We’ll get to all the MANY triumphs and failures of this homestead living journey in just a few, but first, everyone loves a good story. But, if you want to just get to the meat of it, scroll on down to title “Hit Hard by a Superbug” to get into the homesteading topics and fermentation recipes.
We really enjoyed learning more about one very industrious member of the Gardens All Facebook community, and thought you would as well. This lady has fearlessly taken on all kinds of new gardening and homestead lifestyle challenges, one at a time. If you’re reading this and on—or planning—the homesteading journey, chances are you’re a lot like that too.
This story is also helpful for anyone who might be intimidated about beginning gardening, trying fermented food recipes, etc. Don’t know where to start? Take heart. Just start and learn along the way as Kathie did.
It’s not hard, one step at a time. We just keep learning something new each day. Learn, then do. We always learn while doing as well, and for those of us who tend to be ready-fire-aim sorts, well do, then learn!
There are people who make things better wherever they go. We’ve probably all had neighbors like that. You know, the kind of folks who can usually be found on weekends fixing up their home and yard, making it beautiful and sharing the bounty. Gardeners tend to be like that.
The kind of folks who clean their tools, put them away and leave places better than they found it.
Salt of the earth kind of people.
They’re the people you’d call on in times of need, because they take care of themselves, and always seem to have extra for others. They don’t get caught up in life’s dramas because they’re too busy being productive, solving problems and creating new things.
Kathie and Joe are like that. Salt of the earth.
We met Kathie Chambers Underwood on the Gardens All Facebook community. She often contributes good advice, great photos and clearly has a lot going on. Most recently, she shared about making four different kinds of sauerkraut and homemade kombucha, so we asked Kathie if she’d like to write an article. Turns out she’s a great writer with a published children’s book!!
Intrepid Gardener, Fermenter, Beekeeper, Mushroom Grower, Writer, Elderly Caregiver… amongst other things…
Here is Kathie’s Story.
First Love… First Half of my Life — World Traveler
By Kathie Chambers Underwood
My gardening journey, as with many others folks, began rather late in life. I was born in 1959 and raised in the large cement metropolis’ of Dallas and Houston. Then in 1979, I joined the US Navy, married in 1982 and traveled the world with my late husband for twenty years.
Second Love… Second Half of my Life — Gardener!
My journey into gardening really didn’t begin until 2011, after meeting the second love of my life, Joe.
First, an interesting story about our first date. It was January 9th, 2011. There had been a huge snow storm the week before where we had gotten about nine inches of snow. I had been snowed in for five days.
I had been snowed in for five days.
Joe messaged me and asked how I was doing. I mentioned I had a bit of cabin fever so he offered to take me to dinner and I accepted. However, my steep drive was still iced over so when he arrived to pick me up, he promptly slid off into the woods.
He promptly slid off into the woods.
The first two hours of our first date were spent waiting for a tow truck. When you think about it, it really forced us to go past the usual small talk and really get to know one another. Then at dinner, the restaurant was virtually empty. Only about a dozen of us, including staff were there. All of us formed an impromptu party at the bar. Joe and I have been inseparable ever since. It really was love at first sight.
The Other Love Affair
Joe has always loved the outdoors. His grandmother taught him how to look for gemstones and medicinal plants in the woods. His uncle taught him to hunt and fish and although I too have always loved nature, I really was ignorant on how to benefit from it and work with it. This started another love affair… with Mother Nature.
Hit Hard by a Superbug
Late in that year, Joe and I became very ill with some sort of super bug. We were down hard for over 4 months. Our doctor prescribed 4 different types of antibiotics and steroids. We were both days away from being hospitalized. Neither of us had ever been that sick in our lives. Finally though, we recovered but the experience motivated us to seek better ways to ‘prevent’ anything like that from ever recurring.
During our illness I read a lot about the immune system and how seventy percent of our immunity comes from the bacteria in our gut. So my mission was clear. Find the best ways to build our immune systems.1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/
70% of our immunity comes from the bacteria in our gut.
