The garden season is slowly coming to an end. The first tomato plants in the greenhouse are harvested, the berries produce their last fruits, the potatoes are all from the ground and the walnuts fall from the tree.

Looking back on the last few months, we cannot really grasp how many full harvest baskets we carried into the kitchen. Since June we have been able to harvest the fruits of our hard work in spring, when we completely replanted our kitchen garden. Now red and white cabbage, broccoli, black cabbage, beans, leeks, celery, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, a few other varieties and lots of herbs are still growing in the garden. So we will be able to supply ourselves with the fresh harvest and our stored and preserved food for a few more weeks.

It feels so good to be able to cook with what we’ve grown ourselves. We know exactly what is involved, namely only nature. But we also know how much work and what resources we have spent to grow the vegetables. When the basis of life, food, comes from our own garden, this not only gives an enormous appreciation and a direct reference to what lands on the plate, but also an unbelievable satisfaction. 

 

However, we cannot currently imagine being completely self-sufficient all year round. At this point it might make sense to briefly explain the term, the possible gradations and our view on it. Self-sufficiency refers to an autonomous life in all areas. One creates one’s basis of life by producing one’s own food, but also other necessary products such as clothing, medicine, etc.

When we speak of complete self-sufficiency, we are personally concerned with the cultivation of food. Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, but also staple foods such as cereals and potatoes, own production of oil, seasonings and, if necessary, animal products such as eggs. The fact that one of us sits at the spinning wheel in the evening and carves the other wooden plate could be quite funny for a change. As a daily routine this way of living is far away.

 

We are often asked whether we can make a living from growing our own vegetables. The answer is quite clear: no. Many of us, and we include ourselves in this, are not even aware of the quantities of food we consume each year.

The per capita consumption of potatoes alone is just under 60 kilograms. This is probably just the total amount of potatoes we were able to harvest this year from about 100 cut potatoes on 8 x 8 metres of bedding. It is estimated that we had to share half of the harvest with the voles. But that is part of it and has to be taken into account.

Unfortunately we won’t make ends meet with our own potatoes for long. (We love potatoes and also like to eat several kilos in one week). But that is not our goal at the moment. Then we would probably already decide differently when choosing the seeds or the seed potatoes. We choose the varieties we want to plant according to taste and, for our work as food photographers, also according to appearance. They should offer us an enrichment to the commercial assortment. We are not interested in selecting the most productive potato or carrot that will bring us through the winter. Variety is more important to us than yield. So this year we ended up with our 150 different vegetable varieties.

 

The usable area of 200 square metres, plus potato fields, strawberry fields, fruit trees and berry bushes, which we currently cultivate, would in any case be sufficient for the self-sufficiency of two people over the year. However, we would have to organise ourselves much better in order to harvest regularly over a long period of time. This requires experience, but also a certain routine, which we simply still lack in the second garden year. Even though everything is growing splendidly here and we are incredibly satisfied with our harvest, we must not forget that we are only at the very beginning. Trying out and learning new things is a not to be sneezed at part of gardening. Again and again we research, read, implement ideas that are either directly successful or not. Then we have to start all over again. All this is a lot of fun for us, but it also requires time, which you have to invest.

 

The active work in the garden, on the other hand, hasn’t been so time-consuming in recent weeks. We do not have a time clock and can therefore only estimate. On average, we walked through the beds twice a week and did what we noticed: tying up an open-air tomato, piling up the leeks, sowing, removing overbearing weeds, adding mulch, fertilizing with liquid manure or similar. From the end of June, when the majority of the young plants had grown in the ground and so far that they no longer needed so much care and attention, we were not busy for more than one or two hours a week in the vegetable garden. So the effort is absolutely within limits.

If you grow in mixed cultivation, you have less to fight with pests, because of a thick mulch layer only few weeds prevail, you are not so busy with watering and you do not have to loosen the soil between the plants. With simple means we save a lot of work, which is often not conducive to a healthy soil life.

An exclusive self-sufficiency with fruit and vegetables from our own garden we can only cover this season, or at least, for about 4 months. During this period we harvest not only for our daily needs, but also large quantities that have to be processed first. The amount of work involved should not be underestimated.

Many glasses are already piled up with supplies for the winter: Preserved, fermented, dried, boiled and pickled. Of the almost 60 kilograms of tomatoes harvested so far, a good half were boiled down to tomato sauce. In the end there are still only a dozen bottles, which are incredibly delicious, but will certainly not last until the next season, not even into the next year.

