shipped sustainably (unrefrigerated cargo containers on trains/ships)
currently half the price of grass-fed ground beef per pound
tasty hot or cold (you can eat it like canned tuna)
It does have one drawback, however: it’s canned with the bones and skin (unless you get boneless/skinless, which is far more expensive, and shipped first to China to be deboned by people working in questionable work conditions, and then packaged and shipped back). So I wanted to share some tips that got me past the initial squick factor and into loving this fish.
First of all, know that after going through the canning process, the bones are very soft and totally edible. The long, thin bones are so fragile at that point that you don’t even notice them. The vertebrae are larger and more noticeable. The skin is very fragile and disintegrates when you stir it in. So here are some ways of coping with them all.
Expend a little effort and take out the biggest bones and the skin. If you empty the can onto a plate (drain the liquid off first), you should be able to get the majority of the skin and large bones out in a couple minutes.
Stir the salmon thoroughly. If you’re making salmon burgers, you’ll do this in the course of cooking, anyway.
Mix it with ingredients that have some “bite” to them, like diced carrots and onions. If you bite into something a little firm, it’s probably just a carrot, right?
Ready to cook with canned salmon? Here are some recipe ideas:
When crisis looms, a lot of us look to securing our food supply. I’m hearing a lot of people saying they want to get into canning these days, but are concerned about the cost of equipment, storage space, and availability of materials. And frankly, just buying “one more thing” for an endeavor that might not be lasting.
So this week, I’m bringing you information on “canning with found objects.” You may be able to can with equipment you already have on hand. This is water bath canning, suitable for jam, pickles, tomatoes, and some salsa recipes. Please don’t use this method for any low-acid foods like vegetables, meat, or beans.
Improvising a canner
First off, NO, you don’t need the classic black-with-white-speckles graniteware canner to do canning. Though if you decide to buy, it is probably the most straightforward and least expensive way to go. What you DO need:
A deep pot with a lid. It must be deep enough to hold your jars, a rack, an inch of water over the top of your jars, and at least an inch of space so it doesn’t boil over when it’s full.
A rack, or “something to keep your jars from touching the bottom of the pot.” This is usually a metal rack, but I’ve had success with canning rings, silicone potholders, and even folded kitchen towels. Look around; there is likely something in your kitchen you can use. This is really important, because without something between the jars and the pot’s bottom, jars will break in the canner.
A jar lifter. Some people manage without them, but this is non-negotiable for me.
A ladle and canning funnel are not 100% required, but they make life a LOT easier.
Bonus: Canning instructions. There are newer books out there, but for straightforward and cheap, it’s hard to beat the Ball Blue Book ($10). It’s refreshed a bit every year, but as long as it was printed this millenium, the info is still good, so check for it used, too. The other definitive guide is the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, which is available as a PDF download.
So you’ve determined you don’t really have the tools you need. What’s the easiest way to get started? Sadly, most “canning starter kits” are drastically overpriced. I just saw the Ball starter kit selling for $150…absolutely ridiculous. Try this instead:
Check Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist.com and just ask if anyone has equipment to give away or sell cheap.
Buy a 21-qt graniteware canner with rack. Check “farm and fleet” type stores – they should run about $20-25. Here’s one you can order (not an affiliate link). A full kit like this is OK, too – has pieces you won’t need, but it’s $35…if you can find it in stock.
You should be able to get set up for around $35, plus your jars. And while we’re talking about jars, I often get asked if you can can in glass jars that held food you bought at the store (mayo, jam, salsa, etc.). The official answer is “no.” However, I know the Amish in my area regularly reuse commercial “lug-top” jars (like salsa or jelly jars, with a pop-up button on top) for water bath canning. As jars will be scarce this year, it’s worth keeping in mind. Be sure the pair the jar with its correct lid and don’t store anything that hasn’t resealed and popped the button “in.”
It’s extremely important to use tested salsa recipes if you plan to water bath can them. With the mix of acidic and non-acidic ingredients, if you get the blend wrong, your final product could have an unsafe pH and harbor botulism. The problem is, most canned salsa recipes taste far too strongly of vinegar for my taste. These two, tested by Ball, are my favorites by far. These no longer appear on their web site, but did in the past.
These are the most common questions I see about raised bed gardening, along with my answers. Though I try to be comprehensive and not just relate my experience, you may find other things work better in your situation and location.
How tall should I make my beds?
If you can work on the ground and want raised beds to keep your garden neat and easier to weed, make the beds 8″ (20cm) tall and fill with 6″ (15cm) of dirt. The plants will send roots down into the native soil beneath the level of the beds, foraging for water and minerals. You DO NOT need to make these beds any deeper, unless you have mobility issues or aesthetic preferences. See “Pet Peeves” below.