Simultaneously, we started hearing more and more about the whole prepping movement. We became interested. It just made sense to be prepared, no matter what may—or may not—come. We ran across a group that offered some seminars on different subjects to help you prepare and survive in emergency situations. They were offering a class on different ways to preserve foods, specifically fermentation.
Centuries Old Cure… Probiotics from Fermented Foods
Excerpt from Mercola.com
Better Than a Probiotic Supplement:
Cultured foods like yogurt, some cheeses, and sauerkraut are good sources of natural, healthy bacteria. And fermented foods, such as natto, can give your body the similar benefits of consuming a whole bottle of good bacteria, at a fraction of the cost.2)https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/07/05/probiotics-found-to-help-your-gut-s-immune-system.aspx
Fermented foods can provide similar benefits to consuming a whole bottle of probiotics.
I learned so much about how bacteria and yeast really are the natural wonder drugs for health. I was familiar with kimchi because of being stationed in South Korea for 3 years but that was the extent of my knowledge. I bought the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and jumped right on into the deep end.
I jumped right on into the deep end.
While at an international farmer’s market, I saw some bottles of kombucha so I bought one to try. I remember opening it as we walked to the car thinking, that well, maybe it’s an acquired taste. It was just plain kombucha with no added flavoring.
Side stepping a little bit, as part of our life and journey together, Joe and I agreed that every year we would challenge ourselves to one major project and at least one minor project a year.
We agreed to challenge ourselves every year…
Our first year, we built and screened in our back porch as our major project and started our first garden as our minor one.
Living in a heavily wooded area, we only had a small patch of ground that gave us adequate sun. We built four, 8’x8’ raised beds and planted our first crop of lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, yellow squash and zucchini.
We also had built some planters coming down our outdoor stairs for added gardening space with container gardening. Here we planted cucumbers, an herb garden and white and red potatoes.
What to do with the Harvest?
We had success but now the question begged, what to do with all our harvest? We gave much away and froze what we could. We decided that we needed to teach ourselves how to can. Joe did the research on the canners and we opted for the 25 quart All American pressure canner.
As with all journeys, you advance, sometimes you fall down, maybe make a wrong turn, and sometimes when you get lost you run across some hidden treasures. One of those little treasures is where I heard about using cattle panels for our beans. Not only do cattle panels make great trellises, we thought it added an attractive focal point to our little space.
Cattle panels make great trellis archways for climbing vegetables.
Each new season brought us successes and failures.
Japanese Beetles Debacle
Did I mention how much I hate Japanese beetles? No? Well I do. They are my nemesis. I garden organically and because of my bees I am sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place on how to deal with them. They really do a number on my beans, grapes and weeping cherry. My only real option is to squish them but then I have the whole gross factor going on.
Editor’s Note: We shared with Kathie that we’ve had good results from Japanese beetle traps, and they don’t seem to attract bees.
Ginger Plants not Blooming
Sometimes you get that in between success and failure. While stationed down in Panama, I used to get the most aromatic flower bouquets. I would purchase two bouquets for $5 each. Put one at each end of the house and my home smelled so wonderful for a week. I searched and searched for years to find out what they were. Finally 3 years ago, I found out that they were white ginger. We ordered some bulbs and planted them. They have yet to bloom. However, as you can see the plant itself is huge and very lush. Hoping one day we will get those blooms though.
Grass Fed and Free Range
Year three, we decided to make another healthy change. We decided to make the switch to grass fed all natural meat and free range chicken and eggs. It was something we had always wanted to do but hesitated because the price tag was a bit shocking. But we took yet another plunge into the deep end.
Oh, remember those little wrong turns that reveal hidden gems? Turns out because grass fed beef is so nutrient dense we found that we were eating half the portion we were consuming from store bought meat, equating to an actual cost savings.3)https://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=141
Grass fed beef is so nutrient dense, we found half portions were enough, so we actually saved money.
Also that year, we started composting. Got us a big beautiful Mantis compost tumbler, and love it!
Year four, we started brewing our own kombucha. We ordered two scobys. Scoby stands for Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast, in case you were wondering. We have been experimenting with all forms of flavors in our fermented food recipes. Joe prefers lime and ginger. I have more of a fruity preference.
