2.24.2013

Chest Freezer: Defrosting & Organizing Tips

Step 1: Take out the bodies, and hide them. Okay, okay, just kidding, it only LOOKS like our freezer could hide bodies. This post is for folks who are new to chest freezers and bulk frozen food storage - learn from my mistakes, and save yourself some cash.

You may be wondering why a stand-alone chest freezer (or older freezers) develop ice, where frost-free freezers do not. Self-defrosting freezers allow themselves to "warm up" a little to melt/dry out any beginning ice crystals or humidity, then quickly go back to a deeper freeze. The trade-off for the convenience of less work is faster "freezer burn", where your meats, vegetables and other goods get that dried out look, develop ice crystals and a funky taste if you keep items in the frost-free freezer for too long. You can get freezer burn in a regular freezer as well, but it usually takes longer to happen. No matter which you have, be sure to wrap/package your goods well to ensure longest freezer life possible.

Although we've a couple of good-sized portable ice chests, there's not enough room to store all our frozen goods when defrosting our chest freezer. Speed is of the essence. Some invaluable tools to make quick work:

  1. Don't wait until the entire freezer is wall to wall ice. Seriously. 
  2. Nylon pan scraper
  3. Plastic-edged dust pan
  4. Bucket

The stiff nylon pan scraper - there are all sorts, but this style's my favorite - is cheap, sturdy, has multiple uses, and won't scratch or puncture your freezer. Come on, you KNOW you've wanted to take a knife and hack the ice, right? Big no-no. This scraper will negate the need for melting the ice with a blow dryer or a pan of hot water, and will get the ice out faster. Find the edge of the ice, place the scraper edge against the wall and on an angle to the ice, and use short-sharp-quick scrapes to knock the ice off - done right, the ice will break off in chunks. Be sure to wear gloves to guard against possible scraped knuckles. Sometimes the ice won't come completely off the freezer wall, but as long as the frost hasn't melted into a solid ice block, the scraper will wear down the frost in a few short strokes.

Once all the ice is scraped down the sides, use a plastic edged dustpan (again, to safeguard against scratches or knicks) to scoop up the ice. Put ice in bucket, and dump where convenient *. That's it. If the freezer has been open long enough where a bit of condensation has developed on the inner walls or the floor, wipe with a dishrag. Easy peasy.

When the scraping is done, try to come up with some sort of organizing system when it's time to put things back. Perhaps one bin for pork, another for beef, one for produce, etc. That will make it easier to find what you need.

While you're at it, you may as well inventory what you have while you're putting things back. Write down what you have, and the amounts. Unless you have impeccable handwriting skills, you'll probably want to transfer the information to a spreadsheet of some sort. There are plenty of different inventory sheets available on the 'Net to choose from, or use your own software or even hand letter. Be sure to leave extra space for adding new items, or new quantities.  Put the finished inventory sheet in a conspicuous place where everyone can see it, especially whoever does the most cooking.  I find putting the inventory sheet front & center on the  refrigerator door very helpful, so when I go to stare at the fridge contents, I am first confronted by the fact that yes, we DO have things to cook in the house. Gold stars if you can manage to mark down quantities as you use them.

Do you have any tips for cleaning or organizing your freezer contents? Please do share them in the comments, and together we can make life a little easier - at least, as far as freezer maintenance is concerned.

Don't dump ice on plants, indoors or out: the freezing meltwater can damage roots and possibly kill the plant. 

2.04.2013

Resistance is Futile for Us Beginners

Resistance may take the form of making a list of what's essential or telling yourself to stick within a certain budget, but try as you might, it happens to all us beginners: we buy way too many different seeds for the garden our first few years.


Our initial overindulgence in new seeds (and seed catalogues) originates from an unholy combination of ambition and ignorance. We're excited, we want to try everything, all at once, right now! And why not, it's only $3 a packet to try! Unfortunately, we don't know how well certain plants will do in our soil, our particular little micro-climate. The seed companies aren't always helpful, either, not stating if a plant will do better in alkaline or acidic soils, or if a tomato will grow well in a container, or even if it will set fruit in hot weather (and exactly how hot is "hot", anyway?). To be fair, printing catalogs is a pricey affair, so they're cramming as much info into as few pages as possible and counting on us to do our homework. On the other hand, they're also trying to make a living for themselves, so the beautiful photos, illustrations and descriptions are set to enthrall our senses, and lure us into feelings of green-thumb optimism & omnipotence. "I just know I can grow Himalayan blue poppies in my alkaline, scorching-hot caliche soil! I must have them!!!"

A few garden battle-scarred years later, you'll eventually find your seed-buying equilibrium. You'll discover which vegetable plants do best in your garden (and which ones you actually prefer eating). You'll know which flowers thrive versus wilting & pouting, and what bugs & diseases your little plot seems to attract most. Hard-won wisdom in hand, you'll have the tools to narrow your seed/plant choices  for the next gardening season - that is, if you can resist the temptation to try just one more variety of "x". After all, it's only $3.00...

[pic: cleaning out the old seed packets - what the heck was I thinking back then? Oh, right...]