As expected, the apple harvest was worse this year. After a record harvest last year, the trees first had to recover. Nevertheless, we brought more than 100 kilograms of apples to the organic moster and processed another 20 kilograms into apple sauce and stewed apples. The (small) harvest alone and the trip to the moster took almost a whole day. Picking apples, sorting them, packing them for transport, repacking them in the cider factory. Another day was spent processing the remaining apples. How many days would one spend washing, peeling, cutting, cooking, filling apples into sterile glasses and drying the skins in order to get the supplies over the year?

And that’s not all, because of course we want a colourful pantry in which the apples make up only a small fraction. Here the romantic country life, in which you wander dreamily through the blooming garden, pick something here and there and put it in your mouth, quickly becomes a full-time job.

 

Since we have been eating seasonally for many years anyway, we knew at least what would be on our menu at what time, how we could process and preserve the food. That was not a big change for us. Nothing has changed in our diet. We grow so many different varieties that we don’t have to do without anything. Quite the opposite! In our garden we grow wonderful vegetables, which you can rarely find at selected organic weekly markets, but never in the supermarket. 

A conversion and an underestimated time factor for us was actually the processing in large quantities. This requires not only the necessary know-how but also various utensils which have to be purchased. A large preserving pot, a selection of preserving jars for the various purposes. Iron-on, twist-off or alarm jars. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, somehow every technique fulfills its purpose.

In order to process the large quantities, we have, for example, purchased a large dehydrating device but also, already last year, built multi-storey sieves on which we can dry walnuts, among other things. Crates for storage had to be brought in, an external second refrigerator, in which the enzymes are put after a few weeks, as we have no cellar. But in the long run we need more storage space. Be it just an earth rent or maybe even a small earth cellar. All this occupies us now in our spare time.

 

We think that vegan self-sufficiency, throughout the year, can also be possible with relatively little effort. However, only when you are 100% familiar with the system, have found a functioning system for yourself and, above all, when you have gained a lot of experience and understand the processes in nature. It will probably take years until that is the case.

The fact that we can already provide for ourselves over a relatively long period of time is not necessarily due to a green thumb, our thirst for action and knowledge, but also to the fact that there were already some treasures on our property.

An important basis for self-sufficiency are perennial crops such as trees or berry bushes, for example. In our garden there is a huge walnut tree, four cherry trees, four apple trees and a plum tree. Even if they are not all in their best years and some of them carry only little, we are very grateful not to start from scratch and to have to wait years until we can harvest anything from newly planted trees. Grapes, black, white and red currants, elderberries and raspberries have already grown here. Even meadow mushrooms are currently sprouting in large quantities from the soil. All these plants offer a maximum yield with a minimum of effort. For this reason, we would like to plant even more perennial plants in the garden and have therefore decided on our edible perennials. They form a renewable basis of herbs, which we can fall back on again and again. The same applies to perennial crops such as strawberries, rhubarb, artichokes and asparagus. Once planted, you will enjoy it for many years at best.

 

We are working to build a system that is as sustainable as possible, with a stock of plants, a wealth of knowledge, experience and routine, so that it is easier for us from year to year to extend the period of our self-sufficiency. Always with the premise that it must be fun for us and enrich our lives.

We live in a global consumer society. We use and consume a wide variety of consumer goods on a daily basis, often beyond our needs and resources. How can we manage to consume more consciously and sustainably and still not live in renunciation?

Together with Manufactum* we have approached this topic and invited to an event in our settler house. Many of our thoughts on conscious, sustainable consumption are reflected here. Be it in the design of the rooms, the handling of resources such as water and firewood or our food.

For us, the first thing that comes along with conscious consumption is the question of what we need in our lives and everyday life at all. These can be vital things, such as food, pots and pans to prepare them, a bed to sleep on, clothes on the body. But these can also simply be things that bring us joy every day and enrich our lives. A beautiful cast-iron teapot, a hand-forged sickle for garden maintenance, a wonderfully fragrant soap. Products that do not necessarily care for our physical but for our mental well-being. 

We have consciously decided to furnish our settler house in a minimalist way. We want to avoid the accumulation of unused things, which is why we let purchase decisions go through our heads for a long time.

