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Coffee Substitutes

Have you quit drinking coffee to still your jittery nerves, only to discover you miss that rich, java flavor? Well, you can prepare your own tasty brew from stuff you have in the kitchen, from veggies you raise yourself, or from plants you find around you.

All through history, and especially in hard times, people have made coffee from barley, wheat, rye, oats, rice, dry peas, beans, flax, or cornmeal by grinding the grain to a coarse meal, roasting until dark brown in coffee roasters or the oven, and brewing like coffee. While these coffee substitutes may or may not yield the taste you want, they do make good extenders, allowing you to use part of your coffee budget for more nutrient-dense food items.

You can make a better-flavored brew from the roots of plants in your garden. Chicory is a dual-purpose vegetable that provides you with nutrition-packed salad greens and roots that can be made into coffee. Jerusalem artichoke, a relative of the sunflower, produces tubers that are crisp and crunchy eaten raw or chopped into a salad, but that roasted, also make a good coffee substitute. Beets and parsnips, too, can serve this purpose.
Here’s what you do: cut the roots or tubers into small pieces, spread on cookie sheets, and dry in a warm oven or inside a hot car until completely dry. Next grind in a coffee grinder, spread on the cookie sheets again, and put in a 350-degree oven to roast, stirring often, so as not to burn your potential brew. When the grounds are a rich, dark brown, the color of coffee, you’re ready to take them out, cool and store in jars.  Brew as you would your coffee.

Wild plants whose roots you can use are dandelions and burdock, which looks like wild rhubarb in its first year and grows tall in the second year to produce the hooked burrs that gave the inspiration for velcro. Fall is the best time for  digging, as the plants deposit their reserves for winter and spring growth in their roots. Early spring is also good, before the plant has grown much. Burdock is best dug at the end of its first year. If in spring you accidentally dig a second year plant, you can still salvage the outer part of the root for coffee. The inner core will be woody and hard and you won’t be able to chop it. After digging, prepare and roast exactly as you would the garden-raised roots and  brew for coffee. Once you try burdock-root coffee, you may not want to go back to your comfortable coffee habit. But don’t harvest them all. Leave some for seed.

Other plants that have been used for coffee substitutes or extenders are potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, chestnuts, acorns, cotton seeds, okra seeds, persimmon seeds, and asparagus seeds. Bread crusts and hardtack have  also been tried.

With a look around and a little imagination, you might be able to come up with a workable coffee substitute yourself.

Winter Window Gardening

Don’t leave your garden out in the cold! Take it in with you for the winter! If you have south and east-facing windows and some fairly large pots, you can raise a surprising amount of greens for cold-weather salads. Not all plants, lettuce for one, will do well in winter’s reduced light, but some will. A little experimenting will help you find them.

One of the easiest plants to grow on a winter window sill is chicory. Before freeze up, dig the fleshy roots of first-year plants, cut the tops, reserving the greens for salad, and plant in deep pots. Water and place on your window sill or nearby table or plant stand. Chicory will tolerate its roots trimmed to fit the pot and still produce greens. Save any root trimmings and broken pieces to chop, dry, grind, and roast for coffee.

You can plant endive, the broad-leaved Batavian kind, from seed directly into pots of dirt or deep flats. They will take a bit more time to produce salad leaves than the chicory roots, but their lettuce-like leaves are well worth waiting for. Besides, you can start them at any time.

If you have cutting celery or parsley in your garden, you can simply pot up some plants, trim the tops, again reserving the trimmings for salad, and place on your window sill. They tolerate winter’s low-angled light very well and will add to  your salad all winter. The parsley will even make seed for you to plant in  next year’s garden. In the spring, divide the cutting celery and plant it out again to produce greens all summer. In late fall, bring it in.

Other plants you can try are chives, spinach, dandelions, dill or herb seed you have on hand.

You can seed wheat or barley in pots for greens for your cats. Or snip them while young and tender into a salad for yourself.

