A Cheap And Easy Grow Light Setup For Garden Seedlings

How to Make Cheap Grow Lights for Growing Plants and Seedlings Indoors

Inexpensive Grow Light Setup

The following is excerpted from the upcoming book, Small Space Seed Starting by Mary Ellen Ward. Subscribe to this blog or follow Mary on Amazon for an announcement when it is published (will be available on Amazon).

Whether you are growing vegetables, flowers, or even houseplants, plant grow lights do NOT have to cost a lot. Following is the cheapest grow light setup for seedlings–and what’s even better, all of the supplies can be had with a single trip to your neighborhood hardware store.

Of course, shopping online is an option, too, but in my personal experience the best prices on these grow light supplies has been through Lowe’s (which is the closest supplier to me, but Home Depot and Walmart are close seconds). That said, depending on the size of your setup, Amazon and other online retailers have some good prices, too.


How to Make Cheap Grow Lights:
You will need:
>> Plug-in workshop lights — standard 2-tube fluorescent units (available at any Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal Mart, Hardware store, or online)
>> 1 Cool spectrum bulb (fluorescent tube)
>> 1 Warm spectrum bulb (tube)
>> Small S hooks (2 per light unit — chains are usually included with the light unit)
>> Optional: power strip and/or timer


What Is The Cheapest Grow light Setup for Seedlings?

Specialized grow light units are convenient and reliable, but they also tend to be quite expensive and more difficult to locate locally (which also means that if you need to replace a bulb or a unit on short notice, acquiring one quickly could be a problem).

Alternatively, and less expensively, you can create your own grow light setup with simple, inexpensive supplies that you can buy at nearly any local hardware or department store.

Dual-bulb plug-in fluorescent workshop lights are easy to install, inexpensive, and accessible. (A similar setup with LED lights is workable, too, as long as the bulbs have the full spectrum of light or you can locate bulbs to achieve a full spectrum ranging from cool to warm light.)

Forty-eight-inch shop light units are widely available and fit a four-foot-long shelving unit well. You can plug them into any household three-prong outlet or power strip. Power strips make it easy to turn all the light units on and off together.

The Right Type of Bulbs to Buy for Cheap and Easy Grow Lights

warm and cool spectrum lightbulbs

The way to achieve full-spectrum plant lighting with inexpensive shop bulbs is to use one “cool” spectrum bulb and one “warm” spectrum bulb.

These are not specialty bulbs — you will find them in the regular lighting aisle with all the other bulbs. They are usually sold two to a pack, so if you are setting up two grow lights, just buy one pack of each. 

Place one of each type of bulb in each shop light fixture.

Typical fluorescent bulbs of this type usually cost around $5 per bulb as of the time of publication (as opposed to around $25+ for grow lightbulbs of the same size). Each type of bulb (warm and cool) delivers light at different points of the spectrum, but together they achieve the full spectrum your plants will require.

Note that, although some fairly specific units and supplies are detailed here, any size or version of this setup that fits your needs and your space will give you the light you need — again, as long as you take care to use light bulbs that will provide a full spectrum of light for your plants; it’s all about the bulbs that give you the full spectrum of light.

How To Make A Space-Saving Grow Light Shelf

Though you can use a tabletop setup, the idea with small-space seed starting is to minimize and maximize your space at the same time. Do this by using a simple shelving unit to create tiers of lighted space so that you can keep many plants in the same footprint of floor space.

Depending on how much space you need for plant flats, you could even put a small two- or three-level shelf on the top of a table or workspace—as long as you can sacrifice that space for the next two to three months.

As for the shelf itself, there are many options online or at your local hardware, farm, or garden store. Your shelf certainly does not need to be one specifically designed for use as a plant shelf. Metal shelves that are used for kitchen, bath, or dry storage are ideal and come in sizes that work well with standard shop lights.

household storage shelf used for growing seedlings

Inexpensive home “greenhouse” units work, too, (these often have a plastic covering that you will want to remove to allow good air circulation and to keep the plastic away from the lights’ heat). Rubbermaid™-type or heavy-duty plastic storage shelves are other good options. Even some cheap wooden-slatted bookcases can work.

To create your lighted growing shelf, use S hooks on the bottom of one shelf to hang above the shelf below.

Shop light, S hooks, chains for hanging on plant shelf.

Using the chains that come with your light units, hang them from the S hooks.

Do not pinch the hooks closed–you want them open so that you can easily adjust your grow lights and move them up as your seedling grow.

How Far Away Should You Space Grow Lights From Seedlings?

Grow lights 2 inches above seedlings

Your lights should always be kept about two inches above your growing plants–close enough to provide strong light without causing the seedlings to become leggy and stretched, resulting in weak stems.

Also note that LED lights tend to run hotter than fluorescent bulbs and therefore may need to be distanced farther than fluorescent tubes. Some people find it difficult to find a balance between being far enough away not to burn the seedlings, but close enough to prevent leggy stem growth.



Grow Light Management Tips
>> If your plants develop tall, thin, weak stems, move your light closer, about an inch above the tops.
>> Be sure plants are not touching the lights. Fluorescent lights run fairly cool, but if they are too close lights could cause burning and over-drying of your seedlings.
>> LED lights run hotter than fluorescent tubes and may need to be spaced farther from plant tops (but some people say it is difficult to keep the plants close enough for strong stem growth without burning plant tops).
>> Continue to move lights up by adjusting the units on the chains, always keeping them within one to three inches of the plants.
>> Adding a fan to your setup and/or brushing your hand lightly over the tops of your seedlings daily helps to mimic wind and helps seedlings develop stronger stems.


