In A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen I included recipes for five of my favourite ways to preserve tomatoes with water bath canning – as tomato passata, tomatoes in brine, pizza sauce, salsa, and tomato relish. I’ve recently tried a couple of different methods that I’d like to share here.
I’ve been intrigued about fermenting tomatoes for a while, ever since reading Shannon Stonger’s Traditionally Fermented Foods. it seems like such a simple and low energy way to preserve tomatoes, and perfect for preserving the garden harvest as it makes it to the kitchen, because you don’t need a huge amount of tomatoes to justify boiling up the canner, you can just preserve one jar at a time. Tomato season is a busy time on the homestead, and having a way to just quickly preserve things without much fuss is very welcome!
I tested this recipe out, left them alone for nearly a year, and they were still good to eat after that long. Tomatoes are a bit naughty in the jar and have a habit of rising above the fermenting weight (which is why in the photo you can see lots of tomatoes trying to jump out of the jar!), even then in my Fido jar, they were still really good to eat. I definitely recommend checking out Shannon’s fermenting book for more tasty fermenting recipes.
How to ferment tomatoes:
Pack whole, firm tomatoes up to the ‘shoulders’ of a fermenting jar – I use Fido jars, but mason jars can work too if you remember to ‘burp’ them once a day for the first week or two, or until the bubbling stops.
Add around 3 tablespoons unrefined salt, plus an optional tablespoon of fresh whey or sauerkraut juice for every litre (quart) jar.
Top with non-chlorinated water to above the level of the tomatoes
Weigh the tomatoes down with a fermenting weight, or with a cabbage leaf weighed down with a boiled rock or other heat-sterilised heavy thing.
Put the lid on and leave it at around 23ºC (73ºF) for a week or two, or until the bubbling dies down, then move to root cellar, larder, or fridge conditions of around 15ºC (59ºF) or lower where they will store for up to a year.
Use these fermented tomatoes anywhere that you’d normally add tomatoes – salads, soups, stews, sauces, and more. This is a great low energy way to preserve tomatoes.
One of my favourite tomato varieties to grow is Principe Borghese, In my garden, this is a resilient variety that fruits very early, produces an abundance of tasty red cherry tomatoes that are great either raw or cooked, and it seems pretty resistant to pests. Last tomato season here was rainier and colder than usual, and I grew both this and “Gold Nugget” which is the earliest fruiting tomato that I know of, and Principe Borghese was the first to have ripe fruit, and was very plentiful. It’s also grown well for me in dry warm summers.
Principe Borghese is well-known as a good tomato for drying, but I’ve never grown it for that reason, just for all the reasons above. Last season I experimented with drying them in the wood stove.
How to dry tomatoes:
Slice them in half. Place them cut-side up on a baking sheet. Put them in a very low oven with the door ajar – I dried mine at the bottom of the top oven of the wood stove as it died down for the night, and also in the warming oven all day. Once the tomatoes have mostly dried out on that side, flip them over and dry the other side.
Once the tomatoes are fully dry, they will be crispy and full of flavour.
Tomatoes can also be dried in a solar dehydrator in a similar way – just dry cut-side up until that side is almost dry, then flip over and dry until crisp.
Tomatoes with more flesh and less juice and seeds, such as Amish Paste, Roma, Principe Borghese, and other sauce-type tomatoes are the best choices for drying, but any tomato can be dried in this way.
Store dried tomatoes an airtight container such as a glass jar with lid. If kept dry, they will keep well for a year or more.
Dried tomatoes are great smashed up and sprinkled on salads, on top of pizza, or added to stews, soups, sauces, and more.
Some of my friends and readers are ordering seeds at the moment, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite varieties of greens to grow. The varieties below are all fairly easy to find at the moment from online seed sellers, and all are open pollinated, so if you end up liking them as much as I do, you can save seeds from them too.
Why grow greens?
Greens yield a lot of nutrition in a small amount of space, and take a short time to yield.
Greens can be a good staple food in a survival diet – just have some calories from stored grains or homegrown potatoes, a source of fat and protein such as bacon or goats milk, and you basically have all that you need.
To make it on to my list, all of these greens have to be easy to grow, produce some food even on poor soil, not bolt to seed right away, and be easy to prepare and cook.
All of these greens will produce in soil that is not that great, but for larger, tastier leaves I try to add some organic matter in the form of compost or manure, along with minerals to adjust the soil pH when needed. Keeping them watered in dry weather will also help.