If you want elevated beds so you don’t have to bend or kneel, make the bed about 36″ (180cm) high. If you are very short or tall, you might want to adjust accordingly. You can use your kitchen counter for reference – if your countertop is comfortable for you to use, make the top of your bed the same height. Filling a bed with 36″ of soil is very expensive, so you might want to fill the bottom with rocks, sticks, or empty plastic bottles. Or, make your elevated bed with a bottom (be sure it has good drainage holes) so the depth of the soil is at least 10″ deep; 12-18″ is ideal.
If you are planting on concrete, gravel, or contaminated soil, follow the directions for elevated beds.
What should I make my beds out of?
Expensive and tends to split
Plain pine (my favorite)
Cheap; lasts 8+ years
Insect- and rot-proof
Can reduce acidity of soil. Concerns about fly ash (heavy metals) leaching into soil but no hard evidence.
Insect- and rot-proof
Can rust after time. Watch for sharp edges.
Doesn’t last as long as pine lumber. Thin, short boards are prone to splitting. Some pallets have been treated with chemicals. Look for a “KD” (kiln dried) or “HT” (heat treated) stamp for the safest options.
Composite decking (Trex)
Warps a lot and screws pull out after a couple years. Not compostable, recyclable, or burnable after use. Corrugated construction allows weeds and grass to creep in at the corners.
Arsenic was banned from pressure-treated lumber in 2004. However, lumber yards still won’t allow their employees to cut it indoors. To me, that suggests chemicals I don’t want around food. Guide to recognizing pressure-treated lumber.
Cheap and indestructable
Concerns about leaching chemicals, but there’s no conclusive evidence that they’re really horrible. If you feel comfortable, use them.
Actual used railroad ties are soaked in creosote, which give them a black or dark brown color. Creosote is carcinogenic and ties often can’t go into regular landfills. Note: 6″x6″ landscaping timbers sold at garden centers are sometimes called “railroad ties” but don’t have creosote.
Do I need to line the bottom of my beds with something?
Generally speaking, no. Six inches of heavy soil/compost/manure will kill most grass and weeds under the bed. Landscaping fabric and plastic are counterproductive because the plants can’t get their roots below the bottom of the bed. They will also shred over time and be a pain in the neck to remove later. There is no need to line the sides of the beds with plastic to make the wood last longer, either.
The only lining I’d put in the bottom of a bed is cardboard, newspaper, or packing paper. Place the bed frame directly on top of the cardboard, so the cardboard sticks out evenly on the inside and outside of the bed. Make sure to cover the paths as well, and cover the paths with 6″ of wood chips. This will keep grass from creeping into your beds from the corners.
The big exception to this is if you are working on a contaminated site and want to prevent plants from getting their roots into the soil. Then I’d go with an impermeable bottom layer such as several inches of gravel. (P.S. – did you know the most common contaminant found in urban Ypsilanti, MI gardens is actually arsenic from old orchards, not lead? Don’t assume urban sites are unsafe and rural sites are OK!)
What do I fill my beds with?
Contact a local nursery or landscaper for a truckload of “garden blend” soil. This is half compost/half topsoil. Figure about 3/4 yard per 4’x8′ bed (6″ deep). In my area, I can get 3 yards of garden blend delivered for about $125. This will fill 3-4 4×8′ beds.
Manure – great stuff! The older, the better. Chicken, cow, and horse manures need to mellow a lot before use, but goat, rabbit, and llama manure can be used right away. It’s OK if it still has straw or woodchip bedding in it if you cover it with a couple inches of good garden soil. Tomatoes planted in this will not fare well their first year – they’ll get blossom end rot because pure manure doesn’t have enough calcium in it. It may also have too much nitrogen for root crops the first year. Squash will love it, though!
Leaves, grass clippings, and straw – good for a base layer. These will compost in place and leave good soil behind. They will also shrink by about 75%, so expect to have to refill your beds next year. If you don’t have many on your property, cruise leafy neighborhoods on trash day to pick up your neighbors’ bags of leaves and clippings.
Topsoil or native soil from elsewhere on your property – not great, but not horrible, especially if you can improve it with compost or manure. Straight soil is too heavy for elevated planters on legs.
Commercial compost – can be OK. Lacks minerals, and often has a lot of plastic junk in it, but you can clean it up and improve it over time.
Bagged soil, compost, etc. – The most expensive option, but might be your only choice if you live in a city. Use a blend of compost, manure, coir (shredded coconut hulls), and a smaller amount of top soil.
