The Prairie Homestead http://www.theprairiehomestead.com Homesteading | Self Sufficient Living | Living off the Land Fri, 26 Aug 2016 01:56:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.3 5 Secrets for Crunchy Pickles http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/crispy-crunchy-pickles.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/crispy-crunchy-pickles.html#respond Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:30:12 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17166 Ain’t nobody likes a mushy pickle… It’s a problem that’s plagued pickle-makers for centuries: how do you find a pickle recipe that results in perfectly crisp cucumbers with that highly sought-after ‘crunch’ when you take a bite? In the past when I’d go to make my homemade pickles, Prairie Husband would always cautiously raise an eyebrow and […]

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pickling cucumbers in a colander

Ain’t nobody likes a mushy pickle…

It’s a problem that’s plagued pickle-makers for centuries: how do you find a pickle recipe that results in perfectly crisp cucumbers with that highly sought-after ‘crunch’ when you take a bite?

In the past when I’d go to make my homemade pickles, Prairie Husband would always cautiously raise an eyebrow and say in this questioning tone of voice, “They’re gonna be crunchy pickles, right?”

To which I respond, “Er, sure honey… you bet.”

Honestly, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get consistently crunchy pickles– I tried all sorts of things, and had mixed results. And like with anything else, if you talk to a dozen different people, you’ll get a dozen different answers.

In my quest for the ultimate crunchy pickle recipe, I’ve collected a number of little tricks, so I decided to compile a list. Keep in mind you don’t have to use ALL of them though- and the first two ideas are the ones that make the most difference… At least in my humble opinion.

homemade fermented pickle recipe with dill and garlic

5 Secrets for Crunchy Pickles

  1. Use small, firm cucumbers. This is, hands-down, the most important! If you start with a big ol’ soft cucumber, you’ll end up with big ol’ soft pickles. Always, always select the smallest, most firm cucumbers and leave the big soft ones out of the pickle jar. It’s a natural law of sorts– if you are using ginormous, overgrown cukes for your pickles, ain’t nothing gonna turn them crunchy… No matter how creative you get or how many prayers you say while they are in the water bath canner.
  2. Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible. Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best, and I always try to plan room in my schedule to can up a batch right away on pickle-picking day. However, I’ve still had good results using farmer’s market cukes– providing they are firm when I buy them, and I don’t leave them on the counter for days and days.
  3. Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple hours. If I can’t get to work canning my cucumbers immediately after picking them (or when I get home from the farmer’s market), submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up/stay firm.
  4. Cut off the blossom end of cucumber. The blossom-end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes which can cause mushy pickles. Cutting it off is your best bet.
  5. Add tannins to the jar. This may include oak leaves, grape leaves, or black tea. Honestly? This trick is always recommended, but I’ve had hit-or-miss results with it… If you have oak leaves or grape leaves handy, it definitely can’t hurt to toss one in each jar. Or, add a 1/2 teaspoon of loose black tea to each jar. But again, it won’t turn already-soft cucumbers magically crispy.

What about Alum? Back in the day, it was recommended to add alum or food-grade lime to pickle recipes to help with crispness. It’s not really recommended anymore, due to safety considerations. (I’m not really interested in having aluminum in my pickles, thankyouverymuch.) Therefore, I have no personal data to share if these options are really that effective. However, I’m pretty darn sure if you use the tips above, you won’t even need to consider alum or lime.

What if I STILL get mushy pickles? Well, then you might as well just quit this whole homesteading gig and go back to buying everything from the store…. Nah, not really. 😉 Sometimes mushiness still happens, even if you do everything in your power to prevent it. Mushy pickles are still quite edible, and if I get super-duper mushiness going on, I usually use those for chopping up to add to potato salad, etc. Just keep experimenting– you’ll get into your crispy-pickle groove eventually.

OK… now how do I make the actual pickles? I knew you were going to ask that, so I have my favorite old-fashioned brined pickle recipe all ready for you right here. Or, if you looking for a water-bath canned version, this is a good one. 

how to make crunchy pickles

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Simple Mint Syrup Recipe http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/simple-mint-syrup-recipe.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/simple-mint-syrup-recipe.html#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 20:58:07 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17110 My mint is trying to take over my life right now. Now I’m not exactly complaining, because with the gardening year I’ve had thus far, I’m just happy to see something, anything, growing out there… It hasn’t been a good growing season for my poor little garden. I suspect I have an issue with contaminated […]

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mint simple syrup made with honey

My mint is trying to take over my life right now.

