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Chili-Lime Squash Chips – A Healthy Snack from the Garden

I love it when I can solve two problems at the same time, and chili-lime squash chips do that very thing for me.  First they provide me with a healthy and tasty snack; second, they give me a way to use up some of those nine-jillion extra squash that come out of my garden at this time of year.   Here’s how to make chili-lime squash chips:

First, select several large squashes (my dehydrator will hold about 5 or 6 squashes after they are sliced up).  I have used yellow squash and zucchini with equally good results.

01 yellow squash

Now, slice the squash into thin pieces, about 1/8th inch thick, and place the slices in a bowl.

02 sliced squash

Pour about a quarter cup of lime juice into the bowl and use your fingers to lightly toss the squash and coat it with lime juice.

Now you can add your spices.  I use salt, garlic, and chili powder.  How much to use is entirely up to you. Toss the squash a little more to make sure that it is evenly coated with spices.

03 spices

04 spiced sprinkled

05 spices tossed

I use a Nesco counter top dehydrator to dry out my squash chips. You can use whatever type of dehydrator that you have, or you can use your oven.  If you use an oven, set it at about 150 degrees and leave the door propped open.

06 nesco dehydrator

07 dehydrator loaded

To get the chips really crisp takes a long time.  I leave mine in the dehydrator for about 9 or 10 hours.

08 dried chips

When they are nice a crunchy, I let the chips cool and then store them in plastic zip-lock bags.

09 chips in bag

I eat them with my lunch instead of potato chips, and they are really good.  If you are plagued with excess squash, give this recipe a try. I bet you’ll enjoy it.

Start Your Own Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potatoes were developed several thousand years ago by Native-American tribes in Central America.  Sweet potatoes are only very distantly related to “Irish” potatoes.  Sweet potatoes require a long growing season, warm temperatures, plenty of rainfall, and light soil.  They grow best in sandy, acidic soils.  They do not tolerate a frost.  In the tropics, sweet potatoes are a perennial plant that can be harvested as needed.  In temperate regions sweet potatoes are planted as an annual.  They will store for several months after harvest.  Sweet potatoes grow best when average temperatures are 75 degrees F or higher, and they require around 120 days to reach maturity.  The sweet potato puts out very long vines, 15 feet or more, so they require a lot of room in the garden.  Sweet potatoes have few natural enemies, and they can be grown without much in the way of fertilizers although a light dressing of 10-20-10 will help improve their production.

Unlike Irish potatoes, which are traditionally planted from seed potatoes, sweet potatoes are usually planted from slips.  The slips are small leafy shoots that grow out of mature sweet potatoes, and there are a number of different methods for growing slips.  The method that I am outlining here is the one that I consider to be the simplest.  It requires very little space and no special equipment.

First you will need two or three mature sweet potatoes to grow your slips from.  You can beg, borrow, or buy these potatoes from someone who already grows their own; or you can buy them at the grocery store.  Some store potatoes are treated with a sprouting inhibitor, but this only “inhibits” sprouting, it doesn’t stop it.  The sweet potatoes shown below were purchased from a local grocery store, and they sprouted without any problem.

Growing the slips takes a pretty long time, so you will want to start your slips about ten weeks before you plan on putting them in the ground.  In my area, slips are put in the ground from around mid-May to the first part of June.  Backing up 10 weeks from this date, I usually start growing slips around the first of March.

Growing the slips is simplicity itself.  Just take a wide mouth glass jar that your sweet potato will fit down into.  Hold your sweet potato upright and stick four, evenly spaced, tooth picks about half-way up the potato, and set the potato into the jar.  The toothpicks will support the potato so that it doesn’t rest on the bottom of the jar.  Now fill the jar with water to about a ¼ inch from the top.  You should now have the bottom half of your potato submerged in the water and the top half sticking up out of the jar.  Set the jar in a sunny window and wait.

And wait……and wait……..  You will be convinced that this is not going to work; you will be tempted to throw everything into the trash and forget it, but be patient.  During this waiting time the water in your jar will probably start to turn green.  When it does, empty the water out and refill the jar with fresh water.  By the way, I have a water well; so my water doesn’t have any chemicals in it.  I don’t know if treated, city water might affect the slip growing process.  If you are using city water you might need to run a bucket full and let it sit for a few days before using it on your slips; or you could catch rain water to use.

