to snap your green beans. You have to do this whether you plan to freeze or can these veggies. Snapping green beans can feel like a never-ending task. Kids help make this job easier and quicker!

After the ends are snapped off, you will want to wash them thoroughly, removing any dirt. At this time, put a pot of water on the stove to boil. You also will want to clean your jars. When you use a pressure canner, there is no need to boil or sterilize the jars beforehand. Just clean them and inspect for cracks and chips.

Once cleaned, it is time to fill up your jars! The jars fill better when the green beans are between one and two inches long. Fill the jars up, leaving one inch headspace at the top. Headspace is important for pressure canning!

You will want to add salt to the jars. I tried no salt before and the beans were bland, consequently those beans were great for casseroles, but not side dishes. Try 3/4 to 1 TSP of canning salt per jar.

Now is the time to put the indicated amount of water into your canner (check your manual), and turn the canner on medium to start heating up the water. After you add the salt, ladle in the boiling water, leaving the one inch headspace! After filled with boiling water, use your included tool for checking headspace or a wooden skewer to move around the jar, popping air bubbles.

Wipe off the rim of the jar and put on the lid. Your jars are ready to go into the canner!

Processing the Green Beans

Put your jars into the canner and close the lids. At this point, it is best if you follow your canners instructions. However, most of them follow the same type of instructions. You need to allow the canner to gain heat, and it will push out steam until the lid is locked. You need to put the valve over on top, allowing it to gain pressure.

Green beans should be processed at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts. Your manual should have specific times; make sure that you double check! You need to process them for the correct amount of time to ensure any bacteria and spores are killed.

Once the jars are processed, turn off the heat and allow the canner to de-pressurize on its own. It can take up to 30 minutes for this to happen. Once unlocked, make sure that you open the lid AWAY from your face. The steam could burn you!

Lift the jars out of the canner and place them on a dry towel. Doing so helps to avoid breaking from the shock of the temperature change. Let the jars set for 24 hours.

Canning green beans couldn’t be easier! We had a small batch this time, but by the end of the season, our shelves will be lined with jars.

What do you prefer – frozen or canned green beans? Let me know in the comments.

 

7 Dangerous Canning Mistakes You Are Making

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Each day, I see articles floating around encouraging dangerous canning mistakes that could cause someone to get sick. If you happen to make one of these mistakes, you might regret it.

Canning is fun and exciting. There is something so refreshing and rewarding about seeing shelves of brightly colored jars. It feels even better when the jars are full with produce you grew throughout the year. A lot of hard work goes into those canning jars.

The last thing you want to do is make a dangerous canning mistake that could lead to you or a loved one getting sick. So, I want to go through some of these canning recommendations that I see frequently.

Before I get started, I know someone will think or say “well, my grandparents did it and they lived.” That is probably true. Chances are your grandparents and great-grandparents did some of these dangerous canning mistakes.

But, we know better now.

Scientists, through extensive studies, have created safety recommendations that ensure what you are canning doesn’t contain dangerous bacteria. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those research institutes that are taking the time to make the safety recommendations.

Cases of poisoning and death from bad canning is rare; that is true. But, it happens! In 2015, an Ohio church potluck experienced a botulism outbreak that caused one death and 20 illnesses. The outbreak was due to badly canned produce. It happens, and you don’t want it to be you or your family that falls victim.

So, let’s take a look at the mistakes you want to avoid.

Mistake # 1 – Flipping Jars Upside Down to Seal

Unfortunately, I still see people recommending this route for sealing jars. It is true that your lid will probably seal, but that doesn’t guarantee it is a solid and secure seal. The jars might seal at first, but later come unsealed. Then, the food will spoil without you realizing.

The biggest reason you don’t want to make this mistake is that the liquids aren’t at high enough temperatures to kill off dangerous spores in the food. One of the reasons that you immerse the jars into a canner is to kill off bacteria. You want the temperature to be so high that no mold can continue to grow.

Mistake # 2 – Reusing Lids that Are Meant for One Use

I know; no one wants to buy lids for each jar. However, the lids you buy from Ball or Wal-Mart aren’t meant to be reused. There is an exception to this rule – Tattler Lids. These lids are more expensive, but they are meant for multiple uses and worth the investment. If you use the wrong lids multiple times, your seal won’t be secure, and your food could spoil. Seriously, no one wants that to happen.

