Ye Olde Kerosene Lamp

Did you know that lamp oil is nothing but refined kerosene? The odor has been removed and further refining removes the natural color.

You can make a lamp out of anything that you can keep burning. Before there were kerosene lamps, there were candles and before that, there were all sorts of oil lamps. Before that, there were torches. They all had the same purpose: To give light.

You can use the same simple, basic principle to make oil lamps out of almost anything. Any kind of vegetable oil, liquid or solid, and any kind of animal based oil, will burn.

A wick is anything that will "wick" or absorb and draw up the oil. Braided cotton or cotton twine is commonly used, but thin pieces of wood, twists of rags or even twisted dry grass will work if properly prepared. To prepare a wick, it has to be soaked in whatever you intend to burn.

A wax (animal and/or vegetable "oil") candle needs a wick that has been soaked in that wax and allowed to harden. To make a wick for a dish of, say, fish oil, soak it in the oil before positioning to burn, and so on.

To keep a wick up out of a container of liquid fuel, you will need a wick holder. A kerosene lamp is an example of how you might make one, but it's very simple to use a piece of wire. Make a flat spiral to set on the bottom of the container, then a piece coming up from the center of the container that is higher than the fuel level will be. At the top of that, make a round "eye" to fit the wick through so it won't fall into the fuel.

Soak the wick then thread it through the eye and let it fall to the bottom of the container. Fill the container with fuel and light it... and there you have it.

A few of these around a room will light it as well as candles. It's a good trick to know when the lights go out and you're not prepared.

A second way to make a light and one that you don't have to mess with much at all, is to use a can of shortening or lard. Insert an ice pick or something similar, into the center of it, then drop a wick (which you've soaked in a liquid version of the solid fat) into the hole and tamp it down into it. This will burn for hours and hours.

A good survival item is a can of tuna in oil. You can eat the tuna, of course, then you can make an oil lamp of what's left, using the label (soaked in the oil) as a wick.


Hurry, get the harvest in!

And the rush is on. August means bushels of ripe tomatoes, summer squash overrunning the garden, gallons of cucumbers and peppers, and corn tasseling overnight. That is, if you're one of those gardeners who never fails!

That's not me and that's probably not you. One crop or another fails now and then and we have to say, "Well, the tomatoes did well, anyway!"

Whatever your garden is producing well right now is THE crop to take care of. Keeping it through, or at least until, the winter, is the essence of country living when it comes to food.

Canning, freezing, dehydrating, pickling and the use of root cellars each have their benefits. Decide what to do with each food by researching and studying your own situation.

If you're lucky enough to have a root cellar or a cool basement room, you can keep root crops and some others in a fresher condition than other methods. Canning gives you convenience foods, while dehydrating uses a minimum of storage space. Freezing is the easiest way to put up the harvest but maybe the least dependable. Pickling can be done without a pressure cooker or canner of any kind if you ferment the food.

Which way will it be? It's time to make the decisions and full speed ahead! Here's to a great harvest this year.


Backyard buildings

Most cities would frown on you building a shelter of any kind from scrap lumber or old metal, even if it's in your backyard. We have to bite the bullet and pay for materials that are approved, like new lumber and siding, so sometimes it's cheaper (and easier!) to buy kits or even sheds that only need screwing together. A power tool is handy for that, but a screwdriver works, too.

Where to put the shed is a problem in most back yards. It needs to be close enough to the back door to get to in a snowstorm if needed, but of course, we don't want it in the way visually. If we entertain in our backyards, we need it far enough away to not be part of the scene.

Along a side fence is usually the best place. Trees and other landscaping might limit your choices even there, so think carefully before building one. Stay away from low or wet areas, too. They're hard to move after that!


The Beets are Ready

While beets are not the first harvest, they are the first harvest that I put up for the winter, so it was a sort of kickoff to the activities the rest of the summer and fall bring. I thinned the beets and canned seven pints of them pickled.

Canning beets is a job! After the beets were rinsed outdoors, I took them inside and cut the tops off an inch or more above the roots and put them in a big bowl of water. The beet roots got scrubbed then cooked. While they were cooking, I picked through and washed the beet greens and put them in a big pot to cook down for the freezer. I will can them later.

After that I got the canner, jars, lids and rings ready and when the beets were cooked, I slipped the skins and sliced them, then made a pan of syrup and poured over them. Everything was hot and ready by that time. Lids and rings were in their hot water, the big canner was heating up, the syrup was hot, the beets were hot and I was hot!  I tried to hurry to get them done before the heat of the day, but it just didn't work that way.