My latest combination of pineapple, mango, peach and strawberry is so delish and with each new brew, I grow a nice big fat baby scoby.
Kathie’s Homemade Kombucha
Last year we also added cabbage to our garden for homemade sauerkraut. I was never a big fan but maybe because I had only ever tried the original store canned stuff. Yuk! Again, experimenting with different flavorings has produced some really great results.4)https://www.gardensall.com/homemade-sauerkraut-probiotic-foods-for-gut-health/5)https://www.gardensall.com/make-your-own-fermented-foods/
Kathie’s Homemade Sauerkraut
Homemade Essential Oils
We are also beginning a new adventure making our own essential oils! We bought a LabStock 20 liter stainless steel distiller and had great success with our first batch of lavender. I now understand why that stuff is so expensive. We used five pounds of dried lavender to produce just short of an ounce of essential oil!
It took 5 pounds of dried lavender to produce less than an ounce of essential oil!
Growing the Garden Spaces
Wisteria Covered Pergola
Our major project in 2016 was to build a wrap around pergola on our patio this fall. We will be planting wisteria to cover it. I am really looking forward to the big blooms and fragrance.
One of two minor projects we just completed are a hydroponic system and growing mushrooms.
A couple minor projects we just completed include a hydroponic system and growing mushrooms.
Hydroponics for Lettuce
We have plugged 4 different varieties of mushrooms in logs: Shiitake, pink oyster, white Oyster and Lion’s Mane. It will take about 10 months for them to produce so we will have to wait awhile to find out just how successful this will be. This is our second attempt.
Evidently, there is an enzyme in freshly cut wood that kills the fungi. We plugged our first mushrooms too early but since these have sat for over a year, it shouldn’t be an issue. We will just have to wait it out, fingers crossed.
Flowers too… Food for the Soul
By the way, I’m also a passionate grower of African violets and orchids. It’s not just about sustainability and food but also about beauty.
Excuse the bee equipment in the photo; we got new hives in!
Oh, did I forget to mention that we became first year beekeepers this year too? We have three hives! We are hoping that next year our ladies will greatly improve the production to our little ecosystem. We purchased three different hives, a Langstroth, a Warre and the new FlowHive.
As with everything though, there is a learning curve. One of our hives didn’t make it. We went through 4 queens and for some reason, none of them took. We will try again next spring but the other two are rockin’ it.
It’s been a bountiful year in the garden this year. Got off to a bit of a rocky start with our tomatoes though. First fruits developed blossom end rot and I had to quickly intervene with calcium. It’s always something but the results are so worth it as you can see. I’m rather proud of my pantry this year and how far we have come in five short years.
And the season isn’t over yet. Currently I’m canning peaches and next applesauce. We have planted our fall garden with mustard greens, spinach, carrots and kale. We will be harvesting our peanuts soon too. For more on growing peanuts…
We have taken many steps to incorporate both ornamental and edible in our landscape.
Beside the roses, azaleas, rhododendron, lilies and dahlias, we have herbs, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and have planted apple, pear, peach, plum, pineapple guava, tea camellia trees and a fig bush!
Sitting here reflecting on the numerous lifestyle changes we have made in the last few years, gardening, composting, canning, distilling essential oils, brewing kombucha, learning to ferment, switching to grassfed beef and pork and free range chickens, eliminating 75% of the processed food from our diet and now beekeeping. Not to mention the projects like the fire pit, building the screened in porch, staining the concrete and the up coming pergola. Every year we seem to add just a little more to our lives. Amazing.
Homestead Living and Learning
Here’s a summary some of the things we’ve done in just the first five years.
- pineapple guava
- tea camellia trees
- a fig bush
- vegetable gardens
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED AND DONE
Sitting here reflecting on the numerous lifestyle changes we have made in the last few years:
- distilling essential oils
- brewing kombucha
- learning to ferment
- switching to grass fed beef and pork and free range chicken
- eliminating 75% of the processed food from our diet
- built a fire pit
- built a screened in porch and staining the concrete
- built a pergola
- set up a greenhouse
“Life’s journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
~Chinese philosopher, Laozi
So remember, if you’re just getting started, each year you will make more progress, one day, one step at a time.