How Much Time Do Indoor Garden Plants Need Under Grow Lights?

The recommended amount of time that you should provide light to your indoor seedlings, flowers, and vegetables is set at between 12 and 16 hours per day. This mimics early spring outdoor light and also adds some time (at the higher 16-hour range) to accommodate for lighting conditions that are less powerful than the sun’s natural light. If you provide consistent light in this time range you will give your plants a strong enough start to get them to transplant stage.

If You’ve Got Good Light, Do You Need A Grow Light Setup?

If you have a south-facing bay window or something similar, there is a slim chance you’ll have enough natural light to grow your seedlings, but the fact of the matter is that most of us do not.

Even with a good light source from a glass door or window, days are simply not long enough to provide enough hours of direct sunlight for your seedlings to grow properly, especially in the earlier weeks of growing before the days naturally lengthen. 

Also, most modern windows are designed to block out the sun’s ultraviolet rays as a level of skin protection and protection for household goods and fabrics. The amount of UV light being blocked by your windows and doors may vary depending on factors like type, age, and brand of the window, but the bottom line is, there’s a good chance your plants won’t be able to get all the full-spectrum growing light they need through windows in your home. If you’ve ever tried starting seeds indoors before, and they came out looking pale with long, weak stems that couldn’t support the plant, this is why.

All of this taken together is why we provide supplemental light for strong plant starts.

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Easy Elderberry Jam Recipe

A Fast, Simple, Delicious Elderberry Refrigerator Jam Made from Dried Elderberries

Got 30 minutes and some dried elderberries? Then you’ve got elderberry jam!

Got 30 minutes and some dried elderberries? Then you’ve got elderberry jam!

There’s no faster or easier elderberry jelly or jam recipe. Since it’s a refrigerator jam, this recipe requires no canning or processing after the jam is made. Fill the jars, pop in the fridge, and you’ve got one more easy way to incorporate the goodness of elderberry into your everyday diet.

There’s no faster or easier elderberry jelly or jam recipe. Since it’s a refrigerator jam, this recipe requires no canning or processing after the jam is made. Fill the jars, pop in the fridge, and you’ve got one more easy way to incorporate the goodness of elderberry into your everyday diet.

Easiest Elderberry Jam

Ingredients:

Elderberry Jam Jars

Instructions:

Measure the ½ cup dried elderberries into a small glass bowl or two-cup glass measuring cup. Add the ¾ cup cold water to the dried berries. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or eight to twelve hours) to rehydrate berries. (Alternatively, if you are short on time, you may bring the water and berries to a low boil and then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Time permitting, rehydration is slightly better with the overnight cold-soak method, but either method will work. Read here for more on how to rehydrate dried elderberries for recipes.)

Pour the rehydrated elderberries and any remaining juice/water into a medium saucepan. Add the lemon juice and additional ½ cup water, stir to combine, then bring to a boil.

Remove from heat and carefully transfer the mixture into a blender or food processor. Keeping your hand on the lid of the blender, blend the berry mixture until a smooth, uniform consistency is reached (a few minutes).

Return the blended mixture to the pan. Sprinkle the powdered pectin over the berry mixture. Let rehydrate for one minute and stir to incorporate.

Stir constantly while heating and bring the mix to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Turn off the heat. Add the honey (or sugar). Stir to combine.

Heat, stir, and return the entire mixture to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

Pour the hot jam into jars. Cap and let cool for several hours. Refrigerator jam must be stored in the refrigerator, even before use, and is not considered shelf-stable at room temperature as it is not a canned product.

Yields three, eight-ounce jars of jam.

*This recipe originally appeared in The Complete Elderberry Tea Book. It has been adapted from a recipe from Frontier Co-Op, with changes made to improve sweetness and instructions. Enjoy!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links help customers shop ad help support the costs and maintenance of this website by proving a small percentage income of sales to the site owner/affiliate, which helps to make this website and information-sharing possible. Affiliate sales do not increase the cost of products to buyers who utilize the convenient links included in this article. Thank You for your support!

Five Super Seed Picks for Your Garden This Year

It’s 2021 at the time of this writing, but these seed varieties have been around for generations, so no matter when you find this article, these are time-tried and true plants that are always worth a look for your garden.

In This Article:
Five Super Seed Recommendations
Double-Duty Dual Purpose Vegetable Varieties
Simple Seed Saving for Starters

The time is right for planning your garden and ordering your seeds RIGHT NOW.

While in many parts of the country January seems like a pretty quiet and unlikely time to start thinking about garden planning and seed ordering, it’s actually the best time to get your order planned and purchased—and that is especially true this year.

Garden Seeds to Order

Seed companies are reporting five-fold increases in seed orders this year. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had already closed its website for a period of four days or so twice, and has said this week that it will likely have to do so again. On top of that, they are experiencing shipping delays and alerting customers to expect their orders to take up to two weeks before they leave their facility.

This is not, of course, to pick on Baker Creek. One of the reasons they are having such issues is their reputation for quality and dedication to accessible, sustainable gardening and growing. The demand and challenges they are facing are certainly not unique to them; many seed suppliers have similar tales to tell. They’re simply one example. In fact, Fedco Seed’s website is also currently on hiatus with known delays in shipping (at time of publication—do check their site via these links!).

The moral of the story is, plan early and order early. The planning is important—in a year like this it’s not nice to overbuy and hoard seed you don’t need. As Fedco Seed says in their catalog, they’re not gold and those hoarded seeds can’t last forever. So take what you need, share what you can, and be a friend to fellow gardeners and growers.