Anyway, here is the recipe I used for the syrup:

To 3/4 cup of white vinegar, add 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix it up and taste it, then adjust. More sugar can be added and a little more water (up to another cup). The vinegar is what allows it to be water bath canned; if you add more water than one cup you will have to pressure can. Three times this mixture should get you enough for four pints of beets.

To each pint jar, add 1/2 teaspoon of canning salt, then fill the jars with hot beets, add enough syrup to cover, wipe the rims, put on the lids and rings and adjust. Process in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes, adjusting to your altitude.

There. The first beautiful jars of food ready for the pantry!

Boiled Purslane Recipes

It's an easy thing to pick purslane and add a few leaves to a salad, but if you want to take advantage to this free health booster, eat more than a few leaves now and then! It makes an excellent boiled side vegetable.

To boil it, pick whole stems, pinch off leaves that are damaged and wash the grit and dirt from the rest. You can cook whole stems with leaves, but I prefer it chopped.

Cook it in water (or steam; steaming takes a little longer) for about 10 minutes and remove from heat immediately. Some people rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process, but I think some of the goodness is lost when the purslane is rinsed. If you don't want to overcook it, stop it at eight minutes instead of 10. Serve it lightly salted.

For variations on this, you can chop cooked bacon into it, lightly sprinkle lemon juice on it, use a cheese sauce on it, or serve it Italian style, with Parmesan cheese, garlic and oregano added to taste.

Purslane makes a really good, cheesy casserole, no matter what kind of cheese sauce you prefer. Using two cups of cleaned and chopped purslane, add a quarter cup of minced onion. Beat one egg and a half cup of plain yogurt together and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Bake at 350 until the egg is set, about a half hour.

Purslane Pleasures

Image courtesy of ZooFari via Wikimedia Commons
Possibly the most desirable and common of all edible weeds, purslane grows abundantly where the soil has been disturbed, as in a garden, and where water is sufficient, also in a garden.

You may have tried to get rid of it, thinking it was an intrusive weed, as I did for many years. When I discovered that it's not only edible, but it's delicious, there wasn't enough of it growing!

Over the years, I have learned to use it in many ways. It's a powerhouse of nutrition and one of the very few vegetable sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. it tastes different when it's harvested at different times of the day and it keeps well in the refrigerator. It continues to set seed even after it's picked, which is good, because the seed is good, too. What's not to like about it?

As a weed, it's persistent to the utmost. If you've tried to get rid of it, you know this. It regrows from the root as well as seed and it's hard to pull all of the root out because the stem breaks cleanly. Purslane has this survival thing down to an art and a science!

Which means, for the backyard forager, that you probably will never run out.

Let me explain a few statements I made. Purslane has a tangy, fresh flavor when it's picked early in the morning. As the day wears on, the taste becomes less tangy, so with a little practice, you can choose just the flavor you want.

The leaves, stems, flowers and seeds are all edible and good food. The fleshy stems make excellent pickles along with the leaves. If the plant is flowering, just pickle the whole thing. You can also dip purslane stems, leaves and flowers in beaten egg, cornmeal and flour, then fry like okra. 

The seeds are great in hot cereal and they're not hard to gather, although they are a tiny grain. When purslane begins to flower, put a piece of cloth under them and when the seed begins to ripen, it will fall onto the cloth. Shake the plants now and then to get the best harvest, separate the seeds from the chaff and there you go. Mill it into flour to add to wheat flour for breads.

Purslane provides a green vegetable steamed or boiled like any other green. Don't overcook and don't add anything but a little salt until you taste them, then you can decide. They go great with fried or scrambled eggs.

What else? Don't try to freeze or dehydrate them, but they do survive the canning process well. As I mentioned, pickled is very good, but you can process them like other greens, too.


Back Yard Foraging

If you don't poison weeds in your back yard, you probably have a good source of food just for the taking. You don't have to plant it or water it or weed it or feed it because "weeds" grow in a habitat that suits them without interference from us.

Of course, a little care without overdoing it will help produce more food.

I'm talking about dandelions, purslane, amaranth, lambsquarter and the like. If you're not sure of what they look like, do some research and find pictures of them. Although the ones I listed are mostly used as greens, they can be used for other things, too.

For instance, dandelions make dandelion "coffee" and dandelion tea, wine, salad material and more. Lambsquarter and amaranth provide grains for cereal and bread and purslane is great pickled or fried like okra.

