Sunday, August 26, 2012

Have you tried it yet?

8/28 UPDATE: Today is your opportunity to order for pick up this coming Saturday. If offered near you, time and location will vary in your area. This week's optional additional items (which seem to be offered only west of the Mississippi) include Utah peaches or Hatch chiles for $18 per 25 lbs box, limit 5 boxes. There is also a fajita veggie pack for $5 along with the usual breads and granola offerings. Oh, and did I mention that for an additional $10 you can upgrade your basic basket to organic?

Original post:  A couple of months ago I wrote a short blurb  (#11 on the Resources Page) about the Bountiful Baskets food cooperative. They serve locations in 19 states, mostly in the west and central US, but GA and KY are in the mix. It takes a little planning to order Monday or Tuesday and pick up your loot on Saturday, but for $16.50 you get a huge amount of fruit and veggies.  They also have add-ons that include breads, tortillas packs (about 10 doz w/ 65% flour -35% corn), extra fruits or veggies in season. Prices for add-ons will vary, but the breads are usually 5 loaves for $10 or $12, which is a max of $2.25 per 18 ounce loaf. You only sign up when you want to -- for us it's about every 2 week because there is just more produce than we can go through in a week.  The normal weekly amount would be about right for a family of 4.

This week I picked up the following for my $16.50 (weights are approx):
1 head cauliflower, 1.5 lbs fresh green chili, 3 lbs onion, 4 tomatoes (approx 1.5 lbs), 1 very large fresh head of romaine, about 2 lbs Brussel sprouts, 4 pink grapefruit, 2 Asian pears, 2 lbs each: cherries, grapes, nectarines. Basket items vary with the season and which crops are coming in.  Some of the items are what the big chains might not want.  We received the most incredible, delicious plums for about a month, but they were smaller than what I see in the stores. Perhaps the small size does not sell as well. In April and May we received a pineapple almost every time -- and they were wonderful.  We are eating more healthful food, planned around what's in the Bountiful Basket. 

If you are a canner, they offer cases of some fruit or veggie each week.  Probably not as inexpensive as U-pick, but it is a good deal for your preparedness food storage.

The produce is a lot fresher than the grocery stores, probably because several 'middle' steps have been eliminated.  If you find a badly bruised or split item during pick up, they will replace it or provide a substitute item immediately.  Occasionally a delivery truck is late -- last week one was stopped for a DOT inspection and set the schedule back by more than an hour.  Normally the produce is available on time.  It's sort of like a produce flash mob -- truck drops it off, volunteers load the laundry baskets, people pick theirs up and the whole thing is done and gone in about 2 hours!  It really is a marvel of cooperation that works.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weird Gardening Tips

Here in the Desert Southwest, fall is a better time to garden than Spring.  Winds are lower and there is more potential for rain. We even had dew one morning last week, which really is an event here.  To preserve moisture, I grow much of my kitchen garden in containers. 

This is a GREAT time of year to collect free garden containers, if you don't mind how your backyard looks.  You can get free bakery buckets much of the year, but now is the time for the Holy Grail of free containers: the rigid plastic kiddy pool!  A 4' diameter pool will provide 12.5 square feet of garden that is completely accessible for planting and tending. A 5' pool will give you almost 20 SF.

Kids are back in school, the temp is dropping from the high 90's into the mid-80's.  The pools are becoming clutter to people who don't understand their true potential!  I saw one this morning in front of a house with a FREE sign taped to it. If it's there later, I may stop by and suggest they start a GARDEN in it.  I've got enough containers like this that Dear Husband might pop a blood vessel if I bring home one more, so had to refrain.
So what goes in these mini-gardens?  Almost anything, depending on the depth of soil you add. I have rhubarb, asparagus, okra, sugar snap peas, beets, herbs, kale and some other root veggies going. Because you can move the containers around, you may have a more diverse garden -- if the plant is getting too much or not enough sun, move it.  You may get produce earlier or later in the season for the same reason --move to warmer places as the season cools.

My latest experiment is working out OK.  I love butter lettuce and occasionally buy the living heads with roots in the plastic boxes in the grocery store.  It's hard to grow from seed here -- the little sprouts don't like our mid-summer heat, even in the shade.  I keep the core of the lettuce head -- the little pale green leaves in the center and the roots -- and have planted them. It actually seems to be working.  I planted in containers that get only an hour or two of full sun each day. Here is the just-planted rather anemic center:
and the one-week development:

There are a couple of bug holes, but it looks like it wants to keep growing. Yum, can't wait!

