Hydroponics – A Small Garden with Big Benefits

(Editor’s note:  Today’s post is about a subject that interests me greatly:  hydroponics, because it works well in small spaces.  The post is written by Chris Wimmer, aka Captain Hydroponics)

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is generally translated from the Latin and Greek languages meaning “working water”.  The Greeks and Romans described this farming technique this way because the water was always in motion. A more modern way to explain hydroponics is growing plants without soil.  A variety of mediums are used in place of soil which is soaked in a nutrient rich water solution.

Benefits of hydroponics

I could probably list well over a dozen benefits but I’ll just list the most important:

  • Improved food independence
  • Shorter growing cycles
  • Improved yield
  • Less space required

The reason you are able to basically grow more food, faster, and in less space is due to the direct exposure of nutrients to the roots.  Traditional soil based gardening requires the plants to seek out the nutrients in the soil which actually takes a lot of effort which could be used to grow more vegetation, flowers and fruit.

The basic parts of a hydroponic system

Hydroponic systems come in many different ‘flavors’ but all have a few key common components. 

Grow Tray:  The plants grow in a tray that is filled with an inert media which acts as a soil substitute. Common media includes coconut fiber, gravel, and rockwool.  The media provides root stability and the right mix of oxygen and water.

Reservoir:   A holding tank for the nutrient rich water which is pumped onto the roots of the plants.

Pump:   A small pump to push the water from the reservoir to the grow tray

Timer:  The real beauty of hydroponics.  A timer can help automate your system which can make it virtually maintenance free.

Ideal crops for hydroponics

Almost anything can be grown hydroponically however some plants do better and are simply more practically.  Stick with compact plants that you harvest above the ground.

Some great examples include:

  • Herbs (Basil, oregano, Thyme, etc)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

 How hydroponics can be done in small and creative spaces

Hydroponic plants can be planted twice as close as compared to soil based planting as they will not compete for soil nutrients.  They only need enough vertical space to grow up.

hydroponics1

Another great way to maximize your plantable space is to be creative.  Do you have an outside empty wall?

wall hydroponics

Photo credit: Plants on Walls Blog http://plantsonwalls.blogspot.com/2010/06/aquaponic-garden-tower.html

  What about a sunny window?hydroponics2

  A few final tips to simplify getting started and ensuring success…

  • Start small.  You’ll learn a lot from your first experience and can apply that to your next planting.
  • Use seedlings from the local nursery if you have never germinated seeds.
  • Ensure the location you select will receive at least 12 hours of sunlight and maintain a temperature in the low 70’s.  If this isn’t possible than plan to have supplemental light and heat.

Now that you have heard the basics are you interested learning more?  You can read more at my personal hydroponic blog (http://captainhydroponics.com) or I’d recommend checking out instructables (http://www.instructables.com/id/Hydroponic-Soda-Bottle-System/).  Both have some very detailed hands-on ways to set up a hydroponic garden.

About the Author: Chris Wimmer is an urban hydroponic hobbyist who grew up in the Oregon country side enjoying the open spaces. Chris shares how he uses hydroponics to maximize his small Chicago urban garden space on his blog:   CaptainHydroponics.com

 

 

Update on Homemade Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla  3 months

Homemade Vanilla 3 months

This post is by Bernie Carr, apartmentprepper.com

Back in November, I started my homemade vanilla project.  Now that it’s been three months, I wanted to let you know how it’s coming along.

Every couple of weeks, whenever I remember to do so, I swirl the mixture around a few times.

The mixture has now turned a much darker brown.  As far as smell, the vodka smell is still lingering, but the vanilla smell has gotten much stronger.   I don’t think it is ready though, I feel it needs to sit for another couple of months before the flavor is strong enough to add to baking mixes.

I’ll let you know what happens!

Quick reminder:  There is still time to enter the giveaway  for Prepper Pete Prepares.   

© Apartment Prepper 2014

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Save Money! Make Soda at Home

Make Soda at Home

This post is by Bernie Carr, apartmentprepper.com

Although I like an occasional glass of Coke, I prefer a glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime.  La Croix Sparkling Water was a regular item on the grocery list. Until we spotted the Soda Stream and started to calculate whether it would save us money.  After adding up what we spend on sparkling water, we figured we’d recoup the cost of the Soda Stream in four months.   I won’t go into the calculation, as your mileage may vary depending on how much soda you buy in your household.  (This is not an ad for Soda Stream-we have no relationship or affiliation.)