Gotchas and pet peeves
Beds 16-24″ tall. They’re too short to work standing up, and too tall to work from the ground. I’d rather have two 4’x8’x8″ beds than one 4’x8’x16″ bed any day.
Beds that aren’t filled within 1-2″ of the top. Why build a 36″ tall bed, then fill it with only 18″ of dirt? You now have to reach over the top to get to the soil level, and there’s 18″ of wood shading much of your garden.
This might happen because soil settles, and any organic matter will shrink a LOT in its first year. If you put 8″ of grass clippings and straw into a bed, and put 2″ of soil on top, by the end of the year, it’ll be maybe 3-4″ deep. Fill beds to the very top, and be prepared to add more soil next year.
Over-built first gardens. Ok, I get it. Self-contained 36″ tall cedar keyhole gardens with built-in fences are gorgeous – but there’s a really good chance one of two things will happen next year: You’ll either hate gardening and be mad you spent that much money, or you’ll love gardening and want a bunch more space. If a garden like this one makes your heart sing, go for it – but know that you don’t need something this fancy and expensive to start gardening.
Here are two more garden plans geared at kids. I drew these up for a community garden in Ontario. The garden asks that people don’t plant potatoes, perennials, or tall crops like corn or sunflowers, so this is what I came up with. Each link has a diagram and plant list.
Microgreens are all the rage, and for good reason. They are 4-40x more nutritious than their full-size counterparts, can be grown indoors without lights in any season, and are beautiful and tasty to eat. And, as we’re all hunkering down waiting for COVID-19 to burn itself out, lots of people are realizing a little green would be welcome with all those beans and rice dinners.
So, how do you get started? It depends on your budget, DIY instinct, and tolerance for mess. (Note: I have no relationship to these companies, and haven’t tried all these solutions, but am making recommendations based on my gardening knowledge and the results of my own setup at home.)
Startup price: $39 (from Amazon; $49 on the Hamama web site) for 1 tray and 3 refills
I originally thought these were extraordinarily expensive and ridiculously dependent on a disposable product you can only get from one manufacturer. But as I ran the numbers, I realized that the added expense might be worth it to some folks because of Hamama’s no-fuss setup. Literally just add water. There’s no dirt to get on the seeds or splash onto your counter. The tray fits on a windowsill. You can get prettier trays if you’re so inclined. You can even have the seeds are sent on a subscription basis, so you don’t even have to reorder. Price per serving (about 1/6 of a tray) is about $2.17 for the first kit and $1.05 for refills. If you could find a 6×12″ tray, you could just buy their refills and get the ease of use without the shockingly overpriced plastic tray.
Total DIY option
Startup price: Maybe $2, depending on what you have on hand
At the other end of the spectrum, you could kludge together something that would work, possibly from things you have on hand. Just find some kind of shallow tray or pan (aluminum pie tin? Plastic take-out tray? Flat Glad leftover tub?), put in about 1″ of potting soil, seed starting mix, or coir, and sprinkle heavily with seeds. (Great directions at Gardeners.com.)
For cheap seeds, check your local garden center for seeds sold in bulk. They are often about $1 per ounce, and an ounce of seeds will last you forever. Best varieties are broccoli and kale for mild flavors, and radishes or mustard greens if you like them spicy. These would be basically free, depending on what you had to spend on seeds (assuming you had soil on hand).
Startup price: $29 for 3 trays and enough seeds to last until your kid goes to college
Ok, let’s say you’re willing to spend a bit of money, but you don’t want to be stuck in case Hamama goes out of business or jacks up their prices. You can put together your own kit from widely available components.
Optional domes: keep heat and humidity in and cats out (use binder clips to keep domes on). I recommend removing the domes, or at least cracking them open, once the seeds are sprouted to avoid mold.
The price on these works out to around 41 cents/serving to start, and 20 cents/serving for refills. So – MUCH cheaper than the Hamama, if you’re willing to deal with dirt. This is basically the setup I use.
I do actually have grow lights with these swanky wicking mats underneath (I drilled holes in my trays to take advantage of the wicking) but the light setup is not needed. That’s because seeds contain all the power they need to sprout, and they don’t really start getting energy from the sun until they put out their first true leaves. You’ll harvest the greens before they run out of sprouting power stored in the seed.
So! I hope that helps you decide how you might like to go about growing microgreens. I highly recommend them to everyone!
This garden is designed for maximum flavor – taste you literally can’t buy.
Garlic – ranges from sweet to peppery to downright hot! If you want garlic scapes, too, be sure to buy “hardneck” varieties.