Mistake # 3 – Canning Untested Recipes

Developing your own canning recipes is hard and risky. Using old recipes is also dangerous. You want to make sure you have the right level of acid, the right headspace, processing time and more. I highly recommend that you use reputable recipes. When I first started canning, I purchased the Ball Canning Book. Their new book called – The All New Book of Canning and Preserving – has 300 recipes. It is a wonderful resource with safe canning recipes.

Mistake #4 – Using Paraffin Wax to Seal the Jars

Please, if the recipe tells you to use wax to seal the jars, walk (or close it) away immediately. I understand the idea behind it. The wax is supposed to create a secure seal to keep air out and stopping the growth of bacteria, supposedly. I know that my grandmother talked about doing this when she was younger.

Just like flipping the jars, using paraffin wax doesn’t destroy the bacteria and spores already inside of the food. You can’t guarantee the food is safe, so stick to the lids and rims!

Mistake #5 – Canning Milk, Butter and Flour Products

You might see cream of mushroom canned in the stores and assume you can safely can it at home. The answer is a huge NO. Why? It is because companies create their canned goods at a much higher temperature than we could ever generate in our homes.

One of the most common mistakes I see is an article floating around recommending canning butter by ladling melted butter into jars and flipping them over. There is a whole lot of wrong going on there.

Butter is a low acid food, which means it has to be pressure canned! Botulism loves lower acid, so it can thrive in that environment. The same goes for milk. You cannot safely can milk by heating it and putting it into jars. As it stands right now, there are no safe ways to safely can milk and butter.

The same goes for flour products. You might want to can chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t possible to do at home what they do in large factories. Instead, opt to can chicken soup and add the noodles later.

Mistake #6 – Not Checking for Air Bubbles

It might seem like a silly step. Do air bubbles really cause a problem? The answer is yes, they do. You can run the tool included with your canning set in your jar or use a sterilized butter knife. Air bubbles can give space for spores and bacteria to thrive and live. The step takes 30 seconds, just do it!

Mistake # 7 – Using a Water Bath Canner for Low Acid Food

The last mistake might be the biggest and most dangerous. It is a pet peeve of mine. There are dozens of foods that you cannot safely can in a water bath canner. The difference comes from the acid in the food. The higher amount of acid, the less likely botulism can survive. Foods that have a pH level of 4.6 or HIGHER need to be canned in a pressure canner.

This means your produce in the garden, such as green beans, carrots and corn, must be canned in a pressure canner. If you are canning soups or meat, a pressure canner is necessary. If you opt to use a water bath canner instead, the temperatures will not be high enough to kill off the botulism spores. Even if you boil the jars for hours, it still isn’t enough.

Jellies, jams and pickles are meant for water bath canning, not your produce, meats or soups.

 

I hope you aren’t making one of these 7 dangerous canning mistakes. If you are, remember that once we know better, we do better. Now that you know the method is unsafe, you can change and ensure your family eats only safely preserved foods.

Creating Your Successful Suburban Homestead Dream

Homesteading in the suburbs can feel like an impossible feat. You have dreams of living off the land, raising your own meat, and being self-sufficient. How is doing any of this possible when your neighbors are close?

I understand; I felt this way for a long time too. When we purchased our house on a single acre, that was all we could afford. Land is expensive here with the booming fracking industry. No one wants to cough up land unless it is for a small fortune.

When the homesteading bug bit me, I felt frustrated. I couldn’t accomplish anything with an acre! My husband encouraged me to look at what other people were doing to homestead with an acre. I purchased the Backyard Homesteading book and started surfing Pinterest – isn’t that what everyone does when they feel frustrated?

To my surprise, there are hundreds of suburban homestead articles, and all of them made me realize one thing. I could do this, and you can do too.

A few years later, we are still slowly working on our homestead. Each year, we add something and learn something new from the year before. Homesteading is a personal growth process as well, one that I didn’t expect.

If you are ready to start your suburban homestead dreams, here are my top tips.

Take a Look at Your Land Attributes

Instead of looking at the size as a hindrance, look for the positive features. For example, our front yard is a quarter of an acre, and it receives full sun. It is flat with rich soil, the ideal spot for our garden. I tried to garden in our backyard, but I gave up after a few years. The neighbors might think that turning my front yard into a garden is strange, but it works.