Some problems you might encounter are house cats sunning themselves on your new plants, flattening them in the process. You can create a cover made of chicken wire or something sturdy to keep them off. Other pests are aphids that come in with the plants from the garden. Try a spray made of chopped garlic or onions in water. And later in winter when the lady bugs come out of the woodwork, make sure they find their way to your plants. They’ll eat a surprising number of aphids.

The benefits of your window garden go beyond nutrition. The bright green not only colors your supper plate, it beckons cheerfully through the window as you go about your winter chores, a splash of green in a sea of white. What better way to cure the winter blues! And once again you have raised your own food and not depended on huge, profit-seeking corporations to do it for you.

So, go find some pots, dig some soil, mix in some worm castings, get out your leftover seeds, and be prepared to do some window gardening!

Exercise

According to the American Heart Association, twenty-five percent of American adults are not physically active, an important factor in our high rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. A brisk walk, they say, is one of the best ways to have a healthy heart.

According to a recent AARP article, exercise can help keep knees functional and pain free. Side shuffle, leg lifts and wall squat were offered as knee-friendly exercises.

These are excellent first steps toward maintaining health, but if you used the time spent walking and exercising in raising your own food, you’d find yourself engaging in a whole range of new exercises and movements you didn’t know were possible.

Walking would still be your main exercise, especially if you tend to be absentminded and disorganized and can’t remember to bring everything you need in one trip. Whether you’re gardening or taking care of chickens and other livestock, there are usually many trips back to the house for more seeds and stakes, or to the tool shed for the hammer and nails you forgot for that chicken coop fixit project, or to the grain bin for more buckets of chicken feed.

Lugging hay to animals with a sled can be excellent exercise. If you make it too easy for yourself by setting out a bale with the tractor, (unless you have a herd of beef cows) you won’t get the benefit of the exercise. Never do things the easy way except in severe weather. And as you get older, never wish things were easier. That’s just one step closer to the armchair of inactivity and stiff joints. You have to keep moving.

There will be days, of course, with less activity, when you will want to take that brisk walk recommended by the AHA, maybe out to check on the animals. There is a storm hood available at army surplus stores that is perfect for protecting your face from the cold winter wind as you walk.

Besides walking, pitching out animal pens and chicken coops, lugging hay, feed, and water and all the different movements needed in gardening will keep you limber, especially if you let that motorized tiller sit. You will side shuffle down your rows while planting corn or hoeing potatoes. Leg lifts will get you across the fence around your garden or hay lot. You’ll squat while weeding or picking beans or getting a closer look at the critter that’s eating holes in your cabbage leaves. All these movements will help keep your knees and hips from getting stiff.

An added bonus will be weight loss, not only from the activity, but from time spent with the refrigerator out of sight and out of mind. If you nibble it will be on heart-healthy, fresh-from-the-garden veggies or edible green weeds.

And weight loss translates into more ease of movement and less wear and tear on the joints.

The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel from taking charge of your health and well-being as well as producing your own food will make it all worthwhile.

Pros and Cons of Mulching

Should you turn that weedy garden patch into a permanent mulched garden? Well, there are  plenty of pros for doing just that but also some cons.

Most years moisture is a concern, and mulch prevents a garden from drying out. Not only does it slow evaporation, it traps rainwater, allowing it to soak in.  At the same time, it prevents soil erosion, not only from rain runoff, but from
wind as well.

After a rain, you can walk in your mulched garden without getting muddy, and you can pick clean vegetables because the mulch keeps dirt from splashing up on them. In fact, there’s often no reason to wash them except to remove a few
insects.

A thick layer of mulch will prevent most weeds from growing, allowing you to spend less time weeding. Or you can throw more mulch on top of any weeds that get started. You can also turn weedy mulch over, if the weeds haven’t rooted in the ground.

In summer, mulch keeps the ground cool. Put your hand on black, exposed soil on a hot day, and you’ll wonder how plants survive at all. In winter, it protects fall-seeded plants or sensitive perennials from extremely cold temperatures.

