Backyard Viticulture (AKA Catching A Buzz Off The Land)

One day, while deciding what to plant for a long term perennial plants, and wrapping up on the latest batch of home brew, I thought it would be a great idea to start to grow some grapes for wine making. Our favorite wine type is Cabernet Sauvignon and, luckily for us, it appears to be one of the more forgiving varieties that are available in our region. When I was growing up, my neighbor had some growing on a trellis that was attached to their garage, and I used to love the sweet taste of the grapes regardless of their thick skins.

Since I was brewing while thinking about this, I decided to try to train hops to grow horizontally on the trellises as well. I planted two cascade rhizomes and two millennium rhizomes. These had to be planted in the early spring, so I planted them before I made the trellises.

After deciding that we wanted the grapes, I knew that I had to build a support system for them, and this is what I came up with:

First I started digging holes for the end poles that I picked up from our local hardware store,


Then I placed the pole in the hole and drove it in as far as I could using a T-post pounder, then filled it with dirt. Next I ran a string between the two poles to help draw a straight line so I could place the t-posts where I wanted them,


Then I went through and placed 6 ft tall t-posts every 6 ft along the distance between the two poles, and used the string to verify that the T-posts were the same height. I went thru and ran the wires for the trellises using 12.5 gauge high tension galvanized wire,




After I built the trellis system, I had to find a source of grapes which seemed harder than I originally imagined. After all we are in the heart of wine country aren’t we? Well, due to that last bit of info, it makes it harder to order grapes since there is the possibility of importing pests and diseases. The  FDA has some strict rules about shipping to states that have an agriculture output as to protect those crops. I finally came to the conclusion that I had to find a local source. After a lot of well crafted Google searches, I found a wine grape producer that was only an hour and a half away that would ship to me. They normally deal in bulk, so the smallest order I could place was 25 plants. Guess I better get serious about making some wine in a couple years, huh? With an average yield of 20-40 lbs per vine, there will be a decent amount of grapes to use, I’d even bet that our chickens will love the leftovers after we juice them.

I was excited to see this shoot break thru the ground, the first of the yummy Millennium hops which are used in my favorite beer… Stout.


A Cascade is coming thru the leafy mulch.


Now one month later it looks like this, crazy how fast these things grow


Stick around lady bug, there’s lots to eat around here!


Now its time to plant the grapes!



The baby grape plants were in great condition, packed with sawdust instead of shredded paper! Paper absorbs moisture and can actually harm your plants. I love it when I receive a plant that’s taken care of.


Had to get a hold of the master Gardner for some help, thanks Eli!


Two weeks after planting and we have some amazing growth already!


I layed a drip line going to each plant and have it set on a timer to water 2 times a day now since its starting to get hot out. We are looking forward to having some great grapes, and possibly the ability to make some awesome wine!

Hanging Fruit Basket



This isn’t exactly a “prep” persay, but it is DIY and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna spend $30 on Amazon to buy something that I can make for $25 and an hour of my time (lol!). We have been having issues with the dogs sneaking up onto the counter and eating the fruit in the basket on the counter. It was a daily occurence to come home from work to find nothing left of a new bunch of bananas, aside from the stems on the living room floor. While cleaning up kids’ toys one day I had the brilliant idea to use the Dollar Store baskets they got for Easter and hang them for our fruit! Well, I will just say don’t try it with Dollar Store baskets. As soon as I put any weight in them the wicker cracked and we almost had a lot of bruised fruit. So, I went on a mission to Michaels craft store to find clearance Easter baskets and something more sturdy than hemp string to hold it together. Make sure the baskets have a metal frame or thick, strong wicker, or it will collaple under the weight of all your produce. I ended up finding some cheap baskets, and some not-so-cheap chain and metal rings to use, but I was done shopping around for materials so I just bought them. If I did this again, I might use circular baskets instead of square, but I think it still turned out OK.


Pliers come in handy. I connected the chains to the handles of the smaller top basket like so:


Then I connected the chains from the bottom corners of the smaller basket to the top corners of the larger bottom basket:




Make sure you use a sturdy hook in the celing. You wouldn’t think bananas and apples weigh that much, but it adds up quick. Hopefully the dogs won’t jump up and rip it out of the celing! It is also nice to have reclaimed some kitchen counter space. Happy fruit hanging!


The Gutter Garden

Gutter Garden 1

Spring has sprung and with that comes the early planting of fruits and vegetables. Enjoying the warmer weather and planning what to plant and when can be challenging. One thing that always comes to mind is growing healthy snacks for our kids to eat all season long.

Strawberry’s have been a part of our backyard garden since our oldest was a baby. We have a row of Strawberry’s in our flower beds along side our house. Growing in the ground can be challenging to avoid pests without using chemicals and over watering from the lawn sprinklers.

Over the weekend I installed a new rain gutter over my garage on the front of the house and had some extra parts. I had purchased 20 strawberry crowns earlier in the week and just didn’t know where to plant them. We will be moving sometime in the near future so I had an idea come together while weeding the front yard.

The Gutter Garden I built is a stand alone frame that holds three gutters about four feet long. I can put it  anywhere and take with us when we move. I built a simple shelf out of 2 inch by 3 inch  lumber 8 feet long with some 3 inch brass screws. I attached feet on the bottom of the shelf and braces so the wind would not blow it over. We get a lot  of wind in the spring time here in Central Washington. Next I cut the gutters to fit the shelves and screwed them down to the wood. I added small 1/8th inch drain holes to the bottom front of the gutters.