We also have maple trees on our land. We have a hill on our property, which is perfect for sled riding. The back of our property has a spring, heavily wooded area and plenty of shade. What does your property have going for it?

Focus on One or Two Tasks at a Time

If you’re like me, it is tempting to start everything at one time. You want to plant a quarter acre garden, buy goats and chickens, plant a fruit orchard and berry patch, grow culinary and medicinal herbs, and sell at a farmer’s market. Ambitious, much?

Unfortunately, that’s not practical or smart. You will get burnt out quickly. Instead, pick two tasks you want to focus on for that season of the year or even that year. Do you want to get started with vegetable gardening? Build and plant two to four raised beds. Don’t immediately plant 16 or more. Gardening takes a lot of work and practice. Start small and grow.

Do you have the space for chickens? Start off with a small flock. Yes, you will want to buy all the chickens. Learn how to take care of a small flock first.

Don’t Go into Debt for a Suburban Homestead

This one is huge. Debt is a hindrance. We are in the process of paying off our debt. It is unwise to add more debt to your household during the creation of a suburban homestead. Learn how to do things creatively and cheaply, or save up the cash until it is feasible.

Focus on Skill Building

Homesteading is more than just gardening and raising animals. It involves the developing of skills that encourage living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. What type of skills can you develop for your suburban homestead?

·         Learn how to crochet, knit or sew.

·         How to preserve the harvest through canning, freezing or dehydrating.

·         Starting seeds inside of the house.

·         How to forage for wild greens and herbs.

·         Using dried herbs (purchase online until you can grow them) to make herbal remedies, teas, infused oils and more.

·         Make your own cheese.

·         Bake from scratch.

·         Make your own soaps and personal products.

One of the key things about homesteading is that you want to avoid going to the store as much as possible. You are going to use up what you have, or learn how to make it yourself. Why buy cheese at the store when you can make it at home? You might be thinking, how does that help my homestead? When you can get a milk goat or cow, you already will have the skills to start making cheese or processing the milk.

Make Goals and a Plan

This part is huge! Life without goals and a plan is hard. Homesteading without them is even harder. How do you decide where to expand unless you have a specific goal in mind? Here are a few examples.

·         You set a long term goal to produce half of your grocery needs in five years. Each year, you add something new to reach that goal. Each year, you expand your garden, add more chickens, raise meat rabbits, make space for a goat, plant an orchard, and more. A plan allows you to figure out what you need to do each year to meet this goal.

·         You might want to produce more of your own energy and cut out the middle man. So, you have to learn the laws for your city and start investing in solar panels. You might want to purchase and install a wood burning furnace. If you have a spring on land, you might decide to dig a well. A plan is essential.

Get Your Neighbors Involved

Unlike country living, life in the suburbs involves neighbors within close proximity. You can view this as a hindrance or a benefit, depending on your attitude and outlook. Our one neighbors catch our rabbit that is an escape artist. That’s something, right?

Your neighbors can either support or destroy your dreams, so get them involved. Sell them eggs first. If your lettuce bed is overflowing, tell them to come out and pick some. Give them surplus zucchini and tomatoes. Show them that having a small homestead isn’t an annoyance; it benefits everyone.

Hopefully, your neighbors will be interested in joining as well. If so, you are in luck. Starting a neighborhood cooperative is a dream for me. Instead of everyone having the same things, you each trade and swap. I might have a huge flock of chickens, but you have multiple hives of bees. I give you eggs; you give me honey. If your neighbors are interested in what you are doing, don’t hesitate to talk to them about getting involved!

Expect Failures and Setbacks of a Suburban Homestead

As with any dreams and plans, you should expect setbacks and failures. Last year, almost my entire crop of tomatoes died. That hurt and I had to buy multiple bushels of canning tomatoes from my friend. Two years ago, almost an entire flock of chickens were killed by a pack of raccoons. That was a huge setback.

We can mope around, or we can just roll with the punches. Through the hard times and setbacks, you will learn. We learned our chicken coop was not predator proof and adjustments had to be made.

 

Homesteading in the suburbs isn’t impossible. Just like homesteading in the country, it requires planning, lots of hard work and time invested in making it work. With some ingenuity, creativity, and dedication, you can make your suburban homesteading dreams come true, slowly and steady.