For anyone who has wondered about this, here is how it works.  Soda Stream comes with a unit, proprietary C02 canister that fits within the unit, and bottle.  The starter pack also came with small flavoring samples.

Soda Stream and bottle

  1. Fill the bottle with plain water.  We like to chill the water before using.
  2. Remove the cap off the bottle and screw it on the Soda Stream unit.  The newer models no longer have to be screwed on, but we have the older model so that is what I will describe.
  3. Push the top button 4-5 times until you hear a buzz.  (The instructions say about 2-3 times but that did not make it fizzy enough.)

Adding CarbonationRemove the bottle and add your flavoring.  I like a squeeze of lime or lemon.  We tried out the sample flavors that came with it – I personally only liked the root beer flavor, but did not care for the cola or lemon lime.   We’ve also tried adding a bit of apple or orange juice and that worked well.

Advantages:

  • Less waste than buying soda or sparkling water weekly
  • You control how much sugar you are drinking.
  • Much cheaper than store bought soda
  • No need to run to the store!

Disadvantages:

  • The C02 canister refill runs about $15 if you return the old canister.   We’ve traded ours in at the Walmart Customer Service center.  We use the unit once a day, and one canister lasts us about 2-3 months.
  • You cannot carbonate anything besides water.  I’m fine with this, as I even like just plain fizzy water.

I know there are alternatives to the Soda Stream, but for the space that we have, and the rate of consumption, it suits us just fine for now.

But if you are interested in those alternatives, here are a couple:

Brew Better Soda at Home  I may try this one next.

How to Force Carbonate at Home  This sounds more cost effective, although it has a higher upfront cost, but I don’t have the space for a large unit like this yet.

© Apartment Prepper 2014

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Self Sufficiency Saturdays: Homemade Dog Biscuits

Dog Biscuits in a JarWe were looking for all-natural, made in the U.S. dog treats at the pet store.  The affordable brands had a long list of unpronounceable preservatives and additives, and were made in China.   (I haven’t forgotten about Deaths of 500 dogs blamed on jerky treats, FDA says  so we don’t buy pet food from China.)  I found some that fit the bill at the farmer’s market, and at specialty stores, but they were too expensive.

I decided the only way to know what ingredients are being used is to make it myself.  I searched for an easy recipe, with ingredients that are already in my storage, and found the recipe for basic dog treats on the Cesar Milan website.  I adapted the recipe to what I had on hand.

This is how I made the dog treats.

IngredientsdogbiscuitsIngredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you might prefer whole wheat)

1/2 cup hot water (you may use chicken broth instead)

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (omit if you are using chicken broth)

1 egg

bacon grease

Directions:

1.  Grease two cookie sheets generously with bacon fat.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

3.  In a large bowl, mix the hot water with the bouillon

4.  Add the egg, flour with the bouillon water and stir well.

5.  On a floured board, mix well and keep kneading until the dough is stretchy but no longer wet.  I’ve had to add 1-2 teaspoons of flour.

Rollingdough6.  Roll the dough flat.  I don’t own a rolling pin due to space issues so I used a bottle.  It worked fine.

DogBiscuitsCutouts

7.  Cut out the dough in your desired shapes.  I’ve used various cookie cutters before; this time I used bone shaped cookie cutters.

8.  Place dough pieces on the bacon greased cookie sheets and bake for 30 minutes.

DogBiscuitsReadyIt took me about 30 minutes to mix and shape the dough, and another 30 minutes is needed for baking.  The recipe is easy to make, and does not take long  at all.  Our dog loves them.  And now, I don’t have to run to the store to buy them.

 

© Apartment Prepper 2014

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Preparewise

Preparewise Lots of great tips for everyone: Bernie’s Book is Available in Amazon

 

 

 

 

Self-sufficiency Saturdays: Reusing Zipper Plastic Bags

Just a quick post for today’s self-sufficient Saturday.

Part of becoming self sufficient is learning to make things last as long as possible, so you don’t have to keep buying replacements.

I like the convenience of zippered plastic bags, but don’t like the expense.  I resisted rewashing them because they took so long to dry and there is a chance for mold during our humid summers.  So I figured a way to let them air dry the quickest way possible.