My 2 year old Alex helped fill the gutters with organic soil. We planted 12 of the crowns in the three gutters and watered them in. The drain holes in the top gutters help water the bottom ones when draining.

Happy Planting,




Last spring we took on a project to take up some “dead” space that we had in our front yard. You know those hard to mow 90 degree corners that end up with weeds and require a large amount of weed eating and pruning to keep looking good. We decided to make a triangle with some cedar fencing that we had left over and make it a small raised strawberry garden.

We have a lot of moles that live on our property so I put a piece of fine metal fencing down below where we built the bed to keep them from coming up into the bed. Then I framed out the corner with Cedar fencing, drove some rebar into the ground to hold the fencing in place and filled it with dirt and planted our Strawberries throughout the corner.

It was great to come home from work and just stop by and grab a couple of these Strawberries and take them inside and feed them to our kids. In my mind it looks better and is defiantly more productive than the wasted space that was just poorly maintained grass.


Homemade Sauerkraut

If you are thinking of making your own delicious, homemade sauerkraut, the first think you’re going to need to know about is Lacto fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation is the process when glucose, sucrose and fructose are broken down anaerobically (without oxygen) by hungry lactobacillus bacteria. In the case of sauerkraut, we use salt to make the water undesirable for bad bacteria that could make us sick, while the good bacteria (lactobacillus) can make short work of all of the sugars held in the cabbage. The lactobacilli are everywhere and on everything; in our homes, on our food, literally everything. In your gut, the lactobacilli help your body to break down the food you eat and aid in absorption of vitamins that otherwise would pass thru your system. Because of this, lacto-fermented foods are a wonderful pro-biotic and are greatly beneficial to our health. This is also a great long term food storage method, and a skill that most have forgotten about. It requires little effort to create, and the health benefits are terrific.

Making kraut is ridiculously simple, but there are a few guidelines. All you need is a container of some sort, a way to keep your kraut under the brine, cabbage, salt and maybe a little water. The containers can vary from a bowl with a plate to keep the kraut down, to fancy crocks meant for this express purpose. Some people like to add garlic, onions, juniper berries, carrots, or other ingredients, but these are purely optional. We like to keep things simple around here so we stuck to cabbage with a little onion thrown in. It is best to use sea salt or canning salt. Don’t use plain ol’ table salt. Also, don’t use chlorinated city water for lacto-fermenting. Chlorine is made to kill micro-organisms, which is exactly what we do not want to do. Boil your city water to dissipate the chlorine, or get yourself some distilled or well water.

Here’s a pic of the fermentation crock we used to make this batch:


We made this batch with 4 white cabbages from the local grocery store. We started by peeling off the first couple outside leaves and coring them 0ut to get the gnarly cabbage chunks out. Then cut them in half and thinly slice them like so:


There is no set method to cutting everything up. The thinner you slice it, the sooner it will be ready. But, some people like  big thick chunks of kraut, so experiment and cut it how you like it.



The ratio of salt to cabbage varies greatly as well. The minimum to keep the water salty enough to keep the bad bacteria at bay is about 3 tablespoons per 5 gallons. For this recipe we used the old 1 lb of salt to 40 lbs of ratio and weighed it on a scale. We had about 9  lbs of cabbage so we weighed out 3 1/8 oz of salt.


The next step is to put a layer of cabbage into the crock and mash the crap out of it with a potato masher or other fairly solid, heavy or blunt object. Then sprinkle a layer of salt and then layer on more cabbage. Repeat until you have no more salt or cabbage. Normally, as you mash the cabbage they release enough cabbage juice to make their own brine and don’t require any additional water. We weren’t so lucky. Our cabbages barely gave us any juice at all, much less enough to cover the mashed cabbage no matter how much we mashed.



So after thoroughly squashing the cabbage in layers with the sea salt tightly into the crock, we laid the weights on top of the cabbage. We then added just enough water to cover the cabbage (about halfway up the height of the weights).


If you are using a container without a lid, you will accumulate “scum” floating on the top of the water after a week or so of fermenting. Although it looks kinda gross, it is totally normal. Keeping the cabbage below the level of the salty brine keeps the mold away from precious kraut. Skim it off every couple days and let those bacteria do their job. Depending on the temperature of your house, kraut can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. It also depends on your taste. Some like it super sour and krauty, others like it more mild. Don’t be afraid to taste it throughout the fermentation process to see how it is coming along. When it reaches the point that it tastes good to you, throw it in a jar and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a year or more.

Here’s a link to the Survival Podcast Episode on Lacto fermentation 

TONS of great information on lacto-fermentation in that episode! (and way more in depth than this post)

Honeycrisp Apples

Here is our honey crisp tree, it took about 3 years for it to start producing Flowers and then fruit, its irrigated with a timed drip irrigation system and fertilized every year with compost that’s created from our compost bin enriched with manure from the chickens we have, makes for great fruit, last year we had probably 30 apples off this now 5 year old tree.

The first 2 apples got hit with a bit of hail but its definitely on its way to becoming great486470_2231850491436_1792628497_nThe first apples, delicious! 58422_1187713228657_1027049_n