My favourite greens
Green wave mustard greens – the earliest green
These are the earliest cooking green to be ready. I direct sow mustard greens as early as possible, and they start growing in the earliest days of spring, with small leaves ready to pick in a few weeks. As the season progresses, they have larger leaves that are easier to harvest and just as tasty as the small leaves. If you want your greens ready even earlier, you could probably start the seeds in soil blocks or trays indoors and then transplant them.
Mustard greens bolt towards the end of spring, but not before producing many tasty and nutritious meals. The flowerheads can be cooked like tiny broccoli.
My main focus for these greens is as an early spring crop, but they can also be sowed towards the end of summer, to grow quickly and provide a crop in autumn, as they are ready around 6 weeks after sowing in warm weather.
For the spring crop, I usually sow at least 25 metres (80 feet) of row to feed our family of eight.
Mustard greens have a strong bite to them when raw, and almost all wildlife ignore them. As a cooking green, just leave them whole, or chop up, there’s no need to remove the stems. Either, boil, steam, or stir fry. My favourite use for these is to first fry up bacon, stir fry the greens in the bacon fat, and then stir the crispy bacon back in. They are also good in many soups, stews, and stir fries, or just cooked like spinach as a side vegetable to any meal.
Red Russian kale – all-round staple
I start this any time from the earliest days of spring through to the middle of summer. The smallest leaves are good to add to springtime salads, and by the later days of spring the leaves are getting large and ready to use in all kinds of cooked dishes.
Kale can either be direct sown, or started in trays or soil blocks. Kale self seeded really well for me last year, so that this year I had many tiny seedlings popping up around the garden, ready to be grown to full size or transplanted.
The standard advice where I live (Tasmania, cold zone 8b) is to start kale off after the summer solstice, and to use it as an autumn/winter crop, but I find that the weather in spring grows these much better than the dry days of summer, so I sow most of mine in spring, and it just keeps growing through the summer, into autumn and winter.
If you don’t have much irrigation water, Red Russian kale is perfect to grow if planted when rains are naturally falling in spring – the roots sink right down, and it survives through the summer, looking a little sad in the driest times, but then picking up again in autumn when the rains come.
I am trying to put kale pretty much everywhere in the garden – in the garden beds, as well as under fruit trees and in far-off corners. It is such a great staple green for us. As a minimum, I’d probably want to grow around 40 metres (130 feet) of row for our family, and I even feel as though this is not enough… I don’t think it’s possible to have too much kale growing!
Kale stands through the frost right through the winter here, it will bolt to seed the following spring. The flowerheads can be used like broccoli, and the tiny leaves on the towering plants can be used in salads or cooked. The yellow flowers can be eaten in salad, or let them develop into seed for planting.
Red Russian kale is tender enough to use in salads if the stems are removed. My main use for it is as a cooking green, where the stems can be left on, or taken off. The leaves can be cooked whole, or chopped up. I serve it in the same ways as I would for mustard greens, above, but it also can be made into crispy kale ‘chips’ by coating it in some fat and salt, and then baking it at around 180ºC (350ºF) in a single layer until crisp (around 10-15 minutes) – my easy way of doing this is to add it to the vegetables towards the end of a roast, stir it through to coat in the fat and salt from the vegetables, then move to the top of the roast pan to crisp up.
Tokyo Bekana – another adaptable staple green
Tokyo Bekana is a kind of loose-leaf Chinese cabbage. This can be planted any time from spring through to early autumn. Early spring plantings tend to bolt fairly quickly once it’s ready to eat, so it’s best to plant this in succession, with several plantings over the season.
I’d usually plant around 12 metres (40 feet) of row for every succession planting, so maybe around 36 to 48 metres (120-160 feet) or more over the whole season. It’s a fast-growing green in the summer (ready in around 6 weeks after sowing) and can be snuck in as a ‘catch crop’ every time there’s a bit of space in the garden.
The leaves of Tokyo Bekana are mild enough to use as a lettuce substitute in salads, and they can also be fermented, or cooked in any of the ways I cook mustard greens. Just keep the leaves whole, or chop them up, no need to remove stems.
Freckles – the lazy gardener’s lettuce
After trying many different lettuce varieties over the years, if I had to choose from only one to plant from now onwards, I would choose freckles, also known as “flashy trouts back” after it’s beautiful spotted leaves.
Freckles grows beautifully either direct sown or started in trays. I’ve even transplanted trays that have been left unplanted much longer than ideal, and it’s still grown well.
In summers when I haven’t had much irrigation water, once established, freckles has handled the lack of water better than other lettuces, and hasn’t bolted or gone bitter in the heat. Areas that have afternoon shade are the best for growing lettuce in summer.
