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The Ant Village Challenge: Creating a Permaculture Homestead in Montana

The yard conversion project in San Diego is finished for now, and everything is looking great!  I can’t sit still for long, so it is time to start a new project, this time on an even bigger scale, and in a much different context.  Check out my new video to see what it is all about.

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What do we do with all these oranges? Or, a very sticky Christmas.

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Food preservation is an important part of living a sustainable lifestyle.  In our modern culture we are so used to going to the grocery store and seeing oranges on the shelf every single day of the year.  In reality, oranges are only in season for a few weeks out of each year in any particular region.  Those oranges you see on the shelf in the off season have likely been shipped from the southern hemisphere, traveling thousands of miles and using a tremendous amount of energy in order to get to the grocery store.  This is clearly not sustainable.  So aside from simply not buying produce grown on the other side of the world, how can we move towards getting more of our food from our local environment?  Well, one solution is to do what was once commonplace before the advent of a globalized food system, preserve the harvest when it is ripe so that it may be enjoyed the rest of the year.

It is very likely that there a lot of food already growing in your neighborhood, especially if your’s is an older one.  Here in Orange County, CA it is quite common to see citrus trees growing in people’s yards, either survivors from a time when the entire county was blanketed by citrus groves or trees that were planted more recently because citrus grows so well here.  Unfortunately, it is also common to see oranges rotting on the ground underneath these trees, while the neighbors are out at the grocery store buying oranges from Chile.

A fruit tree is an incredible gift from nature.  Year after year, a good tree can produce hundreds of pounds of delicious nutritious fruit, freely given away to any animal that wants to eat it.  Often a tree can produce so much fruit that its caretakers don’t know what to do with all the bounty.  What a wonderful problem to have!  This is a great chance for the caretakers of the tree to meet their neighbors and share their bounty just like the tree, building a stronger community in the process.  If you see a tree in a neighbor’s yard heavy with fruit, knock on their door and offer to buy some of the harvest from them.  In most cases your neighbors will be happy to just give you as much fruit as you can take, thankful to have less fruit to deal with.  It just takes a little bit of courage to take that first step up to a stranger’s door, but the result can be a new friend, a win-win situation for both parties, and a more resilient community.  Nature works by producing a surplus and then sharing it freely.  We, as part of nature, can follow this pattern to create a healthier human environment.

Miraculously, even when you do share the harvest from a fruit tree, the surplus can be so big that everybody on the block ends up with more fresh fruit than they can eat.  This is where preservation comes in.  I have a friend who has a Navel orange tree in her back yard, which becomes ripe starting in November, perfect timing for making marmalade to give away at Christmas.  Another friend and I picked about 20 pounds of oranges off of the tree and it is still drooping with fruit.  We used about half of this, or 20 oranges, to make about 22 eight ounce jars of marmalade.  We could have easily made more but were limited by the size of the pots we were using.  The rest of the oranges we simply sliced up and dehydrated to make delicious orange chips.  Another good option for preserving oranges is to just juice them and then freeze the juice for later.

This was the first time I have made marmalade, but I found out it is incredibly simple.  The hardest part was actually cleaning up all the sticky orange juice from the kitchen.  Below are the steps and some pictures of the process.

First peel the oranges, saving the peels.

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Then slice the peels in to thin strips, about 1/8 of an inch wide

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Next cut the fruit into chunks about 1/4 of an inch wide

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Put the sliced peels and fruit into a large pot and add water until the fruit is just covered, making sure to measure the amount of water you are using.  For our 20 oranges we used 6 cups of water.

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Bring this to a boil and let it reduce down until the chunks of fruit have broken apart into pulp and the peels are soft.  This will probably take about an hour.

Next add an equivalent amount of sugar to the amount of water you used at the beginning.  So we used 6 cups of sugar since we used 6 cups of water to cover the fruit in the beginning.

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Boil this down until the mixture thickens up and begins to gel.  To test if it is done, spoon out a teaspoon of the juice onto a plate and let it cool for 1 minute, if it gels up to the consistency of something that you would spread on toast then you’ve got yourself some marmalade!

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At this time you should have a couple other pots of boiling water going, one to sterilize your jars and lids, and another to submerge the filled jars in for the canning process.  There is lots of information online about how to properly and safely can food, with much more detail than I am providing here.  It is important to get this step right as it is what will make your marmalade shelf stable and prevent illness.

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With the marmalade still boiling, carefully ladle it into your sterilized jars, wipe off the rims with a paper towel, and screw on the lids till they are snug but not tight.  Again, be careful as the marmalade is now a large tub of hot sticky molten sugar that will easily burn you.  Submerge the filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes, you should see little bubbles coming out from the lids as the air inside the jars heats up and expands.

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Remove the jars from the boiling water with tongs and set on the counter to cool, tightening the lids in the process.  After a few minutes you should hear some very satisfying popping sounds as the cooling air inside the jars sucks down the button on the lids, sealing the jars.

All that’t left now is to make some toast and enjoy the sweet orangey goodness that is marmalade.