Saturday, March 29, 2014

I have excuses!

Looks like Mother Nature took a bite out of me. According to my Functional Meds doctor, I likely have Lyme disease. If so, I have had it for at least three years and it is effecting my neurology. The upside is that if they are correct, I can stop any more damage from happening with the antibiotics, but it is going to be a very bumpy ride. I am no longer in college due to memory issues and the depression being poked by whatever the Lyme is doing to me.  So, another upside is I have more time so when I am having a good day, I can work on my garden. The downside is that I never know when there will be a good day, so posting is not going to be regular. Not that it was before this LOL.

Yes, I am still gardening. My husband has promised his help because he doesn't want to see me hurting my back more than it is, and I think he may even be enjoying the engineering and building aspects. Shhhhh.

This year I am trying a few new things, and I have my seedlings all growing and impatient for the soil to warm up enough for them.

So, let's get started with the 2014 growing season! See you in the yard!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fall Wrap Up

There are many, many things left to do before we are ready for the winter, at least in the garden. Still, most of the important things are finished and have learned a lot about growing vegetables and fruits and the weird things my city wild life will wreck without eating.

The pallet lettuce garden I attempted was an abject failure. There are many reasons for it, but part of it was the design. The design I originally hijacked was not lined with garden paper at all. Instead, it was loaded with the soil and seeded and then it just laid there for a month while the roots grew strong enough to keep the soil in. My goal was not a well established patch of cutting greens though, at least not this year, so I tried creating "boxes" to plant in. There are flaws, such as the sun getting to the bottom ones and too much drainage sapping the nutrients from the topmost seedlings. Next year is a do over, because I am stubborn that way.

Next year I am going to try heirlooms so that I can harvest good seed for the next season. This year I planted Red Lightning, Super Sauce and Tie Dye as well as a variety of cocktail tomatoes. The cocktail tomatoes did poorly in their hanging containers. The Super Sauce seem to need a lot more nutrients to avoid blossom end rot than other tomatoes. Once the soil was appropriate for them I was rewarded with humongous plum tomatoes.
On the left is a regular plum tomato from the farm stand and on the left is one of the Super Sauce. I have harvested a few that were even bigger.

There were not enough to provide for our winters canned tomato needs though, so next year I go heirloom and try growing them up on a single vine like they do at the big farms. Seems to work for them. The Red Lightnings were lovely, but I am the only one in my family that likes raw, off the vine, tomatoes, so next year I will plant just two regular tomatoes with the plums. I am bound and determined to find a good spot for the cocktail tomatoes though, I will prevail!

I have harvested four good pumpkins, one very deformed, but perfectly good for food. Another of them was breached before I got to it and had grown into my lovely neighbors yard. I was going to give it to her, but I saw it rotting and got it back to keep the critters out of her yard. I have several small spaghetti (Tivoli) squash, but the vine borers stopped production too early. The heriloom Lakotas didn't do well at all. Of the six vines I got one very small squash and another that never ripened fully. Next year there will be butternut, they handle the vine borers like champs. In the curbit family, my zucchini did terribly. Out of the 8 plants and I don't know how many seeds, I got exactly one teeny zucchini. I am not entirely sure why, but I think it may be that they didn't like sharing space with the cabbages (which did quite well btw). My cucumbers actually did well after a couple of false starts. Unfortunately my fermented dill pickles were not very good. Note: pickle crisp, or better yet, organic grape leaves). 

As mentioned, the cabbage did well. I made sauerkraut which was really good, but the brine stayed way too salty and after a couple of months I rinsed it to see if I could save it, but without the brine it rapidly went south in the fridge. I am on the right track though, and there are a couple of baby heads out there right now that may give me another opportunity. In the same bed, the broccoli was a wash. There were three plants, but they matured at greatly different rates. While waiting for enough broccoli for a meal, the first heads to erupt bolted. Next year I will play in a container with them and not waste precious raised bed space.