Freckles grows quickly and doesn’t seem to be bothered much by slugs and snails.
The taste of freckles is a mixture of red and green lettuce taste – like having a good mixed salad but with only one kind of lettuce to harvest.
Like any lettuce, freckles is best grown in succession, as lettuces do bolt to seed eventually (freckles seems a bit slower to bolt than others though), so make a new planting of it every month in between early spring and early autumn and you’ll never run out of lettuce.
I use lettuce a lot in polycultures and in between larger plants such as cabbage, zucchini, and kale, where it seems to thrive below the taller plants while not harming anything.
Dandelion and other edible weeds
I like to encourage my favourite edible weeds at the edges of my garden, under fruit trees, and pretty much everywhere. For dandelions, I taste the leaves in spring and choose the ones with the biggest, tastiest leaves, I don’t overharvest from these ones, I keep an eye on them, and once they go to seed I take their wishing flower/fairy clock seedhead and blow or sprinkle the seeds in areas where they are most wanted.
Dandelions have a deep taproot which brings up nutrients from deep in the soil, not competing with common garden vegetables, and excellent to have around fruit trees and pastures.
I prefer dandelions as a cooked green, but the mild-tasting ones also go well raw in salads or pesto in spring.
Mallow is a good cooking green, the leaves can be a bit annoying to harvest compared to giant kale leaves, but it’s worth having around.
Sow thistle is a bit like spinach. My children love it. The leaves are a reasonable size, and it can be used either raw or cooked.
Wild rocket seems to pop up every year once established, the leaves are quite small but it has a lovely taste and is so easy to grow.
For more recipes and ideas for cooking with homegrown greens, see my book A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen
I’ve been quiet on this blog for the past few months, because I’ve been working on something very big…
I’ve been busy creating a cookbook that teaches the kitchen skills that are most important on a homestead, as well as a huge amount of adaptable everyday homestead recipes.
When the the panic buying, empty shelves, and restrictive rations hit earlier this year, it was not a problem for my family, because we knew these skills, and knew how to feed ourselves without the supermarket system. With the help of this book, you can learn these skills too.
I’ve created a Kickstarter in order to pre-sell enough copies to cover the printing costs. Running a Kickstarter means we can cut out the middleman, so I’m able to offer you a better price than the future retail one, while also being able to offer extra ebooks and other goodies.
Recently planted circular garden bed, and homemade geodesic chook dome
I first found out about this way of mandala gardening from Linda Woodrow’s “The Permaculture Home Garden”. She provides a design for a complete system that involves fruit trees, wild animal habitat, annual vegetable beds, and chook fodder plantings, with chickens being rotated around in a homemade chook dome. It all fits together so beautifully, with each element benefiting another, and it inspires me to grow food in this way.
I am in a colder climate (zone 8b/9a) with less sun in winter, with limited flat land, and am working on my own way of doing this that’s suited to my land and climate. Linda Woodrow doesn’t provide much information about which chook fodder perennials to grow in colder climates so I’ve just been using the entire circular bed to grow annual vegetables at this stage, usually for pumpkin, sunflower, grains, or potatoes. I would like to try out growing some chicken fodder plants but am not sure how the ones most suited to my climate (siberian pea tree, tagasaste) would go with being kept as a small shrub rather than tree. The chook fodder perennials fix nitrogen, produce mulch, feed the soil, and provide habitat for insect predators and pollinators.
One thing I like a lot about this system is if life gets busy and things get unharvested or weeds get out of hand, I just move the chickens on to that bed, and the the bolted and weedy plants turn into chook food and mulch. After two weeks the chickens have left me with a mulched, fertilised, weed-free bed, with also some tasty eggs to eat – it is almost too easy, and I’m thinking of terracing some of my land to fit in more chook dome spots for this reason.
A polyculture garden bed, with zucchini, beans, Asian greens, tomatoes, cucumber, and more around the edges, and pumpkin, corn, and sunflower in the middle
The soil has improved a lot in the spots where the chook domes have been. It’s been really inspiring to see it turn from a boring compacted lawn into a thriving garden that is feeding us and the chickens.
Every time the chook dome is moved, it gives a doable piece of garden to get planted. The mulch is often moved to one side of the bed by the chickens, so I first rake that out over the whole bed, and then I broadfork it. On a new bed over compacted soil I will usually broadfork it in two or four separate sessions, but once the soil underneath is getting a nicer structure, I can easily broadfork the entire bed at once.
