Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too Much!

Not that my situation is a lot different than the rest of you gardeners/homesteaders/trying-to-be-self-sufficienters, but throw in a few other difficulties and stresses that one encounters in everyday life . . . and I've just been too busy lately.  Too busy to keep up with correspondence, harvesting, processing, homemaking and doing all the rest I want to do.  Night before last I had terrible, awful nightmares all night long and woke up feeling dreadful physically and sporting an ugly attitude.  How much more of a wake-up call do I need to realize some changes need to be made?

I talked to myself all day yesterday and think I have things going in a better direction.  My self-analysis and pep talk must have accomplished something, because I had a pretty good night's sleep last night and don't feel like biting anybody's (man or beast) head off this morning.  So far.

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Gosh, I didn't mean to give the impression with my last post that our garden was a complete bust this year.  I've been continually amazed at what we have gotten out of it considering the not-at-all conducive growing conditions we had from start to finish.  Plus, I still have bountiful amounts in the garden waiting to be harvested.  We've been luck and although we've had a couple of nights down in the high 30s, no frost for us yet.

My green pepper plants have done wonderfully, although they were "babied" under a cold frame for most of the growing season.  I've harvested some with holes and a few misshapen ones, chopped them and put them in the freezer for use in soups, casseroles, etc. this winter.  I still have to do the main harvest and make them into Stuffed Green Peppers for the freezer.

We've been blessed with oodles and oodles of luscious salad greens most of the summer.  Swiss chard, arugula, mizuna mustard, kale and lettuce is still coming along. 

The yellow and red onions look to be large in size this year.  I haven't harvested them yet.  The tops have toppled over but are still mostly green, so I'm squeezing all the growing time out for them that I can.

I have more slicing and lemon cucumbers than we can eat, I can ferment or give away.  I've never had lemon cukes grow so prolifically.

Our garlic harvest was fantastic.  I think I will be giving small bags of garlic as Christmas presents.  (Kidding.)  We will never consume all of it fresh so I may be dehydrating some of it.

Potatoes, carrots and some beets are still in the dirt.  The beets I've already processed have been beautiful.  Very scab-free and perfectly formed.  I'm expecting the potatoes and carrots to be a heavy harvest.  We'll hold them in the garden as long as we can.  Then they'll be stored in our root cellar which isn't cold enough yet even though we've been using the air exchange fan to bring in the cool night time air.

I harvested and we ate the last of the radishes just last week.  I did succession plantings of them all summer long and because of the lack of any sustained hot weather, they grew like gangbusters.

I haven't put by as many shell peas as last year, but I did plant and freeze sugar snap peas which puts us way over our "pea quota" for the ensuing months.  No problem there.

My green beans never got a chance to do all they could because of the mold that decided to attack them.  However, the yellow wax beans produced so well we won't be suffering any bean shortage.

Cabbage, both red and green, grew exceptionally well, and I've fermented a lot of it over the summer and will store the remaining heads in the root cellar where they kept very well last winter.

The bulk of the Brussels sprouts are still in the garden.  Supposedly, they become sweeter with a light frost, but I'll be harvesting all of them soon, I'm guessing.  It was a good year for them, and they were prolific.


Last but not least, our blueberry bushes continue to bear so heavily I'm afraid the frost will zap the remaining berries before they have a chance to ripen.  This year they have been outstanding.

So you can see our good, ol' garden has come through for us and there would be no way we would starve this winter even if we never left home to buy food!

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As far as the stresses I need to learn to deal with in a better manner so I don't have those nights filled with ugly-bugly dreams, keeping everything in perspective is the key.  My stresses are piddling-little compared to those with which other good folks are dealing.  I'm thankful and appreciative of my life and that I have the good health and ability to be too busy living the life I've chosen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gray Day Garden Walk

We seem to be in the midst of a few gray days here.  Again.  (You'd think we'd be used to this since it's been this way NEARLY ALL SUMMER!  Plus we've been warned of possible frost tonight . . . down around 30°.  If the sky was clear I would be worried, but with this heavy cloud cover, I truly don't think we will see frost.

I'm not going to bother covering anything left in the garden.  Whatever will be, will be (Suffering garden burn-out, are we?)

I've been reading your blogs detailing all the things you've been making with your abundant harvests of tomatoes along with pictures showing every surface in your kitchens covered with ripe and ready tomatoes, so I thought I'd share a photo of my tomato harvest.


