Time to Check the Larder

The seed catalogs begin to arrive in the mail and you look upon them as a bit of pure heaven—the announcement that spring is on the way. Your eyes nearly pop out as you see the multicolored carrots, juicy tomatoes, and fragrant herbs. The new kinds of fruit trees immediately attract your attention, and what about that amazing new berry bush that will pack your freezer with sumptuous berries? You go into a mix of information and appetite overload and you consider just how those new offerings will satiate your cravings for all things fresh. However, before you go into a swoon over the latest delights, consider the fact that you probably don’t need them all. Your larder is craving things too! The items you’ve used up have created gaps in the deliciousness that your larder can provide during the winter months when fresh simply isn’t an option.

Of course, everyone loves to experiment. After all, that’s how I found kabocha squash this past summer—that delectable mix of sweet and savory that will likely find its way into a pie this upcoming fall. Had I known then what I know now, I would have planted more and canned the extra as an alternative to using pumpkin for pies. Lesson learned, more kabocha squash will find their way into the mix this year, alongside the butternut and acorn squash I love so well.

Back to the larder though. You probably don’t have any idea of where the holes are right now and you really do need to find out. That’s why you need to perform an inventory of your larder. The inventory will tell you about the items you need most. This year I’ve decided to try canning three bean salad, which means growing green, yellow wax, and kidney beans. However, I already have enough green beans in quarts in the larder, so I won’t make a big planting of green beans.

Your larder inventory should include more than a simple accounting. As you go through your larder, you should also perform these tasks:

  • Ensure all of the canned goods are still sealed
  • Wipe the jars down to remove the dust
  • Verify all of the oldest products are in the front
  • Make a list of products that are more than five years old so you can use them up
  • Place all the empty jars in one area
  • Sort the jars by type (both size and the kind of lid used)

Taking these extra steps will help you get a better handle on your larder. You should have a good idea of what your larder contains at all times and the only way to achieve that goal is to actually look at the containers. Let me know your thoughts about larder management at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Rhythms of Fall

It’s the beginning of fall here in Wisconsin—my favorite time of the year. Everything is getting that tired look to it and the evening temperatures are beginning to dive a little more often into the 50s and 60s. The leaves are starting to change just a little. Soon I’ll be up in the woods cutting up dead trees for winter. It’s not nearly cool enough for the first fire yet, but that will come too. Soon I’ll have the smell of woodsmoke permeating the house as I enjoy the cool fall evenings in front of my wood stove.

Last week I began picking my grapes and apples. Both have produced abundantly this year. In fact, just one cane produced a little over 40 pounds of grapes. The apples are smaller than normal, but plentiful, weighing the trees down. The pears this year suffered from a lack of activity from helpful insects and an overwhelming quantity of the harmful variety. The point is that it’s a time for picking things and preserving them for the winter. There is a certain feeling that comes over you as you begin to bring things into the house and see the larder shelves swell with all you’ve produced. Most of the fruit will go into juice this year, which means my Victorio Strainer will work overtime.

As part of my fall preparations, I’m starting to dry the herbs that have grown all summer. My herb garden is a little limited this year because the weather just didn’t cooperate as much as it could have. Still, I have plenty of celery (actually lovage) seed to use, along with the dried leaves. The rosemary, two kinds of sage, and two kinds of thyme have all done well (though the rosemary is not quite as robust as I would have liked, it’s quite flavorful). The dehydrator is up and running now, helping me preserve the herbs I need for cooking this winter.

Of course, the herb garden produces more than just herbs for cooking—it also produces a robust number of items for tea. Right now I four kinds of mint growing: lime, lemon, chocolate, and spearmint. The first three are definitely used for drinking teas only because their subtle flavors are lost in other sorts of uses. The spearmint is used for tea, cooking, and mint jelly—that essential add-on for lamb meat. Rebecca actually had eight different kinds of mint growing at one time, but they have gotten mixed together over the years or were hit especially hard by this last winter. The herb garden will need some focused attention this upcoming spring to get it back into shape.

In some respects, the combination of a hard winter, a late spring, and a cool summer conspired to make this year less productive than most. It’s the reason that you really do need a three-year plan for stocking your larder to ensure that you have enough food for those years that are a little less plentiful. Fortunately, my larder has an abundant supply of everything needed to sustain life (and quite a large number of things we made purely for pleasure as well).

