DIY Raisins from Homegrown Grapes

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 23 2018

DIY Raisins

Video Transcript

[Music] all right so I’m here processing grapes to be dried for raisins these are homegrown grapes from our backyard vines and here’s a few nobody um tips and tricks that I’ve come across working with these grapes first of all all these little stems that want to be attached and will take forever to remove my approach with that is to get as many off as I can in this pass but I know I will be back to prot you know work with these and kind of move them around they’re going in a dehydrator so I’ll want to switch the trays around and you know turn the grapes make sure that they get even drying conditions and every time I’m in here working with them I will take even more stems off my concern with stopping and doing it all at once right the second is that minute by minute these grapes are getting drier and drier and I don’t want to leave them on the vine I’m gonna get them picked and sorted and all that as fast as possible and get them into the dehydrator so that’s a decision that I made second of all I thought about leaving them on the cluster in the dehydrator as a even faster way to process all the grapes the problem I came across with that is that when they’re in a cluster it’s very difficult to see the bad ones so you are or I feel you’re better off spreading them out picking them off and then you can go through and you can get rid of the ones that are too small or have splits in them or or dirty or whatever don’t meet quality standards so I’m gonna spread out and you can see them it’s much better also a tool that has come in handy is this brush not only to kind of clean the trash out from underneath the tray as it falls through while you’re sorting but as you go through and you want to turn the grapes around it’s a gentle way to sort of flip them around and look for bad ones without being too rough on the grapes and this is nice because at this stage they’re pretty ripe a lot of them and too much pressure you can burst the skin on them and then they’re gonna you know be prone to rotting and not not make a good reason so you know you do it you can do it with gentle pressure you get them off the stem and then you know you go through and you pick out the other ones but this is a nice gentle way to just sort of move things around and get a better view using a brush like this also you can take this in and you can poke it through the trays in the dehydrator or to like get these little ones that get stuck like this one for example here it’s a tiny one I may not want to keep that in as a super small raising when it’s done it’ll be like a little rock so I’m gonna poke it through and then I can get it from this side and then get rid of it so I’m liking this this brush a lot oh another trick by the way is make sure you’re comfortable cuz you’re gonna be going through a lot of grapes and if yours I started standing and now I’m sitting at a table that’s comfortable because you’re gonna be picking through a lot of things so I ergonomics are good make sure you’re in a position that’s comfortable so you’re not you’re not trying to rush you know you do a pretty good job on the first pass don’t crowd the trays make sure there’s plenty of open spaces for circulation so that the warm air can you know come up and around and through also when I first started doing this I did it with a straight trip excuse me with the trays stacked right on top of the dehydrator but pretty quick I didn’t like that idea because all the trash started to fall through the top tray onto all the bottom trays and ended up having to clean the trays twice and it didn’t seem like I was actually saving any effort by doing that plus it made it got to a height where I had to stand to deal with it which was uncomfortable after a few minutes and so I abandoned that that technique pretty quick and now I’m just doing it tray by tray then I can clean the trash falls into the pad below on the table and then I can sit down and be comfortable and work with them and still make decent progress so these are these are grapes grown on my backyard vine which is three years old there are Thompson seedless grapes they’re pretty small they’re not like the grapes that you see in the store the reason is is that I don’t do anything as of yet to try to artificially get them to be larger I was wondering myself why are my grapes as small and so I started looking into it and I found that commercial growers in addition to a technique they called girdling where you cut a trench around the phloem of the plant any way you cut it cut the nutrients off from the plant and it makes the nutrients stay up in the fruit instead of being able to acts like flow down to the roots that’s a technique but also they dust them