Now I’m not exactly complaining, because with the gardening year I’ve had thus far, I’m just happy to see something, anything, growing out there…

It hasn’t been a good growing season for my poor little garden. I suspect I have an issue with contaminated compost, and while I can’t say for absolute certain yet, it ain’t pretty… As I wrote in my newsletter last week, my carefully tended heirloom tomato plants have the strangest rolled leaves, even though the plants are still alive. None of my beans, beets, or kohlrabi sprouted, and I’ve been scratching my head and wondering what on earth is going on. I am working on getting to the bottom of it, and once (if?) I get it figured out, I will definitely update y’all here on the blog.

homemade mint syrup recipe with homegrown mint

But back to the crazy mint… As many of you know, mint is super easy to grow, and once it’s established, it tends to take over. I put in a mere handful of plants this year, and they have grown exponentially.

So the million dollar question is: what do ya do with a bountiful mint harvest? Well, thankfully, you got options folks. Lots of options. You can make homemade garden pest repellent with it, add it to your chicken’s nesting boxes to freshen things up, or make homemade mint extract.

Last year I experimented with this simple mint syrup recipe and the Prairie Husband has been asking for it ever since. We use it to make mint sweet tea, but you can add it to homemade cocktails as well. It’s herb-y (herb-ish?) and fresh, without being overpowering.

Take that, you crazy mint plants!

mint simple syrup made with honey

Simple Mint Syrup Recipe

  • 1 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar OR 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water

Instructions:

  1. Add the water and sugar/honey to a slow simmer in a saucepan
  2. Add the mint leaves, and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove the mint leaves from the syrup and discard them.
  4. Store the mint syrup in the fridge in a sealed jar for for one to two months.

To Make Mint Iced Tea:

Add 1/2 cup of simple mint syrup per two quarts brewed iced tea, or to taste. Stir well and serve.

homemade mint syrup recipe with homegrown mint

Mint Syrup Notes:

  • I have a variety of mint plants, including spearmint, and I just add them all to this recipe. I’m not picky.
  • I have tried white sugar, as well as coconut sugar for this recipe. Feel free to experiment with any other natural granulated sugar as well.
  • Keep in mind that if you are using raw honey in this recipe, the simmering process will negate many of the benefits of the raw honey.
  • Using a unrefined sugar, like coconut sugar, will give you a darker syrup. Honey or white sugar results in a light yellow syrup.
  • You can totally double, triple, or quadruple this one!

mint simple syrup recipe

Other Summer Beverage Ideas:

5.0 from 1 reviews
Simple Mint Syrup Recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Beverage
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar OR ¼ cup honey
  • 1 cup water
Instructions
  1. Boil water and sugar.
  2. Add mint leaves and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove the leaves from the syrup and discard them.
  4. Store the mint syrup in the fridge in a sealed jar for up to 1 month.
  5. To Make Mint Iced Tea:
  6. Add ½ cup of mint syrup per 2 quarts brewed iced tea, or to taste. Stir well and serve.

Simple Mint Syrup Recipe made with honey-- great for teas or cocktails!

 

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How to Build a Chicken Run http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/build-chicken-run.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/build-chicken-run.html#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:30:38 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17126 We’ve lost more than our fair share of birds over the years to a variety of predators, so I am thrilled to be welcoming Kathleen of Yankee Homestead to the blog today– you are going to love her practical tips and detailed tutorial for building a chicken run of your own! If you’ve kept chickens […]

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how to build a chicken run

We’ve lost more than our fair share of birds over the years to a variety of predators, so I am thrilled to be welcoming Kathleen of Yankee Homestead to the blog today– you are going to love her practical tips and detailed tutorial for building a chicken run of your own!

If you’ve kept chickens for any amount of time…

…Then I’m sure you know the heartbreak of raising chicks to adulthood, only to have them nabbed by a predator just when they’ve started laying eggs.

Losing even a few chickens from a small backyard flock is enough to make any homesteader sad, mad and determined to outsmart those wily predators!

In more than four years of raising backyard chickens, we’ve discovered snakes, a possum and a raccoon in our chicken coop. We’ve also had trouble with foxes and hawks.

Our three-acre homestead is situated at the top of a hill with few trees, and hawks are definitely our worst predator.

At least they were.

How to Build a Chicken RunAfter the hawks made off with yet another of our free range hens, we were forced to keep the girls penned up in their coop for a time while we considered the options.

In the end, we chose to construct a simple chicken run. We even made our own gate! I’m happy to report that in over one full year with our chicken run, we’ve had zero trouble with hawks. Hooray!

