Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!


A couple of weeks back, I mentioned labeling your eggs as they go into the carton. This hack is another egg-tip for you chicken minded – or other avian friendly – folk. In a blind taste test, I have zero idea as to the differences between a farm fresh egg and a store bought one. To me, they all taste the same. When I can tell the difference is when they’re hard boiled. I can’t actually taste the difference, but when it comes time to peel them, the distinction is clear: an older egg sloughs it’s shell easily and cleanly, a farm fresh egg is impossible to peel uniformly and half the egg white ends up still stuck to the shell. (If you’re curious as to why this happens, you can read about it on Popsugar.)

So what do you do when you want a hardboiled egg for a snack when you’re bucking logs? You could keep a carton of eggs you let “age” in the back of the fridge but that requires planning. The better answer: steam them. I’m not entirely sure where my wife read about it, but ifyou steam fresh eggs for 20-25 minutes, you’ll be able to peel them just like the well seasoned eggs you buy at the grocery store, but without all the planning! (And don’t forget to write a big old “HB” on them. No one wants to peel a non-hardboiled egg.)

Homestead Hack #2: Steal the Batteries!

Wavering Steam

No doubt about it, teaching is not an easy job. You are constantly bombarded by disrespectful students, disconnected parents, an at times semi-supportive administration and an education system handed down from the government that is focused more on testing and “critical thinking” than actual knowledge based learning. Not only does this distract a teacher from actually teaching, it also makes a students job harder and learning more difficult. These things are all part of why we chose to start homeschooling.

Though, with that in mind, we certainly aren’t unschoolers, as we do believe that there are some things that school teaches: one must learn how to sit quietly and patiently, focusing attention on something that you may not want to. While society wants us to think work-life is fun and exciting and we should do something we love, it does not always work out this way and many times we are stuck behind desks focusing on a task we have no interest in. Learning to force ourselves monotonous events we have no interest in is a mighty gift public education teaches us. Another of those school taught maladies we must be comfortable with is busy work! How many times do we have to do something superfluous in the real world if only because some regulation says so? (Sorry for the rant, but hey…).

Anyway, in order to actually teach a thoughtful lesson filled with substantive knowledge and interactive tasks, much research, planning, and development must be completed. Unlike a public school teacher who can reuse most of their unit plans from year to year – provided they don’t change grades – homeschoolers, have to develop units every year. We can reuse them for siblings but there’s still necessary creation for the eldest. Yes, there are box curriculums, and we utilize them to some degree, but we always find them to be sub-par. Unfortunately, this creation is where we get bogged down. Creating curriculum like we want takes time, and we need to borrow that time from one of our other many tasks: trying to run a small homestead – planting, firewood, butchering, etc., foster children with weekly appointments, making shoes for the masses, and other pet project we find ourselves engaged in.

With all of our “distractions” sometimes homeschooling takes the back seat. Planting seeds, keeping court appointments, stacking firewood to cure, filling shoe orders are all time sensitive and while homeschooling is also time sensitive to a degree, it can, in a sense, be “put off.” This is not to say it is altogether skipped, but over the last month or so, we find ourselves relying more on worksheets and handouts: the easy fill-in-the-blank stuff we wanted desperately to get away from when we started homeschooling. Yet, here we are. We still put in effort and there is still work being done on both ends, but compared to last year, we can’t help but to feel like we’re failing.

This past weekend we somehow (between three birthday parties, a drama performance and two doctors appointments) managed to dig a little deeper. Yes, we still included a number of worksheets for this weeks lessons, but we were also able to get out our Home Depot shower board out and get a skeletal framework for the next month. We made time to develop a couple of projects that will require our son to reason and think about what he has learned.


I’m sure to some degree these lulls in intensity are fairly normal. (Everything else ebbs and floes, why not homeschooling?) But, last year we hit homeschooling hard, this year, we hit it hard, and lost steam. We’re gathering steam again and know we can maintain it for the remaining seventy or so school days this year and it’s exciting. It gives us hope for next year and beyond, something that we started to doubt earlier this year.

If you’re a homeschooler, what keeps your steam from wavering? Do you use worksheets or other forms of busywork when you can’t get your act together?

Chili Chili Chili!

Homesteaders are homesteaders for a variety of reasons, but one theme that runs true among all of us, is the desire to provide our own food. For most of us, this means supplementing our grocery store or CSA haul with what we can provide, and those times typically occur around harvest time, not winter.