Once the bed is broadforked, I use a hoe to create small pockets and lines in the mulch for planting. I fill these small pockets up with compost and plant them with seedlings or seeds. The spacing between the pockets will depend on each individual plant, I try to mix the plants up so that I don’t have blocks of a single plant, and this means the spacing can be very close because different plants are sending roots to different places. I can also plant with succession in mind, so that I can grow fast-growing Asian greens and lettuces right next to small seedlings of zucchini and tomatoes, and once the zucchini and tomatoes are starting to take over, the greens are ready to harvest, and I’ve made use of space that is often wasted.
One challenge I have experienced has been with my climate – it’s best if the chooks are moved every two weeks, but in winter there’s not much that can be planted once they have been moved, and in late spring there is so much to plant that it doesn’t feel like they can be moved quickly enough sometimes. One thing that’s happened a couple of times has been when I’ve moved the dome, not gotten around to planting the previous bed, and then moved the chooks back on to the previous bed for a day to get rid of the weeds before moving them on to a third bed – this way I end up with two beds ready to plant at the same time. A winter solution is to move the chickens into a greenhouse over the winter, or in mild climates to keep them in one spot with lots of mulch added.
The kind of tarp I use on top of the dome helps a lot with chicken comfort in extremes of weather – one side is silver and reflects heat, and the other side absorbs heat, so I have the silver side outside in summer, and inside in winter. In colder climates than mine this wouldn’t work, but I’ve tried it here and the chickens are happy.
The chickens can also help to make compost – just throw in way more mulch than you need, and anything else you want composted, and the chickens will scratch it up, and mix it with their manure, and once the chook dome is moved, you just need to shovel that out onto a spot in between the beds, water it, and it turns into compost.
With lots of mulch around there are usually slugs and snails – the chickens help to keep the population down, and the pond and rocks in Linda Woodrow’s design attract lizards that eat the snail eggs.
I am working on producing more of my own mulch for the chickens, from grains grown in the beds, as well as perennials grown around the edges of the garden. I’m also still figuring out the best plants and combinations of plants that thrive in this system in my climate.
Note: If you’d like to learn more about how and why I keep dairy goats, I’ve had a couple of guest posts published recently on Practical Self Reliance, and Nourishing Days. These blogs have a lot of other good stuff to read about too.
Liflin was born here, he’s the son of Snowy and Ned, and the cute baby goat you can see in my midsummer post. Last year we had high hopes for him, and he certainly tried his best, but he was probably too small or young to get our does pregnant.
This year he is bigger and stinkier, and there’s no mistaking that he is no longer a cute little goat kid, but a big stinky billy goat. I don’t find the smell that bad – there is something endearing about it, as I affectionately give him a scratch between the horns while calling him big stinky billy goat. Spending a lot of time with goats, I don’t really mind it, but when I first smelled a buck, it definitely was very strong!
Towards the end of April I noticed muddy hoof prints on Sunshine’s back. Soon after, other does began to go into heat, and all of a sudden it seems as though they were all covered with hoof prints.
These days Liflin is still stinky, and a bit frustrated, as none of the does are interested in him anymore. I hope it is for the right reason, and that we’ll see lots of babies and milk in the springtime.
I look for every sign of pregnancy, and am hopeful, but still nervous. Only two does are in milk now, and their supply has really slowed down. Geraldine will pick back up in springtime, whether she’s pregnant or not, but the others may not.
I dream of a summer and autumn ahead where I make one or two hard cheeses a week and store them away for the winter and spring. I dream of regularly making pizza from my own cheese, of having chévre for barter and gifts. I dream of my six does being in milk during the winter, and giving us enough milk to drink, and make yoghurt, and the odd batch of chévre. The thought of this abundance from our land is beautiful, but Liflin is untested, I don’t know whether it will happen or not…
I wonder when in homesteading things become ‘real’. I visit museums and historical sites about our pioneer ancestors and imagine what life was like for them – dropped off on our strange island with limited supplies, and no choice but to survive on the land and make the best of it that they could. There was no option of looking on Gumtree for another goat in milk, no option of buying someone else’s cheese, they had to make do with what they had.
I wonder if this was a source of worry for them, or if they just faced challenges, accepted their situation, and made the best of it, maybe drinking less milk some years, more milk other years, and finding other sources of food. It’s hard to know the answer to this. Everyone I speak to from older generations seems to avoid the idea of working to directly produce their own food as if it were a bad thing, while viewing a sedentary life in an office as an interchangable cog as something worthwhile to do in life. Yes, it can be hard to worry about the animals and our staple foods for the year ahead, but I find fulfilment in being connected to this.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything but angry about the current state of things, but there are lots of positive actions that can be done that boost personal resilience and wellbeing as well as reducing ecological footprints.