Here is a photo:

Washed ziploc bag

  1. Wash the zipper bags with soap and water.  Rinse thoroughly.
  2. Take a carabiner and attach it to a binder clip.  Hang by the carabiner to a wire hanger, nail or metal shelf.
  3. Hang the zipper bag by one bottom edge and leave it to try.  You can hang multiple bags at once.

I’ve washed gallon, pint, sandwich sizes, all with good results.  (Do not rewash bags that have come in contact with meats.)  If you have a different way of doing this, please share in the comments.

© Apartment Prepper 2013

 

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Self-Sufficient Saturdays: Homemade Vanilla

 

I’ve been wanting to try making vanilla for a long time.  I use a lot of vanilla for making muffins and desserts, but always found real vanilla to be expensive.  This is an ideal project for an apartment dweller:  it requires no special equipment and does not take up a lot of room.   And, it will save money in the long run.

Ingredients for homemade vanilla

Ingredients for homemade vanilla

Ingredients:

Vanilla beans – I chose organic vanilla beans that were grown in Hawaii.

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla Beans

Vodka – choose a decent brand; not the most expensive, but not the cheap stuff either.

Directions:

Slicing a vanilla bean

  1. With a sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean across the middle.  The vanilla bean was surprising tough.
  2. The ratio is two vanilla beans to one cup of vodka.  Because this is my first attempt, I started with one cup of vodka.  Place vanilla beans in a clean glass jar, then pour the vodka.
  3. Leave the jar in a cool dark place.  I left it in an unused corner of the cupboard.
  4. Shake the jar occasionally.  It should be ready in about eight weeks, or longer if you want a stronger flavor.  After the eight weeks is up, strain the vanilla and transfer to a pourable container.   You can add more vodka and another vanilla bean to start a new batch.
Homemade Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla on the first day

Real vanilla beans smell very fragrant, almost like perfume.  After just a couple of days, the mixture was already turning a dark shade.  I am excited to see the result.  If this works out, I will make a larger batch next time.

 

 

 

 Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Self Sufficient Saturdays: Cookware You’ll Never Have to Replace

cast-iron-cookwareMy favorite survival cookware are cast iron pans.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with cast iron, they are the black heavy iron pans that have been around for hundreds of years.

My mother-in-law actually introduced me to cast iron pans.  Whenever I helped her cook anything in her kitchen, I marveled at how her cast iron pans cooked everything so well.

Why I like them so much:

  • They distribute heat evenly
  • When well seasoned, they work like a non-stick pan, or require very little oil.
  • The same plan will cook well with any type of stove:  electric, gas, you can even stick it in the oven and make bread in it.  In an emergency, it will work well over an open flame. 
  • The pan adds iron to your food, which helps avoid an iron deficiency.
  • Because they so sturdy, they will last a lifetime, and you won’t need to spend money for replacement pans.

In those days, I used Teflon pans, but once they get a scratch, they peel and shred after a while.  After I saw how much better the cast iron pans heated through, I tossed out all my Teflon pans and asked my mother-in-law to help me buy some.

She did not take me to a cookware store; instead she took me to Goodwill.  She said she found the best cast iron pans there.  People would toss them out thinking they were inferior to Calphalon or other name brand cookware.  Being of a frugal nature, she encouraged me to find second-hand deals instead of full priced items.

If you are in the market for one, try getting it used at stores like Goodwill, or shop online at Craigslist or Freecycle first.  If you are just starting out, I would recommend choosing a slightly rusted cast iron pan, to make it easier on yourself. 

The same process to salvage it, is the same process to season a brand new pan.

  • If you have a new pan, just wash and rinse, no scraping needed.  If you are working with a used, slightly rusted pan, wash with a strong dishwashing liquid and scrape out the rust with a steel wool.
  • Dry completely with a dish towel.
  • Coat the pan with cooking oil all over.  I have used vegetable oil, olive oil or peanut oil
  • Turn the oven on low heat, around 250 degrees and leave the pan in the oven for 4 hours.  Do not leave unattended.  It may get a bit smoky if the heat is too high.
  • Turn of the heat and leave the pan in while it cools.
  • Repeat the process over a few months until the pan turns black.  You now have a well-seasoned pan.

Cast iron pans are available pre-seasoned.  You don’t have to go through the process if you don’t feel like it.  Just remember the pan should not be left sitting in a sink-ful of water.  It should be rinsed and dried after use and coated with a thin layer of oil.  I’ve recently started coating my pans with coconut oil and it adds a nice flavor to the food.