It may have reached 60°F today with an eye towards spring, but this is winter in Georgia. Two weeks ago overnight lows reached the teens and slaughtered the brassicas beginning to develop heads and it’s questionable as to what will happen to the kale. The onions and brussell sprouts are still growing, but the season is slow and harvest is low or non-existent. With that said, we had chili the other night, and it was 99% home grown!

The sprouted Potawatomi Limas from out garden were dried in the pantry. The summer tomato sauce was canned from the garden. The sweet corn was frozen when temperatures were still in the 90s. Yes, all the vegetables were ours! And the meat? The meat was from a buck I had shot earlier this winter (and I’m pretty sure it was the same guy who kept eating our sweet potatoes.) Of course, the spices and sour cream weren’t ours, but those things are almost negligible. The chili was ours! This was our first real winter meal that came from food we had put away during times of plenty! Exciting stuff, even if it’s not.

One thing I am not, is a food photographer.

Fermented Fridays: Ginger Bug!

One of the reasons behind homesteading for us is the cutting down of stuff; a limiting of trash. Unfortunately – or not – a lot of this garbage comes from food packaging. Not only can we (most probably) all agree that refined foods are bad for you, but they also generate some of the most garbage – plastic bags inside of boxes, wrapped in cellophane? This means that the sleeve of saltines is one of the first things to go, which isn’t a huge effort for us, but a little tougher than kicking the saltines to the curb is our seltzer habit. Aside from milk, seltzer is the only beverage we buy from the store.

Embarking on a seltzer-less journey, I really wanted to find some sort of substitute for the whole family that could still give us that mouth cleansing effervescence found in a can of seltzer. Of course (mediocre) beer is easy enough to make, but even with a low ABV, it could easily result in trouble, especially if we start giving it to the kids, so that’s out. Then there is kombucha, which my daughter will devour, but my son is repulsed by. So I turned my eye toward soda.

Our kids very rarely have soda – mostly at church functions and birthday parties – as it isn’t exactly what I’d call child-friendly or healthy. As I thought back to college, making a few batches of Birch beer soda, and I remembered adding sugar. Yes the yeast feed off the sugars, but we’re not going for long standing ferments here, we’re just looking for some carbonation so the potential to limit the sugar going into a recipe is, to some degree, up to the cook.

You can make soda a few different ways, most recently it seems that soda making machines are all the rage, but that sort of defeats the purpose of getting rid of stuff. You can also just add sugar water or juice to seltzer – again, defeating the less-junk purpose. But believe it or not, there is a way to make soda naturally, with lacto-fermentation. This is the path we decided to take. Where as kombucha needs a SCOBY to grow, soda needs a bug, and once you have a bug, the soda possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And there are a plethora of books out there to help you on your journey to

It’s a bug: ginger on the bottom, bubbles on the top.

soda making master.

Once you’ve made a bug – or otherwise obtained a culture – the process is fairly simple: boil some water, add some sugar, add some flavorings, cool, add some bug, bottle. But before you go making a bug or some soda, there are some things to consider:

  1. Grolsch style bottles are recommended, though they should be burped during the fermentation process. No one wants a ginger ale cocktail bomb in their pantry.
  2. For the cocktail bomb reason, we prefer old plastic soda bottles. (Plastic bottles don’t really create shrapnel.)
  3. Carbonation is fleeting. We’ve found that once a bottle is fully opened. Soda should be consumed with in a couple of days lest it become a flat, nasty, mess. This is why we use 1-liter or smaller bottles. (Also, Grolsch bottles are smaller, single serving sizes.)
  4. Like beer, you can filter your soda and remove some of the flavorings before bottling, or you can leave them for an unfiltered taste and appearance. Once soda has become carbonated, it’s very hard to filter the flavorings without going flat.

Making a ginger bug is a fairly simple process. It requires a bit of prolonged attention, but very little time. To make a bug here’s what you’ll need:

35-45 grams of finely chopped ginger
35-40 grams of white sugar
2 cups of water
Quart Size Mason Jar

Before we make the bug, we process all our ginger in the food processor; after we’re done with what we need for the day, we put it back in the fridge until the next day we need it. In apples and berries, the naturally occurring yeast that turn apples to cider are found on the skin, so we include our ginger skin when making a bug, but you don’t have to. As for the sugar, you can experiment around with different types, but when it comes down to it, simple white sugar seems to be the best. Remember, honey is an antimicrobial, so while you may be able to play around with individual batches and honey, it will not work for your bug.