Getting the most from the ground you have is a way of living like country folk in the middle of the city. If you don't have a back yard, find someone who does, or get a little plain dirt and a few weed seeds and grow your own in the window!

Yes, you have manure to compost!

One of the best fertilizers for a garden of any kind (or lawn!) is well composted manure from chickens. If you can't or don't want chickens and don't know anyone who has them, you can buy it, but here's a frugal way to get the same benefit.

Chickens and birds' manure is basically the same, so if you have birds around (and who doesn't?) you can encourage them to come and stay in a certain areas of your yard by providing food and water. It won't be long until the ground under these provisions will be splattered with bird droppings. That's gold for your garden! Rake or sweep up the area and put the droppings, along with soil, leaves and so on, into a compost bin or a marked hole in the ground and let it compost. If you put it in the ground and leave it, it will turn into rich compost within a month or so. A compost bin, regularly turned, will take less time.

Of course, this will make only a tiny bit of compost, since you will only have a tiny bit of manure, but if you want to make more at one time, scoop up the droppings and store them in a dry place until you have enough. You might be surprised at how quickly it adds up!


Backyard Homestead

Living in the city can make one more creative in getting one's "fix" of country living. Almost synonymous with country living is the modern version of homesteading. If you want to grow your own food (or at least part of it) would like to have a few farm type animals and be as self sufficient as you're comfortable with, try some stealth homesteading.

While most cities don't allow small livestock farming within their limits, it's all in the definition. "Small livestock" can be pets - or at least be pets in the eyes of the city and the neighbors. That includes unusual breeds of chickens or rabbits of almost any kind.

Be sure to know your city rules thoroughly, then proceed at your own risk. If you have pets of this kind, you will have to be careful of their housing so that you are not seen as abusing them. If you have nosy neighbors, a privacy fence is a necessity.

If your pet rabbit has a litter, you will have to decide what to do with the little ones. You can raise them and take them to someone who will butcher them for you, since you probably won't be allowed to butcher them yourself in the city limits. You can sell them as pets or anything else and make a few dollars.

I have raised rabbits, but I am not an expert, so I will hand you off to this site if you decide to raise them: Naturally Feeding Rabbits This method can save you a bundle of money and make for a happy and healthy rabbitry. Nature triumphs science any day.

You probably won't be allowed roosters in the city limits, so clutches of baby chicks won't be a problem. See more about keeping chickens here:  Chickens in the City

It takes common sense and courage, but you may very well be able to add an animal or two to your backyard homestead.


Looks a little country...

 The little strip between the driveway and the neighbor's isn't good for much of anything, so instead of tearing it all up and replacing or working over the soil so it would at least grow grass, I gathered up some rocks and stepping stones and scattered them on it.

A few flowers (some wild) helps make it a better. It's not up to city standards of beauty, but it works for me. The more natural look I can get into this place, the more comfortable I am in it!

Here is another view of the same area. The pots with red salvia are cheap plastic, spray painted. There is a purple button flower that you can't see and some wild salsify. Later, there should be tiny mallow flowers and maybe something else that hasn't peeped up yet.

The area isn't finished yet and may never be! I am thinking of putting in a couple of gooseberry bushes by the fence. What do you think?


Chickens in the City

Image courtesy of
If a small backyard flock of hens providing fresh, healthy eggs, meat and pest control, plus the sheer fun of watching and hearing chickens do their thing makes you think happy, why not do it? Just because you live in town doesn't mean you wouldn't like to have a chicken or two around the place!

The first thing to think about, though, is the law in your town. It's surprising how many towns and cities do allow chickens, but some don't. Places as varied as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Los Angeles, California, Atlanta, Georgia and Lawrence, Kansas, allow chickens (usually no roosters) in a backyard. Some cities allow them but have restrictions that make it impossible or impractical for most people. For instance, Denver, Colorado requires a $50 application fee, then a $100 permit that must be renewed each year for $70. So much for inexpensive eggs.

You should be able to find out if your area allows chickens by going to their web site or contacting the city offices.

I do not want to discourage you, but remember that chickens, like any other animal, mean a daily commitment on your part. Who will feed, water and gather eggs when you're on vacation or sick? Will you be able to take care of them every day, rain, snow, wind or hot sun? Will your children help? Do you mind handling the hens? Can you clip wings, wash dirty eggs, dust for mites and still enjoy your chickens?