Five Varieties of Seed You Need in Your Garden This Year

These seeds aren’t new to me or to seed catalogs this year. In fact, they’ve been around a really long time. But they are seeds that can prove even more useful in a year like this, each for its various reasons. They’re favorites I’ve come to rely on, that I think you will, too.

1. Seasoning Celery (aka Cutting Celery, Amsterdam Seasoning Celery)

Why you want it:

Celery is a heavy feeder and can be tricky to grow. Some locations have an easier time of it than others. Seasoning celery, however, grows more like an herb—it’s often compared to parsley in its growing habit. It needs less time to start than stalk celery and can be started just six weeks before transplant time (or even in the ground depending on location).

This is a shorter, leafier plant than traditional celery that grows slimmer stalks but it’s easier to grow and can be cut throughout the season and it will keep coming back. It has a long harvest period from spring through summer and fall and is frost hardy. This gives you nice celery sprigs for those summer salads as well as plenty to preserve for winter soups and stews.

Because its thinner, both the stalks and the leaves dry easily just by hanging. You can simply chop it and freeze it in a bulk bag, too. If you’re looking for large stalks this isn’t your ideal celery, but if chopping and cooking is your primary celery use, you’ll love the ease and versatility of seasoning celery. And it’s an heirloom, too! (So saving is an option if you know how to do it.)

Who has it:

2. Rutgers Tomato

Why you want it:

Rutgers is often dubbed the “Campbell’s Soup Tomato” because the famous soup company developed it. It is now considered an heirloom and is open pollinated (seed saver!). The plants are more compact than a lot of garden tomato bushes, topping at just around three feet tall.

Rutgers is usually considered an indeterminate tomato (fruits continuously rather than all at once), though some strains are listed as determinate (fruits and ripens all together) or even semi-determinate. Check your seed supplier—their description will tell you which strain they carry. It is a fairly short season tomato, needing just 70 to 80 days to harvest.

The best reason to grow Rutgers is that, on top of its reputation for fabulous old-world flavor, it is a great dual-purpose tomato—so you can grow both slicers and sauce/paste tomatoes without having to buy multiple types of seed and without planting more than one variety. All your tomato seeds in one reliable, time-tested bush!

When seeds shortages are on, good dual-purpose varieties are an excellent way to go (and some that, no matter the seed supply, saves space and money).

Who has it:

3. Italian Sweet Peppers:

Why you want it:

Italian sweet peppersmature around 70 days, so they’re among the first to harvest, especially of the larger pepper varieties. These multi-purpose peppers can be harvested at any stage from young and green to yellow to red and mature.

Italian peppers are excellent fresh, good for freezing, and easy to dry because they are a thinner-walled pepper. They’re also known to be excellent roasting peppers (especially if harvested when red).

Eight inches long, they are quite sizable. In my garden they’ve proven to be a more reliable and less finicky pepper, often setting fruit and bearing well throughout a long season even when bell-types and other peppers struggle.

Heirloom and open pollinated, so easy to save for next year, too!

Who has it:

4. Flashy Trout Back lettuce (aka Forellenschluss, Flashy Trout’s Back, Flashy Troutback)

Why you want it:

Flashy Trout Back is a great all-purpose lettuce, something between a leaf and a head lettuce. Technically it’s considered a romaine lettuce, but in my experience it is easier to grow than what most people think of when they think “romaine”.

The hearts are a little looser which in my garden means I’m not waiting for that perfectly tight head that sometimes makes me miss the right harvest moment all together. It’s known for being a little less resistant to bolting in hot weather, too.

This lettuce offers flexibility in harvesting in that it can be grown and harvested as a baby lettuce, or you can pick leaves at any stage as a leaf lettuce (and when treated this way I’ve even had it come back as something of a cut-and-come again type), or you can treat it as a head lettuce and wait for a fuller head. Odds are that you’ll do a bit of all three (and be sure to use any thinnings for baby greens!).

What Flashy Troutback has over other leaf lettuces is that it is a substantial leaf (the romaine influence), heartier than a lot of leaf lettuces.

Flashy Troutback is an heirloom, open pollinated variety that is most often found as an organic, so there’s a win-win. It’s an easy seed to save, so let a few go and have your stock for next year, too!

Who has it:

5. Watermelon Radish:

Why you want it:

Watermelon radishes are large radishes best harvested around 50 days and at around 2 to 4 inches in diameter (but babies can certainly be picked and eaten earlier). They are milder and sweeter than many radish varieties.

What’s even better about watermelon radishes is that they keep extremely well for many months (some in my refrigerator right now are going on four months and still look great!).

Because they are larger, they are perfect for slicing for snacking, dipping, and cheese and charcuterie plates.

Their name comes from their color—white to green exterior with red interiors that not only taste great, but look beautiful in a spread, too.

Many varieties are heirloom or open pollinated, but not all are, so do read your supplier descriptions if seed saving matters to you. They do tend to bolt when conditions aren’t right, so planting early or late in the season is helpful for best yields.

Who has it: almost everyone!

A Year for Dual-Purpose and Seed Saving

Rutgers tomato plants in garden

You’ll notice a common theme prevalent amongst the five seeds featured here—open pollinated, heirloom, and dual-purpose.

In years such as this and the next few years to come, when seed supply and demand is tight, it’s a good idea to look at least a little bit toward the future.

Dual and multi-purpose varieties can help us save time, money, and seed for someone else to grow and harvest—because growing your own food is a right no person should be denied! Think about tomato types that can be both sliced and sauced; peppers to eat fresh, roast, sauce, can, dehydrate, or freeze; beans that can be both shelled and dried…

Seed saving is looking toward the future and helping to mitigate seed supply shortages, as well as establishing yourself as more independent, self-sufficient, and sustainable without 100% outside reliance for your ability to grow your own food. Some types of vegetables are difficult to save for beginners because cross-pollination makes things tricky, but things like tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, and lettuce are easy to save; as long as you are selecting reliable, sustainable open pollinated and heirloom seeds to do it so that your seed breeds strong, true, and productive.