There are some fall-specific things that I’ll eventually take care of. You already know about the work part of it, but there is time for pleasure too. For example, I’ll take time for my usual picnic at Wildcat Mountain after the fall color begins to peak. So, how are your fall plans shaping up? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Taking Inventory of the Larder

There is fresh fallen snow outside my window as I write this and more on the way. In fact, it doesn’t look like gardening season out there at all. It’s a bit past the middle of winter, but spring is a long way off. However, this is the time of the year that Rebecca and I start thinking about the garden—mainly because our mailbox is bristling with seed catalogs. Of course, the seed catalogs end up in the house and we now have stacks of them in the living room, dining room, family room, bathroom, and even in our bedroom. We could possibly start our own catalog company by simply redistributing all the catalogs that are coming from various seed companies in the mail.

Inside each catalog we see beautiful presentations of various vegetables and fruits. Given the time of year and the fact that our root cellar is becoming a bit empty, the idea of having fresh vegetables is quite appealing. Yes, canned and frozen foods will keep us quite happy and well fed, but there is nothing like picking that first asparagus spear (the first vegetable of the season) and preparing it for dinner. So, gazing fondly at the vegetables in the catalogs becomes the stuff of dreams for the upcoming season.

However, before we can order anything, we need to know what the larder lacks. This means doing an inventory. Doing an inventory is no small undertaking. If we simply needed to create a list of items to grow, the inventory would be simple enough, but that’s not the end (nor even the beginning) of the task.

As part of the inventory, we take down every jar, examine it for potential problems (such as a broken seal or rust on the lid that will eventually result in a broken seal). After that, we wash and dry the jar (remarking it if necessary). The jars are then repacked to ensure that the oldest stock is in the front. What all this work accomplishes is to ensure that what is on the shelf is actually edible and usable. The shelves can become disorganized during the winter months, so it’s essential to reorganize them so that any count we perform is accurate.

During the process of working with the jars, we’ll begin to notice that some items are lacking. For example, this year we noted that there aren’t any beets left—not even the pickled variety (a favorite of mine). The pickled okra is also gone. However, we have a surprisingly strong supply of corn in various sized jars (for specific needs), so we probably won’t grow corn this year. I also found several jars of a wonderful blueberry compote Rebecca made for me. I had thought them gone when they were simply hiding behind some dill pickles.

A well-stocked larder is a wonderful thing. You can go to bed at night knowing that you won’t go hungry—something far too many people in the world can’t say. It also provides you with high quality food of precisely the type you want. However, in order to maintain the larder, you must inventory it at least once a year (twice is better) and make sure that what you think you have is actually what you do have. Let me know if you have any questions about the inventory process at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Preparing for Planting

It may seem a bit odd to talk about planting in the middle of winter, but this is actually the time that many avid gardeners, especially those interested in self-sufficiency, begin to think about the planting season. Of course, the planning process starts in the larder. Even though there is a catalog in your hand at the moment, the catalog doesn’t do any good until you know what to order and your larder contains that information.

As part of the preparation process, you should go through the larder, ensure all of the oldest items are in the front of the shelves, verify that all of the jars are still sealed, and wash the jars to keep them clean. Make sure all of the jars are properly marked with both food type and year canned as well. The process of organizing your larder and keeping it clean is important because doing so will make it a lot easier to determine what to plant. Once you complete this task, you can perform an inventory to determine what items are in short supply. These are the items that you need to order from the catalog.

Sometimes you can use your larder as a jumping off point for dreams of things you’d like to try in the future. For example, until last year, our larder lacked pickled asparagus—now I wouldn’t be without it. However, before we could pickle the asparagus, we had to grow enough to make the effort worthwhile, which meant planting more asparagus and waiting several years for it to get old enough to produce a decent crop. Yes, the larder was the start of our dream and the catalog provided us with ideas on how to achieve our dream, but in the end, the realization of our dream happened in the garden and in the kitchen.

Our larder also holds our canning supplies and equipment. This is the time of the year when you should perform an inventory of these items as well and ensure they’re in good shape. For example, the seal and pressure relief value on your pressure canner requires regular replacement—we simply make it a practice to replace these items before the start of the canning season because doing so is inexpensive and reduces the risk of mishap in the kitchen later. No matter where you store your canning supplies and equipment, now is the time to maintain them.