A permanent mulch means no-tilling your garden, and this is good. Even though you can’t see most of it, your soil is full of earthworms, bacteria, fungi, and all kinds of microscopic organisms that help your plants get the nutrients they need. When you till, the surface organisms are buried, threads of fungi are broken, and earthworm tunnels and root paths that help move water are destroyed. Also destroyed are clumps that allow air spaces in the soil, depriving these organisms and your plants of  oxygen.

Mulch helps feed soil organisms. Earthworms move organic matter from the surface down to the roots, feeding bacteria and fungi, which in turn give nutrients to your plants. Some soil organisms can even prevent plant diseases and help them resist insect damage, all reasons to protect them.

After considering the pros of mulching, think of the cons. One is the unwieldiness of planting. To plant a row, you must first pull back the mulch with a hoe or rake and then make your row. After planting and covering your seed, you put a small amount of mulch back over the row. This process can  be
tedious and time-consuming and draws out the planting process to a week or more instead of a day or two. Putting out bedding plants is not an issue, as you simply make a hole the same as you would without mulch.

Hay mulch can have seed and cause a good stand of grass to start in your garden. You can add more mulch or you can turn it over. Creeping jenny grows through the thickest mulch, cannot be weeded out by the roots, and needs persistence to control it. But to be fair, creeping jenny grows in unmulched gardens as well.

So do the pros win or the cons?

Garlic

It’s garlic planting time. If you live in the North, October 1 is ideal as it allows your garlic time to establish enough root development to make it through the winter.

There are a number of varieties from which to choose, but all fall into two main categories—softneck or hardneck. Softneck garlic keeps a bit longer and can be braided, if that’s important. Hardneck garlic has larger, easy-to-peel cloves and
more full-bodied flavor.

Choose a location with good drainage and work in well-rotted manure or worm castings. But don’t overdo it. Better none than too much. Make rows about ten to twelve inches or more apart. Then separate your seed heads into cloves, using the largest and best, and poke them in, flat end down, pointed end up,  two or more inches inches deep, but about four to six inches apart and cover with soil.

Next, pile on a thick layer of hay or straw to protect your garlic through the long, cold winter. The farther north, the thicker. In spring, pull back some of the mulch to let the plants peek through, but leave enough to protect the soil  from drying out. If you forget, the garlic will make its way through the mulch anyway.

Garlic will come up early, sometimes right through the snow, cheering your gardening spirit and efforts along. Keep it well mulched and water as needed, but not too much, as garlic doesn’t like mud.

If you planted a hardneck variety, your garlic will shoot up flowering stalks in mid-summer. When they rise above the leaves, snap them off so your heads can grow larger. You can snip them into  salads and soups. If you have a large crop,
you can chop and freeze the excess in bags or jars for later use.

About the first week in August or when the leaves begin to dry, your garlic will be ready to harvest. There should still be five or six green leaves on the plant. Check first by digging a bulb to make sure the cloves have divided and have good wrappers. Dig rather than pull. Gently brush or shake  off dirt. Do not cut stems or wash the garlic. Rather, bundle in groups of about eight and hang from nails or rafters or on a line suspended inside a room or shed out of direct sunlight. Let hang about three weeks. If humidity is high you might need to run fans to help the curing process.

After curing you can cut the stalks an inch or two from the bulbs, trim the roots, and brush off any dirt, taking care not to hurt the papery wrappers. Store in net bags such as oranges or onions come in, or lay in boxes and store in a cool room. Your garlic will keep for months.

Before putting your garlic heads into storage, though, save your best, firmest, healthiest heads for planting the next crop.

Near spring, if you still have good heads, peel the cloves, store in bags or jars in the freezer. Or simply store whole heads in bags to freeze. This makes peeling so simple, you’ll be tempted to throw all your garlic in the freezer. But resist the temptation! There’s nothing like fresh garlic for taste or for your health!

Have a great garlic crop!

Apples

Apple season is coming! In fact, some varieties are ready to pick the end of August. If you haven’t invested expense, time, and effort into planting and caring for your own, there are plenty of people who have, or who have bought property that includes apple trees and who are willing to share.