Tomatoes – there are hundreds or thousands of kinds of tomatoes to suit every palate. Every color, every shape, every firmness…knock yourself out!
Snap or snow peas – ok, so you’ve probably figured out that these are my favorite vegetable! They are so good when homegrown largely because you can pick the perfect peas each day and not be tempted to pick ones that are under- or over-ripe.
Potatoes – even homegrown russet or Yukon Gold potatoes taste better than their store-bought counterparts, but why stop there? Try fingerlings, purple potatoes, red potatoes for salad. It’s amazing to find potatoes that aren’t just a vehicle for butter.
Green beans – nothing compares to home-grown. Pick your color (green, yellow, or purple), size (slender haricort vert or full-size), and texture (with or without “fuzz” on the beans). You might not even know the full diversity of green bean flavors available – try a few and see what you like!
Dry beans – hard to grow in sufficient quantities, but they are beautiful, varied, and delicious. And, you can just save a handful for next year and never buy seed again.
Baby winter squash – if you think zucchini are flavorless and boring, try this: plant butternut squash, and start harvesting them when they are about the size of your hand, with tender green skins. They are less wet and more flavorful, but just as tender, as zucchini and summer squash. Be sure to let some mature all the way to become your winter squash!
This garden is designed to grow some of the most expensive crops you buy. Sadly, I’m writing for a Michigan audience, so avocados aren’t on the list! But here are some things to try.
In April (in southern Michigan), plant these things:
Lettuce – surprisingly pricey per pound. Most of the price comes from the labor of washing it! But it’s easy to grow at home, at least until the 4th of July, when it will go bitter.
Snap or snow peas – eat the whole pod! As a bonus, these will taste better than anything you can buy at the store.
Kale and chard – if you love greens, you can grow them easily at home.
Garlic – if you like fresh garlic, especially in unique varieties, this is a huge money saver. Just push cloves of your favorite into the ground root end down, and in late summer, each clove will have grown into a full bulb. (Most garlic is planted in the fall.)
Once it’s really warmed up (mid-May), plant these:
Green beans – both bush and pole varieties. While they aren’t super expensive to buy, they are so productive and easy to grow, you can harvest a very high dollar value.
Tomatoes – slicers or “paste” tomatoes for making sauce. Especially if you like “heirloom” varieties, this can save a bundle.
Herbs – basil, rosemary, sage…whatever you like. Buy the plants already started and they’ll pay for themselves many times over.
Raspberries – They need a sunny spot and room to roam, but raspberries are unbelievably expensive at the store because they are so fragile to ship.
March 2020, and the US starts to be shut down due to Coronavirus. Even if you’re not officially quarantined at home, you’re not going out much, maybe not drawing a paycheck, and the store shelves look like this:
The good news is, this is a perfect time to start a garden in most of the contiguous US. And if you’re not sick and have time on your hands, this could be a great project! Grab the kids and neighbors and work on a garden together.
What you’ll need
A location that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day
A bunch of organic material and some dirt to plant in
A way to get water to the garden
Optional: ways to keep the dirt in and the critters out
Location, location, location
Must-haves: Your location really needs at least 6 hours of sun a day; more is better. Look at the spot you’re thinking about for your garden at 9am, noon, and 3pm. If it’s sunny at all those times, it’s a decent spot for a garden.
If the sunniest place near your house is a deck or patio, container gardening is very effective. You’ll need big containers, preferably 5 gallon bucket-size or larger. See below for more info.
If possible: Locate the garden near a door you use often – this will help you keep an eye on the garden, and you’ll notice harvest opportunities and weeds before they get away from you. Putting the garden within reach of a hose faucet is also a great convenience.
It’s not just “dirt”
The soil in your yard will grow some vegetables if it’s currently growing grass. Chances are, though, it’ll keep growing grass, too, and you don’t want that! Your best bet is to build up garden beds, rather than dig down This method is widely known as “lasagna gardening.” Basically – build a pile of whatever you have on hand:
Large sheets of cardboard or newspaper to kill the grass.
Dead leaves (bonus: run them over with a lawn mower or put through a shredder so they’re chopped up) – If you don’t have any at your place, watch the curb – people will put them out in bags as they clean up their yards in the next couple weeks.
Grass clippings – fresh or old.
Stable cleanings – if neighbors keep horses, see if you can get some manure. The older, well-composted stuff isn’t even smelly, and it’s absolute magic for starting a garden.
Commercial quantities of kitchen scraps. Check at juice bars. Some coffee grounds are OK but not more than about 25% of your total volume.
Bags of compost (not top soil) from the store (expensive and not the best for growing).
A couple cubic yards of “garden blend” soil from a local landscaper (pricey, but the best “instant garden” there is).