The reason why we often end up with the “Department Store of Good Things” when we decide on certain products is that Manufactum is very concerned with the criteria that are also important to us when it comes to purchasing new items. Since the company was founded over 30 years ago, it has been important for the company, as a counterpoint to the throwaway society, to track down products that are manufactured in a way that conserves resources and is socially acceptable, that are durable and timeless, and that convince in function and aesthetics. Tradition and proven knowledge of those craftsmen who know how to process products masterfully are just as important as new, forward-looking manufacturing processes that conserve our scarce resources. Values such as sustainability, innovation and regionality do not represent ideal rarities for Manufactum or for us, but are state-of-the-art quality characteristics. It is not only what ends up in the consumer’s shopping basket that counts, but the whole way to it and the people behind it.

We wanted to take a closer look at these points in a small round on a relaxed day in the country. For us, getting a direct connection to the products is an important step towards conscious consumption. We now have this connection directly in our own garden. During a tour of the kitchen garden, we clarified our approaches to near-natural cultivation using mixed crops, seed-solid varieties or fertilizers without chemicals. To experience how many steps are necessary and how much time passes from the small seed to the fruit bearing plant, we have created a completely new awareness for food. Our already vegetarian, regional and seasonal cuisine has been transformed by our own garden. It was important to us to share this appreciation with our guests. But also suggestions on how to make the garden more attractive for insects, birds and small animals in autumn were important to us.

Conscious consumption for us also means not wasting anything. As you know, we conserve our surplus harvest by preserving. Instead of colourless preserves, as they are still piled up in various cellars and dust, we store sauerkraut kimchi, zucchini chips, semi-dried tomatoes in oil, spicy cucumbers, bright red dried strawberries, forest fruit jam and Co. in our larder. In a small workshop we introduced our guests to the different methods of preservation. Together we put our noses into all the jars of fermented and dried food, tasted them of course and then prepared a cucumber kimchi and sauerkraut from red cabbage and apples. We have found all the necessary utensils for preserving such as drying utensils, dry grids, preserving jars, cooking pot, cabbage slicer, etc. in the extensive assortment of Manufactum.

By the way, it was really uncomfortable up here in the north in the days before our event. Wind whipped the rain to the windows and we just wanted to hide in bed. Therefore we are incredibly grateful for the great weather at the event! So we were able to prepare dinner on the fire as we had wished. Potatoes were sizzling in cast iron pots next to young carrots and mixed mushrooms. Our preserved supplies were part of our recipes. We served baked potatoes with grape chutney and fried sage, apple with tarragon oil and elder capers, fried mushrooms with herbs, grilled carrots with fermented garlic and hazelnuts. As a sweet finish, there was fried pear with walnut-rye crumble and a sauce of rowan ash.

In order to be able to enjoy the menu guaranteed in dry and warm weather, we have transformed our shed, which over the years had accumulated many layers of dust and cobwebs, in which shingles, stones and junk piled up, into a cosy room for dinner in the preceding days. With muscle power, verve, shovel and broom we faced the whole thing. But the preparations for the day had also started weeks or even months before on many other levels. Especially for the event, we planted certain flowers in our garden, so that this time the decoration would be completely in our own hands, also from the point of view of conscious consumption. The energy expenditure for our flowers went to zero. No transport routes, no cooling, not even a regular watering of the beds was necessary. Besides the fresh flowers like dahlias and sunflowers, we started to dry strawflowers and grasses in summer. We can use the dried bouquets again and again and reassemble them with fresh seasonal elements. It was a lot of fun and with the result of having gained a new room, we are incredibly happy.

To let this special day end at the fire was the crowning conclusion of the event for us.

We would like to thank our guests for taking the road here, Manufactum for trusting us again and making this day possible in the first place. A big thank you goes to Ben Donath, who supported us again in the kitchen and to Lisa Strube for her energetic help!

Our garden is in full bloom, or should we say: in full fruit? It is not tending the plants which is effortful these days, but the harvest itself. Every day we have something in our basket and the work in the garden stretches into our kitchen. We cannot consume all the vegetables and fruits while they are still fresh. Without a cellar or a huge fridge, we lack the storage, thus having to preserve all the veggies shortly after we harvested them. By preserving, fermenting, bottling and pickling them, we preserve the fruits and vegetables for the upcoming cold months, when our garden will be almost empty, apart from some winter vegetables.