So, back to the process.  After two or three weeks you will begin to see little white spindly roots growing out of the underwater portion of the potato.  The roots pictured below are well established.

02roots in jar

A few days later you will notice small purple buds appearing on the un-submerged part of the potato.  Your slips are about to take off.

01buds forming

As the slips and roots begin to grow they will start drinking up the water in your jars.  You will probably not have the water-turning-green problem anymore, but you will have to check your jars daily and keep them topped up with water.  You don’t need to add any fertilizer or plant food to the water.  The slips are feeding off of the nutrients stored in the mother potato.

When the slips are four to six inches tall and have several leaves growing on them, you can begin to harvest the slips.  Just break a slip off right up next to the mother potato and then place the slips in another jar that has a couple of inches of water in the bottom.  In this jar the slips will begin to sprout their own roots.

03slips forming

04slips in jar 05roots on slips

You will get many slips from one mother potato over an extended period of time.  When I have fifteen or so slips in the rooting jar, I start putting them in the ground.

09holding slip in place

10dirt around slip

11bed of slips

The mother potatoes will continue to produce slips, and you can continue rooting and planting them.  As long as you still have 120 days to the first frost, any slips that you plant will grow to maturity and produce potatoes.  The slips pictured below have been in the ground for a little less than two weeks. They are well established and ready to grow into good sweet potatoes.

12 established slips

Sweet Potatoes as a Long-Term Preparedness Food

Irish potatoes are fun to plant in the garden and fresh from the garden potatoes taste way better than what you buy in the store.  Irish potatoes are planted from seed potatoes that are cut into small sections, each section containing a sprout or so-called “eye.”  What you are doing is actually cloning the original seed potato.  Many gardeners here in the southern United States plant one crop of Irish potatoes in the spring, save some of the potatoes for seed, and plant another crop in the fall.  This will work for a year, and if you are lucky you may be able to plant several generations from the original seed, but eventually you will have problems.  You see, “Irish” potatoes aren’t Irish at all.  They were developed by Native-America tribes in the high mountains of South America, and this is their natural environment.  When you try to raise generation after generation of Irish potatoes in the warm, humid climate of the southern United States they will eventually develop diseases that they do not have a historic immunity to.  Witness the fact that most seed potatoes in the U.S. come from the high and dry states of Montana and Idaho.

Sweet potatoes are the traditional potato crop of the South.  Sweet potatoes are also a Native-American plant; but, unlike the Irish potato, sweet potatoes were developed in the warm, humid climate of tropical Central America.  The long, hot growing season, the acid soil, and the abundant rainfall of the South are ideal for growing sweet potatoes; and they can be cloned for generation after generation without problems.  This makes sweet potatoes an ideal long-term survival crop for the southeastern United States.

Because they require a very long growing season, raising sweet potatoes is more problematic in northern latitudes; but it can be done.  Starting young vines in cloches or starting them in a greenhouse and transplanting them when the weather warms make it possible to raise sweet potatoes in cooler climates.  The one thing that you definitely must have in order to produce good tubers is loose soil.  Sweet potatoes do not do well in heavy, clay soils.  They need loose sandy soil to give the tubers room to expand and fill out.

In my next post I will show you how to get a bed of sweet potatoes started

How to Get Free Sand for Your Garden

Many gardeners face the problem of having soil that is too heavy.  The soil on my farm has a lot of clay which holds water for a long time and gets really hard when it dries out.  Some crops don’t seem to mind this too much; but some, like onions and sweet potatoes, need loose, well drained soil to produce a good crop.  I am currently putting in a small bed of sweet potatoes, and I really need to amend my soil to loosen it up.  I have grown sweet potatoes in the past but, because of the heavy soil, the tubers tended to be long and thin and very misshapen.  Nothing like what you find at the grocery store.

So I need, basically, two things to add to the soil.  I need sand and compost.  The compost is no problem because I make my own, the sand is a little more problematic.  I thought about buying some bags of sandbox sand at the local hardware store, but the price was a little steep ($3.50 per bag).  Gardening is fun, but I also want it to be cost effective.