These are all things to keep in mind when buying and ordering your seeds this year. The companies linked to in this article are quality companies that take pains to include open pollinated varieties of seed and encourage seed saving.

With the changeable nature of this year it is helpful to have options. I’ve linked to these companies because I’ve used them and know them to be good seed providers, though they are not the only ones. Certainly if you have a worthwhile seed suggestion to share, or a quality seed company to recommend from experience, please share in the comments.  

Happy gardening, and best to you this growing year!

All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe

Homemade Pie Crust Recipe for Two Crust Pie

I’m not sure whether or not the world needs another pie crust recipe, but to be honest, every time I post a picture of one of my pies, whether on Facebook, Instagram, or some homesteading group, at least one person asks for my recipe. Nine times out of ten my pies are made with all butter crusts, and so, here is my pie crust recipe made with all butter.

Jump to recipe. Skip the blah, blah, blah.

Why All Butter Pie Crust?

Fresh Homemade Butter

My reasons for making pie crust with all butter (as opposed to shortening or another fat) are simple.

I have a cow.

And so, I make a lot of butter and do what I can to maximize the use of her dairy.

But there are other great reasons for making an all-butter pie crust, too:

  • FLAVOR! It’s butter. Enough said.
  • Flakiness. Butter makes one of the flakiest crusts. it’s why French Croissants are nothing but layered, “laminated” sheets of butter and flour (well, just about).
  • It’s natural. Butter is a natural fat, as opposed to vegetable shortening, which is hydrogenated vegetable oil. Shortening is actually higher in trans fats and calories. Butter has a lower total fat count and contains good percentages of essential vitamins, too. These are mostly fat-soluble vitamins which need good natural fats in order to be absorbed in the body.

That said, no doubt what you really want is the recipe. So here it is. If you care to read on after the recipe, you’ll find a few more tidbits of information (including fat substitutions for this all-butter pie crust).

All-Butter Pie Crust

Makes one two-crust pie crust

Ready to Roll All-Butter Pie Crust Dough

Ingredients:

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C cold butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C cold milk* (more as needed)

Instructions:

  1. Measure the flour into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Sprinkle salt evenly over the top.
  2. Stir through to combine.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the flour and salt mixture.
  4. Cut in the butter until a coarse, even meal-like mixture is formed.
  5. Add cold milk, pouring evenly through the flour mixture.
  6. Press and fold with a rubber spatula or large spoon until the dough comes together. Add more milk in small amounts if needed. Do not overmix; stop when dough forms a ball.
  7. Split dough into two even balls. Wrap in plastic wrap or place in sealed container and refrigerate for one half to one hour (or overnight) before rolling.
  8. When working dough, whether mixing or rolling, work only as long as you need to. This will make your crust flakier, and help avoid toughness.

*May substitute cold ice water for cold milk if desired.

The Only (Kind of, Not Really) “Downside” to All-Butter Pie Crust

If there is a downside to an all-butter pie crust, it’s only that crusts made with only butter lose their shape a little more than crusts made with shortening or lard. It’s not an issue for the crust itself, it’s really just around the edges and the crimping where this tends to happen.

One way to minimize this and help keep the shape a little better is to return the prepared, crimped pie to the refrigerator or freezer for a half hour to an hour before baking. Then go directly from fridge to oven. That will stiffen the butter and allow it to cook before it melts (that’s the condensed version) and the crimping won’t be quite as lost. It’s truly aesthetic, though, and as you can see from the pictures it certainly does not mean you get a bad-looking pie!

Fat Substitutions for the All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe

I always think it’s a little funny when someone asks me if I have a recipe for a pie crust with just butter in it. Because there truly is no mystery here.

Any pie crust recipe can be made with butter. All you do is use an equal measure of butter in place of whatever fat is called for in the recipe you have (no matter if it’s lard or shortening). Everything else stays the same.

All-butter pie crust pies. Homemade butter pie crust.

One thing I do often do, though, is to cut the fat in the recipe and use half lard, half butter. This gives me another natural fat option (one I also tend to have around as we frequently raise pigs and render fresh lard for cooking and baking). A lard and butter crust will hold its shape better than an all-butter crust, and also lends a robust, savory flavor to the pies. It is an especially nice flavor for pot pies and meat pies. Lard is a lot healthier than we’ve been led to believe, too. It’s definitely worth your while to learn a little more about this not-so-unhealthy natural fat in its pure form.

How To Make Elderberry Tea

New Book: THE COMPLETE ELDERBERRY TEA BOOK: MAKE YOUR OWN DELICIOUS, HEALTHFUL, HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY TEAS

Just the book we need to get us through this year!

Elderberry Tea Book make your own elderberry teas, tea recipes.

I am a heavy drinker–of elderberry tea, that is.

There’s really no going wrong with elderberry tea with an antioxidant value and nutritional profile as high as it has, but elderberry teas also have the HUGE benefit of flavor. Elder tea is light and delicious, low-calorie, and is great with just a teaspoon of honey to help this tea–which doesn’t taste like medicine at all–go down.

Just In Time for Cold And Flu Season: DIY Elderberry Tea Book Release

I’ve been making my own elderberry teas for years. I find them to be much more interesting and enjoyable, and they give me greater variety. And save money, too! (PSST–They also make the best gifts!)