with hormones which I’m you know I’m not I’m not gonna do and that’s you know plant hormones but still you know I will try it girdling cuz my grape is so robust that I yeah it’ll stress the plant a little bit making to girdle it but it’s so healthy and soda bust that I just think it’s gonna grow it like keep on growing it won’t even make it blink so I don’t really feel I’m gonna do damage to the mother plant yeah so I’m gonna try and future harvests to get my grapes as big as possible because it’s better if you if you’re gonna do the work it’s better to you know have more quality and maybe less quantity I have found when it comes to processing fruit then it is to have a bunch but help them be kind of little and a pain in there you know they’re just they’re not the quality you’re looking for and not you know philosophy also applies to like thinning fruits on your trees which is hard for me to do I don’t like to remove fruit you know it’s it’s it’s tough because you feel like you might be wasting or whatever but you know you do it because it’s better better in the long run at the time of Marvis to have more quality than quantity and your future you will thank you for preparing the way when it’s harvest time and preparation time to make the job as efficient as possible finally another technique to two large grapes is thinning so if you see here this is a really long natural like mine right you see it now oftentimes if you look at the structure of a vine at the store they’ll take it and they’ll pinch off the tip so it’s like a fatter cluster but I don’t you want to do that with sheers you these vines are so tough you never want to twist or yank or pull or whatever we’ll go over that in a different video on how to hand harvest your grapes but but anyway they’ll go through and they’ll trim off this bottom piece and they’ll trim out pieces so that although there are less fruit there is more nutrients available to the fruit that remains and that helps them to grow bigger and juicier and and all those things so I missed my window this year all this preparation happens in the spring when the vines are small you thin the fruit when they’re flowering you know you can trim the vines when they’re when they’re trimmed the clusters when they’re very small and you know I’m kind of getting to it behind the curve now but I pay I’m paying the price so you know my grapes are small they’re they have good flavor and it was definitely time to harvest and you can tell that because the animals start to eat them like the animals are on high alert for for a grape time and they’ll start eating them as soon as the first ones start to get ripe so they’ll tip you off also they get plump they get kind of translucent they get sweet so you’ll have to go in there and taste them once you pick them they don’t get any sweeter so you’ve you got to keep tasting them to sort of you know pull the plug when you think their flavor is as sweet as you want without letting it go too far also the longer you leave them on the vine you know the more risk there is to splitting and damage and blah blah so anyway um so that’s what I’m gonna try next year is how to grow large grapes didn’t get them this year but I I’m going to make use of the grapes I did get we’re gonna learn some things about how to make reasons and we’ll see put these in the dehydrator and see how they do we have some leftovers in the you know the split ones and such that I have kind of a rejects see this is oh never mind it’s gonna say when it looked like that it’s kind of how a trimmed cluster will look will fatten and juicy but not you won’t have that big long tail hanging down like this one has the big long tail hanging down see it there’s like a trim cluster you can tell it’d be more more chunky do the like that look there like that you see the difference okay so anyway so the ones that are left my dehydrator is full right now a lot of these are acceptable but I’m not gonna get greedy I’m gonna run my batch in the dehydrator I think I will make my chickens in my tortoise extremely happy they love these grapes I’m gonna eat some I’m gonna share some with my family and I’m gonna share some with my animals fresh I may leave some for the birds although I did leave some out on the vine just for the birds I always do that as like a little offering the birds in my yard helped me so much with pest control and there’s such a delight for me to watch and I enjoy their company that whatever I grow I will leave a little bit for them so that they and their babies I have so many wild bird babies in our yard you know have have enough to eat it’s like a little you know thank you so yeah that’s our grape harvest that’s us how to make raisins thoughts behind it few little creative ideas and tips and tricks and thanks for watching and we’ll see you next time