So your frugal garden can help stretch those nickels to put toward your more expensive preparation supplies. Even if you decide to splurge on the special lettuce, just remember to save a few leaves and the roots, give them occasional water and then get it back in some earth for the encore!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't forget nature's bounty

A few years ago a prickly pear cactus appeared in my yard.  Because javalina, quail, doves and other critters hang out around here, we get lots of free plants --most likely from seeds in poop.  We also have high winds, so some blows in. The cactus has grown up. Last year it put on a few pears.  This year it is loaded, so I started looking into what to do with them.

First is timing.  Got to wait until they turn sweet, but get them before all the other critters do.  So, once a week since they turned dark red,  I've pulled, roasted and tasted one or two (more on that later).  Finally they are starting to taste like something good.  The flavor is like blend of watermelon and carrot juice. The fruit is mostly hard seeds, so extracting the juice for jelly, to ferment or just to drink seems to be the custom. What follows is the small batch method I've used to extract juice.  Each pear is good for only one to two ounces of juice, so secondary recovery from seed pulp and skin is worth the effort.

The pears are covered with spines and tiny stickers (glochids), so don't handle these with bare hands. Tongs and/or gloves are needed. The glochids are in the white spots and around the base and blossom scar. Select pears that come off the plant easily with a slight twist of the tongs.

Collect in a dish or bucket.  The next step is to burn off the glochids. This really isn't optional if you want juice or jelly.  No one wants a mouth full of these spines. So, using the tongs, you burn them off. Easy sources of fire include gas stove or grill burners. A butane or propane torch or unscented candle, preferably beeswax, will also work. You should be left with black ash spots where the white spines were. After burning the glochids off, place the just roasted pear in a clean dish, NOT back in with the unprocessed ones or you'll get more glochids on the roasted pears.

From here' you are ready to extract the juice. Some people put the whole pears in the blender. I don't, but am not sure my method is any better. Next step, I slice length wise and load skin-side up in a fine sieve to 'mash.'  Mash with a sturdy metal spoon, then scrape the pulp from the skin and mash some more. The sieve is over a Pyrex measuring cup.  I try to minimize contact with metal to preserve the delicate flavor. Put the skins in a glass dish to weep.

Once most of the juice is out of the seeds and pulp, I move the pulp to a smaller sieve and Pyrex set-up and allow it to gravity drip. This will produce more juice as the ruptured seed membranes slowly give up their juice.

 The final product is a deep pink juice with some fine pulp. From here you can make jelly if you wish, or just chill and drink. (This is why you don't want it full of stickery things!)
There are lots of other wild plants that can be harvested and preserved to add to your pantry or everyday use.  Do research or consult local experts to ensure you aren't chosing a poisonous look-alike for your intended harvest. Also, please be responsible and leave half or more of what you find for the wild animals who depend on the food source. I do this, even in my yard.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Maintaining your Preparedness Supplies

SORRY, but it's not enough just to get your supplies together, stash them in a closet and forget them.  You need to maintain them. Every day you are learning more about what you may need and every day what you have is aging.   National Preparedness Month is coming up -- September.  What a great time to go through your stuff, review how it is organized, toss stuff that no longer makes sense or add items that you've decided you'll need.

This year I decided to get a head of the calendar and start this annual maintenance process in August.  I keep 'layers' of preparedness supplies, so I'm going through each layer.  You can think of the layers as being related either by timeline or location.  For example, I carry a flashlight, flat military can opener (P51) and pocket knife in my purse. I almost always have a water bottle and protein bar as well. If I'm somewhere and the power goes out, I can find my way out and get to my car.  The next layer is there.

Once at my car, I have enough basic supplies to either shelter in place for 24 hours or change shoes and walk home. So what do these include?  In addition to the shoes (and socks) there's a pair of jeans and a top, a gallon of water, a 3600 calorie food bar, a tooth brush and paste, a small first aid kit that includes a mask and pair of gloves, a small LED lantern with AM/FM radio, a small tarp, a small day pack, and a fleece sleeping bag liner. In winter, I add a jacket, hat and gloves. Nothing fancy, but enough to see me through to the end of the emergency or to get home.

Then the 72+-hour kit at home, another layer.  Each of these needs to be inspected for damage or signs of age, batteries and band-aids rotated, expiration dates checked, etc.. Oh, and for the items that should function, like flashlight and radio, make sure they work and that you can get a strong signal. September is a great time to do this in the desert southwest.  The summer heat takes a toll, things melt or explode, so washing the clothing and rotating the food bar and batteries.  I change the water monthly -- rotate it inside and drink it or use it on plants.

