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Category Archives: Grow Your Own

Canning Inferno

I’ve been paging through my canning cookbook in my spare time and selecting recipes that I want to try. I found two that I decided to attempt this weekend: Tomatillo Salsa and a concoction called Inferno Wine Jelly. I love hot pepper jelly and the latter was the closest thing that I found that didn’t call for food coloring.

I didn't have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I didn’t have quite enough tomatillos for the double batch of salsa so I grabbed a couple of green tomatoes from my garden.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn't washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

I ended up with more salsa than I thought and hadn’t washed enough jars. I put the extra in a new jar (once I could wash it) and froze it instead.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

In addition to the frozen jar, I ended up with eight processed jars. The salsa needs to sit for a few weeks so the flavors can meld.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

I goofed on the recipe for the wine jelly, which contains flecks of pepper. I made a double batch of the jelly as well, but forgot to double the amount of pectin. Not wanting to waste the $45 worth of wine in the recipe, I decided to reboil it. Just as well, as the peppers are better distributed in the redo batch.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn't as set as it should be, I'll call it glaze and that will be that.

Ta-da! If it turns out the jelly still isn’t as set as it should be, I’ll call it glaze and that will be that.

 

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More Adventures in Canning

I spent most of today canning farmer’s market tomatoes and a crisper full of cucumbers from my garden. I ended up with 9 quarts of crushed tomatoes and 9 pints of bread and butter pickle chips.

Now, I’m very tired. I just tried to put my dirty laundry in the chest freezer. Note to self: Don’t can and do laundry on the same day.

I ran out of ice for cooling down the tomatoes after I scalded them.

I ran out of ice for cooling down the tomatoes after I scalded them.

Beauty shot of the peeled tomatoes. It took me two hours to peel them all.

Beauty shot of the peeled tomatoes. It took me two hours to peel them all.

All that work was worth it. Now I'm set for soups, chili and sauces.

All that work was worth it. Now I’m set for soups, chili and sauces.

I needed to use a garden pail to accommodate all of the cuke slices in their salt solution.

I needed to use a garden pail to accommodate all of the cuke slices in their salt solution.

I had to omit celery seed (due to allergies) from the recipe I followed for these pickles -- hopefully they still taste good. I'll find out in a couple of weeks!

I had to omit celery seed (due to allergies) from the recipe I followed for these pickles — hopefully they still taste good. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks!

A neighbor came over to check out my pressure canner while I was working on the tomatoes. We’re going to have a canning party and either collaborate on one big batch of something or work on complimentary items — possibly beer mustard and sauerkraut.

Fall Garden Update (and, Here We Go Again)

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Part of today’s harvest.

A little late to the party, I finally planted some carrot, kale and lettuce seeds today. What took so long? I had to clear out the dead and dying summer plants first and amend the soil in the beds. Between recent hot weather, travel and laziness, today’s 70-degree weather was my first opportunity to garden in a while. I did get some peas planted a few weeks ago and those are coming along.

So how did my summer garden grow? Wild. I had pumpkins everywhere, and there are still some long-neck canning pumpkins on the vine in my compost pile, waiting to be picked. I got one usable baby pie pumpkin — pests got the other two that had ripened. Phooey.

My tomatoes are still producing, so I haven’t cut those down yet. I finally pulled up the cucumber plants, but found a few cucumbers buried among the detritus that are hopefully still edible. I accidentally grew a cantaloupe plant (also a compost volunteer), but the solitary fruit it bore fell victim to pests in recent days. I was able to harvest some coriander (cilantro) seeds, which I’ll probably save for planting next year, rather than consuming.

Lessons learned for next year?

  • Put in more beds
  • Give the squash plants even more room than I did this year
  • Plant more of everything
  • Plant strawberries and melons (on purpose)

I still have a fair bit to do in the garden before wrapping things up for the cold season. I need to clean out around the beds and better prep them for next year. The landscape fabric alone didn’t do enough to keep the weeds down. I’m going to pull that up, remove the weeds and dig out still more hostas in the sunny corner of my garden. Next year, the area will get at least a good mulching, if not another covering of fabric before the mulch goes down.

I’ve turned one large bed along my garage into a new compost pile that I want to separate into three caged areas for more efficient composting. I’m also composting a bed outside my kitchen (no food scraps though, since it’s so close to the house) that gets a lot of shade and has only grown weeds. I’m hoping to try lettuce, possibly in containers, there next year.

I also need to clean up the fruit bushes I planted. The blackberry plants became very leggy and I didn’t do a very good job of training them onto the supports I set up. I need to tend to them and the only raspberry plant that pulled through. Not sure if I’ll try more of those next year.

Here We Go Again

Some of you may remember that last summer I went on an allergen-free diet for a month before slowly re-introducing foods to discover what food allergies I have (eggs and a wheat intolerance revealed themselves). Well, I need to do it again. I’m having a reaction to something and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks recently. The suspects are dairy and processed sugar, the latter of which has only slipped into my diet on occasion. I’ve also been eating grains other than wheat, so those may be a culprit as well.