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Do Siberian Huskies Shed?

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 15 2018

Siberian Husky Shedding Coat

Video Transcript

this is Roxy our a Siberian Husky Buck see hey Roxy cuckoo Danny now and she’s shedding right now it’s spring this is what it looks like you can see the fur crater where all her hair isn’t and then when a husky blows their coat in spring the hair just comes out and it’s so much I brush like a lot oh but you still get hair bombs everywhere it’s just what it is to have a husky and so that you can really see the difference in the in the fur this is nothing left here but like the guard hairs and then all this is that warm awesome double coat you can do Rosie good girl oh okay stop

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Rebooting the Farm

(by Rebecca Simpson) Dec 22 2017

New Farm

As I look back on Suburban Stone Age over the last seven years, I realize we have been through many stages of growth.

The first three years we were getting established.  I was home full time, and invested in the long-term foundations of the farm, such as planting fruit trees.

The next three years, I went back to work at an office job full time.  Also, the worst drought in California’s recorded history peaked.  The results on the farm were that because I did not have the same time to devote, nor the water to spend, the farm contracted and simplified and went into survival mode.  Outwardly, it looked more like a leisure garden than a working farm.

But survive we did, and now I am  back on the farm full time, now and forever. It has taken several months of reorganizing, soul-searching, planning, failing, and trying again to get to a place where I’m ready to launch.  But we are there.

I will be rebooting the farm, and bringing you along for the ride.  Buckle up and hang on, we are going to have some fun proving sustainability works!

More to follow, stay tuned.


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DIY All Natural Hair Conditioner – Yah, It Works

(by Rebecca Simpson) Sep 09 2017

I have the whole, entire house to myself for the weekend – and you know what that means?  Aside from being able to walk around naked whenever I want, it means I get to try out old-fashioned beauty treatments that would otherwise be too messy, weird, and drippy to use when there is a house full of men getting in the way and asking awkward questions.

So today, I am treating myself to a DIY all natural hair conditioner to see if it really lives up to the hype.  Ever since my mom chopped my hair to the shoulders when I was six because I would never brush it before rolling out of bed to go play in the dirt field, I have wanted long hair.  LONG hair.  Like to my butt, at least.  But alas, after all these years, I have never been able to grow it past my bra strap. I’ve been on a mission for the last two years to break my hair record, and experimenting with age old hair-nourishing beauty treatments is part of the program.

All Natural Ingredients

Taking a tip from the ladies of Youtube, I decided I’d try some kind of blend of protein, oils, and acids that I could find around the house.  Here’s what I could find:

  • Yoghurt, plain.  A fistful is a good amount.
  • Coconut oil. I have it around for… reasons.  Conditioning my long hair has now become one of them. Use as much as you think might make a nice sized spoonful of ice cream.
  • An egg.  Sadly, not from my own chickens, who are still too young, but one from the store.  Use whatcha got, we can get fancy later.
  • Juice of one lemon.  Thankfully my neighbor has a lemon tree that has been dropping lemons on my side yard for months.  So I was able to scrounge the least offensive looking one from under the boat and juiced it. Worked great.
  • Now, blend. Nuff said.

Applying Conditioner to Hair

I reasoned that the ends of my hair awere in the worst shape, so I grabbed them up in a bunch and dunked them into the mixture as if they were a big, fat frazzled paintbrush.  Amazingly, the ends soaked up a lot of the goop and it didn’t drip off too much.  With what was left in the bowl, I massaged my hair working my way toward the roots until the goop was all gone. Finally, I wrapped my goopy hair in a towel and let it marinade while I walked around the house naked and did whatever.


When it’s been a good 20 mins or so, or you’ve run out of things to do naked, wash the goop out under the faucet.  Then shampoo and condition your hair per usual. Easy.


If you wash it well, your hair should not be greasy, or eggy, or dairy-y.  In fact, my hair came out very soft, although it seemed to have a little “heavier” of a texture than usual.  Not that I mind.  I enjoyed how soft my hair had become, how easy it was to braid, and that warm, fuzzy feeling I got when I knew I had done something nice for my hair AND found a DIY all natural treatment that actually seems to work.  I’ll be coming back to this one for sure.

Try it!

Give the above treatment a try and let me know your thoughts.  Or, if you have an all natural hair conditioner secret to share, I’d love to hear about it (and even try it!)

Here’s to long flowing locks to our butts and beyond!


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Frogs arrive!