Writing your needs down as you discover them is a great idea. Check out the various catalogs you receive starting this time of year to determine which products will best suit your needs. It’s unlikely that you’ll completely fill your garden with just the items you need from the larder. The catalog will also supply ideas for new items you can try. Sometimes we try a new variety of vegetable or fruit just to see how it grows in this climate. Over the years we’ve discovered some items that grow exceptionally well for us (and also experienced more than a few failures).

Don’t just address your main garden, however. It’s also time to check into herbs and address any deficiencies in the orchard. This is the time for planning. Trying to figure everything out later, when you’re already engaged in preparing the garden, will prove difficult and you’ll make more mistakes than usual if you wait.

It’s also important to start ordering as soon as you know what you need. The catalog companies won’t send you product until it’s time to plant. However, they do use a first come, first served policy. Other gardeners are already order products. If you wait, you may not get your first choice of items and may have to reorder later.

Planning is an essential part of a successful year in the garden and orchard. However, I also enjoy starting the planning process this time of the year because it makes winter seem a little less severe. A little spring in winter is like a breath of fresh air. What sorts of things do you do to prepare for spring? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Continuing Education

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m continually asking questions in my blog posts. In fact, you can find questions in a few of my books and more than a few readers have commented when I ask them questions as part of my correspondence with them. I often get the feeling that people think I should know everything simply because I write books of various sorts. In fact, I had to write a post not long ago entitled No, I Don’t Know Everything to address the issue. Experts become experts by asking questions and finding the answers. They remain experts by asking yet more questions and finding yet more answers. Often, these answers come from the strangest sources, which means that true experts look in every nook and cranny for answers that could easily elude someone else. Good authors snoop more than even the typical expert—yes, we’re just plain nosy. So, here I am today asking still more questions.

This year my continuing education has involved working with the latest version of the Entity Framework. The results of some of my efforts can be found in Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step. You can also find some of my thoughts in the Entity Framework Development Step-by-Step category. I’ve been using some of my new found knowledge to build some applications for personal use. They may eventually appear as part of a book or on this blog (or I might simply choose to keep them to myself).

However, my main technical focus has been on browser-based application technology. I think the use of browser-based application technology will make it possible for the next revolution in computing to occur. It certainly makes it easier for a developer to create applications that run anywhere and on any device. You can find some of what I have learned in two new books HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and CSS3 for Dummies. Of course, there are blog categories for these two books as well: HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and Developing with CSS3 for Dummies. A current learning focus is on the SCAlable LAnguage (SCALA), which is a functional language (akin to F# and many other languages of the same type) based on Java.

Anyone who knows me very well realizes that my life doesn’t center on technology. I have a great number of other interests. When it comes to being outdoors, I’ve explored a number of new techniques this year as I planted some new trees. In fact, I’ll eventually share a technique I learned for removing small tree stumps. I needed a method for removing stumps of older fruit trees in order to plant new trees in the same location.

I’ve also shared a number of building projects with you, including the shelving in our larder and a special type of dolly you can use for moving chicken tractors safely. Self-sufficiency often involves building your own tools. In some cases, a suitable tool doesn’t exist, but more often the problem is one of cost. Buying a tool from the store or having someone else build it for you might be too expensive.

The point I’m trying to make is that life should be a continual learning process. There isn’t any way that you can learn everything there is to learn. Even the most active mind picks and chooses from the vast array of available learning materials. No matter what your interests might be, I encourage you to continue learning—to continue building your arsenal of knowledge. Let me know your thoughts on the learning process at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Determining the Amount of Shelving You Need

I never anticipated receiving quite so many e-mails about larder shelving (including a few comments about the quaintness of the term). When determining the amount of larder shelving you need, you must consider the kinds of storage you use. We group our storage into four areas:

  • Ready Storage: Used to hold food short term. It includes the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, and under worktable storage (five gallon buckets).
  • Deep Freeze: Used for moderate term food storage. Some foods don’t can well or they taste better when you freeze them. We have two freezers (one small and one large) for freezing fruit, vegetables, and meat items. Because we vacuum pack our foods, we store some items up to two years. The freezers are kept at 0 or less to ensure the food is thoroughly frozen. Each summer, before we begin storing the harvest, we take everything out of the freezers and use everything that has gotten old in some way (we sometimes put old food in the compost where it turns into dirt that will be used for new food).
  • Larder: Used for long term canned storage of food. Many items will last up to five years in the larder because of the canning techniques we use. Every spring every can is cleaned and inspected to ensure it remains safe. The larder is organized to present the oldest items up front so they’re used first.
  • Root Cellar: Used for winter fresh storage. As the name implies, we use our root cellar to store roots. However, we also use this area to store apples, pears, and squash. The root cellar sees use from September to around April each year. It’s never used during the summer months, mainly because our root cellar isn’t damp or cool enough during that time and the food would spoil.

It’s essential that you determine how each area will ultimately work into your food storage strategy. Determining how large to make the larder then becomes a matter of portions. If you want to be fully self-sufficient, you need to decide where the food will come from for your meals in a general sense.

Let’s look at a specific example. We drink a 6 ounce glass of juice with breakfast four days a week on average. That’s a total of 6 ounces per glass * 2 people * 4 days a week * 52 weeks a year or 2,496 ounces per year. We follow a two year plan for juice because it’s easy to obtain from a number of sources, so that’s a total of 4,992 ounces for the two years. All of our juice is canned, so all of that juice has to be stored in the larder. Juice is canned in quart jars, so we need 156 jars (at 32 ounces per jar) to store that much juice. From last week’s post you know that each shelf segment can hold 42 quart jars, so we need 3.7 shelf segments for juice.

To fill out the remainder of breakfast, we usually have a grain product of some type. In addition, some meals include breakfast meat and/or eggs. Along with juice, we also drink milk and coffee. All of these items come from ready storage, so you don’t need to consider them in creating your larder.

Lunch is our main meal of the day. Normally we have meat four days a week. Most of the meat comes from the freezer. However, on busy days, we used canned meat from the larder. The canned meat is computed a bit differently. We normally can the smallest chickens and one chicken produces two quarts of canned meat. Each quart contains four pieces: half a breast, wing, leg, and thigh (see Cutting Up a Chicken for details). One quart serves as a main meal and a snack when eaten directly or as two main meals when eaten as part of a salad or casserole. Normally we process eight chickens at a time and the first two processing sessions produce the canned chicken, so there are 32 quarts of canned chicken produced each year, that require 0.8 shelf segments. We produce 1 ½ years worth of canned chicken each year for two years (and take off the third year), so the maximum shelf space used at the end of year 2 is 1.6 shelf segments.

Along with our meat, we normally have two kinds of vegetables, some of which come from the larder, but can also come from ready storage, the root cellar, or the freezer. This is where you need to keep records on how you use your various food storage areas. About 70 percent of our vegetables come from the larder. We eat one quart of vegetables when there is meat included in the meal and one and a half quarts on our vegetarian days. Vegetables are generally stored in pints, but there are times when we store vegetables in quarts as well. Because vegetables tend to have longer cycles between good yields we follow a three year plan. The calculation for vegetables becomes ((1 quart a day * 4 days) + (1.5 quarts a day * 3 days)) * 52 weeks a year * 3 years * .70 percentage stored in larder or 928 quarts or 22.1 shelf segments.

Our afternoon snack usually includes fruit, a grain product, and a dairy product. The fruit is the only item that comes from the larder. It can also come from ready storage, freezer, or root cellar. Our fruit portion is normally 1 pint per day when taken from the larder. Because fruit production can be incredibly unpredictable, we follow a four year plan. About 30 percent of our fruit comes from the larder. This means the calculation for fruit is 1 pint per day * 365 days a year * 4 years * .30 percentage stored in the larder or 5.2 shelf segments.

The evening snack can come from a variety of sources, but we normally have something quite small. This is the time of day we’ll have ice cream, leftover canned meats, fruit, cookies, or something else small such a dried fruit/vegetable slices (see Making Dehydrated Chips for details). I normally don’t include this snack in the calculations, but your eating habits might be different and you might need to include it. The new shelving does include space for four 5 gallon buckets worth of dried fruits and vegetables that don’t appear as part of the calculations that come later in this post.

We also make our own condiments, salsas, jellies, and other items that take up 3 shelf segments. Again, you need to consider your eating habits and make decisions based on those habits.