These are the first ripe tomatoes we've had this season.  (Fer Pete's sake, I can't even grow a crop of cherry tomatoes this year!)


Above is one of my little pie pumpkins.  There are few of them on the vines this year, and they show no signs of maturing.  Maybe I can use them for decorations though.  Green decorations.


The jack o' lantern pumpkins are more prolific and very large . . . but certainly a long way from turning the appropriate color.


I've been delighted to see that my red kuri squash (a winter squash) might actually turn out to be edible.  These are nearly the color they're supposed to be when harvested.  (Picture right out of the camera.)  I just wish they wouldn't get so big.  (Never satisfied, am I?)  These are about three-quarters the size of a basket ball.  Ones just large enough to serve the two of us would be much more convenient.  But when they are this big, I bake the whole thing, use what we want for a meal and then puree and freeze the rest to use in place of pumpkin for pies or other pumpkin desserts.


These seeds were labeled "Mixed Gourds" which I thought would be nice for fall decorations.  The only fruit I've been able to find on the vines is these little white pumpkins.  Hmmm, who messed with my seeds?


The potato vines aren't exactly standing up and saluting anymore but they're far from dead so I do hope we get some more good growing weather for them.  I've stolen some spuds from two plants and they're nice sized already.


I try to plant only heirloom seeds so I can learn how to save my own seeds which could come in handy some day.  But this is the problem we face with our short growing season.  I have lovely, large bean pods on this planting of yellow wax beans, but as you can see the bean bushes haven't died down yet nor have the pods matured enough to dry and give me seeds fit for saving.  The plants will get killed by frost before they dry properly.  And I really can't plant the beans earlier so they would start maturing and drying sooner in the season.  Nope, they go in as soon as the weather and soil are warm enough to keep the seeds from rotting before sprouting.  Yep, the short growing season is a real challenge up here.

So is the very chilly mid-September weather that threatens a frost for tonight!  (But, hey, I'm handling it.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oh, How the Wind Doth Blow!

We had a wind and rain storm last night that brought us 3/4 of an inch of rain.  The winds were forecast to be up to 40 mph, and I don't know how strong they actually were, but they managed to do a little damage in the garden.


Papa Pea had to make some repairs to the cold frames that had trouble holding their own in the wind.


I think this signals the end of my corn crop for this year.  Matter of fact, I don't think I'll plant corn again next year.  Last year it got flattened twice by wind, and we got zip in the way of a yield from it.  Perhaps Mother Nature is trying to tell me this isn't corn growin' country.  Sigh.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Beautiful Sunny Day!

What a treat!  We had a perfect weather day today.  Both Papa Pea and I were able to putter around outside getting lots of good things done.

I did take a bit of a rest (plunked on my posterior) for a couple of hours prepping chives for the freezer.

If you've read my blog for a while, you know I'm a big fan of freezing chives to use in my cooking all through the winter months.  I usually do this task first thing in the spring when my chives first grow tall enough to harvest.  Hrumpf, didn't get it done first thing this spring.  (Probably because the chives were still under a couple feet of snow!)

Anywho, I knew that I couldn't put this little task off much longer or Jack Frost would take care of it for me, and I would spend the winter . . . chiveless.

But my procrastination may have caused me to make a good discovery.  The chives I harvested today were much more pungent than those harvested early on in the season.  Matter of fact, there were a couple of times during the processing when my eyes started watering just as they do sometimes when slicing onions.  But this is a good thing!  That means that not only will my chives add color to selected dishes this winter, but they will also add more flavor.  Who knew the potency of chives is different at different times during the season?  (Not moi obviously.)


Call me Clumsy Carp (anybody remember that character from the old comic strip B.C.?) as I somehow managed to dump two containers of the chives during the processing.  After that, I put the lids on the containers immediately after filling them.

I've been checking our Painted Mountain Corn to see when the ears would be big enough, but not totally matured, to eat as sweet corn.


Today these were the only two ears I could find in the whole darn corn patch that were big enough to harvest.


I've posted about this corn we grow previously.  When mature it looks much like Indian Corn (above picture from two years ago) and can be ground for a super-nutritious flour or fed to livestock.  When the ears are immature, as were the two I picked today, they can be eaten as sweet corn.

