Getting Started With Modern Homesteading Food Preservation
How many times have you opened your refrigerator, only to find that more food has gone bad? Or, consider how much food gets thrown away because you’ve overcooked or chosen not to eat leftovers. Saving and preserving food is one of the most important parts of modern homesteading.
Americans give very little thought to the amount of food that is wasted, mostly because we believe that there will always be more. Yet food is a precious resource, and it’s important that we value its purpose. You’ll find it unsettling that between 160 and 295 billion pounds of food are wasted each year, which means we are filling a football stadium with wasted food each day.
When hearing these startling numbers, many people feel that they need to do a better job helping hunger organizations or putting their own food to good use. But conserving food takes more than this, and that’s where food preservation techniques come into the picture. Homesteaders do an exceptional job at preserving foods because they take the time and money to grow their own items. Yet there’s more to modern homesteading home preservation than just money savings, as you will soon read.
Why is it important to preserve your own foods?
By preserving your own foods, you’re taking steps to reduce waste. There are far less food and storage containers going into our landfills, and you’re making the most of what you have right in front of you. Every time we step foot in the store, we overbuy on what we need, pushing other foods out of the fridge or pantry and into the garbage can. By preserving food, you’re using every item, stretching your dollar further and utilizing the resources that are available to you.
Food preservation also allows you to eat healthy year round. We’re not all blessed with warm weather during all four seasons, so many of us are left with a few short months to grow fruits and vegetables. All types of fresh foods can be preserved, such as potatoes, beans, parsnips, sweet potatoes, apples, figs, and cranberries. Many can be saved for several years while others have a slightly shorter time frame. When you’re able to preserve these foods, you can reach for fresh items straight from the garden any time of the year.
Finally, food preservation keeps our foods healthier. It may take a bit of extra work, but the rewards are well worth it. Did you know that conventional foods contain chemical food additives and toxins like BPA, aspartame and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils? These chemicals are bad for our health and have been linked to certain cancers and health conditions. Conventional products are often loaded with
unnecessary sugars as well, which in turn puts us at risk for diabetes and obesity.
By preserving your own foods, you know exactly what’s going into each jar. You know that you’re feeding your family foods that are not filled with toxins, chemicals or synthetic ingredients. You can continue expanding your palate, eating healthy year round and consuming healthy strains of fruits and vegetables that you wouldn’t be able to get from the supermarket.
Types of Storage
Let’s discuss the various types of storage methods that are available for preserving food.
We’re so accustomed to thinking that food must be frozen to be kept fresh, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, cool storage offers many benefits that traditional freezing does not. Cool storage refers to preserving food in cool, dry storage areas like unheated pantries or root cellars. It’s the oldest method of food preservation in modern homesteading and perhaps the simplest. However, only certain types of produce can be stored this way, and there are shorter time limits than what a freezer can provide.
The goal is to keep the produce dry and cool, between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The best types of produce to keep in a root cellar include root vegetables like potatoes, yams, beets, and turnips. There are other types of produce that can be preserved in cool storage, such as apples, melons, and broccoli, but these items are more delicate.
Always choose vegetables that are firm and round; remove excess dirt but do not wash the item. Place the produce in boxes, bins or wire baskets. The bins can be stacked, and they should have good air circulation going through them. There are some types of produce that cannot be stacked, including apples and melons. Produce like beans, okra, cucumbers, and peas can be spread out on shelves or benches where they will remain good for up to one month.
Drying is another type of food preservation in modern homesteading, and it offers additional preservation time compared to cool storage techniques. There are many products that can be dried, including root vegetables, herbs, peas, and fruits with high sugar and low moisture.
To start, the food needs to be properly prepared by mashing it into a pulp or cutting it into small pieces. The food is spread out on screening or cheesecloth and placed in the sun to dry. The dried produce needs to then be stored in an airtight container and kept dry. If the produce is not kept dry, it will deteriorate rapidly. For added flavor, you may sprinkle a layer of sugar onto the fruits before sealing them; vegetables can be stored as is. Drying can preserve foods for up to 6 years.
Canning takes things a step further, as it’s a more involved process in modern homesteading that requires a certain number of steps. There are certain tools that you will need for canning. A paring knife is used to cut up produce while a large pot is used for boiling and cooking fruits and vegetables. Foods will be processed in a flat-bottomed pot, and a pressure cooker will be helpful for foods that require longer processing times. Also, a food mill can be used for foods that are soft and have been cooked through.
Both metal and glass storage containers are available. Metal tins do not break when dropped, but glass containers allow us to see what food is in the jar. Both types of containers are reusable as well. All steps of canning are important since the foods need to be properly cooked, and the processing is where the bacteria are killed. You will also need a lot of space to work in the kitchen, or you may use a fire built under the grill. Once you get used to canning fruits and vegetables, the process will come more naturally, and you’ll be able to have access to fresh foods for years to come.
