Our Experience Growing and Storing Our Own Food- Part 3, by Tennessean

Farming Equipment

Farming equipment is useful in various functions of gardening, particularly when growing a large garden for a family’s self-sustenance.

Mechanical Seeders

Two months ago we were on a UT field trip visit to a farm several counties northeast of us. I was extremely impressed with “Farmer Bob”. He demonstrated a Jang Clean Seeder. it actually worked! Two other push hand seeders we have tried have been about as useless as a screen door in a submarine. This gizmo is NOT inexpensive, but it does the job. We bought a fertilizer attachment, a row marker attachment, a rough soil furrow opener, and oddles of the seed rollers. One varies the seed distance by varying the gears on the front wheel and seeder roller and by the number of holes in the plastic seeder rollers. One may buy blank rollers and drill your own holes to suit. Johnny’s Seeds sells these.

Why is this important? Okay, consider doing this without a mechanical seeder. First, you go down the row with a Warren hoe and make a furrow. Then you make a second pass dropping the seed into the furrow. Then, you make a third pass with the hoe to cover the seed, and then a fourth pass to side dress the row with fertilizer. Why not save time and effort and do all this in one pass?

Cultivation

Farmer Bob uses a BCS walk-behind tractor, which can be found at BCSTractors.com. They sell one diesel engine model. Okay, the thing about this gizmo is that the PTO shaft coming out at the rear is the complete attachment point for things like a PTO-powered rototiller. Why is this important? Well, after you struggle putting a 3-point hitch Category 1 PTO implement on a tractor, you will appreciate the ease with which one may change implements on a BCS tractor.

We have a Kubota B7510 24 hp diesel Category 1 tractor, turning plow, disc harrow, drag harrow, a 48” wide PTO 3 pt hitch KingKutterII rototiller, a five foot bush hog, a rear 3pt hitch grader adjustable angle grader blade for perfecting the terraces, a rock and root rake, a “potato plow” (aka a middle buster), a subsoiler, and 3 pt PTO post hole digger. I suggest killing all vegetation first with Round Up and waiting a week or two before tearing up new soil. We DO use Round Up, or actually its generic equivalent with added detergent, to kill weeds, but we would never grow GMO cultivars.

Here is my take on cultivation with a tractor: Forget the turning plow and disc harrow. Tear up the sod and soil with a subsoiler, which is a chisel plow 2” wide that goes down 16” into the soil. This is far better than a turning plow that only goes down 6-8”, as it brings up nutrients in the subsoil and allows water to penetrate deeply into the soil. In our case (with rocks in the soil) the subsoiler tends not to shatter the rocks into a zillion pieces parts, as does a turning plow. After picking up the rocks, use a PTO 3 pt hitch rototiller to turn the clods into a nice seed bed. For broadcast seeds (e.g. winter cover crops, turnips, and the like) a drag harrow will get the small seeds mixed up into the ground.

Saving the Harvest

There are many way of storing various types of food grown in the garden. I’ll share with you how we save our harvest.

Dehydrating Foods

We have four Excalibur dehydrators. Dried food is placed in canning jars and the air is pumped out with a “Pump ‘N Seal” gizmo. We then put a one square-inch piece of aluminum foil duct tape on top of the seal valve. Otherwise, you may discover that mice will chew up the small seal valve thinking thereby they can get to the food.

There are three advantages of dehydrating:

  1. It takes up far less shelf space,
  2. The shelf life is much longer, and
  3. If the jars freeze, no damage is done.

We are especially fond of dehydrated tomatoes and peppers. These go in the root cellar. Dried peas, wheat, dry beans, and corn are stored in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers added before sealing. (I shop www.beprepared.com for both bags and oxygen absorbers.) The Mylar bags are stored in a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a Gamma Seal lid, which I purchase from sportsmansguide.com.

Canning Foods

Safe canning is an exercise in applied microbiology. If (and only If) the pH of the food is below 4.5 is it safe to use a boiling water bath canner, as Clostridium botulini (an obligate anerobic primitive bacteria) can only grow (and produce the deadly toxin) if the pH is above 4.5. These bacteria form spores that are not killed in a boiling water bath canner. A considerably higher temperature is required, and this is only possible with a pressure canner. As an aside, let me point out that boiling any canned food in an OPEN pot for fifteen minutes will denature (inactivate) the protein toxin produced by this bacteria. A caution here: many new tomato cultivars are low acid, and the pH resulting may well be above 5.0. So, buy thyself some pH paper at an aquarium store to be sure. This is one reason we add Fruit Fresh to tomatoes to be canned. Both the citric acid and the Vitamin C lower the pH.

We have three All American pressure canners, which are made in Wisconsin and have a metal to metal seal. We also have a huge stash of canning jars and lids. We can tomatoes, apples, pears, peaches, soups, green beans, jams, and jellies. We add Fruit Fresh to the tomatoes, apples, jams, and jellies to increase the Vitamin C content. The Ball torque wrench for exactly tightening the bands on the lids prior to canning is a must. Consider the Tattler reusable canning seals. It is important to keep the pressure as steady as possible with a pressure canner; otherwise, the lids may not seal. It is also important to let the pressure canner cool down all by itself. Therefore, do not hurry things up by placing a fan to blow air on the canner, or you are liable to have seal failures. Many county agents provide a service to check the gauge on a pressure canner. Buy at least one spare gauge. DO NOT use a “steam” canner, which is patently unsafe. In a boiling water bath canner, the water must cover the tops of the jars.