 

Step-by-Step Guide: Freeze Fresh Cabbage Heads

For a long time, I avoided growing cabbage because I felt like I couldn’t use it fast enough. We love stuffed cabbage rolls and cabbage roll soup, but we can’t eat a whole garden of cabbage in a few weeks! Sauerkraut isn’t a family favorite. Then, one day I learned that you can freeze fresh cabbage heads, and my world changed.

Yes, it is possible! Learning how to freeze fresh cabbage heads is easy. It takes a few hours, so I suggest doing it on a day you aren’t super busy. However, most of the time is when the cabbage has to drain or soak.

Here are the steps! You aren’t going to believe how easy it is.

How to Freeze Fresh Cabbage Heads

First, you have to harvest the heads. That is very easy, taking 30 seconds per head at most! Then, I bring them inside. After they’re inside, I take off the four to five leaves. Then, they need to soak in water, typically for at least two to three hours.

Even if you think your cabbage was pest free, there is a good chance a few slugs or cabbage loppers found their way into your cabbage heads. I move the heads around in the water. Soaking kills the slugs inside of the heads. See this little buddy who thought catching a ride was a fun idea? He was wrong!

After the heads soak, take them out and let them drain for a bit. Next, you need to cut them into quarters. It is important that you keep the core inside of the cabbage. Without the core, your leaves are going to fall off in the water. You don’t want that to happen; trust me.

While you are cutting up the heads of fresh cabbage, you need to get a large pot of water boiling on your stove. Also, full up a side of your sink with ice cold water. You are going to blanch the heads by moving them from the boiling water right into ice water, which abruptly stops the cooking process.

Once the water is at a rolling boil, put the cabbage heads in. My pot fits three to four at a time. Let each head come to a boil for 3 minutes then move them directly to the ice bath. Continue this process until all of the heads are blanched.

After blanching, make sure all of the cabbage heads are cool to the touch. I drain out all of the water and let them sit in the sink or a colander for a few minutes. It helps drain out all of that excess water! I give each of the cabbage heads a bit of a squeeze to help get out the water.

Now it is time to get them into their freezer bags. If you have a food saver, this task is perfect for it. We don’t, so I stick three in each bag. Make sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. Then, add a label with the date you froze them!

 

Freezing fresh cabbage heads is easy! If you want to have fresh cabbage later in the year, this is the perfect way to preserve it. We use the heads throughout the winter for hearty dinner meals and soups.

How do you preserve fresh cabbage?

Zucchini Shrimp Pasta

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My garden is overflowing with zucchini. I harvested three today. We tend to eat so much zucchini that we get sick of it by the end of the summer. There is only so much you can eat fried zucchini.

I recently purchased a vegetable spiralizer. Why did I wait so long to invest in this amazingness? Zucchini makes a wonderful substitution for pasta noodles, with way less carbs. While I don’t abide by any diet that is too low-carb, I know that it is better for my blood sugar. Plus, it’s green noodles – isn’t that fun?

I have trouble getting my kids to eat vegetables. I know I’m not the only parent who struggles with this! My middle child loves shrimp, and he was willing to sample the zucchini. That is a win for this mom! Next, I want to try it with regular spaghetti sauce.

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Zucchini Shrimp Pasta

An easy and healthy dinner (or lunch) dish!

Course Main Course
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 20-30 tail-off devined shrimp
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 medium-sized zucchini
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Unthaw your shrimp in warm water.
  2. Using your spiralizer, create noodles from your two medium sized zucchinis. You can use more or less, depending on how many people you are feeding. If the zucchini is too large, you may want to peel it first because it tends to have firmer skin as the fruit gets larger.
  3. Put the butter into the pan and let it melt. Add in your zucchini and let it cook for two minutes, stirring. Season with the garlic, salt and pepper.
  4. Add in the shrimp and let cook for three minutes. You don't want to overcook the shrimp; it will become too chewy!
  5. After the shrimp and zucchini noodles are cooked thoroughly, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the parmesan cheese.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

 

How to Harvest a Cabbage Head in 30 Seconds

Cabbage isn’t a vegetable I always loved. When my parents made cabbage rolls, I gagged, internally and externally. Throughout most of my childhood, I turned my nose up to every cabbage dish that graced our kitchen table. As I grew older, cabbage didn’t seem so bad as it was when I was younger. Now, I love stuffed cabbage rolls or corned beef and cabbage.