Freezing brings us back to the basics again, as this form of modern homesteading food preservation is relatively simple. Just about all vegetables need to be blanched before they are frozen, meaning that they need to be scalded in boiling water or steamed for a short time. This stops enzyme actions that result in a loss of color, flavor, and texture. You can steam vegetables in boiling water, or by using steam or the microwave. The vegetables should be immediately cooled to stop the cooking process, so they will need to be plunged in cold water for a short time. The vegetables can then be thawed and placed in the freezer.
Fruits are a bit different, and each variety has its own guidelines. For instance, all fruits need to be rinsed, cleaned and patted dry, but only some require coring, peeling and slicing. Apples and pears will need to be cored and peeled while berries can be stored whole. Melons should be cut into cubes or slices while cherries are best when pitted right away. Fruit should be laid on parchment paper, placed in the freezer and then transferred to heavy-duty bags when frozen.
Lacto-fermentation requires no special equipment or canning methods, so you’ll find this modern homesteading method to be practical, especially for beginners. This method destroys the bad bacteria in food so that the good bacteria can strengthen. When you eat foods with lactobacillus, you have a healthier digestive system. This bacterium also has anti-inflammatory properties and prevents certain types of cancer.
Lacto-fermentation is a bit different than conventional food preservation methods because not all foods can use this technique. Instead, it involves turning foods into traditional dill pickles, sauerkraut, and kimichi. Keep in mind that you can use these foods to make many wonderful side dishes such as kraut and apple slaw, green bean soup and grain salads.
Salt and Sugar
Preserving foods in salt and sugar is one of the oldest methods of preservation, but it’s still used today for its simplicity and efficacy. The combination of salt and sugar increases osmotic pressure, destroys bacteria and slows decay. The use of salt and sugar works well with foods that will absorb the taste naturally, but not all foods taste good with this combination, which is why it has limited uses.
If you do decide to preserve foods with a bit of salt and sugar, be sure to follow through with good preservation techniques. This involves keeping the produce in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth.
A final option for preserving foods in modern homesteading is pickling them, which involves placing food in a pickling agent like vinegar, alcohol, vegetable oil or brine. The most common foods that can benefit from this method are cucumbers, peppers, corned beef, herring, and eggs. Always choose stoneware or glass containers since vinegar can break down other materials, and practice good storage techniques to prevent early spoilage.
Getting Started With Raising Chickens
Beyond gardening, starting a chicken coop is one of the first steps in becoming a true homesteader. The idea may be familiar or foreign to you, but rest assured that raising chickens isn’t limited to farmers only. In fact, keeping chickens is something that the whole family can take part in. This is a great way to enforce the importance of having chores, working together and understanding where food comes from.
What are the benefits to keeping chickens?
Raising chickens has endless benefits no matter who you are. First, they are inexpensive and easy to maintain, especially when compared to other types of pets. Not to mention, you will be getting fresh eggs or meat from them, saving you additional money at the grocery store. If you decide that you will be keeping chickens as pets, you’ll be surprised at just how friendly and full of personality they can be. Kids absolutely love tending chickens as it’s something that they can do and take ownership of.
If the chickens will be used for meat purposes, you get the same benefits as any time you grow your own food. You’ll know exactly where the meat is coming from, and you don’t have to be concerned that your family is eating hormones and other modified ingredients. The eggs produced will be fresh and great tasting as well, and these natural foods offer additional health benefits because you can control the food that the chickens are eating.
What breeds of chicken are the best?
Choosing the type of chickens you want to raise may be harder than you thought. There are many breeds out there, and each one has its own advantages. All breeds of chickens produce eggs, but the size and frequency of the production will vary. Also pay attention to breeds that need specific types of care, such as Phoenix and Minorcas that require heat, and Brahmas and Chanteclers that favor cool conditions. Most varieties do thrive in all climates, however.
The most important factors you should consider when choosing a breed of chicken include your climate, the breed’s temperament, the breed’s noise level, the breed’s adaptability and the quantity, size and color of the eggs produced. Some of the most popular breeds include Jersey Giant, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Araucanas.
Why is it best to start with chicks rather than eggs?
Once you choose the breed you want to raise, you’ll need to decide what stage of development you want the chicken to be – egg, baby chick or mature adults. We recommend starting with chicks rather than eggs because you know that what you’re getting is healthy. You can start raising them immediately, rather than waiting for an egg to hatch and ensure that the baby chick gets the right start. Mature-laying hens are much harder to come by, and unless someone wants to offer you their mature hen, chances are you’ll have a hard time tracking one down.