What does our future bring? Ideally, Joe and I would love a few acres for a micro farm complete with a fruit tree orchard. Maybe supplement our retirement income at some point. Knowing tomorrow is never promised but if we have it, you can be sure, Joe and I will continue to grow, learn, challenge and yes, experience failure. That is the way of life.
FERMENTED FOOD RECIPES
Big rule of thumb with fermenting: ALL ingredients must stay underneath the brine to prevent mold. If you get mold the whole thing must be tossed.
Editor’s Note: Early in 2016 we began trying fermented food recipes, starting with sauerkraut. No one in our family got sick all winter. What we love about Kathie’s sauerkraut recipe is that it’s ready much more quickly than the recipe we’ve been using. The fact that she ends up with great scoby would seem to indicate that it has the same beneficial probiotic strength.
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe – Quick and Easy
- 1 medium cabbage (red or green or mixed), cored and shredded
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (I use pink Himalayan)
- 4 tablespoons whey (No whey? Use an additional 1 tablespoon of salt, which is what I do)
In a bowl, mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and whey (if available). Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release juices. You can also use your hands to squeeze the juices out of the cabbage. Transfer the cabbage and all of the juice in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly with pounder until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Weigh down contents to ensure all particles are under the brine. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors. Some of my favorites are (onion, garlic and sesame), (curry and cumin) and (jalapeno, garlic, cilantro and lime)
Traditional Korean Kimchi
- 1 (2-pound) napa cabbage
- 1/2 cup kosher salt (I use pink Himalayan)
- 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 5-6 cloves of grated garlic
- 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
- 8 ounces carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
- 4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (use all parts)
- 1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder (Or to taste)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce (Optional)
Slice the cabbage: Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and remove the cores. Cut each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
Salt the cabbage: Place the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands (gloves optional), massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit, then add water to cover the cabbage. Put a plate on top and weigh it down with something heavy, like a jar or can of beans. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
Rinse and drain the cabbage: Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times and drain in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting, and set it aside to use in step 5.
Make the paste: Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, sugar, and seafood flavor (or 3 tablespoons water) in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Mix in the gochugaru, using 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy (I like about 3 1/2 tablespoons).
Combine the vegetables and paste: Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and return it to the bowl along with the radish, scallions, and seasoning paste.
Mix thoroughly: Using your hands, gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. The gloves are optional here but highly recommended to protect your hands from stinging, stains, and smells!
Pack the kimchi into the jar: Pack the kimchi into the jar, pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the vegetables. Leave at least 1 inch of headspace. Seal the jar with the lid.
Let it ferment: Let the jar stand at room temperature for 1 to 5 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow.
Check it daily and refrigerate when ready: Check the kimchi once a day, pressing down on the vegetables with a clean finger or spoon to keep them submerged under the brine. (This also releases gases produced during fermentation.) Taste a little at this point, too! When the kimchi tastes ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but it’s best after another week or two.
Kombucha, which is a fermented tea, is a bit more complicated and requires prep and equipment.
There are several books out there on kombucha and fermentation that I highly recommend:
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory
I also highly recommend the Facebook Group: Kombucha Nation: Cultures, Health, and Healing and Fermenters Kitchen.
Kathie Lynn Chambers-Underwood is living a quiet life in the mountains of Georgia with the second love of her life, Joe Folsom, and their three dogs and two cats. Together, they are caring for Joe’s elderly parents and mother with Alzheimer’s, while steadily cultivating a truly sustainable homestead and way of life. Kathie is a published author and accomplished speaker and a culinary chef, as some of the latest of her many endeavors since first joining the Navy and traveling the world beginning around 30 years ago.
Kathie’s passions include gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, politics and cooking.
You can find Kathie’s children’s book titled Sarah and the Sand Dollar on Amazon, along with a fuller biography of this multifaceted author and gardener.
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