So how did these two sample ears taste?  Very, very good!  Of course, not as sweet as the hybrid corn bred and grown as the sweet corn many of us are used to, but I'm assuming the taste of ours today was much like the sweet corn our grandparents grew in their gardens.


I have to admit it does look particularly strange to see a "black" cob after one is done eating!

Here's hoping for another sunny day tomorrow.  Along with still more to harvest, I'm into tearing out old vines and plants.  Deconstructing the garden is just as much work as planting it is . . . but not nearly as satisfying!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

And the Rains Keep Coming

Doesn't seem fair.  Nope, doesn't seem fair at all that we continue to get so much rain while there are those of you in other parts of the country that would love to have about two solid weeks of our wet weather.

We had rain overnight which continued most of this morning.  Happily it cleared up this afternoon, and we even had some sunshine.  It was late afternoon before things dried out enough in the garden for me to venture out there.  I currently have a list here on my desk of 15 things (no foolin') I need to do in the garden.  Even though I ended up with gardening shoes caked with mud (I was suddenly much taller), I did get the pea vines pulled out and the cattle panel supports taken down.

Tomorrow and the next three days are supposed to be sunny (wa-HOO!) so I'm eager to get a lot done in the way of more harvesting and clean-up in that time.


I was able to get only 27 servings of green beans off the plants this year before they succumbed to mold.  (Just too, too much rain and not near enough sun.)  Last year I put up 43 servings which is closer to what I aim for.  But I have more than enough yellow beans put by so, fear not, there will be no bean shortage in our house this winter.

Our blueberry bushes are prolific this year, and we already have more squirreled away in the freezer than we've ever had before.  We've given some away and are eating lots fresh along with the ones I've used in baking.  For some reason, I've just craved blueberry anything (!) as a baked goodie this season.  Our daughter isn't terribly fond of blueberries (where did we go wrong in raising her?) and when I offered her a slice of blueberry pie for about the fourth time this season, she asked if I couldn't please make some other kind of pie.

As we speak, I have a pan of Blueberry Buckle in the oven.  It smells heavenly and I just know my better half will insist on having it for breakfast tomorrow morning.  'Sokay, that makes an easy breakfast meal for me!  

I dehydrated a really big batch of parsley (it was almost too much to do at once between the washing and de-stemming before even getting it in the dehydrator -- took me three and a half hours by actual count) late yesterday.  It wasn't quite finished last night so I had to give it another hour or so today before packing it in jars.


Now it's tucked away on the pantry shelf.  With luck, this last batch added to the previous amounts dried will be enough until next spring.

Well, let's hope that we get our three days of sunshine and those of you needing moisture so badly get three days of rain.  If only it would/could work out that way . . . 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Go "Paddle Your Own Canoe!"

That's what we did today.

Papa Pea saved and saved his allowance until he had enough to purchase the solo canoe he's been wanting for quite some time.  Today was the first time we've taken it out to try it.

We hauled it up to a little puddle of a lake . . . so if the paddler dumped out on the maiden voyage, there would be less chance of drowning.  The little lake at the deepest was only five feet so six foot-plus owner of said solo canoe would be able to stand in the water without too much trouble.  (His wife might have been in jeopardy.)

But no fear.  All went extremely well and the canoe was pronounced sea-worth and very stable.


Papa Pea has quite a bit of leg to fit in a canoe, but that's always been a problem even in our full-sized canoes.


Here he's trying it out kneeling in the traditional paddling position.

After the initial test run, he asked me if I wanted to try it.  Sure!


We both agreed that it handled extremely well, but using the kayak paddle as he is in the first two pictures made "steering" much easier than using a traditional canoe paddle as I am in the above picture.

After the canoe christening, on the way home we stopped at a favorite lake which was totally deserted except for two loons.  As we watched, one dove underwater and came up with a fish in its bill!  We stretched out on the dock, and both of us could have fallen fast asleep without too much trouble.


Regarding something I can't figure out concerning this same lake, I'd like someone to explain this to me.  I used my zoom lens to capture the shot of this large rock sticking out of the water a ways out in the lake.  When boating on this lake (a fairly good fishing lake) one has to be very aware of the general vicinity of this rock because normally the tip of it is just under the surface of the water.  So, why, after a winter of heavy snow and a summer of heavy rain is the rock currently sticking almost two feet out of the water?  Wouldn't you think the water level of the lake would be higher than usual right now rather than lower?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About . . .

