After four years of care, our fruit trees finally reached a height where deer damage isn't a concern. The deer will prune the lower branches for us, but the trees are tall enough to survive. This fall Jon decided to remove the cages from around the trees because mowing grass around the cages are a hassle, weed-whacking inside the cages several times each summer is a hassle, and all that fencing is an eye-sore. The trees looked absolutely beautiful standing proud in our field; until one night, deer decided to rub their antlers on their trunks and rip their bark off! It only took one night of exposure for twelve out of the thirty-one un-caged trees to be girdled. This was certainly a devastating blow after four years of care. Some of the trees are even loose in the ground from the force the deer exerted on their trunks.
A week after this happened, we ran into a retired DNR Forester who has had great success with hanging an empty pop can from a rope from a low branch to keep deer from rubbing. If only we knew this before the trees were girdled!
What can we do to help the trees that have already been girdled? Some say the trees will either live or die no matter what an orchardist does to help the situation. One common treatment is covering the wound with latex paint to protect the inner cambium layer and seal off the potential for disease.
If there is a strip of bark 1/4-1/2 inch thick still in-tact the full length of the trunk, the chances of survival are even higher.
This holiday I am trying to use less wrapping paper by using cloth drawstring bags. Using up some fabric scraps, I made my own. Listed below are instructions on how to make a bag followed by pictures of other bags that I designed. Also, don't forget to check out my post titled Resourceful Gift Wrapping from several years ago.
1. I cut two pieces of red fabric 9x10 inches and two strips of green fabric 3x10 inches. For each piece of red fabric, attach the green strip by putting right sides together and sew along the top edge.
2. Next I sewed three sides of the bag. On one of the long sides I left an opening for the ribbon by sewing 1 3/4 inches from the top, stopping, and then starting again 1/4 inch from the bottom of the green and continuing down the length of the red. For a drawstring bag with ribbon coming out of both sides, you can leave gaps on both sides of the long edges. (Optional: If you want to keep the edges from fraying, serge.)
3. There are a few ways to sew the bottom corners and there are several youtube videos showing the process. With the bag inside out, open up the corner and line up the bottom and side seams, fold it flat.
4. Sew across the bottom and side seam one inch from the corner. Before sewing the other corner, make sure that you fold the bottom seam in the same direction as the opposite corner so that it lays flat and isn't twisted.
When the bag is inverted, this is what a bottom corner should look like, and if you are lucky, the bottom and side seam will line up.
5. With right sides facing out, fold down the green fabric below the side opening, leaving about a 1 1/4 inch fold. Stitch on the green fabric right next to the red fabric all the way around, checking that the side seams are facing the same direction and not twisted.
This is what the top of the bag should look like with a hole on one side for the ribbon.
6. For a finished look, sew along the top of the bag.
7. Using a safety pin, thread the ribbon through the opening. Finished!
Pictured below are a few more bags I made with applique and printed fabric.
I add two layers of batting behind the applique designs.
After years of purchasing tortillas with enriched flour and a whole list of unknown ingredients, Jon decided to make our own tortillas using four simple ingredients: flour, salt, coconut oil, and milk from a recipe that he found on The Prairie Homestead Blog.
Homemade Tortilla Recipe:
2 c flour (or half fresh ground wheat and half all-purpose)
1 tsp. salt
4 T coconut oil
3/4 c warm milk
Instructions: Using a pastry blender, mix together flour, salt, and coconut oil until it is crumbly (similar to making pie crust). Add milk a little at a time and mix until everything comes together. Divide into seven small balls. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball about 1/8 inch thickness into a circle or use an inverted bowl for making a round shape. Fry in a dry skillet 30 seconds on each side poking air bubbles with a fork. Use immediately.
This was our first year growing sweet potatoes. We spent $10 for three plants from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and we harvested 36.92 pounds of sweet potatoes! Estimating the price for organic sweet potatoes at $1.73/pound, our harvest would have cost $63.87 from a store. Growing sweet potatoes was very easy. The only challenge was keeping them watered and weeded the first month of growing. The variety we grew was Molokai Purple.
The picture above looks like a giant weed patch but this is how our sweet potato patch looked by autumn. The vines literally took over and sprawled everywhere! The carrots got lost among the vines and were eventually smothered and dead, but the loss of carrots was worth the harvest of sweet potatoes. It does help that we still have a LOT of carrots still in canning jars from last year.
Sweet potatoes produce potatoes only where the "slip" was planted. The vines look pretty and take over the garden, but only potatoes grow at the base of the plant. It's kind of a gnarly mess and the potatoes reach about 18 inches from the center so begin digging at least 18 inches from the base to reduce damage to the potatoes.
A potato fork works really well without a lot of damage to the potatoes.
We discovered that potatoes grow really long and easily get broken when pulled.
When harvesting root crops, it's always entertaining to have a young child digging in the soil. It's like finding buried treasure, you just never know how big the next potato will be or where it will be located!
After harvesting, the potatoes were left on the front porch for ten days where they received only a few hours of direct sunlight a few hours in the morning. The potatoes on the left were dug first and all came from one plant. The wetter-looking potatoes on the right side came from the other two plants. Jon and I aren't sure why the first planted yielded such large tubers.
It's hard to see in the picture, but Jon is holding one of the tubers in his hand. You can see that the width of the potato is as wide as his wrist. We are still excited that we grew such large 'taters without much work. We just planted the slips, watered and weeded them for about a month and left them alone for the rest of the summer.
We read online that we can grow our own sweet potato slips using vine cuttings. I used the tips of the vines so there was only one cut end instead of two.
The bottom leaves were removed and placed in mason jars with water. They are somewhat decorative and will remain inside until next spring. A friend of ours received a few cuttings as well. Ten dollars for three slips isn't that big of a deal when considering the harvest yield, but it would be nice to be a little more self-sufficient and not be using fossil fuels to send potato slips in the mail.
These sweet potatoes do stain and could make a great dye for crafts.
Earlier this summer I posted about all the garlic and onions that we harvested. Fast-forward to the end of October and we are planting garlic for next summer! This will be our second year growing garlic beginning with the bulbils instead of the cloves. In the above picture are second year rounds.
For the bulbils, we just scatter them in the rows and will thin them next spring.
The garlic growing area includes two beds with eighteen rows about three feet long.
The Zebrune Shallots that were sprouting in the basement were also planted this fall.
A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.