I once made the mistake of forgetting that in summer, Tucson is 2000 feet lower and 10 degrees hotter than my home. Everything liquid in my supplies exploded in the hot car trunk. Of course, I was parked at the airport, so it all baked for a few days before I found the mess. It smelled like a cross between a brewery and an outhouse. Not pretty driving home or cleaning it out.

Remember to check supplies frequently (not JUST every September) in case you, too, have exploded or frozen stuff. When you need to depart from your routine, remember what you have in your vehicle or personal carry items and adjust accordingly.  This is all part of the frugality of keeping what you have. Not having to replace something damaged through lack of attention is the most frugal way to stay prepared!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Low cost food storage samples

I've sent for some free or nearly-free samples of dried food storage items from companies that sell the buckets of 'ready-made' food packets.  It's the 'just add water' thing.  My first was Wise foods. They sent 'beef stroganoff'.  A more precise name would have been beef-flavored TVP stroganoff. Maybe I added too much water or something. It was not a product I would look forward to eating, especially after a long day of feeling overwhelmed and fearful -- a likely emergency scenario.  The product was, however, fast and easy to make. Add hot water to the pouch, give a quick stir, seal, wait a few minutes and dig in.

My latest acquisition is from GO global food.  For the $9.95 postage, you receive a generous collection of samples. They provide 3 beverage packets to try along with 2 entrees and a soup. The entree and soup packets claim to serve 4 with per-serving calorie counts between 130 for the soup to 269 for one of the entrees. Each packet has an attributes header on the back addressing everything from "Made in USA' to the electrolyte balance to GMO status. Based on the "best if used by' date, they are aiming for 15 years or more of shelf life.  Here is the website:

My disclaimers:
1. I haven't tried any of these yet. Too hot here in southern AZ for anything but salads and BBQ.  Once we try them, I'll let you know the verdict.
2. They are not ready to hydrate in the pouch. You will need a source of heat, a pan that will hold 5 cups or more of boiling water and food, and the ability to simmer for up to 25 minutes, depending on the product.
3. There are only a few ingredients listed on the products' packets that I would not normally add to my food preparation, like palm oil and tapioca dextrin.

There also seems to be a tupperware-thing going on to entice people to be part of their GO party distribution system. I'm not one of those participants.  Who knows, after I try the product maybe I'll sign up. Or not.

If any of you order and try before I do, or have tried already, give me a shout.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Grow your own bucket garden

As mentioned on this and other blogs, one way to save on preparedness is to supplement your food supply with what you grow at home.  You can either use the produce in lieu of buying at the store and use those liberated $$ to buy less perishables, or can your home grown for future use. There are many how-to websites for this concept. Here is one that seems to cover the basics and some intermediate steps. I just put my buckets on the part of the back patio that gets 10 hours of sun instead of  0 or 16.

I've had surprising results from my bakery bucket gardening experiment.  The sugar snap peas were going gang-busters until some fungus got them. Now that the monsoon is here, they have re-sprouted and are producing again.

The rhubarb had some setbacks during the heat and low humidity  of June, but are now doing better.  Cabbage was eaten by some transient critter -- probably a caterpillar from the looks of it. 

Right now I have okra coming in.  Lesson learned there is to plant it later, in a bigger bucket with deeper soil and keep it to 2 plants per bucket.  I used a 4 gal bucket half-full of soil and it's not enough. I also put in 3 or 4 plants and 3 survived. Now I realise how HUGE an okra plant can be, it's to much plant for too little growing capacity. Next time, 6 gallon bucket, 2/3 full of soil and 2 plants.

Using the drip on bucket gardens is also tricky. You really must have a hole in the bottom, even if it's a small one, like 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. One is enough to keep the plant from getting root rot if the drip or a sudden rain provides too much water. Two holes may be too many and the plant can dry out-- at least here in the arid southwestern US.  Second, you need to play with what size drip emitter for the type of plant and amount of soil in the bucket.  We run the drip 3 times a week for about half an hour this time of year -- mostly insurance if we have a few days without monsoon rain. A 1-gal/hr emitter is too big for some plant and bucket combos, but not enough for others. Keep an eye on what needs a larger emitter or supplemental water. Example: the snap peas are fine on the 1 gal/hr size emitter, the huge okra in the too-small bucket needs more.

The last lesson I've learned is timing. Our seasons are really different from the norm. Only a few hardy annual crop items can survive the punishing April through June of the high desert (>5000' elevation of AZ and NM). Resisting the urge to plant early is difficult, but things really do not flourish until the monsoon.  Unless you need the greens to survive, and are willing to baby them -- including having them in container you can take inside on scorching days, wait.  Start your seedlings in mid-June and plant when the dew point gets to 50 for two consecutive days. Let the monsoon take them from there!