Brewing beer from a kit – as easy as making soup from a can

So last year on a visit to my local brew store – Defalco’s – to pick up yeast for my brewing.  Front and center when I  entered were a pile of beer kits on sale.   Now the price for kits have been going up to the point they aren’t really competitive.  These ones were regularly $20.59 but marked down to $13.59 – even considering I’d likely need to buy fresh yeast which is the only thing I consider perishable about these kit – they were a good buy.  Granted they don’t give you the flexibility that brewing from grain does – but are they ever convenient.  So I snatched up a bunch.

If you haven’t given brewing at home a try; or have put your gear away for a piece of time, maybe it’s time you picked up a kit and the carboys and brew a batch or two in preparation for summer.

The kit you need is limited and low cost so why not give it a try if you can make soup from a can you can brew beer, so stop saying someday and make someday today.

Mixing a beer kit

See just like making soup, only with way more malt and hops and a lot less chicken and noodles



Beer in carboy

Ready to add the yeast and let them do the rest of the work


Grape Propagation

The rush of spring continues.  A few weeks ago I started rooting a bunch of grape cuttings I’d ordered.  The grape propagation process is simple enough.  Make sure you get good sized sections of last years vine while they are dormant.  The sections should have at least three buds.  You can store them wrapped in a damp cloth in your fridge for a couple of months if necessary.

When you are ready to start rooting them, make a fresh cut on the base of the vine segment (buds face up), dip the base in water to get the rooting hormone to stick then dip in in your container of rooting hormone.

Push a hole in your damp potting medium with a pencil so that you can insert the base of the vine into the medium.

That’s it.  If you have bottom heat great use it.  If not, that’s ok too.  The most important thing here is that even if the base is being warmed the air should be cool so that you delay having the buds break for as long as possible.  As soon as that happens you’ll need to bring them into the light but before then then don’t need it.

While I started the process for the new varieties of vines I purchased a few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to clone the Beta grapes that were growing at my folks place and took the opportunity to do a video showing just how easy the process for rooting grapes is.

Give it a try, if not this year then make sure you take the few minutes to get it done next year.

Grape propagation

A closeup of grapes being rooted, note the buds


Spring Fever – Seedlings being started

I know it might be popular in some corners to suggest that as humans we have removed ourselves from the influence of the pull of eons of evolution and somehow our brains have been able to eliminate the tug of natural forces. I think we are a bit closer to animals than folks would often like to admit, and that shows in part in the forces and rhythms which drive us.

For me at this time of year, as the rays of the sun grow in strength there is an unmistakable tug to plant, to get seeds started and prepare for spring and the last frost date.  Now, granted it’s not like I’m going to end up curled in the fetal position sweating in the corner if I don’t get my seeds planted – but it would feel decidedly odd.

Without a question I have a bit of an addiction to collecting, trialing, saving and improving plant material, and this time of year offers the start of a season of promise and discovery.

I am reasonably certain that my standby veggies whose seed I saved from last year will perform once again – the reisentraube and matina tomatoes – as well as the wild cherry tomatoes that drive the kids wild with their combination of marble sized fruit and high sugar content – fortunately they are as productive as they are loved.  On the pepper front there are the Peace Sweet peppers, along with the Hungarian hot wax, jalapeno and greek pepperocini peppers that I can count on.

But then there are the pots filled with the new varieties or ones which while grown a few years back didn’t stand out enough then to merit replanting.  Among those will I find a new favorite to add to the annual must have list?  Will the seductive descriptions in the seed catalogs  – Fedco is my favorite – live up to my expectations?

At some point I know I am going to have to turn from acquiring and saving seed to taking a more active role in breeding to obtain the characteristics I am looking for, but right now my fix is still met with saved and purchased seeds.

So, again this year I’ve wagered a bit of money on seed packets to compliment those I’ve saved and the natural roulette wheel has started its spin.  Will some of these win a place on the annual must plant list or be relegated to an also ran. In either case even the losers in this race get eaten, so regardless of the outcome I ‘m relatively sure I’m bound to win this gamble.

Starting Herb Seeds

Herb seeds sprouting

Matina tomato

Matina tomato sprouts – promising a season of great harvests




Simple whole grain whole wheat bread recipe

This has been my pretty much my standard do it all whole wheat bread recipe for years.  While this bread has all the health benefits of fresh 100% extraction whole wheat flour you don’t need to sell it on that basis – it tastes good.

I don’t think many folks would accuse me of being too caught up with sticking to recipes.  In fact when developing and trialing ones to relay here I have to force myself to measure and record.  That is due in part to my experience that most baking is fairly forgiving.  The most critical element usually is ensuring the moisture level is correct.

If you are new to baking with whole grain flours be aware that they take longer to absorb liquid, and depending upon the moisture level in the grain you may need to adjust the volume of liquid in your recipe.   I always look to achieve what would for white flour be considered a bit too wet (but not soupy) a dough when the dough ball is first formed by the machine.  This seems to end up being just about the right amount of liquid to make a nice loaf.

Click on the title to get the full recipe.


Crisis on skis – Jerky is finished

Ok, so it’s not as dire a crisis as one might expect from a trip out cross country skiing in the hills when the trails are icy.  But running out of jerky is a pretty big deal.

It’s been a popular treat – better received than gummy bears – which is saying quite a bit.  So, in a way while it’s sad to see the snow slowly wasting away and the inevitable nearing of the end of the ski season – it’s nice that it’s warming up enough that the home built smoker will be coming out in about a month – when the evening temperatures are consistently above zero – to get us ready for hiking and canoeing season.

If you haven’t tried curing and smoking your own jerky you really should try.  Check out our bookstore for the simple plans laid out in the “Homestead Expedient Cold Smoker” that should see you build a smoker for less than $20.