I’ve recently released my next book, The Complete Elderberry Tea Book: Make Your Own Delicious, Healthful, Homemade Elderberry Teas

It includes:

  • Over 25 recipes for homemade elderberry teas
  • Complete instructions for making teas
  • Instructions for harvesting and drying your own elderberries, herbs, and ingredients (if that’s your thing, but that’s optional)
  • BONUS RECIPES for elderberry syrups, elderflower syrup, wine mulling spices, and elderberry jam

All recipes use dried elderberry, herbs, and spices, all of which can be easily purchased online or at specialty stores. You do not need to grow your own elderberries to make these wonderful, relaxing, healthful teas! (But if you do, that’s covered, too!).

All You Need to Know to Make Homemade Elder Tea

Start to finish, it’s all in this book–just in time to get us through 2020 and see us into 2021, whatever that brings, and for years of continued wellness beyond.

Whether you drink it for the health benefits, illness prevention, or only for the flavor, there’s just no downside to making your own elderberry tea. It’s a money-saver and also a way to easily incorporate elderberry, enjoyably, into your health and diet plan every day.

Having your own set of elderberry tea recipes gives you variety but is also a very good way to be able to use elderberry even when the shortages are on for commercial products and syrups.

ORDER YOUR COPY HERE, today. Available in paperback and for Kindle and Kindle eReader Apps.

And please, Take care, and BE WELL!

A Real Homemade Pumpkin Pie Recipe That Works!

Pumpkin Pie from Scratch, Made from Real Pumpkins (Or Squash!)

Looking for a great scratch pumpkin pie recipe made from real, actual, whole pumpkins? Here’s one I’ve been tweaking off and on for years!

Sugar or pie pumpkins are generally one of the easiest things to grow on the homestead (assuming you have space to put up with the vines). Homegrown pumpkins, or even fresh-bought sugar pumpkins* from the store or farmers’ market, make the best pumpkin pies and pumpkin treats. As long as you have the recipes to use them!

What I like best about this recipe is that it does not require evaporated or condensed milk. That’s kind of hard to find in a pumpkin pie recipe. I have an aversion to adding processed and commercially canned products to my recipes if I can avoid it, because I want them as natural as can be, using as much of my homegrown and home-produced goodness as possible. Since I have a dairy cow, I want a real milk recipe. Actually, even when we have not had fresh cow’s milk of our own, I want real dairy instead of the processed canned stuff.

Homemade pumpkin pie made from real pumpkin

(*NOTE “field pumpkins” can also be used for baking homemade recipes from real pumpkins. You can also substitute any winter squash in equal measurements in place of the pumpkin. All the same instructions from roasting to baking apply, you just use squash instead.)

Converting Canned Pumpkin Recipes for Baking with Real Pumpkins

There’s no big trick to converting a recipe that calls for canned pumpkin into one made with fresh or homegrown pumpkin. Yes, you have to cook the pumpkin first—and for that, I’ll always recommend roasting (see below), as it makes a nice, firm, pumpkin puree similar in moisture and texture to the canned stuff (but better tasting…and many sources say that canned stuff is really a variety of squash, not pumpkin at all…maybe why we don’t notice much of a difference between “their” pumpkin and squash?).

>> To use fresh pumpkin in place of canned, use your homemade roasted pumpkin puree in equal parts. So, if the recipe calls for one cup of canned pumpkin, use one cup of homemade pumpkin puree.
>> If a recipe calls for one can of pumpkin puree (usually referring to a 15-ounce can), make life easy and use 2 cups of your homemade puree. The tiny difference only gives you a firmer, less-wet baked result. It totally works!

How Many Pumpkins to Roast for Pumpkin Puree

A typical small sugar pumpkin will yield about 1 ½ cups of finished pumpkin puree; a medium pumpkin yields more towards 2 ½ to 3 cups. Field pumpkins can be more variable because they tend to have more seeds and “guts” but you should get at least 3 cups of puree from the average field or carving pumpkin.

>> For one pie bake two small pumpkins
>> Will yield 2+ cups of puree = to 1 can of pumpkin

For one pumpkin pie I usually bake at least two pie pumpkins. When deciding how many pumpkins to roast for a pumpkin pie or other pumpkin recipe, it’s usually a good idea to bake more than your estimate. No worries—any leftover puree can always be frozen in a Tupperware™, deli container, or Ziploc™, freezer, or vacuum seal bag.

Roast the Pumpkins, Make Pumpkin Puree

To make your pumpkin pie from scratch, you’ll first have to roast the pumpkin and make it into a puree. Don’t be nervous, there’s nothing easier. I often roast the pumpkin ahead of time and freeze it, and/or I will roast and make more puree than I need when I am baking and then throw the extra in the freezer in a deli container or plastic bag.

To roast the pumpkins:

  • Cut pumpkins in half the long way (stem to blossom end—if you screw this up and cut it width-wise, it’s no big deal and it ruins nothing, this is just an easier way to cut it)
  • Scoop out all the loose seeds and strings. Reserve the seeds to roast them if you like. https://cookieandkate.com/roasted-pumpkin-seeds-recipe/
  • Cover the bottom of a baking sheet (with sides!) with water and place the pumpkin halves cut-side-down on the baking pan.
  • Roast at 375° for 45 minutes or until soft—you should be able to stick a fork through the skin and into the pumpkin meat.
Real pumpkin purée

Let roasted pumpkins cool for half an hour until easily handled, then make your puree:

  • Using a spoon, scoop the soft pumpkin into a medium or large mixing bowl (or into the bowl of a stand mixer).
  • Use a beater, blender, food processor, stand mixer, or immersion blender and beat the pumpkin until it reaches a smooth and even consistency.
  • Measure out 2 cups for the pumpkin pie recipe and freeze the remaining pumpkin puree for future use. Do NOT attempt to can the puree, as this is not considered safe in a home kitchen.