                Our cabbage always reaches the scale of gigantic. Sometimes, the heads are larger than my kids’ heads. It is comical to watch them carry the heads into the house after harvesting.

                Most cabbage plants take 80 to 180 days to mature. If you planted them in March, you could expect to harvest between June and August, depending on the variety you selected. One year, I planted Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, which was ready around 65 days after planting!

How to Harvest a Cabbage Head

1.       Watch the tightness of the cabbage. When you are out in your garden, gently squeeze the heads. You’ll notice that they will gradually get firmer. A tight cabbage head is a sign that it is ready for harvest. It is important that you check your cabbage head frequently for readiness. Excessive rain or overwatering could cause mature heads to split; then you lost a harvest.

2.       Look at the size of the cabbage head. It is harder to use the size as an indicator of readiness. Some varieties are naturally smaller than others. It should be at least the size of a softball before you consider harvesting. The base should be at least four to ten inches wide.

·         Elongated Chinese, or Napa, cabbage should be harvest when the head is nine to 12 inches tall.

·         Leafy cabbage is better to harvest leaf-by-leaf because they will not form a tight head.

·         Leave two to four of the wrapper leaves around the head to prevent the cabbage head from drying out.

 

3.       Time to harvest. Once you think the cabbage head is ready, bring your knife out to the garden. Find the base of the cabbage head. Using your knife, cut through the stem. You should leave the stem and leaves underneath the head in place because there is a chance a second head will grow! However, if you planted cabbage in the fall, you’ll only get one head. Cabbage planted for a spring or summer harvest can grow two, three or even four heads!

4.       Store the cabbage. You can use it immediately; cabbage rolls anyone? You could make sauerkraut, freeze the cabbage head or store them in the refrigerator. Make sure the heads stay in a cool, moist location for longevity. If you do so, cabbage stores for three to four months.

Harvesting cabbage is extremely easy. All you need is 30 seconds, and you’re done! If you plant cabbage for the fall, there is plenty of ways to store it long term. Who doesn’t want fresh cabbage for the New Years? Tomorrow, we will talk about how to freeze fresh cabbage. It is one of the ways I preserve it for the long term!

What is your favorite way to eat cabbage? Let me know in the comments!

Why Does Acidity Matter for Canning?

While canning jellies and jams are one of my favorite activities, it is important to understand how to do so correctly. There are a lot of misunderstandings about what is safe for canning. Today, we are going to look at why acidity matters for canning.

The Role of Acidity in Canning

I get a lot of questions from friends and family about canning. Many people don’t understand the role of acid in canning. The fact is that you cannot can every single fruit out there if you plan to use a water bath canner.
To be considered safe, the fruit you selected must have a pH scale of 4.6 or lower. The lower the number, the more acidic! Why is acid important? Botulism cannot grow and thrive in an acidic environment. To safely can your fruits in a water bath canner, the acid must be present.

Foods that are lower in acids, such as meat or vegetables, must be canned in a pressure canner. Their pH level is higher than 4.6. A pressure canner heats the food to a higher pressure, ensuring all bacteria spores are killed, including botulism.

When canning jellies and jams, acid plays another role. It helps to set and gel. If you want to have an enjoyable, safe jelly or jam, you need acid!

What Fruits Aren’t Safe?

Luckily, most fruits are acidic, such as apples and strawberries. The fruits you cannot water bath safely due to low acid are bananas, figs, melons, dates, and papayas.

Tomatoes, which comes to a surprise for many people, can be borderline. They are considered a low-high acid food. If you don’t want to can your tomatoes in a pressure canner, try adding a form of acid, listed before.

Can You Increase the Acidity?

Sometimes, fruits will vary in acidity. For example, an overripe apple has less acid than an under-ripe one! There are a few ways you can fix your pH level.

·         Add some under ripe fruit to your recipe. For example, if you are making applesauce, add some under ripe green apples. If you are making strawberry jam, add some under ripe strawberries, which also contains more natural pectin!

·         Try adding 1 TBSP of lemon juice for each cup of fruit. If you are making strawberry jam with overripe strawberries, you would need 4 TBSP of lemon juice for 4 cups of strawberries.

If you are curious about the pH level of your selected fruit, click here for my free chart! It contains the pH level of most fruits.