This year I did something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I bottled our entire tomato supply for the year…
I’d delayed this in the past due to annoying finicky instructions that insist on peeling the tomatoes, removing seeds, putting them through an expensive single-purpose gadget, and all kinds of stuff, but in the end I thought it was about time I tried this myself, using nothing more than a kitchen knife.
Our own garden harvest was not that big this year, for a few reasons that I’ve hopefully learned from, but rather than buying in bottled tomatoes from the other side of the world, I found a local organic grower, bought more than 30kg of sauce-grade tomatoes and bottled them all.
This is how we did it:
This step is only worth doing if you have too many tomatoes to fit in your pot at once. Sort through all the tomatoes and separate the damaged and super-ripe ones from the ones that can wait for a bit longer. Put the ones that can wait aside for another day (we preserved our 30kg+ of tomatoes over 3 days).
Wash the tomatoes, remove any leaves and stems (this is a good job for little helpers).
Roughly chop the tomatoes and put them in a big stainless steel pot (I used my 20 litre one).
Heat the chopped tomatoes over medium-high heat, smashing them up as you stir every so often. Once the tomatoes are bubbling you can either bottle them now, or reduce them for a bit. The jars I used were a bit smaller than the passata bottles I’m used to, so I chose to boil them to reduce them by around 1/4 to 1/3, to make for a more concentrated jar of tomato goodness. If you’re using plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes you’re more likely to get away with boiling them for less time, but ‘sauce tomatoes’ here just means any tomatoes that aren’t quite perfect, so they can use a bit of boiling to get rid of the extra liquid.
If you’re concerned about the tomatoes not being acidic enough on their own to store safely, then add a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice to each 500-600ml jar, or 2 tablespoons to larger jars.
Put the hot tomatoes in the warm jars and seal them with their clips or rings, depending on which jar type you’re using. Put a big canning pot with a false bottom or canning rack on the stove (or use a tea towel or some cutlery at the bottom of a normal pot), put a small amount of warm water in it (so that the hot jars aren’t shocked by a sudden change of temperature), then carefully add your jars. Add more water, so that the jars are surrounded by water either to just above the top of the lid, or at least 3/4 of the way up.
Put the lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, or at least above 90ºC (195ºF). Hold it at this temperature for 40-45 minutes, then allow the pot to sit with the lid off for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and allow them to cool on the bench before storing.
Fill up the next batch of jars for the pot and repeat until you’ve run out of hot tomatoes, making sure that the water in the pot at the beginning is around the same temperature as the jars. You can do this over two or more days, as long as the tomatoes are brought to the boil and kept hot for a while before bottling, and put into hot sterilised jars.
Bottling my own tomatoes at home has reduced the amount of far-away foods in our diet, reduced our tomato costs by half, made us more resilient, reduced waste, and they taste better than factory-bottled ones. It was an enjoyable time with family, with all of us appreciating the process and the results.
To help cut out the middlemen involved in publishing I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign for the book. This means that if you’d like to pre-order a copy for less than the future price, you can easily do this on Kickstarter. You’ll get bonus mini-ebooks too, and the option of other exciting rewards like cheesemaking kits, tree planting, and getting your name on the acknowledgements page of my book.
Backyard Dairy Goats is a book focusing on raising dairy goats in a way that respects their nature, on any amount of land. My aim with this book is to make backyard dairying achievable for anyone.
Most books about goats focus on keeping them on a larger scale, and don’t address many issues for those who just want some milk from a couple of goats in the backyard. Topics covered include:
•Natural goat health, how to prevent and fix most issues without a vet.
•Small batch cheesemaking.
•Everything you need to know about goats – their behaviour, how to feed them, handle them, what they need to thrive, and so on.
What this book is about:
•Caring for goats in a way that respects their goatness.
•Getting dairy goats now, wherever you are. It doesn’t have to be a dream that may happen one day in the distant future, it could happen now, and this book will show you how.
•Learning from observation, and goat behaviour in the wild to provide the right foods for goats to thrive.
•A permaculture approach, looking at the whole backyard ecosystem and the many interactions between goats, animals, garden, people, and trees.
•Cheesemaking and home dairying without artificial weird stuff.
•Goat dairy as a homemade staple food, for health, survival and self reliance. Recipes included.
Not just for backyards
This book is relevant for larger bits of land as well, especially in the early years while you’re waiting for perennials to grow or waiting to build more fences. Goat milk provides an instant harvest, with a minimal amount of brought-in feed, using smaller amounts of land and food than cows, while providing manure for the garden.