And without further ado, the recipe:

**Real Pumpkin Pie Recipe – Homemade Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

Ingredients:

  • 9- or 10-inch single pie crust, unbaked
  • 2 C homemade pumpkin puree
  • 1 ½ C whole milk
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/8 C molasses
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 TBSP melted butter
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp nutmeg

*Substitutions: Depending on preference and what you have on hand, 2 cups homemade squash puree may be substituted for the pumpkin. You may substitute 1 cup brown sugar for the sugar and molasses. You may substitute 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice in place of the cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Prepare pie crust. Use a single-crust, 9-inch or deep-dish pie crust (unbaked). (Note: recipe can make up to a 10-inch pie easily.)
  • Combine all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl or into the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Using a whisk, handheld mixer, immersion blender, stand mixer, or food processor, beat the ingredients together until they are smooth and creamy.
  • Pour into prepared pie crust. Cover crimped edge with a guard or foil to prevent over-browning.
  • Place prepared pie on a baking sheet and carefully transfer to preheated oven.
  • Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350° and bake for 50 minutes more or until done. Pie is done when a knife inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean. (But if you loathe the thought of ruining that pumpkin pie top perfection, here’s some advice on how to test a pumpkin pie for doneness without the knife!) https://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/holidays/thanksgiving/how-to-tell-pumpkin-pie-done

**adapted from the One-Pie Pumpkin recipe

That’s it! Perfect Pumpkin Pie from Homemade Pumpkin Puree. This recipe is a keeper for all your holidays and pumpkin cravings to come! Enjoy!

Homestead Happenings — Thanksgiving On The Homestead

Homestead Thanksgiving prep

What goes on on the homestead in late November? Thanksgiving prep and celebration, of course!

This year was on the smaller side. Covid. As a pretty good-sized family, though, it’s never what one might call “small.”

Getting Ahead by Prepping Ahead

When you grow much, most, or all of what you eat, holidays like Thanksgiving can take a bit longer to prepare for than they might in a more conventional household. A lot of these foods have already seen some prep early on in the year during canning or preserving. Here on our homestead, I don’t pre-can things like pie fillings, and seldom are sauces (cranberry sauce, for instance) canned ahead.

I do grow pumpkins and squash and love to make homemade, completely from scratch pies with them (in fact, I’ve been years tweaking commercial recipes to get one “just right” for homegrown pumpkin pie—we will talk about that in another post). Pumpkins and winter squashes store so well that I don’t usually put the time and utilities into preserving them (it’s not really considered safe to can pumpkins and squash as a puree so if I do preserve them it’s in the freezer, which I find a little less preferable to freshly cooked or roasted–too watery).

The bottom line is that if it’s not coming out of a can or off a grocery store shelf, it’s going to take a little more time and effort to turn those homegrown goods into your holiday meal. The results, though, are oh, SO worth it!

Fresh Turkey for Thanksgiving

Some of our homesteading was sidelined a few years ago due to a catastrophic injury in the household. During that time we did not give up, but we did scale way back. I made pains to keep some semblance of backyard farming going in an effort to maintain a lifestyle that was recognizable to us, a lifestyle we’d always enjoyed, and also to maintain the mental health of the household. And so, we have not raised our own turkeys here on the homestead in at least three years.

We do, however, have excellent local farms for whom household members work part time, and so we were blessed with the gift of appreciation in the form of a farm-fresh turkey. This nearly 24-pounder was one of the first prepping projects when he went into the brine. And he was worth the extra time and effort.

As for the rest, the pictures can take over the talking. As always, though, comments and questions are quite welcome.

Hoping your Thanksgiving was a delicious and blessed as ours on our homestead, and that the remainder of the year and the upcoming holiday season is full of peace, joy, and tranquility!

How to Use Dehydrated Vegetables: Uses for Dried Tomatoes

Easy Ways to Use Preserved Dried Tomatoes

This is not the first year that I’ve dried vegetables to preserve them, but I certainly did more of it this year than any previous year. There are many benefits to dehydrating vegetables for preserving, and once you’re hooked you’ll wonder why you never did more of it before (I know I certainly do!).

Using Dried Tomatoes in Cooking

One of the reasons that people don’t do more dehydrating is a very simple one—we don’t know what to do with those vegetables once we’ve got them dried. It’s a question that I see and am asked quite often. And so, along with learning more about the actual drying process, I’m always looking for ways to use dried produce. After all, if we don’t use it, then what’s the point?

Using Dried and Dehydrated Tomatoes

It’s a lot to take on how to use all types of dried vegetables in one article. It makes more sense to break it down into individual vegetables (and fruits, too). Actually—and you’ve probably heard this before—tomatoes, the subject for today, are fruit. But we know we really all consider them vegetables.

Tomato, tomaaato, fruit or veggie—what can you do with dried tomatoes?

You might not think so, but dried tomatoes are one of the easiest dried vegetables (fruit) to use. Dehydrated tomatoes reconstitute easily, which is key in maximizing their use. The easier it is to bring your dried produce “back to life,” the easier you’ll find it is for you to use them. It also helps that you don’t actually need to reconstitute tomatoes in order to use them (but just in case, there are instructions for that below).

That said, here are some of my favorite ways to use dried, dehydrated, and sun-dried tomatoes. Regardless of what method you used to dehydrate them, these uses will work for all properly preserved dry tomatoes:

Tip: consider any dried or dehydrated tomatoes just as good as “sun-dried,” and use them interchangeably in recipes.