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 28 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce we officially have frogs at SSA!
How do I know, you may ask? Because I could tell from what was left of a webbed back leg on my lawn that we definitely had a (former) frog on our hands.
I am sure Roxy (our Husky) has been hunting the frog for some time. It was a beauty too, (at least the part I could still see). After I scraped if off the lawn and put it in the trash, I was able to admire how fat (now flat) and colorful (now covered in dirt) this handsome (and smelly) frog once was. My chest swelled with pride (and so did my nostrils from the stink cloud).
As I measure my success in biodiversity, dead or not this frog represents a special first. Over six and a half years, and we are still new getting surprises.
If there is one, there are more. And I am hoping this is the start of a new froggy trend. Next they just need to learn how to avoid the wolves (Huskies).

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Permaculture – Promises Kept

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 10 2017

Permaculture QuoteThe gardens at Suburban Stone Age have been strongly influenced by permaculture concepts. For those new to the term, permaculture is defined by Wikipedia as “a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.”

The promise is that if your follow Nature’s grand design, you not only build a sustainable garden that provides you with food and resources. You build a food web that extends beyond your human needs and into the natural community that exists beyond your backyard fence, for the benefit of all.

It has been over 6.5 years that Suburban Stone Age has been in operation – long enough to flirt with being a “mature” garden.  And I can tell you, without a doubt, that permaculture principles work.

We don’t use pesticides, we invite birds to do the work instead.  We recycle nutrients through the use of compost to let the land feed itself.  We build the soil with humus so that it can hold more water – this helped our plants survive the greatest drought in California’s recorded history. We group plants according to their habits and functions, so they can thrive and provide the maximum amount of usefulness to ourselves and the natural community.

This was all begun because of the promise that if you build it, they will come.  The plants, animals, and abundance, that is.  And there has been no truer promise, no more spectacular return on the investment, than what the gardens of Suburban Stone Age have become.

If you are curious about permaculture and how it works, please leave a comment.  I am happy to share whatever knowledge and experience I can.  And be sure to keep checking back for updates, as the best is yet to come!


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Living with the Seasons – Stop Time From Flying By

(by Rebecca Simpson) Aug 06 2017

Time flies, doesn’t it?  In our hectic modern lives, the month is over before we were ready for it to start.  Days are just numbers that roll by on a calendar.  Children grow right before our eyes, and it takes but a moment before their precious childhood years slip away and they are grown.

The good news is that there is a way to change how we live with time.  And the surprising consequence it that time slows down.  Life makes sense, feels good, has cycles, and touches your inner being – connecting you again with the ancient rhythms we were all born to feel.

How is this done?  By living seasonally.  That means, wherever you are, stop and understand that place.  What are the rhythms of life there? The length of daylight, the temperatures swings, the rainfall amounts.  How have the native plants and animals that have lived there since ancient time adapted to these particular conditions.  What does that say about how you can adapt too? And this is just the beginning.

This new awareness is something that evolves over time, as you pay more and more attention to it.  But what ends up happening is that you sync up with your environment in a way that feel natural and makes sense.  There is no rush and bustle and worry to this new timeline, only moving along with the seasons in the great and gentle flow.

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Compost – The Dirty Truth

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 25 2017

Compost and me – we be mates.  It truly is Nature’s “Black Gold”.

In my evolving love affair with compost, we’ve had our ups and downs.  I’ve done everything from actively hot composting wagon loads of material to barely being able to get my own coffee grounds onto the pile.  A lot depends on my work schedule, and because I’ve been working full time, I’ve had to trim down how and what I compost to make the process fast, efficient, and most of all, sustainable.  Here’s the dirty truth about what I’ve learned.

  • Keep it simple. If all you can compost that day is an orange peel, that’s ok.  Better something than nothing.
  • Bugs love giant piles of compost.  This includes crickets, cockroaches, and fruit flies. Not necessarily a bad thing (they become wild bird food), but if you have a big pile, put it away from the house so you don’t get visitors.
  • Grass clippings smell.  Even when mixed up well, expect a good 24 hrs. of nitrogen-ish aroma.  Again, put your pile away from the house (and downwind from your husband’s open bedroom window).
  • Horse poop smells too.  Not as bad as you might think, but a whiff every now and again will find you in the first week.  Still worth it.
  • Don’t put sticks and vines in your compost, unless you want the compost coming back out that way.  They take too long to break down and make the texture a pain to deal with.  Unless you chop them up, I usually don’t add them.
  • Let the wind help.  I don’t know about you, but the wind blows leaves and dirt up against my chain link fence.  I used to get mad, until I realized this was the best type of material there was for compost.  Crumbled dry leaves mixed with dust and soil – perfect. Sweep it up, toss it in.
  • Be nice to yourself.  I used to get guilty if I didn’t compost EVERYTHING that came from the yard.  But that is unrealistic given today’s life circumstances.  So I do the best I can, and let go of the guilt.  All that is important is I am still going.