Where to put the coop?
By law in some cities, a chicken coop must be situated away from fences and other boundaries. Find a place where it can get sun in the winter and shade in the summer, or plan on planting tall crops like hollyhocks or corn to shade it in the summer. A chicken coop must be kept very clean in the city and can't be made from an odd assortment of materials that you could get away with in the country. New lumber, paint and chicken wire, or at least carefully recycled materials should be used. Lehman's carries a great book called "Building Chicken Coops" so finding out how to build one and what size you will need is no problem. Always go a little over in size if you can, just in case.

Chickens and the outdoors
Next, think about the hens' outside area. You might be able to let them have the run of your backyard if you have a good fence and clip their wings so they can't fly over, but if you have a garden, you'll either have to fence it in or fence the chickens out. They love tasty, tender vegetables as much as you do.

Building a yard around the coop is very simple and can be done quickly by almost anyone if you use metal fence posts. Simply drive them into the ground every three feet or so, then fasten chicken wire to them. Make a gate by finishing off a length of chicken wire by fastening it to a post that's not in the ground, then fastening it by loops to the next post. It's much easier to show than to explain, so if you don't know how, get someone to show you.

Feeding the backyard flock
Be aware that the chickens will scratch up and eat all of the grass in their pen in short order. Supplement their diet with grass from your lawn mowing and with kitchen scraps. If you're a gardener, you may be able to grow a good part of their feed. Corn, millet and many other grains are not that hard or harvest for just a few chickens. Add some sunflowers, wild amaranth and any kind of grass seed and you will keep them healthy and happy. If you let a part of your yard grow wild as I do, you might be able to harvest other wild foods and seeds for them.

Keeping chickens in the city isn't any harder than keeping them in the country. If you're stuck in the city wanting to get out, or if you just have a yearning for a certain degree of country living, a back yard flock of happy hens may be your perfect solution.


Spring is Popping Up All Over, But...

The snow just won't quit. Am I anxious? Probably. We have had snows in the middle of May before and it's not even May yet.

For some reason, this winter has seemed tiresome, although we have had very moderate weather compared to much of the United States. A little more snow, moderate temperatures for the most part... and I want to plant things!

The lettuce weathered the snow, as did the radishes, but I haven't braved anything else yet.

I will soon, though!


The Lambsquarters are Growing!

So it must be spring... There was a place in the back garden bed where I let a couple of lambsquarter plants go to seed. Now that area is carpeted in tiny, baby lambsquarter plants. If only my garden seed grew as well!

I will let them grow a bit, then pull them up and eat them, probably raw, but if I have the patience, i will cook them and maybe freeze them to eat later.

Wild food isn't limited to the country, by any means, but in the city, one has to be careful to not pick wild food where it's been sprayed for pests or weeds. My backyard has had nothing put on it except organic fertilizer for about 13 years, so I feel safe eating whatever grows there.

If you're not sure about eating wild food, start with something very simple, like dandelions or lambsquarter. it's time for some good eating!

Seed Catalogs

The first one came before Christmas. I was hard pressed to not sit down right then and begin planning the garden!

Those beautiful pictures! I always think I can plant a lot more than is possible here. If I dug up my entire back yard, I might... but not all of it gets sunlight, so maybe not. Anyway, the catalogs make me forget how it feels when I get behind in weeding, or how I worry when something is late coming up.

If you're planning a garden, now really is the time to dig out the catalogs and make some decisions. What, exactly, will you plant? Where will you put it? What will you plant next to it? What preparations do you need to make? Do you need to buy seed or do you already have it (saved from last year)? Will you need to start things like tomatoes in the house or will you buy the plants already started?

By the time those questions are satisfactorily answered, it should be close to time to actually start.

Baby Rabbit!

Or bunny, as some say. I got all excited about it when I spied one in my back yard last spring. He was under the clothesline, nibbling on some dandelion leaves.

Wildlife isn't very common in the city but now and then something besides squirrels and birds show up.

I wish I could have got a picture of him, but I was sitting on the swing and didn't dare move, much less get up and go to get my camera. Just picture in your mind a rather small, gray bunny, hunched in that peculiar rounded way they do, daintily nibbling dandelions.

That area is under snow now, but I still think of that day. I wonder if the bunny will return next spring?

A Solitary Walk

One thing you won't find in town, no matter how hard you look, is room where you can wander around without thinking of where you're going. A local park is a substitute, but it's only a substitute.

If your soul longs for a solitary walk, like so many people with country in their hearts, go to the park during a time when it's the least busy. Usually weekday mornings, when the kids are in school and Mom and Dad are at work, is the quietest time.

If you can swing it, it will almost feel like walking in the country.