Dried tomatoes in olive oil recipe.

“Sun-dried” Tomatoes in Oil. Very simply, use whole slices or break up into any size pieces (I find about ¼ to ½ inch something easy to chew after-the-fact). Place the tomatoes in a jar and then cover with olive oil. Add any herbs or spices you like. I love adding fresh or dried garlic cloves and some salt. I’ll frequently add in pepper (white or red pepper flakes are delicious) and basil.

This oil should be refrigerated for safety’s sake, which may cause the oil to coagulate, but if you leave the jar out at room temperature for a while before serving, or warm it a little, it will come right back to its fluid state. Prepare this oil several hours to days before you want to use it to get the best flavor infusion and some softening of the dried tomatoes (in this constitution they do not get as soft as cooked tomatoes so expect them to be a little crisp and chewy).

From here, there are many ways that you can use this infused oil, and/or the tomatoes. You may strain the tomatoes and vegetables from the oil or keep them in suspension, or you can remove just the tomatoes and use them. Some favorite ways to use the oil and/or the tomatoes are: as a dipping oil, salad dressing, on pizza, in stir-fries, as a marinade or tossed into pan-fried, sautéed, or roasted chops and meats.

This oil makes an excellent alternative to full-on pasta sauces—light, delicious, not overpowering, easy on the stomach, still with good tomato flavor…almost like a fast and easy sun-dried tomato pesto. It is an especially good pairing for veal and chicken but will do well with a number of meats, and of course with other vegetables!

Rehydrated for sauce. Tomatoes rehydrate very easily (see below), so rehydrating them and then pureeing or using for any sauce recipe is simple. Rehydrate, puree, season, simmer. Simple!

Dried tomato powder. Place dried tomatoes in a blender or food processor and process until pulverized into a powder. You can make the powder ahead to have on hand for everyday cooking.

dried tomato powder from dehydrated tomatoes

Tomato powder works well as a thickener similar to tomato paste, as a seasoning for soups, stews, or roasted meats and vegetables, added to beef bone broth (really helps mellow the beef bones!), or added to vegetable juices.

In any soup, stew, or chili. Tomatoes rehydrate so easily that you don’t even need to rehydrate them before using them in these dishes. Just throw them in in a measure close to what the rehydrated to fresh equivalent would be (see below).

Rehydrated for salsa or Pico de Gallo. Rehydrate as per below, and use in place of fresh tomatoes in your favorite salsa recipe.In rice dishes. Easy. Add dried tomatoes in when boiling the rice, using a little extra water.

In omelets, casseroles, and other dishes. For these recipes, you can choose the form you think will work best—as a sun-dried type, in oil, rehydrated, or allowed to rehydrate in the cooking. Tomato is a great flavor for many of these types of dishes, and dried or dried and rehydrated tomatoes work excellently as well!

How to Rehydrate Dried Tomatoes for “Fresh” Tomato Recipes

To rehydrate dried tomatoes, place tomatoes in a bowl and add enough warm water to cover the dried tomatoes. Cover and let sit for one hour (or overnight in a refrigerator), and then use in cooking just as you would use canned or sliced/chopped tomatoes. If preferred, drain off excess water (though it can make a nice flavoring in soups and rice dishes, and if making sauce a little liquid to puree is not unwelcome).

The only real question left, then, is how do you know how much or how many dried tomatoes to use for the “fresh” yield you need? Here are some yields and equivalents to go by:


• 1 pound of fresh tomatoes will yield about 1 cup of dried tomatoes
• Use 1 cup dried tomatoes for every pound of fresh tomatoes a recipe calls for—rehydrate according to use
• 1 cup of rehydrated tomatoes equals 1 ½ cups

Recommended Reading for Drying Tomatoes, Using Dried Tomatoes, and Preserving Other Dried Foods

I strongly recommend this book for either drying fruits and vegetables or for resources and ways to use them after the fact. It is a very comprehensive guide, a “Bible” of sorts for preserving foods. It takes you all the way through from preserving to use, including a number of good recipes. Published by the reputable, reliable Storey Publishing house:

The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods: Preserve Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, and Meat with a Dehydrator, a Kitchen Oven, or the Sun — by Teresa Marrone

*This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links help customers shop ad help support the costs and maintenance of this website by proving a small percentage income of sales to the site owner/affiliate, which helps to make this website and information-sharing possible. Affiliate sales do not increase the cost of products to buyers who utilize the convenient links included in this article. Thank You for your support!

Early November Homestead Happenings–Goodnight Garden and a Good Cup of (Elderberry) Tea

with Special Thanks to the next Veal

By November in New England, many of the outside tasks of homesteading are coming to an end. We’ve had some frosts and even some snows, though it seems Mother Nature cannot make up her mind, and here I sit inside trying to keep myself seated and not out playing in the mid-60 degree weather.

There is always something going on on a homestead or backyard farm. As the winter starts to settle in, those tasks and chores are sometimes less obvious. As a writer and homestead information publisher, this is the time of year that I “get down to business” a little more steadily. I try to refocus my time on writing, publishing, and information sharing, which is one of our means of support that carries us through the more active warm weather months. Still, some final gardening and harvesting tasks remained before the coldest temps set in.

Final Garden Harvest 2020

Walking in New England in November

I’m not going to lie. By the time September and October roll around, I’m looking forward to a frost. I don’t publicize that secret wish and it’s not something I say out loud in local circles with friends already whimpering over the snow and cold that lies ahead, but by that time I’m a little tired of weeding, harvesting and tending the garden.