They are still fairly inexpensive, around $10 for a non-seasoned pan, and about $20 for a pre-seasoned one.  Whether you buy it used or start out with a pre-seasoned skillet, you’ll be pleased with they way they cook, and it will last for generations.

 

Reminder:  Don’t forget to enter our latest giveaway for  Berkey Sport Bottle and Watersafe City Water Test Kit!

For details click here!

 

 Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living

Sustainable LivingI was excited to receive a review copy of Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living  by Stacy Harris.  Stacy has written several cookbooks and writes the Game & Garden blog.

I am always interested in ways an apartment dweller living in the city can adapt a sustainable lifestyle so I asked the author, Stacy Harris the following question:

What activities do you recommend for apartment dwellers living in the city who what to take small steps toward sustainable living?
Stacy’s response:

“First, I would like to encourage apartment dwellers to find a local source of organic vegetables. This seems obvious, but many times, it is overlooked. Once you buy an abundance of seasonal vegetables, you can preserve (canning or drying) those vegetables and fruits then store them in cabinets or even under beds to eat in the off season. If your apartment has room for an extra freezer, you can even freeze your produce after blanching it.

Even better, if you have a small balcony or fire escape, much can be grown vertically in those small spaces. I would begin by planting things that you would regularly eat, like salad ingredients and herbs. Most climates will afford lettuce, cabbage, arugula, carrots, bunch onions, beets, and radishes. In the summer, a planting of cucumbers would be beneficial for making pickles as well as adding to salads. This can be replaced in the winter with other greens such as collards. Collards can be canned for use in the summer. A container of herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, and rosemary would give you sufficient flavor for much of your food. Keep in mind that cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green peas, and pole beans are fantastic vine plants for planting vertically.

If your apartment has a South facing window, there are small greenhouses that herbs and lettuces can be grown in as well.

I would like to encourage people to start where they are and to enjoy the process of growing or at least preserving local harvests for health and for preparation reasons. There is really nothing better than using organic fresh produce and organic meats. The flavors of these foods cannot be matched by that of corn fed beef and genetically altered vegetable products.

I encourage using heirloom seeds if you are able to plant in that seeds can be saved in times of need. Genetically altered seeds do not always produce another plant and if they do, they only produce once or twice more and take the genes of only one parent (they do not produce a plant that looks like the previous one).   Enjoy.”

Looking through the book I indeed found a lot of tips and recipes that are easily done by anyone.  Sure, certain activities like bee-keeping or poultry raising are not doable in the immediate vicinity, but you can easily obtain fresh honey and farm fresh eggs from a farmer’s market.  I visit one near me a couple of times a month.
The instructions in the book are straight-forward and easy to follow.  The high gloss pages are inviting and the recipe photos look appetizing.  My family tends to be on the picky side, but we were delighted to find many recipes we can try out.  The recipes for wild game can be substituted with beef.   The flagged pages you see in the book are all the recipes we are planning to cook.
Dill Pickle RecipeThe first one on the list is the recipe for Refrigerator Dill Pickles, which I will cover in another post.

I highly recommend Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living  by Stacy Harris.  Whether you live in a spacious homestead or a small apartment, you will find this book offers something for everyone.

GIVEAWAY!

Win a Copy of Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living

One copy is reserved for an Apartment Prepper reader.  Just add your comment below, describing what sustainable living activities you currently do, or what interests you.

The winner* will be chosen at a random drawing on Thursday, Oct. 31st at 8 pm Central.

*Winner will be notified via email.  Winner must reply to email notification within 48 hours or another winner will be drawn.

 

 

For easy ways to become more prepared, read my book:

For low-cost ways to prep:

 

Self-Sufficient Saturdays: How to Cook a Common Survival Food

Pinto BeansWelcome to another Self Sufficient Saturday post.  Today we’ll take a look at a prepper’s staple:  dried beans.  It is an inexpensive source of protein, tasty and filling.   Many people settle for canned beans, thinking it is too hard to make it yourself.  It is actually very easy.

How Much Dried Beans to Use

1 cup dried beans = 3 cups cooked beans

Since I like to make a large enough batch to last for a few meals, I use about three cups of beans.

Preparing Beans

Before you cook any type of beans sort through them to remove any pebbles or any foreign matter.  You should also give the beans a quick rinse.