Savoy cabbage from the garden
The corn was lovely! Next year I need fish meal and there is an enzyme that you soak beans seeds in before planting a field with them the first time, I am going to do that and use the few beans that made it from the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans. Must plant many more beans next year to haul in a good crop to use more than as seeds for the spring.

The Swiss Chard is doing excellently in the container I planted the seeds in before I went in for the surgery. There are also some beets and carrots going, so maybe something will come of that before the weather turns too much.

As many who read here know, I have been pretty sick. Pain is constant, so I have to ration where my energy goes. This is why my blog hasn't been updated as much as I would like. It is either blog it or do it, but I can't often do both. What I do have is a lot of pictures ready for some instructionals, and a plan. Soon there will be a basic canning guide here. I plan to explain the science (at least the science that I know, things change all the time) and basic techniques and places to go for more information or support. 

Now, to convince my husband that moving the beds is the best idea ever, because I am not supposed to lift heavy things. Way more irritating than relaxing, let me tell you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

All of the Tomatoes!

Hello everyone! I had my surgery last Friday and have been spending my time trying to keep up with the work around the house without setting back my recovery. Super fun, as I strongly dislike sitting around with things to do that I am not allowed to.

Before I went to surgery though, everyone's tomatoes came in! This may be coming a bit late for some, but just before I went in, I canned some tomatoes and salsa, and the one thing that you always have to do for those items is peel. There are some who don't peel for salsa, and that does no harm, but I tried it once and found too many sharp strips of peel in the condiment for my taste.

You may notice that I am not mentioning sauce with the peeling. There is a reason. If you are canning tomato sauce, there is no need to peel each tomato. That goes for ketchup or anything that you will be turning to a soupy sauce. In those cases, I just wash the tomatoes, core, chop them a bit and cook them down. Once they are nice and soft you can put it through a strainer or a mill and that will remove the skins and seeds. Some people find cooking the seeds in the sauce makes it bitter. If that is you, just scoop the seeds out of the slices before putting them in the pan.
Now, on to peeling tomatoes for other recipes. The pictures below should help lead you through any unclear bits.

1. Wash tomatoes thoroughly. Even organic vegetables are exposed to bacteria, and if you are canning it is best to be as clean as possible to avoid contamination in the finished product.

2. Lightly score an "X" at the blossom end of the tomato.

3. Plunge tomatoes into boiling water in batches. As soon as the skins seem to be slipping a bit, drop them in cold water to shock them.

4. The skins should peel easily from the cuts. Although I have always cored after peeling, it makes sense that coring before blanching would make the skins even easier to remove. Doh!

5. To "core", use a melon baller and scoop the stem end out. I hate that they call it "coring", to me that implies removing the center entirely.

6. Use as directed in recipe.

Coming up: Adventures in making pantry staples!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Clever Curtain Rod!

Where I live in the Northeast there are a lot of Victorian homes as well as homes built in that image but for the poorer folks. One of the features of these houses are strangely shaped rooms, or corners. So many of the apartments I have lived in where built like that, basically because Victorian homes are perfect for dividing into more than one living area. When I was around 8 years old we lived in one that had two kitchens, three bedrooms, two living rooms, a den and just two bathrooms, one in the attic. If we lived back then it would probably make a lot of sense, but not so much now.

Here is a picture of a typical window bay in an old home:

I apologize for the low light. Things have been crazy here so I have been snapping photos without as much care as I try to show normally. But I digress. You can see from these windows that the corners are close and at a 45 degree angle (more or less), which makes hanging rods awkward. I have tried just closing off the entire corner and use it for a bit of privacy, but nothing really looked right.

Well, my husband and I have moved back into the room which was the kids until my oldest moved out. It was the larger room, and kids tend to need a bunch of space. The arrangement helped keep things out of the living room too. We wanted a nice grown up curtain, but how to hang them? Especially the ones that have the large openings like these.