The method is basically this:
Optional: build some kind of border to contain the soil (see “Dirt In, Critters Out” below)
Put down cardboard or several layers of newspaper right on top of the grass. Be sure the edges overlap by a couple inches.
Pile layers of organic material on top. Put the lightest stuff (like shredded leaves) on the bottom of the pile, directly on the cardboard. Put kitchen scraps next, then compost, then soil. If you’re only using a couple layers, that’s fine. You’ll want about 8″ of “stuff” if it mostly looks like dirt, and 12-15″ of “stuff” if it looks like leaves and rotting vegetables.
Dirt in, critters out
It can be very helpful to contain the garden somehow. I like plain pine 2x8s, but you can also use logs, rocks, cinder blocks, or wood from pallets. I can easily reach 2′ into a bed to weed and harvest, so I keep my beds no more than 4′ wide (assuming I can access the bed from both sides). Putting edging on the beds helps keep weeds out, and you can easily staple 2′ tall fencing around the outside to keep out rabbits and woodchucks.
Water, water, everywhere
Attach a hose to a faucet and get a cheap fan sprayer nozzle. Don’t bother with sprinklers, and only go with watering cans if you don’t have another option (very tedious to use, and you’ll probably under-water the garden).
If your garden bed is really new, and contains a lot of “raw ingredients” like leaves, veggie scraps, or fresh manure, it’s best to wait a few weeks to let it all settle and rot a bit. If it’s getting on towards May and you really need to get plants in the ground, choose things that will thrive in this kind of soil, like squash and tomatoes.
If the top 3-4″ of your bed really just looks like dirt, then you can plant pretty much anything in it.
See my garden planning series for ideas on what to plant!
Ok, so you’re starting to get worried about the possibility that you might need or want to hole up at home for a couple weeks to help slow the spread of coronavirus. But it’s overwhelming and scary and stressing you out and thinking about it makes it more real and you don’t want to go down that rabbithole.
Here. I’ll help. Quick list to get you through 3 weeks without grocery shopping.
For each adult in the house, buy these things:
15 pounds total of 4-5 different dry starches: pasta, rice (plain or pilaf), oatmeal, quinoa, pancake mix, instant mashed potatoes, bread flour, pizza crust mix, crackers, dry cereal…whatever you will actually prepare and eat. This kind of German bread has great shelf life and tastes amazing toasted with cheese.
Half a liter or about a pound lb of oils: olive oil, butter, coconut oil, plain vegetable oil, Earth Balance, etc.
2-3 lb of nut or seed butter, cheese, vegan cheese substitute, or a combination (more if you’re big fans of these)
1 lb jar of jam, if you plan on eating a lot of PBJ
7 jars/cans of tomato products: spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, etc.
A bag of apples (3lb) or oranges
A bag of carrots (5lb)
Makings for 5-10 desserts: brownie mix, jello, cookie ingredients, cake mix and frosting
Several boxes of treat/comfort food: chips, fruit snacks, granola bars, mini cookie packs, chocolate bars, etc. Figure 1-2 treat packets a day.
Coffee, tea, and juice (you know your dosage better than I do, but figure 2 c coffee/day = 1lb per week)
Bonus items: chili powder, taco seasoning, curry powder or paste, and other things to make beans and rice taste different from day to day
So, if you have two adults and a pre-teen child, your final list might be:
7 lb pasta
6 boxes mac and cheese
10 lb white rice
10 lb flour
5 lb oatmeal
4 lb box of Bisquick
1 liter olive oil
1 lb butter
3 lb peanut butter
2 lb cheddar cheese
2 lb mozzarella cheese
5 lb ground beef
3 lb pork shoulder
6 cans of tuna
5 lb chicken breast
5 lb dry black beans
15 cans of baked, refried, and chili beans
7 jars of spaghetti sauce
7 cans of diced tomatoes
5 baking mixes
5 boxes of jello or pudding
2 cases (24 cartons) of milk or milk substitute
Six boxes of fruit snacks, granola bars, etc.
A jar of popcorn
A 3 lb bag of apples
A 3 lb bag of oranges
A 5 lb bag of carrots
Five pounds of coffee
A large box of tea bags
Three shelf-stable jugs of juice
If you’re worried about being sick yourself, add some soup and Gatorade (powder is cheapest) and don’t skimp on the soda crackers. See what you have in your house already. You may have a lot of what you already need, especially if you tend to buy in bulk.
Compared to my normal shopping, this is low on veggies and high on desserts. Eh, whatever. It’s three weeks. Desserts are a fun activity to make together, and are good for morale.