There are two ways to prepare beans:

  • Soaking method
  • Fast boil

Soaking method:

1.  Just measure three cups of beans and soak in a pan of water overnight.  The beans puff up the next day.

2.  Throw out the soaking water, then rinse the beans.

3.  In a large pot, add the beans and enough water to cover the beans.  Cook on medium heat and let the pot simmer.  You can add a peeled piece of garlic if you like.

A couple of tips:

  • DO NOT ADD SALT.  The salt will toughen the beans and will not cook properly.
  • Old beans may take longer to cook.  For tips on how to properly store beans, please see Survival Food Storage.

Add more water as it boils down.  If the water runs out, the beans will start to burn.  Allow the mixture to boil for 1 1/2- 2 hours until the beans are tender.  Once the beans are soft, add salt to taste.

Fast boil method

1.  If you forget to soak the beans the night before, do the fast boil method.  Add enough water to cover the beans in a pot.  Let the mixture boil for about three minutes.  Turn off the fire and remove from heat.  Place the pot in the sink and add tap water.  Pour the beans into a colander and throw out the water.  Rinse the beans one more time under the faucet.

2.  Now you are ready to cook the beans.

Follow Step 3 above.

Plain cooked beans are great added to plain white rice.   With a bit of salt and pepper, beans and rice make a great comfort food.  Even picky kids like it.

Another thing you can easily make is refried beans.

Refried Beans

You will need:

5-7 cups of cooked pinto beans (following the steps above)

1/2 cup lard, butter or vegetable oil

1 cup grated monterey jack cheese or your favorite type of cheese like grated cheddar cheese

Melt the lard, butter or if using vegetable oil, add to the pan.

Drain the beans leaving around 1/2 cup of bean water and add the beans and water to the pan all at once.  Careful you don’t get splattered.

Mash the soft beans with a potato masher.  Mix the beans and the oil very well.  If the beans look too dry, add 1/4 cup of water or chicken broth to the mix and keep mashing to your desired consistency. Some cooks like the beans to be on the dry side, some like it a bit more watery.

Mashing beans

Once the beans are mashed, add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.  Allow the cheese to melt.  Serve with tortillas, tostada shells or tortilla chips.  You can even make breakfast burritos by mixing the refried beans with scrambled egg, more cheese in a large flour tortilla.

Refried beans

Refried beans with monterey jack cheese

 

The Prepper’s Pantry

The Prepper’s Pantry

Self-Sufficient Saturdays: How to Make Banana Muffins without an Electric Mixer

Banana muffin1

Welcome to the latest Self-Sufficient Saturdays feature, where we try out projects that can easily be done in an apartment.

Breakfast muffins are a staple at our house for busy weekday breakfasts.  I used to buy them at the store until I found out how easy it is to make muffins yourself.  There are no special ingredients, and you can rescue overripe, black bananas from getting thrown out.

Just one problem:  my cheap hand mixer that I’ve had for six years finally gave up.

My original recipe required an electric mixer to blend all the ingredients.  Creaming butter and sugar just does not work well without one.   I’ve tried it, and the results were not great.  Through trial and error, I finally found a muffin recipe that works well with hand mixing.  Here is the recipe.

Mushy bananas1

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt (I used the homemade kind)
  • Optional:  paper muffin cups to line the muffin tin, OR use cooking oil to grease the muffin tin

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line the muffin tin with paper cups if you are using them; otherwise, grease the muffin tin with cooking oil.

2.  Mash the bananas with a fork in a large mixing bowl.

3.  With a spatula or large spoon, mix the melted butter with the mashed bananas.

4.  Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla.

5.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last and keeping mixing.  You can tell it is well mixed when you no longer see any dry powdery lumps.

Scooping muffin mix1

6.  Pour the mixture into the muffin tin. Tip:  The easiest way to do it is by using an ice cream scoop to pour the muffin mix into the muffin cups.

7.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes.  My oven gets very hot so it only takes about 35 minutes so check often.  You can tell the muffins are done when you poke with a fork and the fork comes out clean.   I plan to buy a solar oven one of these days, (as soon as the budget allows) and this will be one of the first recipes I plan to make in a solar oven.

These muffins will stay fresh in the fridge from one to two weeks.  But they may get eaten way before then!

 

The Prepper’s Pantry

The Prepper’s Pantry