Some folks of a frugal mindset with good-producing trees can’t stand to see the apples not being used. They go to great lengths, bless them, to peddle their excess to others who might use them. If you are the lucky beneficiary of such
bounty, add them to your produce supply. They are a nutritious source of food, providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Perhaps you have extra vegetables of your own you might exchange for them.

As a rule, the earliest apple varieties don’t store well. Process these immediately. You can make apple chips for healthy snacks by thinly slicing and dehydrating them in a dehydrator or oven set on warm with the door cracked. You can chop and freeze them for later use. Or you may can them with or  without sugar or honey. Your local extension office has detailed instructions.

The mid-season and late varieties have a longer storage life, and you can put these away in a refrigerator, cool room, or root cellar and use them fresh or process as you would the earlier ones.

When apples come your way, make more than apple pie. Think beyond sweet desserts for which recipes abound. Think main dish or vegetable dish. Apples can be tossed into beet, cucumber, sauerkraut, or potato salads. And who doesn’t like apples sautéed with onions and cabbage? Children perhaps, but as they grow, their tastes change. For them try apple pizza or an apple wrap. Here are some recipes:

Apple Pizza

In a baking pan, pre-bake your favorite pizza crust for ten minutes at 425 degrees. Next, spread with a layer of dry curd cottage cheese, ricotta, or Parmesan cheese. Add a layer of chopped onion and chopped pepper, green or red. Add a layer of thinly sliced apples and sprinkle with dried dill. Spread with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake at 425 degrees for another seven to ten minutes until the cheese melts. Cut into serving-size pieces and enjoy.

Apple Wrap Snack

Mix one tablespoon of mayo or ranch dressing with one tablespoon yellow mustard and spread on a flour tortilla. Next add thinly sliced apple pieces,
chopped lettuce, shredded  or sliced cheese, and bits of ham, cooked chicken or turkey. Roll up as you would a burrito to keep the pieces under control. Enjoy!!If this is too messy, you can skip the tortilla and convert the remaining ingredients into a tasty salad.

If your family enjoys apples, why not plant some? Check with your local nursery for varieties suited for your area and make plans to start an orchard this coming spring. You won’t be sorry you did, for in a few years you’ll have your own excess apples to pay back  friends and neighbors.

Self-sufficiency

Most of us agree that superior nutrition and taste are main reasons we grow our own food. Cost effectiveness is a close second. And there are other equally important reasons like our wish to reduce our carbon footprint and our discomfort with giant, profit-motivated corporations having sole charge of our food supply and allowing food quality and nutrition to take a back seat to profit and greed.

But have you ever considered that the line between having enough to eat and not enough can get pretty thin? Because of circumstances beyond our control, tornado, flood, job loss, economic collapse, whatever, we could find ourselves in a situation where it would be good to have the basic skills in place to raise and forage for as much of our food as we possibly can.

According to the Nov. 2009 USDA Household Food Security Report, one in seven Americans, nearly 50 million people, did not get enough food in the year 2008. The World Summit on Food Security in Rome reported that the whole world is hungrier than ever before.

Perhaps the easiest way you can take charge of your food supply is to raise a garden full of vegetables, plant some fruit trees, forage for edible wild plants. Raising animals for food takes more planning and facilities, but you should not rule it out.

How do you learn the skills needed for such an undertaking? Your county extension service is a good place to start. They have information on raising, storing, processing almost every kind of food you need. The internet is also a vast source of information. Mother Earth News is a paper magazine as well as an online resource, www.motherearthnews.com, for folks interested in self-sufficient living. You can sign up for a free newsletter on organic gardening topics at www.about.com or simply go to the website.

The most obvious and over-looked source of information is our elderly friends, neighbors and relatives. Many of them lived through hard times and have a store of tips for making do with little or nothing. The older they are, the more they have experienced, and the more they know and can teach you if your mind is open and willing.

So, don’t let those old skills die. Whether you’d like to learn gardening, animal husbandry, cheese making, bread baking, soap making, or farming with horses, read, read, read and go pick someone’s brain. If you learn something, put it to use, pass it on to others, and most important, teach your children and grandchildren.