On day one add 15 g (or 1 large tablespoon) of ginger to your mason jar. Add an equal amount of ginger, and your two cups of water. Stir it up so the sugar dissolves. Put it in a warm place and let it rest until tomorrow. (Supposedly, metal kills yeast and shouldn’t be used to make breads and other products that contain microorganisms. Growing up we always used a fork to make pizza dough and never had a problem. All the same, we use a wooden spoon now.)

On day two, add 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. Stir and let rest.

Continue this process for a total of five days – so three more days – or more if you are in a colder climate and your bug doesn’t seem to be generating much activity. You’ll know your bug is alive when bubbles start amassing on the surface. You also can start smelling faintly floral yeasty activity within the jar and if you’re quite, you can hear the bubbles popping.

A lovely coating of yeasty respiration.

Once your bug is formed, you can use it right away to make some naturally fermented

Ginger Ale from a homemade Ginger Bug!

soda, or you can wait. There are two options to waiting, you can store it on the counter or in the fridge. If you store the bug on the counter, it will remain active and will need to

be fed nearly daily 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. If you store the bug in the fridge, it will still need to be fed, but on a weekly basis. To be honest, I’ve had a bug in the fridge that I’ve forgotten about for three weeks, and it survived.

After making your first batch of soda – most recipes call for ½ cup of bug – you need to replenish your bug. Add half a cup of water, 5 g of ginger and 5 g of sugar. Typically after use we like to leave the bug on the counter for a day or two (feeding it each day) to really get active and incorporate the new water before we throw it back in the fridge. It’s been a fun experiment

for both parents and kids and tastes pretty good, too, though I can’t say it’s a permanent staple in our fridge.

Fermented Friday #1: Oatmeal!

Growing Tails

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. I love beans. Not just for their unending versatility in the kitchen as a food product, but for all the joy they bring in the garden as well. I’ve always had good luck growing beans and I remember as a second grader building teepees in the garden with my father in the late spring, and reading books in the late-summer shade provided by the mass of trefoil leaves and beans tying the poles together. They’re easy to grow; they’re good for the soil; they can be snacked on raw in the garden or dried for use in the winter. And to top it off when it comes to saving the seeds for planting next year’s crop, they’re probably the easiest thing going.

The major variety we grow in our garden is called Potawatomi – a pole lima bean – named after the Potawatomi Indians of southern Michigan and later Wisconsin. I acquired these seeds almost a decade ago through the Seed Savers Yearbook from a woman who actually lived in Michigan. (I’ve no clue of this line’s heritage before that; but for a more detailed account of the beans check this out.)

When it comes to food you can grow in your garden, I dare say beans are one of the top crops. The harvests are some of the most bountiful as the plants will continue to put forth new pods as you pick the maturing pods. For us, we can even get two harvests of dry beans thanks to an extra long growing season. On top of a large harvest, beans are a great source of protein, especially from the garden. And did I mention they’re super easy to preserve? If you pick them green they make awesome pickles or they can be blanched and frozen for later use. If you choose to let them dry, they can easily last all winter and even longer if you decide to keep them in the freezer.

Unfortunately, much like oats, dry beans contain an elevated level of phytic acid which hinders the bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients. However, in the same way that soaking oats and allowing them to ferment reduces the amount of phytic acid, soaking beans does the same thing. A good soak of the beans allows some of the phytic acid to be removed, but to really remove the phytic acid, you ought to let them sprout.

Sprouting beans before you eat them may sound daunting, but it’s really quite simple.

Two cups of beans at the beginning of the soak.

(You can even buy a kit with seeds from Amazon.) More often than not, we use our Potawatomi Limas for sprouting, but sometimes, we’ll find some store bought dried beans on our hands. Depending on the age of the beans and how they’ve been stored, they will still sprout, though, older beans will take longer and sometimes may not sprout at all. Fresh dried beans from the garden will sprout in a day or two, some store bought beans will take three or four days before they start making tails.