It is CRITICAL to exactly follow the directions in the Ball Blue Book for canning anything. In March of 2015, several folks at a church supper in Ohio were permanently injured eating potato salad from improperly canned potatoes. Just like in reloading ammunition, the failure to exactly follow the directions can lead to death. Let me note in passing that NO food bank will take home-canned foods, and these are very unlikely to be confiscated to give to other folks.

Canning Pasta Sauce and Soups with Tomatoes

Here is the way to do it. Get thyself a Ninja blender. Cut up the tomatoes and removing the clear liquid and the seeds (diverticulitis issues). Place what remains in the Ninja blender with oregano and basil leaves. Liquify this completely. Okay, there will be very small bits of tomato skin there. Who cares? After all, you know what was (and was not) sprayed on the tomatoes. Sauté diced onions, peppers, and garlic in a stock pot (that has a copper layer on the bottom of the pot); add the blended tomatoes. Can this as “stewed tomatoes” per the Ball Blue Book recipe. Add ½ can of Fruit Fresh to each 18 pints of mix.

The Importance of a Root Cellar

We’ve a root cellar with about 118 cubic feet total gross space. It has its own 12 VDC power system with PV panels, a marine battery, and LED lighting. We store dehydrated tomatoes and onions, potatoes, seeds, apples, cabbage, and so forth in it. It is sufficiently insulated so that in the dead of winter the interior temperature is above freezing. The cellar is contained by ½ of an old diesel tank whose exterior was coated with Rust Oleum paint and then a rubberized roofing compound. it’s totally mouse and water proof. So far, it’s been bear proof with its extremely sturdy door. Yes, we have a lot of black bears around us.

Equipment for Shelling Vegetables

Corn. We have an old timey manual crank cast iron corn sheller. I’ve just bought another. I’m a big believer in spares for critical tools. Try shelling dry field dent corn by hand for several hours, and you will understand the need for this device.

Peas. One very real advantage of field peas is their fragile pod when dried. A small motorized dry field pea pod sheller is available at www.peasheller.com. This is made in Moultrie Georgia.

Homemade Dryer for Corn/Peas/Beans/Peanuts. I designed and constructed a bulk corn/pea/bean dryer from plywood, a 20” box fan, and four 100-watt light bulbs to heat the incoming air. We first dry the shucked corn on the cob. Shelling damp corn does not work. Once dry, we shell and then dry the kernels in the same dryer. Unless well dried, a toxic fungus grows on the shelled corn. This dryer is also used to dry field pea pods prior to mechanical shelling. This is made with two boxes 14” high and large enough to accommodate the fan. The lower box contains the 20” box fan and the four 100 watt light bulbs placed above the fan. With the fan on medium these warm up the ambient air about 10 degrees F. The second box just sits on top of the first box. At Home Depot I bought eight ¼ steel rods and inserted these into the bottom edge of the upper box, horizontally, to provide a strong open support for the aluminum screen wire that sits on top of these eight rods. Such an apparatus will be critical for drying peanuts. Peanuts are very susceptible to the fungus that produces aflatoxin.

Permaculture

Consider fruit trees. Please know that many soils are deficient in boron, so sprinkle one ounce of borax every 20 square feet around each tree the first year you see blossoms. Please note that more is NOT better, and only add this micronutrient to fruit trees, as it is toxic to most other plants. In our area, cedar apple rust is a major issue along with fire blight. The former is a basidiomycete fungus that has as alternate hosts apple leaves and eastern red cedar trees. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that is somewhat controllable by spraying the antibiotic streptomycin on the leaves. It’s far better to choose cultivars that are resistant to these two microbes. We will now only buy the Liberty and Freedom apple cultivars. We also have four sets of M-111 semi-dwarfing apple rootstock plants growing. It turns out the choice of rootstock can confer a lot of disease resistance to the grafted apple tree. Thus, we will be able to produce our own semi-dwarf grafted trees that may become a valuable home business. Consider the new “Green Jade” hybrid (European & Asian) pear cultivar with a lot of disease resistance. Consider hazelnut trees as a windbreak. Consider Osage orange trees as a fence to keep out both two-legged and four-legged herbivores. Look up this on wikipedia. It’s totally vicious LONG thorns that can actually puncture a tractor tire. Consider the new “Reliance” disease-resistant grape vine cultivar developed at the University of Arkansas. We have had great success with the “Ontario” grape vine cultivar. So far, it has been the most vigorous grape vine we’ve grown.

We grow asparagus from seeds. Sure, it takes longer to get a plant large enough to be harvested, but the cost of the seeds is quite small compared to the cost of really good (as opposed to mostly rotten) asparagus “crowns.” I find that the local rabbits have no interest in asparagus spears, and I see almost no insect problems. I’ve read that good practice is to cut and burn all the dead foliage in winter to kill any over wintering asparagus leaf beetles. I place a commercial tomato cage over each plant to keep the stalks from getting bent over by winds. Alternatively, one could grow these on the west side of a fence, as I did decades ago.

Operational Security

None of our veggie garden or fruit orchard is visible from any public road. Our plot is at the end of a one-way gravel road. We have a VERY sturdy gate at our boundary. The plot is visible from only two houses. Along the two property lines with trees we encourage the growth of greenbriar vines, blackberry vines, and multiflora rose bush vines. From the barn attic window we can observe the entire garden plot without being observed. If need be, we will rotate guard duty in the barn attic. We will have infrared game cameras hidden, pointing toward the garden to record any visitors with a date and time stamp. Only a few close neighbors know of our farm.

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