So Monday’s the day I go back to eating only meat, veggies and a little bit of fruit. No dairy, alcohol, legumes or grains for a whole month. Honey will be my only sweetener. I plan on making lots of homemade, oven-baked sweet potato fries to help me pull through.

I’ve been treating myself in the meantime. I splurged at the gluten-free bakery today and feasted on Chipotle’s chips and guac last night. Not sure what my beverage of choice will be tonight, but last night’s was red wine.

I’ve already started stocking up on things to tide me over for the next month. I found myself eating way more protein than I normally would last time I did this. I bought a ton of chicken and ground bison today. I found beef sticks from Cedar Run Farm at the farmer’s market today and they have no preservatives or chemicals in them. Score! Perfect for snacking. I bought a bunch of kale and green beans, frying peppers and acorn squash to cook this week too. Bananas (not from the farmer’s market, of course), figs and raspberries will be my fruit splurges.

Wish me luck! Deciding to pursue this diet is often harder than the diet itself. I know I’ll feel so much better a month from now. And I’ll be done before the holidays hit. Hopefully by then, I’ll have figured out whatever it is that’s causing problems so I can avoid it. Fingers crossed it’s not alcohol or cheese!

Get Your Greens on Grilled Cheese

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I made another version of yesterday’s grilled cheese and added kale, sauteed onions and grated parm, inspired by a recipe in the September issue of Cooking Light magazine. I also added some mustard to the bread before adding the other fillings. Genius way to eat your greens!

On Sex and Pumpkins

(With a title like that, I think my blog stats are about to get really interesting…)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fretting over the state of my pumpkin plants — they send off tons of blossoms, but no pumpkins developed. This was true for all three varieties I planted. Meanwhile, my other squash plants are going gangbusters.

I even started trying to hand pollinate the plants each morning, dutifully swabbing the inside of each open blossom with a Q-Tip to try and transfer pollen from one to another. Still nothing. What was worse, all of the blossoms were falling off.

I blamed slugs. I blamed squirrels. I blamed stink bugs. A reader blamed vine borers. A neighbor blamed rabbits. I blamed myself for doing something wrong.

Then I finally Googled the problem and got a lesson in sex education.

Turns out, there are male flowers and female flowers. To get a pumpkin, the pollen from a male flower needs to access a female flower. Most of the blossoms on my plants have been male flowers, which usually fall off 2-3 days after blooming. My efforts at hand pollination, therefore, have been pretty useless.

Here’s the good news: Now that I know what to look for, I’ve noticed a few female flowers blooming. WARNING: The following photos depict cucurbita girl parts and boy parts. If you’re into pumpkin porn, you can click on the photos for larger versions.

Female flower booty.

Female flower booty.

Female flowers have what looks like a tiny little fruit already developing at the base of the blossom. The flower at left actually did get pollinated.

The bad news: some critter found it delectable and chewed a nice hole into it.

Male flowers don’t have the bulb at the base of the blossom.

There’s another way to tell them apart though and that’s to look at the stamen inside each flower.

Male flower.

Male flower.

Female flower.

Female flower.

Here’s the best news: There’s another pumpkin plant clear across my property in the compost pile next to my garage. I haven’t watered it. Vehicles driver over many of its vines, which encroach into the alley. But it’s huge — wrapping around one corner of my garage. And it has several baby pumpkins growing on it.

Baby gooseneck pie pumpkin.

Baby gooseneck pie pumpkin.

This plant resulted from a squirrel-nibbled pumpkin that I threw into the compost pile last winter. I’m going to fence it in with chicken wire to try and keep critters out (and to keep the town from removing my compost pile on trash day, like they did once last year).

Christmas-in-July Haul

Sweet summer.

Sweet summer.

It’s my favorite time of year again! Nothing beats that first blackberry of the season. Absolutely nothing. I demolished half a pint of these just in transporting them from the sink to the fridge. Here’s what else I bought at the market today:

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 huge jar of local honey
  • 2 lbs ground bison
  • cute summer squash (since mine never happened this year)
  • lettuce
  • jalapenos
  • scallions
  • marinated feta
  • cantalope

Garden Update

Garlic and tomatoes.

Garlic and tomatoes.

I told my tale of squash-plant woe at the market and the conclusion is that it’s most likely squirrels noshing on my squash blossoms. The chicken wire around my largest container doesn’t seem to be keeping them at bay. I’ve never seen one in the vicinity, but I think I might make some cayenne spray to see if that deters them in the future. I want pumpkins, dammit.

Other than that, the garden is doing pretty darn well. I started hand-pollinating the pumpkin plants since that seemed to work well for the cucumbers. I have been noticing more bees frequenting the veggies in the morning, so maybe they’ll start doing more of the work for me.