Here’s how we did it…

How to Build a Chicken RunHow to Build a Chicken Run

Supplies

  • 4”x8’ wooden posts OR half posts / garden posts OR 7’ T-posts
  • 2×4 14 GA OR 8-10 GA welded wire fence
  • Zip ties
  • ¾” poultry net staples (like this)
  • Metal wire
  • Optional, but recommended: hardware cloth OR a strong metal fencing material with ½” to ¼” openings (Other options include small aperture chicken wire or rabbit fencing. Do NOT use regular chicken wire.)
  • Optional: heavy duty C flex 80 round deer fencing
  • Gate (or supplies to build one; see below)

Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Post hole digger or T-post driver (like this)
  • Tamper
  • Pliers
  • Wire snips
  • Hammer

How to Build a Chicken RunInstructions

1. Determine the dimensions of your run.

We chose to wrap our run around two sides of an existing vegetable garden for three reasons:

  • The chicken coop was already located near the garden.
  • The garden was already enclosed with a wire fence to keep out deer.
  • We were banking on the added bonus of bug control for the garden.

How to Build a Chicken RunA few considerations:

  • To protect against hawks, a good width for your run is about four feet. Even when the run is left uncovered, a hawk will not land in such a narrow space.
  • Be sure to designate space for a gate!
  • Make sure your chicken coop is even with one side of the run.

How to Build a Chicken Run 2. Choose your materials.

The existing fence around our vegetable garden was built from 4×8 wooden posts and 2×4 14 GA welded wire fence. We chose to use the same fencing for the chicken run, with T-posts for the additional supports.

If you’re building a chicken run from scratch, choose the material that best suits your needs.

Note: Regular chicken wire will not keep out predators. Unfortunately, even the 14 GA welded wire fence of our own chicken run did not keep out raccoons. They can reach right through the openings to kill a chicken.

The solution is to add a strip of hardware cloth (or some sort of metal fencing with very small holes, no larger than ½”) along the bottom of the run. Theoretically you could build the entire run out of hardware cloth, but it’s pretty pricey. A more economical option is to build the run out of a less expensive material and use the hardware cloth along the bottom of the run.

How to Build a Chicken Run
3. Space posts about every six feet.

  • For 8’ wooden posts, use a post hole digger to dig a 2’ hole.
  • Place the post in the hole, fill with dirt and pack with a tamper.
  • For 7’ T-posts, hammer in with a T-post driver (like this).

Note: Our run is 4′ wide on the long side and 5′ wide on the short side (where the gate is located). The gate is 3′. This required two extra posts for mounting the gate, spaced about 1′ from the sides of the run. (See gate instructions below.)

How to Build a Chicken Run
4. Roll out the fence.

  • Roll it out along the entire path you’ve created with the posts.
  • Be sure to roll it out completely in front of the coop.

5. Attach the fence to the posts.

  • Before attaching to the posts, make sure the fence is at ground level along the entire path. For additional security against digging predators, make a trench and bury the fence about 6-12 inches deep.
  • When the fence is positioned correctly, wrap one end around the first post and use zip ties to hold it in place.
  • Pull the fence tight along the rest of the posts and wrap the other end around the last post, securing with zip ties. We chose to leave the zip ties attached permanently for added stability.
  • Check to make sure you’re happy with the fence position all the way around your run.
  • Use 3/4” poultry staples to attach the fence to wooden posts or pieces of wire to attach to T-posts.

How to Build a Chicken Run6. Attach hardware cloth. (optional, but recommended)

For added protection, attach hardware cloth or similar fencing along the bottom of the fence.

Note: most predators that are able to reach through regular fencing to nab a chicken will attack at night. If you want to avoid the cost of hardware cloth, another option is to lock up the chickens in the coop at night.

How to Build a Chicken Run7. Cut out an opening for the coop.

  • Use wire snips to cut an opening in the fence.
  • Use wire and staples to attach the fence to the coop, as in #5.

How to Build a Chicken Run8. Optional: cover the run.

To deter climbing predators, cover the run with heavy duty C flex 80 round deer fencing and secure with zip ties.

9. Build (or purchase) and install a gate.

How to Build a Chicken RunHow to Build a Gate

There are many ways to build a gate. This is how we built the one pictured here…

Supplies

  • (2) 6’ 2x4s
  • (3) 3’ 2x4s*
  • (1) 1×4 to fit diagonally across the gate
  • Screws–2″ to 3″ wood screws to attach wood frame
  • Screws–1/2″ screws for the L-brackets
  • Fencing material to fit wooden gate frame
  • (8) L-brackets
  • (3) gate hinges (like this)
  • (1) latch
  • Optional: weather stripping or similar padding

*This should match the width of your finished gate. Remember to make your gate large enough to accommodate a wheel barrow or any equipment you’ll need to use inside the run. Our gate is 3’ wide.

Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Drill with screw bit
  • Hammer
  • Wire snips

Instructions:

1. Measure, mark and cut the 2x4s for the gate’s frame.

2. Connect the three shorter 2x4s to the 2 longer 2x4s with 2″ to 3” wood screws inserted at an angle.

3. Attach eight L-brackets to give the gate more stability. We used only four. In hind sight my husband recommends bracing each corner, which requires eight brackets.

How to Build a Chicken Run4. Measure, mark and cut the 1×4 to fit diagonally across the gate from top to bottom. Attach to gate frame with 1/2″ screws (one at the top, one at the bottom and one in the middle).

How to Build a Chicken Run5. Hang the gate with three gate hinges of your choice.

How to Build a Chicken Run6. Attach a latch choice on the outside of the gate. Our latch is similar to this one. It may be necessary to add a small piece of wood to support the latch.

How to Build a Chicken Run7. Use wire snips to cut a small opening beside the latch. This will allow you to operate the latch from inside the run.

8. It’s a tiny bit hillbilly, but we used what we had on hand–weather stripping secured with zip ties–to line the sharp edges of the opening in the wire. This protects our hands from getting scratched!

How to Build a Chicken Run

And that’s it! We’ve been so pleased with our simple chicken run.

Which predators cause the most trouble for your backyard chickens? How do you protect your flock? Have you tried a chicken run?

Kathleen Henderson lives on a few acres in Northern Virginia, where she keeps up with Mr. Native Texan, three busy boys, an assortment of chickens and an organic garden. She blogs about healthy living at yankeehomestead.com, providing time-saving resources for naturally-minded mamas.

instructions for a diy chicken run

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Fruit Popsicles Recipe http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/fruit-popsicles-recipe.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/fruit-popsicles-recipe.html#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 16:07:46 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17088 There’s a ring around the bathtub every night… A combination of blazing hot temperatures + TWO dirt piles + splashing in the water tank + bikes + farm animals + bare feet produces two of the grimiest children I have ever seen. Every. Single. Night. I don’t even want to think about what we’re gonna do […]

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homemade popsicles with real fruit

There’s a ring around the bathtub every night…

A combination of blazing hot temperatures + TWO dirt piles + splashing in the water tank + bikes + farm animals + bare feet produces two of the grimiest children I have ever seen. Every. Single. Night.

I don’t even want to think about what we’re gonna do when winter finally hits. It won’t be pretty, and there’s usually a pretty rough adjustment when they can’t live outside anymore.

But for now, we’re living in the moment of summer, and soaking up every grimy, sweaty minute of it.

homemade popsicles with real fruit

We don’t do a lot of snacks around here, but the Prairie Kids do like a little something around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. They generally come inside and raid the fridge for some fruit or string cheese. I’ll be honest– I don’t always have homemade popsicles ready-to-go at a moment’s notice, but when I do? Well, I’m pretty much super-mom in their eyes. My only rule is that they eat their fruit popsicles outside, so the sticky drips don’t land on my floor.

The below recipes fill a set of 8 single pop molds. (Like this one (affiliate link)) Simply adjust the amounts depending on the volume of popsicle molds you have on hand. Use equal parts of fruit (fresh or frozen) with coconut water– it’s that easy. You can also choose to add a touch of honey if desired. And if you don’t have coconut water, you can substitute in coconut milk or raw milk. It’ll just produce a “creamy” popsicle instead of a “clear” one.

homemade popsicles with real fruit

Real Fruit Popsicles Recipe

Banana Blueberry

  • 3.5 cups coconut water (like this)
  • 1 cup banana
  • 2.5 cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional for extra sweetness)

Strawberry

  • 3.5 cups coconut water (like this)
  • 3.5 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional, for extra sweetness)

Banana Kale

  • 3.5 cups coconut water (like this)
  • 3 cups banana chunks
  • 1/2 cup fresh kale
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional, for extra sweetness)

Mango

  • 3.5 cups coconut water (like this)
  • 3.5 cups mango, diced
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional, for extra sweetness)

homemade popsicles with real fruit

Directions

1. Place ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
2. Pour into popsicle molds and place in freezer for 4 hours or overnight.
3. Put under hot water to release popsicles from mold and enjoy!

 

 

real fruit popsicle recipe

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