There is more to share but that is enough for one day.  If you have wisdom to share, I’d love you hear your comments below! Compost on!

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Are Birds Eating your Fruit?

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 24 2017

July is such a lovely month at SSA.  Wander around, and you’ll find peaches, plums, apples, grapes, figs, and tomatoes, all becoming ripe.

Trouble is, every bird in the village knows this too.  So word gets out, and bird friends invite bird friends – and bird kids and bird cousins and bird neighbors  – to all come feast on the bounty.  This means that I get lots of birds eating my fruit.

Do I mind? Not at all.  I chalk it off to farming overhead and as an offering of gratitude to the birds for the joy they bring here daily.  But this doesn’t mean I don’t want some beautiful fruit left for myself.

What is the solution? As with many things, it is a compromise.  You see, the birds have all day to investigate the fruit for perfect ripeness.  They will often start a test hole on a favorite candidate, and then revisit it for many days as it progressively ripens.  They will also drink the nectar that oozes from the juicer fruits, kind of like opening up a little Nature’s Jamba Juice.

So when I am out there getting fruit for myself, I find the one the birds have already gotten, and LEAVE IT ALONE.  I take the rest for me.  I have found that if you pick the birds’ fruit in order to discourage them, you compel them to find another on which to start a test hole.  And because they probably have more time than you to watch for the best fruit, they will beat you to new fruit every time.  This leads to many holes in many fruits, and it will feel like they are eating all of your crop.

Don’t pick their fruit.  Leave it for them.  They will happily revisit the fruit they have started for many days, and leave the others unmolested for you. I practice this on every fruit tree I have (and there are over 40).  I find that the birds are happy to oblige by leaving fruit for me if I leave fruit for them as well.

See?  In a nutshell, by giving, you receive.  Isn’t Nature (and the birds) awesome teachers?

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6.5 Years and Counting

(by Rebecca Simpson) Jul 21 2017

My how far we’ve come!

Suburban Stone Age is 6.5 years old and counting.  The transformation has been unbelievable.  We started as your traditional suburban home, full lawn front and back, some shrubs, and nothing much else of interest.  Now I am fortunate enough to live in the middle of a fully functioning food forest, an ecosystem unto its own.

It gives me great pleasure to feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself,  and that this something has taken on a life of its own.  I merely set the stage, but, to my vast delight, I found an eager and enthusiastic cast and crew happy to set settle in and thrive.  For example, when I look back to the before times, I don’t really remember any more birds being around than any other average neighborhood.  Which is to say, not many, and mostly the odd crow or sparrow.  But now, as the summer sun comes up, the sound of singing birds it so loud, and so close, and so profuse, it has become my alarm clock.  I can’t think of anything better to wake up to.

I have generations of bird families come to bathe in my ponds in the morning, too many birds to count, all fluttering, splashing, and chatting like teenagers at a pool party.  I can count several types of butterflies at once dancing around the flowers, and sometimes pausing to deposit eggs on their favorite nursery plants.  Bees visit the lavenders in the front in humming, lazy clouds, warmed by the sun and content they don’t have to travel far to get their fill of nectar.  And I love that insects beyond count scuttle to safety when a log is lifted to inspect the rich moist soil that has been nurtured below.

The sheer amount of biodiversity is astonishing, and is the yardstick of my success.  I merely set the table with food, shelter, water and Nature happily comes to the feast.  And in return I am fed, both literally, through the fruits of the trees and the vegetables of the garden, but spiritually as well, as I find a great comfort in finding my small place in the great web of life.

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