Knowing that baby chicks are ideal when starting off a chicken coop in modern homesteading, you can choose from the various stages in their development. Day-old chickens can be bought from hatcheries and some farm suppliers. They are inexpensive, usually costing just a few dollars. They are still very delicate at this point, and you might be waiting at least six months before you get the eggs.
You may also purchase ready-to-lay pullets that are 20 weeks old and just about ready to start laying eggs. They are available from hatcheries or can be ordered from farm suppliers, but they will cost you more money than day-old chicks. That said, you can get eggs much sooner since the chicks can go right to the coop.
Fortunately, all it takes to raise healthy chicks is chick starter (food), clean water, a draft-free brooder pen, and a red brooder lamp in order to keep the temperature at 92 degrees Fahrenheit. When the chicks have feathered out, you may reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until they are six weeks old. At this point, you can switch their feed from chick starter to grower mash.
Now let’s take a look at what your modern homesteading chicken coop should be like for chickens that are ready to start laying eggs.
What makes a good chicken coop?
Many sources will tell you that you can’t keep chickens of different ages in the same coop. However, older hens will rarely pick on younger ones when there is ample space to move around and good coop conditions. Overcrowding is what leads to feather picking and disease. Make sure that the coop is safe from predators and includes plenty of space for your chickens to spread their wings.
When measuring out your coop, leave at least 2 square feet of space for each chicken, and one nest box for every three hens. Chickens enjoy modest temperatures, but their feathers will keep them warm in the winter. Air circulation is also important, so be sure to have openings for good ventilation. Include waterers and feed troughs as well as wood shavings or pine straw on the bottom of the coop and in the nest boxes. Water should be cleaned and changed daily while the shavings should be changed out each month or when they are flat.
Young chicks need to be in close proximity to water and food at all times, so have food scattered throughout the coop and in feeding troughs. Your best bet is to line pine shavings on the floor, cover it with newspaper and scatter food over that. Always use red bulbs since the other chickens cannot detect an injury under red light. With white light, the injury will show, and this will increase the chances that the vulnerable chick will be pecked at. Circular pens will help prevent chicks from congregating in a small corner, or you can use cardboard in the corners to make wider angles. Chicks can drown, so keep water bowls shallow.
Chicken coops do not have to be elaborate for modern homesteading. Just remember to keep the good practices mentioned above in mind, as you want your chickens to be healthy and happy.
How should I be caring for my chickens?
Chickens, as long as they are provided with a healthy place to live, will entertain themselves for much of the day. They pick at grass, worms, and beetles and work on making those tasty eggs you’re waiting for. Since it takes a lot out of a hen to lay an egg, chicken feed has the right balance of protein, minerals, and energy. Chickens should have access to these pellets at all times. However, pellets are not the only thing that your chickens should eat. They require a varied diet in order to keep healthy and strong.
Table scraps are great for chickens as are slightly softened vegetables, coffee grinds, stale toast, and raisins. Hens will also need additional calcium, so aim for oyster shells or eggshells. Chickens are carnivores, and they will eat practically anything. The only type of food you cannot give to them is avocados because they are toxic. If possible, keeping your chickens free range is best, as they will find their own food and vary their diet. However, during the cold winters, you’ll have to supplement the diet, and if you keep a chicken coop, you’ll need to add table scraps regularly. What the chickens don’t want, they will shred. You can then add these shreds to a compost pile.
Why is it important to give chickens a break from laying eggs?
Hens will lay about one egg every one to two days, so if you have several chickens, you can produce a lot of eggs in a short amount of time. Sometimes, the first few eggs do not come out perfectly, but this is normal as the hen’s body gets used to laying eggs. They also need sunlight or artificial light, which becomes scarcer in the winter months. Although you may be tempted to create more light and leave them on for long hours in the winter, this isn’t necessary. Leaving the lights on will waste more electricity, and it’s a good idea to give your hens a break.
Chickens are supposed to lay fewer eggs during the winter; this is the natural process. If you force them into laying more eggs, then you’re interfering with their natural cycle. Instead, save the electricity and give your pets a short break; you’ll still come out with plenty of eggs. Also keep in mind that your chickens may need extra stimulation in the winter, so have treats on hand.
Tending a chicken coop is one of the easiest things you can do to save money and grow your own food. Only a few basic supplies are required, and nothing needs to be elaborate. Chickens help by eating table scraps and producing eggs and meat. They can make wonderful pets, and when they are given ample space and good living conditions, you can assimilate new chicks in with older ones, making for a happy and healthy chicken coop for the long term. With your new chicken coop and knowledge of food preservation techniques, you are that much closer to achieving modern homesteading success!