There I said it. And the best way to get out of gardening? A good, hard, killing frost. It seems those frosts come later and later in my area these days, though.

Does this make me a bad backyard farmer? A hypocrite homesteader? An imposter gardener?

I think what it makes me is someone who appreciates the cycle of life and loves a good set of seasons, ready to move into the next season…which will eventually grow old, too, just in time for me to get the itch to garden and tend and grow again next spring.

So what HAS been happening on the homestead this week? Final garden harvesting, digging some herbs to grow inside this winter, working on an Elderberry Tea book, submitting my first article as a contributing blogger to Mother Earth News (waiting for a link to share!), and saying “Thanks” and goodbye to the veal–humanely raised, not in confinement, respected, well-treated, and appreciated. Today, though, it was time to see him off. Raising veal is one way to maximize the use of our homestead dairy cows and their milk and to affordably, healthfully, feed the family. (More on raising veal in another post.) Questions and respectful comments welcome, but abusive, rude comments will not be approved.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links help customers shop ad help support the costs and maintenance of this website by proving a small percentage income of sales to the site owner/affiliate, which helps to make this website and information-sharing possible. Affiliate sales do not increase the cost of products to buyers who utilize the convenient links included in this article. Thank You for your support!

How to Rehydrate Elderberries

Make “Fresh” Elderberries or Elderberry Juice From Dried Elderberries

Get the Answer to How Much Do Rehydrated Elderberries Yield? (Berries and Juice)

We see plenty of articles and posts about using dried elderberries, and even plenty about how to dry or dehydrate elderberries. But what seems a lot harder to find are instructions for how to rehydrate elderberries.

Here are some simple instructions for rehydrating elderberries (based on instructions in recipes by Frontier Co-Op). You can use these instructions to “make” elderberries that are close to fresh from dried elderberries. This will give you a yield of plump, juicy berries that you can use in any elderberry recipes, and/or juice for elderberry syrup, jellies, jams, and more.

How Much Water and How Much Elderberry?

To rehydrate elderberries for recipes and juice you will use:

dried elderberries for rehydrating for recipes

Instructions for Rehydrating Elderberries:

There are two methods for rehydrating elderberries, a cold soak method and a hot soak method.

Cold Soak Method to Rehydrate Elderberries:

Pour 3/4 cup fresh cold water over 1/2 cup dried elderberries. Cover. Place in the refrigerator and let stand to soak overnight, or for about 8 to 12 hours.

Hot Soak Method to Rehydrate Elderberries:

Rehydrated elderberries on fork.
  • Place 1/2 cup dried elderberries in a heat-proof bowl, such as a stainless steel mixing bowl or Pyrex dish.
  • Carefully pour 3/4 cup boiling water over the dried elderberries.
  • Hold for a minimum of 15 minutes for water to be absorbed. Thirty to 45 minutes is better.
  • Let stand until berries are tender, close to normal fresh berry size, and much of the water is reabsorbed. All of the water will not be absorbed by the berries and this will be your “juice”.

Berry and Juice Yield from Rehydrated Dried Elderberries

How many cups of berries will you get from rehydrating elderberries? How much juice will one half cup of rehydrated elderberries yield?

You will find only a slight difference between rehydrating elderberries with the cold soak method and rehydrating elderberries with the hot soak method. The yield is slightly better with the cold soak method, but the difference is really negligible.

As the pictures show, your yield of berries versus elderberry juice will be:

  • 1 (scant) cup plumped elderberries
  • 2/3 (brimming) cup dark elderberry juice

This yield is similar to what you would get from thawing a cup of fresh-frozen elderberries and so it would be fair to say that this conversion would be appropriate for use in recipes calling for one cup of fresh elderberries.

Using Rehydrated Elderberries and Juice

To use the rehydrated elderberries in recipes calling for fresh berries, simply strain the juice from the berries and use the rehydrated berries in place of fresh. The juice can be used in elderberry syrup recipes or jam recipes by measure.

If you are looking to yield more juice for a recipe and do not need the plumped berries, mash and strain the elderberries to release more juice. If you are just straining the berries without mashing them, reserve them for use in another recipe (maybe make some elderberry muffins!). Store in the refrigerator but use within a few days.

What is the Best Way to Rehydrate Elderberries?

Is one method better for rehydrating elderberries? Should you use the hot soak method or the cold?

Soak dried elderberries for cooking.

As mentioned, the yield is not a lot different, so use whichever method fits best given your available time. If you have the time to plan ahead, though, the cold-soak method inches out the hot soak method and is preferable for a couple of reasons:

  • While the cold soak method is slower, it results in less nutrient and vitamin loss, and therefore preserves more of the natural goodness and nutrition of the elderberries.
  • The cold soak method results in slightly plumper berries, with slightly better water absorption.
  • It should be noted, and this is a very important point, that the heat-soak method with the boiling water essentially “cooks” or heat-treats the elderberries. It is not considered safe to consume raw elderberries. If you are not using the elderberries in a recipe that will be baked or cooked, then the heat-soak method is the way to go.
  • The potentially harmful compounds in elderberries are found in the bark, leaves, unripe berries, and seeds. Therefore, if you are removing all of the seeds and berries via straining anyway, it is not as important to cook or heat treat the berries.
  • Overall, if you have the time, go with the cold soak method, but keep these points in mind when choosing.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links help customers shop ad help support the costs and maintenance of this website by proving a small percentage income of sales to the site owner/affiliate, which helps to make this website and information-sharing possible. Affiliate sales do not increase the cost of products to buyers who utilize the convenient links included in this article. Thank You for your support!