We want to introduce you to another method of preserving: dehydrating. While browsing Keimling Naturkost a few years ago, we discovered the dehydrator Excalibur Mini. For everyday use in our two person household it is perfect. It is light and space-saving. However, we outgrew it with our garden and the masses of cherries, apples, berries and different vegetables. We needed something bigger! The dehydrator Excalibur EXC10EL made of stainless steel has been on our wishlist quite some time now. Thus, a request for a collaboration with Keimling came just in the nick of time. Keimling Naturkost stands for a raw diet, offers only vegan high quality and is the right port of call for sustainably produced products and which fit the vegan nutrition. Of their enormous range of products we especially value the devices for processing food like the professional blender, juicer and dehydrator. Our Personal Blender, the juicer by Kuvings and the powerful Vitamix have been reliable heavy workers in our kitchen for years. We could test the professional dehydrator, too. In contrast to its smallest brother (Keimling offers different sizes and models of Excalibur and other dehydrators), which we could unpack and wrap again when we needed it, the new device has its own place in our kitchen now and is used on a regular basis now. We never prepared so much food in the dehydrator as this year!

Before we will tell you more about the device, we want to focus on the method itself. In times when fruits and vegetables are available in supermarkets all year round, only few think about the old and a bit dusty method of dehydrating. Yet, it is a great method of conserving seasonal food for the winter months even if you don’t own a garden. If you buy seasonal you are not only buying more sustainable and cheaper, but also get the best possible flavour and rich nutritions. Why should you buy tasteless fruits and vegetables out of the green house or from the end of the world if  you can preserve the taste of summer perfectly?

Dehydrating is one of the oldest and easiest methods of conservation. By dehydrating the food, microorganisms lack the livelihood, thus extending the storability. Furthermore, the fruit’s or vegetable’s flavour intensifies.

If you have ever ate dried strawberries you know it is hard to get away from them. Especially children are excited about them. Yannic still remembers the fruit leather his mother made and which he and his sisters loved so much as children. We love adding dried fruits like berries and cherries to our oat meal or as powder to desserts. Taste and optics of fruit powder is just unique.

However, this season we experimented especially with savoury recipes. We tried granulated vegetable broth of carrots, celery, parsnip, onion, garlic, parsley and lovage is a natural, self-made seasoning, and also different salts with Mediterranean herbs or dried tomatoes.

We rolled onions in flour, fried them in a pan and dried them afterwards, so now we have fried onions at hand. We already snack zucchini and black cabbage chips or spicy crispbread while we make it and they probably won’t even make the first weeks. The dried mushrooms smell delicious, and our noses just don’t want to get out of the glasses with the dried flowers. We already showed you a herb tea mix on our blog, now we also have a fruit tea of rose-hips, apples and calendula. What a flavour!

The list could go on and on, and the ideas for recipes we want to realize with the dehydrator won’t get less, either. 

The good news is, we can experiment endlessly. Drying is very space-saving as the volume of the dehydrated goods decreases a lot. Instead of producing oodles of the same type of jam or a ferment, dehydrating concentrates the flavour on small space. This saves storage and does not have to be cooled. Also, you don’t have to prepare anything apart from cleaning, cutting and maybe seasoning the fruits and vegetables, which makes dehydrating also a time saving method. Additionally, you don’t have to consider too much, so you don’t have to agonise about whether you did everything right. You should only cut off damaged spots and dehydrate at low temperature to keep as much goodness as possible.

Let’s get to the facts about the Excalibur EXC10EL Dehydrator. The device has a digital thermostat ranging from 35°C to 74°C and a timer. You can easily program everything you need to get a prefect drying outcome. No overdrying when the dehydrator dries too long over night or you left the house while the dehydrator did its work. The device being made of stainless steel is a plus for us, despite the weight. Because of the sturdy construction we can be sure to have decades with it ahead of us. 10 slides provide a large drying space, on which we can dehydrate fruits and vegetables in bucketfuls. Due to the see through two-winged glass doors you always see what’s happening inside and can easily take out the slides or put more in. A compartment for crumbs makes cleaning easy, special drying foils enable the drying of purees and prevent moist ingredients from sticking to the sheets. 

We don’t want to get too technical, but some of the details are definitely worth mentioning. The Excalibur EXC10E works with hyperwave technology. The air temperature is always about the chosen temperature. The reason is that surface moisture evaporates fast as soon as the air temperature rises. The fluctuating air temperature (hyperwave technology) supports keeping a constant temperature. Also, the dual dehydration mode is about evaporation chill, which we are really excited about. The dual dehydration mode enables us to program two temperatures. Starting the dehydrating, the temperature within the goods is, due to the evaporation chill, lower than the programmed temperature. Because of this, you can easily program a 10°C higher temperature and still dry in raw food quality to keep the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. Afterwards, the device changes the temperature and time to second programmed ones. This way, the process of dehydration is way faster, of course.

We are incredibly excited to tease out pure flavour in the dehydrator and to handle fruits and vegetables in all new ideas.

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