Now it’s time to add everything up to see how much space is required. Our total shelf segment usage (a shelf segment consists of 42 quarts or 84 pints) is 3.7 for juice, 1.6 for meat, 22.1 for vegetables, 5.2 for fruit, and 3 for condiments or a total of 35.6 shelf segments. Our two larder shelving units currently provide 39 shelf segments (not including the 5 gallon bucket/canning equipment storage in the new shelving unit). The remaining shelf segments are used for organizational purposes and for empty jars.

The calculations for determining how much shelf space you need can seem daunting, but if you address one meal at a time as I’ve done in this post, you should find it possible to do. What you need to do is focus on that meal and the portions you typically eat during that meal. Let me know if you have any additional questions on this topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Building Larder Shelving

Creating a place to store your canned goods is an essential part of making self-sufficiency work. In Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 3) you see one view of the larder shelving we use to store our canned goods in the basement. The shelving has to be built to withstand the weight of the canned goods without sagging. In addition, you want to be able to support part of someone’s weight when they need to regain their footing.

In order to create our shelving, I played with some wood and actually weighted it down to see when it would sag. I then used those assumptions to start designing the shelving and to feed the numbers into the Sagulator. The maximum amount of sag you should be willing to tolerate is 0.01 inch per foot. You need an engineering margin to ensure the shelves will hold up.

Of course, the problem is getting the numbers the Sagulator requires. A typical quart jar of canned goods filled with a liquid weighs 3 pounds. If you make the shelves 24 inches deep using three 1 × 8 boards and create spans of 25 inches, you can store 42 jars per span for a total weight of 126 pounds. Using #2 Douglas fir, you get a sag of 0.01 inch. You must consider the kind of wood that you’re using as part of your calculation and keep refining the measurements until you obtain a setup that works.

You also need to consider the shelf spacing. It’s important to allow finger spacing between the shelves so that someone can reach all the way into the back to retrieve a jar without problem. After a lot of experimentation, I came up with the following shelf spacing:

  • 8 inches for quart jars stacked one high
  • 10 inches for pint jars stacked two high
  • 16 ¾ inches for 5 gallon buckets and canning equipment

To create our new larder shelving, I started with four 2 × 4 supports tied into the ceiling joists. You absolutely don’t want the shelves falling on you, so make sure you use sturdy screws. I relied on 5-inch heavy decking screws that went completely through both the 2 × 4 support and the joist as shown here.

LarderShelving01

Make sure you use at least two sturdy screws to hold each framing member for the shelves for each shelf you create. My shelving ended up being 75 inches long, 24 inches deep, and 84 inches high. The shelving arrangement includes one shelf for five gallon buckets, two shelves for quart jars, and three shelves for pint jars as shown here.

LarderShelving02

Make absolutely certain you keep everything square and level as you build because any deviation will lower the amount of weight the shelving can carry. Each shelf should be tied into every framing member with at least two screws. In this case, that means eight screws per board or 24 screws for each shelf (because there are three 1 × 8 boards used for each shelf).

Because of the shelf heights, you’ll find that you have to insert the screws at an angle. Actually, this is a good way to add the shelving anyway because the screws gain greater purchase in the wood. However, make sure you alternate the direction you screw the screws so that you don’t end up racking the shelving (making it out of square or level). Here is how your screw pattern should look.

LarderShelving03

In this case, the first and third shelves have screws coming in from the right, while the second (center) shelf has them coming in from the left. In the next section, I reversed the direction so that the first and second shelves came in from the left, while the second shelf came in from the right. Alternating directions like this helps make the shelves stronger.

Every shelf should also have a backer board to keep the canned goods from simply falling out the back of the shelf. In this case, I used 1 × 6 boards secured with two screws in each section. The backer boards also provide added strength to the entire unit.

Finally, to keep things from sliding out of either side and to also provide places to put hooks for items we wish to hang, I added end pieces. These end pieces are made from two 1 × 10 and one 1 × 8 boards. Here is how the shelving looked after I finished it (with some items already in place).

LarderShelving04

When building shelving, make sure you take time to ensure that the shelving will actually hold the items you want to put on it. The essential issue is to control sag so that the shelving doesn’t fail in the long term. Let me know your thoughts about larder shelving at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.