There are a variety of ways to sprout beans, though I’ve found

mid soak
Just about done soaking, they’ve almost doubled in volume.

the easiest to utilize a half-gallon mason jar. I start out by soaking the beans for 12-24 hours. Once they’ve sat and expanded, I’ll drain the water and cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter and a canning jar band. This allows for some air flow, but keeps potential flies and other things out. With the top of the jar semi-sealed, I lay the jar on it’s side someplace warm – in the winter this is on the wood stove hearth, in the summer it’s anywhere on the counter. (Ideal bean germination temps are in the high sixties-low seventies.) Then every six hours (or more frequently if I can remember); I fill the jar with tepid water, shake the beans around and then drain it. It is important to keep the beans clean and moist. (You don’t want to use hot water as it may kill the beans depending on your water heater temperature, and if you use cold water, you’ll slow the sprouting process a shade.)

full soak
Done sprouting, the jar is full!

Technically, when beans have sprouted about half an inch, you’re done, though I like to let mine get a little longer. As they get longer, the actual seed-coats may start to develop into the first leaves – cotyledons – and then you’ve got a sprout with some greenery. This is tougher to do with big beans, but can certainly be done with some of your smaller beans and peas.

Soaking the beans not only helps to change the nutrition profile for the better, but it makes cooking time a whole lot shorter. No hour plus boils or water changes. You can even eat some of the smaller bean sprouts raw, though I wouldn’t recommend it for the larger beans. You’ll notice as they cook, some of the beans will slough their coating. You can remove the coatings as they float to the top of the pot or you can just cook them in. Your call. Sprouting beans is a fairly simple task, and with semi-fresh beans, it’s a fairly consistent venture. I know some folks complain that it’s time consuming, but the time put into rinsing probably adds up to the time it takes to cook non-sprouted beans. It’s definitely a worthy experiment, so give it a go!

close up

Potawatomi Lima Beans


Potawatomi Lima beans hail from the Potawatomi Indians of Southern Michigan. After numerous years of selective preservation of these seeds, the Potawatomis had a lima bean that could grow in colder climates and shorter seasons. These are a pole variety and easily cover 8-foot teepees before looking elsewhere to climb. The seeds can be eaten as a shelling bean, or allowed to dry on the plant and used as a dry bean.

These limas did well in Vermont where we were able to collect both dried and green beans. In Georgia we are able to get two dried bean crops off one plant per season. Sometimes the pods will shatter while still on the plant. The seeds that land early in the summer will often end up producing by the fall and we will have a new harvest of shelling beans.

Very prolific plants, these cream, maroon and black seeds all came from pods of four or more seeds. Over the last decade or so we have been selecting for plants with four or more seeds per pod and while the numbers are still low, the number of 4+ pods have been increasing.

Climbing vines up to 8 feet
Many three seeded pods
15 grams ~25 seeds, $2.50 plus shipping and handling, just drop us a line.

Read up on how we came to select this variety.

Picking a Bean

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It’s a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We didn’t have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans I’ve grown when it came to cold nights.

close up
Soaked, sprouted, and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We’re able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We’ve tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?

Homestead Hack #2: Steal the Batteries!

Upon the birth of our children, we asked for non-toy type gifts. And the few toys that did receive the parental okay were usually metal or wooden. Our goal was to get away from toys with a million tiny plastic pieces to break or otherwise loose. Of course, this request can only be adhered to for so long. Eventually a relative that didn’t get the memo, a grandparent who thinks you’re being cruel, or a friend at their fifth birthday breaks the rule and the floodgates open.

With two of our own, and two foster kids we’ve kind of given into the plastic junk at birthdays and Christmas. We don’t purchase them, but we no longer glare at the evil gift giver who bought an ice-cream themed doll that comes with 50+ flavors of plastic ice cream scoops no bigger than a pencil eraser. That said, I still have a very hard time with the singing toys: the “interactive” ones that tell the kid to put the blue block in the square hole. You know, because I don’t actually interact with my kids, so I need a plastic device to act as parent… On top of that: I can’t stand the noise! We now have a singing school bus imploring the kids to:

“Be nice, be nice, not just once or twice;
be warm and kind to the folks you find
keeping nice stuff on your mind.”

It’s infuriatingly catchy (and almost makes me angry at niceness…).

So what do I do? Steal the batteries! Look, an AA battery is an AA battery. It will work just as well in a singing bus as a head lamp or a smoke detector. Noise problem solved!

Buying one battery is cheaper than buying three, and the silence is wonderful.

Homestead Hack #1: Label Your Eggs!