My husband and I gave it a lot of thought and realized that 1 1/2 inch PVC pipes would work. What you see above is the result of our combining forces. We used the PVC, and for the corners we used 45 degree elbow joints. Our window was slightly off, so my husband warmed the PVC to unbend it just a bit. I don't know how much manipulation it will take, but it worked for our purposes.

This is how we hung them up. The copper bit was found right in the same aisle as the PVC pipe, and the spacers (the white bit that is setting the holder a little away from the frame) were found with the screws. What is terrific about this set up is that: 1. we only needed four to hold up the window treatment and 2. no bottom screw! The curtains stay up beautifully, BUT, they are also extremely easy to removed without ripping up the window frame (more than I already have).

Because of the household crazy of my upcoming fairly major surgery, the garden and canning, and until recently, grad school, I do not have step by step instructions for this, and for that I apologize. You will want to pain the pipe. What we used was just an off white spray paint. 

A tip with spray paint is to do it right on your lawn. Any bits that get sprayed on the grass will be cut off when you mow the lawn!

Okay, here is the set up after it was completed. The little caps on the ends are also in the PVC pipe aisle.

Now I have to get back to canning. I have packed up 12 pints of tomato salsa and am now working on the whole tomatoes. My son told me that I am the only one he knows who finds out they need surgery and decides that I must do everything before hand. I am who I am. :)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Victorian (Rhubarb) BBQ Sauce

I found this gem in the Ball Blue Book, but they call it Victoria (no "n") sauce. I misread it and just kept calling it the wrong name.

I have always been fascinated with foraging, even as a young child. When I would go for my long walks on our wooded property, I would try leaves and such that I found. Fortunately, I didn't die! I was fairly cautious, but not enough to my current sensibilities.

What does this have to do with the sauce? Well, around here, Rhubarb grows just about anywhere. Every house I have ever moved to in this area that also had a yard, usually had an old rhubarb plant. My current home is no exception. So, to me, rhubarb = wild foods. Kind of like mangoes are in South Florida, you find them everywhere and should never have to buy one from a nursery.

This Spring I split up the rhubarb to try to perk it up a bit. My family has been living in this house for over 18 years, and I had never done anything to the plant other than take, take, take. I was only able to manage two crowns, and it seems as if one of them died. The other is going like gangbusters though, and I may even get a few stalks out of it before winter. Right now I am letting it just do its thing and grow.

Victoria(n) BBQ Sauce

12 stalks (approximately) rhubarb, chopped (about 2 quarts)
1/2 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon canning salt
Combine rhubarb, raisins, onion, brown sugar, and vinegar in a large sauce pot. Simmer until thick. Stir frequently while cooking, and keep a moderate flame. Add spices and cook for five minutes more. Ladle sauce into hot jars and process in water bath for 15 minutes.

For information on the basics of water bath canning National Center for Home Food Processing. Be sure to follow all current guidelines. Some of the older ways of processing have been changed or eliminated as simply not safe enough to use.

I love grinding my own spices in this mortar and pestle

Yum.. raisins!

I think that this is so pretty all cooking down
Here it is, bubbling away!

Canning Peppers

Cowboy Candy and Marinated Peppers

Canning season is well underway, and this year I have started with water-bath canning. Water-bath canning is when you submerge jars of food in boiling water and let the heat seal the jars. It is not safe to water-bath can everything! Non pickled vegetables and meats must be done in a pressure canner, which I also do. Soon I will be posting about canning my corn chowdah base for my family so they can have some while I am laid up after the operation.

The Cowboy Candy is very new to me. Upon researching this recipe to make certain that it is safe to can, I found that the heat is supposed to mellow considerably as it ages, so I kept in all of the seeds and membranes. That made preparing the peppers very simple.

Cowboy Candy

3 lbs jalapenos
2 cups cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, I only had celery seed powder, so I used half the amount
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and each cut in half
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Slice jalapenos. IMPORTANT: use gloves if at all possible. Even then it is still very possible to get the capsaicin in your eyes or other areas (think, using the bathroom.. enough of a visual?) If you do get some on you, milk will help to alleviate the burn.
Mix cider vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery and mustard seed, garlic, and cayenne to boil.
Reduce for 5 minutes to a simmer.
Add jalapenos at the simmer for 5 minutes more.
Load sterilized jars with jalapenos first and add liquid filling the jars leaving a 1/4 head-space.

Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Marinated Peppers

4 lbs red bell or red sweet peppers
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (or dried, to taste)
1 cup olive oil 
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic (optional)

First, roast the peppers. I put them under the broiler until they were black all over. Then I put them in a stainless steel bowl and covered with foil and let them sit until they were cool enough to handle. The skin should remove easily, and if you are careful, you can get the clump of seeds out in one motion. If not, the seeds tend to get everywhere, but do not rinse under water. This will flush much of the flavor away, and we want the flavor.  This to me is the easiest and tastiest way to peel peppers.

Mix lemon juice, vinegar, oregano and onions in a pan and bring to a boil.

Pack strips of peppers into sterilized half pint canning jars. Spoon the mixed liquid over it to 1/2 in head-space. Run a plastic knife or bamboo skewer around the edges and in the middle to remove air bubbles, then add more liquid if needed to maintain 1/2 in head-space.  Make sure you keep stirring the liquid as you go, or the ration will be off too much to water bath these. 

Clean the edges of the jar with a cloth soaked in a bit of vinegar, cap and seal in a water-bath for 15 minutes


I live at close to sea level, so the times may differ for you. I suggest the Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation to have tables to refer to.

I would like very much to do a tutorial on canning for people. I know that there are a number of sites out there, but judging from some of the questions I have been asked, I think that there may be confusion. I think that people make canning out to be more complicated than it is. It is like baking, once you know the rules, there is wiggle room for creating your own recipes safely, you just need to know the rules.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

There has been a whole lot of things going on at the inbetween homestead. I have been doing a lot of little projects in preserving and making my own condiments and such. With all of this going on as well as the garden really needing to be tended, I am also having a spinal fusion operation pretty soon, so I feel as though I have so many things to do before I can no longer do them for a while. 

So, I will be trying to post some of the things I have been doing this summer while I recuperate, and give updates on the vegetable garden. First, here is a couple pictures of my Three Sisters garden, which is looking lovely:

I am quite happy for the most part. There are things that I should have done and did not. The first thing I am doing next time is to add something to lighten the soil. There was plenty of compost and such, but the soil still hardened up quite a bit after watering. I also need to rethink the edges. Maybe if I plant the squash before everything else? At the very least, I am starting the squash inside next year, so that the plant will keep the soil on the edges from eroding. I lost an entire squash type and I have only two of one of the squashes (I don't know which kind), but the spaghetti squash (Tivoli) is producing like a pro! 
The beans are also doing well, but I don't know which ones. Let this be a lesson, label everything when you plant them! Still, they are vining great, but since I planted so many, I have placed some straight limbs from the brush pile for them to grow on. They do vine up the corn, and the corn seems to be okay with this, I just had a lot of bean plants and am afraid of strangling the corn.

Here is a shot of my lovely spaghetti squash:

Isn't she beautiful?
And this is how my garden grows right now. The season has been fickle to say the least. Our last frost was into May this year, which stunted the plants I put out early. Also, we started the season with great weather conditions rain wise, but then we had a very hard dry spell followed by extremely wet conditions. That is making it a bit difficult for my tomatoes, but I have dried a batch of the Red Lightnings already.

Here is a peek a boo shot of my pickling cucumbers

Bowl of Red Lightning Tomatoes

Next up will be a couple of canning sessions which includes Victorian BBQ and Fig Preserves as well as some dehydration projects that I am doing to limit the food waste that tends to happen in the glut of summer produce.

Also, there will be an update on my pallet garden. Things did not turn out as expected, although I did get a few greens out of it. What happened is I learned some stuff, and hopefully will be able to put that to use in making the pallet garden work much better next time.