My super-steak tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I harvested one of them and the first garlic this morning, but I probably should have waited until the soil had dried out for the garlic — I’ll leave the rest in until then. We had massive amounts of rain yesterday.

The blackberry canes are really establishing themselves and there’s even some green berries on one of them. Can’t wait to see what they do next year.

Last weekend, I concocted a weed spray of vinegar and dish soap. I used it right before the sunniest time of the day. It worked really well and fried the crabgrass around my driveway. I didn’t pull it up in time though and they’ve come right back. Gotta work on my timing, but it’s nice to know you don’t need chemicals to kill weeds.

In other news, my compost tumbler is all but broken. The plastic warped where it connects to the spindle and it’s only a matter of time before it pops off. Then I have to decide whether to keep using the barrel in a spot where it won’t kill the grass or to set up a compost pile somewhere. I don’t have a large lot, so it would be close to my house, which isn’t that desirable. I could buy a different compost bin, but I’d rather save my pennies. I need to do some research on building my own.

Freedom Haul

Today’s haul was all about freedom (4th of July was on Thursday, after all). I had a very stressful week and I chose to leave all my cares at the sidewalk once I got to the farmer’s market today. I splurged. I loaded up. I saw lots of friends and Maggie and I made some new ones. It was a good (if hot!) morning.

photo(1) copyHere’s what I got:

  • Beautiful white onions, just because
  • Purple and green bell peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Cantalope
  • 2 pints blueberries
  • Breakfast sausage patties
  • 1 pound backfin crab meat (talk about a splurge!)
  • Portabella mushrooms
  • Sweet corn (I cooked this already)
  • Gluten-free sausage roll (I ate this already)
  • Gluten-free glazed almond mini bundt cake
  • Cordova White marinated feta
  • Vanilla sweetgrass oatmeal soap
  • Natural deodorant*

* I’ve gone chemical-free on so many things, but not this yet. We’ll see how I do with this. One of my aunts once wondered how deodorant/anti-perspirant can’t NOT be connected to the rise in breast cancer — you use it so close to that tissue.

Garden Update

Lots more lessons learned this season. I planted several seeds of many varieties of plants with so-so luck. For most of my squash varieties, only one seed for each type took. I’ve picked a couple of zucchini so far. My yellow summer squash plant is all but dead though. Something is eating right through the stems of many of the plants and I can’t identify the culprit. I’ve pulled slugs, a few stinkbugs and a cucumber beetle off the plants, but haven’t figured out what’s doing the most damage. I haven’t seen any of those pests in several days anyhow. The butternut and spaghetti squash plants are humungous. Fingers crossed they produce some good squash!

I do have several varieties of pumpkin doing really well. Some I deliberately planted and a few are transplants from my compost pile. I have mini pie pumpkin plants, French blue pumpkin plants and gooseneck pie pumpkin plants. All have had blossoms, but I haven’t noticed fruit yet. Not sure if the culprit mentioned above is responsible or not. There’s still a couple of huge pumpkin plants growing in the compost pile and encroaching on the alley. One neighbor is so excited to see what results from those plants.

My blackberry canes are busy establishing themselves, but I won’t see much fruit from them this season. Only one of my raspberry canes is still with us. Ah well.

I’ve been hand-pollinating my cucumber plants and finally have some growing on those vines now. I’m going to pick a couple of them tonight to try. My bush beans are getting crowded out by the squash plants, but have been producing. I haven’t picked those yet and will probably do so tonight. I have a ton of rainbow chard, but don’t really care for it. Not even bacon grease could make it palatable for me. Anyone reading this who is near me is welcome to help themselves.

My Thai cherry tomatoes are producing nicely ripening fruit. The supersteak tomatoes are looking good but haven’t started to turn red yet. I added more fertilizer to the soil in that container as the plants were looking a bit anemic. No blossom end rot this year — hooray!

I have one rogue broccoli plant that has a teeny little head of broccoli on it. I pulled up a few carrots this morning and had them with my breakfast. When you grow it yourself, you can’t wait to eat it. My kale has been doing pretty well — I noticed the youngest plants weren’t growing so I added compost to those last weekend and they’ve already perked up.

As to the lessons learned: I gave the squash more room this season, but I really need to spread them out more and plant more of each type to ensure a good harvest. Looks like more of my lawn is going to become vegetables next year!

I put down landscape fabric around my beds to try and keep the weeds down, but it wasn’t opaque enough. The weeds are still growing underneath of it and it’s a constant struggle to keep the fabric tied down. I need to put mulch down on top of it, but have been too cheap and lazy to do so yet. I may wait until the fall at this point.

Finally, I need to completely refresh the soil in my tallest container next season. The plants in there aren’t thriving as much as they should with the weather we’ve been having. I’ve been amending with compost in the meantime.