00 bagged sand

It doesn’t make sense to spend $20 on dirt to grow $5 worth of sweet potatoes, so I started looking around for an alternative.

I found the alternative less than a mile from my farm.  East Texas gets a lot of rain, and nearly every road has what we call bar ditches dug on each side of the road to channel run-off away from the road.  When we get a good rain it washes sand off of the nearby fields, if they have a lot of sand in them, and deposits the sand in the bar ditches.  The county road crews have to constantly clean out the bar ditches because they fill up with sand.

01 bar ditch sand

I found a bar ditch that was loaded with beautiful, clean, washed sand; and I decided to save the road crew a little work.  I took my truck, a five-gallon bucket, and a shovel down to the bar ditch, and in about 20 minutes I had scooped up eight or ten buckets full of sand.  Probably the equivalent of about 5 or 6 bags of sandbox sand.

02 sand in truck

I spread the sand out to turn into by future sweet potato bed.

03 sand on garden bed

04 sand raked out

It is perfect, and I saved myself about twenty bucks by using free bar ditch sand.

 

Make a Fast, Simple, and Effective Baited Deadfall Trap

Improvised traps are a great hunting tool.  They can hunt for you while you are doing other thinks, but they do have a couple of drawbacks.  For one thing trapping is a numbers game.  Not every trap will catch an animal every time; so the more traps that you can set, the more you increases your chances of catching some dinner.  The second problem with traps is that, if they are very complicated, they can take a long time to construct.  The figure 4 deadfall is a beautiful trap and very effective, but it requires a lot of material selection, whittling, fitting and balancing.

The deadfall trap illustrated below requires very little preparation.  If you already have something to bait the traps with, you can make a lot of them in a very short time, and they work. The most time consuming part of setting these traps will probably be finding a good trapping location for them.  To make this trap you will need a flat rock to use for the deadfall, and a couple of strait sticks.  The size and length of the sticks will depend on how big of a trap you make.  A pocket knife will make it easier, but you can build this trap without one.

First you will need a good, heavy, flat rock to use for the deadfall.

Now take one of your two sticks and whittle or grind one end of it to a point.

Hold the deadfall up and place the other stick along the underside of the rock with your bait wedged between the stick and the rock.

Now place the pointed stick with the flat end on the ground and the pointed end against the bait stick.

deadfall trap1

deadfall trap2

That’s it!  When the animal tries to pull the bait out, it will move the bait stick a little bit.  This will cause the pointed stick to become dislodged, and the trap will spring.  Quick and easy  The only thing that you have to look out for is to be sure and position the pointed stick so that it doesn’t catch the deadfall and keep it from collapsing to the ground.

You can increase your chances for success by placing a second flat rock on the ground under the trap.  This will catch the animal between two hard surfaces and insure a quicker and cleaner kill.

You can use this same basic concept to make a trap that is faster and a little less likely to hang-up, but it is more complicated.  The trigger is illustrated in the two photos below.  In this configuration the upright stick is moved out to the very end of the stick that lies on the underside of the rock.  A baited cross-stick keeps the trap from springing until the bait is moved.  This set-up will throw the upright stick out and keep it from accidently catching the rock as it falls. It’s a good trigger, and the notches are not nearly as complicated as a figure-4 trap, but you almost need three hands to set it.  If you are working with a partner, this is a good trap to use.

deadfall trap3

deadfall trap4

Build a Hand-Held Corn and Bean Planter

Planting beans and corn by hand is a pain.  It involves a lot of stoop labor and crawling around on the ground.  I don’t plant enough corn or beans to justify buying an automatic seeder, but I plant enough that it gets very old poking holes in the ground with my finger and dropping a seed into each hole.  I decided to build a hand seeder that would let me stand up to do this job and to, hopefully, make it go a little faster.  The results turned out pretty good, so you may want to build one of these if you find yourself in a similar circumstance. planter10

My seeder is basically just a piece of PVC tubing that I can drop a seed through to plant the seed in a hole.  The nice thing about this simple device is that it also makes the holes and spaces the seeds at the correct interval, and it only cost me about five dollars to build.  Here is how I built it:

 The main part of the planter is a piece of ½” PVC that is about 48” long.  You can make it longer or shorter depending on your height.  This tube is what you will drop the seed down to plant it.  To make the tube easier to use, I dropped down about eight inches from the top, cut the tubing, and glued in an inline-T fitting.  I glued about an eight inch long piece of tubing into the T to form a handle.  I glued a cap onto the end of the handle, but this is not really necessary. planter02

To add the seed spacer/hole poker to my planter I came up about six inches from the bottom of the planting tube and glued in another in-line T.  I glued a 5 ½” piece of tubing into this T and then glued an elbow onto the end of the tubing.  I then glued a piece of tubing that is about six inches long into the bottom of the elbow.  At the bottom of this tube I inserted a tapered wooden plug to do the actual hole poking.  The plug is made out of a piece of an old broom handle.  It goes up into the tubing about an inch and sticks out of the tubing about an inch-and-a-quarter. planter03

To hold the plug into the tubing I drilled a 3/16th hole through the tubing and the plug.  I then took a long, narrow bolt and cut the head off of it so that it is like a small piece of all-thread.  I put the all-thread through the hole, put a washer and nut on each side, and snugged them up to the tubing.  I left about an inch of all-thread sticking out on each side.  The all-thread serves as a depth gauge so that I know how deep to push the hole poker into the ground. planter04

The last thing I did was duct tape a small tin can up near the top of the planting tube.  This can is to hold the seeds that I am planting. planter05

The planter is easy to use.  You start a row by using the hole poker to make a planting hole. planter06

Now move the planter so that the planting tube is over the hole. planter07

Take a seed out of the seed can and drop it down the planting tube. planter08

Now press the hole poker down into the soil to make another hole that is six inches farther down the row. Use the all-thread depth gauge to make the hole the proper depth. planter11

Move the planting tube over the new hole, drop a seed, and so on, and so on, and so on.planter09

planter01

I plant beans six inches apart and corn twelve inches apart, so it is a simple matter to use the same planter for both types of seed.  I just plant the corn in every other hole.  I have found that this simple device saves me a lot of time and a lot of crawling around on my hands and knees.

How Much Food do You Need for a One Year Storage?

Most people don’t have a clue about how much food they eat in a year.  This is easy to understand because who goes out and buys a year’s worth of food at one time?  Back in the day, a homesteader might take the wagon to town once a month to buy supplies, but these days most people drop by the grocery store two or three times a week to pick up a few things at a time.  That makes it hard to get a good idea of how much you’re buying.  Add to this the fact that most families eat out several meals a week, and it gets even more confusing.

The truth is that we eat an enormous amount of food in a year’s time.  Since I keep pretty close track of the foods I buy, and since I usually eat twenty of my twenty-one weekly meals at home, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how much food I should have stored for a year’s storage.  When I started putting the pencil and calculator to it, I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.

Let’s just use three examples of staple foods that should be in any long-term food storage.  Let’s talk about wheat, rice, and dried beans.  Let’s say that you have 100 pounds of hard red wheat to grind for flour, 100 pounds of dried beans, and 100 pounds of rice.  This sounds like a lot of food until you start breaking it down.  It turns out that this amount of food would allow one person to eat two meals a day for one year.  Each meal would consist of ¾ cup of cooked beans, ¾ cup of rice, and one slice of bread.  That’s pretty Spartan rations for someone who is doing hard physical labor, and remember that’s only for one person.  A family of four would need 400 pounds of wheat, 400 pounds of rice, and 400 pounds of beans.

Of course this diet is just awful.  There’s hardly any fat in it, no fruits or vegetables, and you are missing a lot of necessary vitamins and minerals.  If a family of four wanted one serving of canned vegetables and one serving of canned fruits per person, per day; this would require about 1170 cans of fruits and vegetables.  Yea, it’s amazing.

I guess what I’m telling you is, don’t just guess at whether you have enough food storage.  Figure out what you want to eat, how much per day you will eat, and get the old calculator out.  It’s the only way to know for sure that you have enough.

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