. . . shell peas.

A couple of days ago (or maybe it was many days ago, because you know how time flies when you're spending quality time in the kitchen with boat loads of fresh produce . . . day after day after day), Kristina at Pioneer Woman at Heart asked me if I would explain how I planted, harvested and preserved my shell peas.

This kind of post is one in which I could start talking and not realize when to stop so please excuse my verbosity.  I would have been a terrible teacher because when I try to answer a question or explain something, I seem to feel I must impart every single bit of knowledge concerning the subject that I have stashed away in my wee little noggin.  Being concise and to the point is difficult.

However, putting these thoughts of my inadequacies aside, let's talk peas.

Next to sweet corn grown in our garden (which is a moot point since we cannot successfully grow sweet corn in our garden here in northern Minnesota), fresh frozen shell peas are our most favorite vegetable during the winter months.  Lucky we are in that we can grow those little, round, green gems here in northern Minnesota.

I regularly plant Lincoln peas . . . an old-fashioned, heirloom variety that does extremely well for me.  When we lived in Illinois I planted them there, too, so I'm assuming they do well in many climates.  Every few years I get the notion I should try another variety that offers outstanding qualities (according to those gorgeous seed catalogs that lure you right in), but inevitably I go back to the good ol', tried and true Lincoln pea seeds.

Supposedly it's not absolutely necessary to plant peas with a trellis for support, but it's been my experience that they grow better and produce more peas if you do trellis them.  Plus (and who wouldn't opt for this), they are so much cleaner and easier to pick when in an upright (both you and the peas) position.

I love cattle panels for trellises and that's what I use for my peas.  Cattle panels are initially a tad expensive, but they last forever even when stored outside in our long, snow-filled winters.  They come in 16' lengths, but for ease of handling, we cut ours into 8' sections which are plenty heavy enough to (wo)manhandle around the garden.  The panels are 52" high.  I stake them up using a length (about 6' long) of rebar which has been pounded into the ground at each end of the 8' section, and then tying the cattle panel to the rebar.

I till up the soil on either side of the cattle panel trellis with my handy-dandy Mantis tiller.  I gardened for many, many years without this wonderful tool, but looking back I don't know how I did it.  It makes a seed bed that can't be beat.  When the seed bed has been prepared, on each side of the trellis I plant pea seeds in two staggered rows, the first one about 1" out from the trellis, the second row about 1-1/2" farther out from the first row.  I just push the peas seed about 1" down into the soil and bring the dirt back to cover the hole and pat it down.  I do this along the full 16' of the trellis.  Then I go to the other side of the trellis and do the same thing.

To harvest enough peas to last through the winter for the two of us, I always plant two 16' trellised rows, the rows 4' apart.  With peas planted on either side of each trellis that comes out to 64' of shell peas.  Yes, a bit of garden space allotted just to peas, but if I want enough of them that's what I have to do.


The pods growing on the vines will mature to the proper size (not all at once) over a period of about three weeks.  (At least in our locale that's the timetable.)  It's important to keep the peas picked or the vines will stop producing more peas.

I'm a real stickler when it comes to getting a crop from garden to freezer (or canned) in the shortest amount of time possible.  With so many vegetables, the moment they are picked the natural sugars start changing to starch (which, of course, we don't want to happen) so I try to move as smoothly and quickly as possible to get the peas processed and in the freezer.  (I never can peas, but always freeze them.  We think the fresh frozen peas taste just as good as ones straight out of the garden . . . even in February!)


I bring the picked pea pods inside and remove the peas from the pods.  This takes time, but it's a perfect opportunity for visiting if you have a friend who offers to help (or kids you can coerce into helping), listening to an audio book or watching a good program you recorded from TV.


The shelled peas go into a blanching basket.  Mine is a well-used wire contraption once used for hot oil frying, I think.


The whole basket of peas is carefully lowered into a pot of water which has been brought to a rolling boil.  I blanch the peas for a carefully timed one minute and thirty seconds.


After blanching any vegetable, you are advised to cool it as soon as possible (thereby stopping the "cooking" process) by submerging in ice water.  The water from our well is very, very cold so I hold the basket of blanched peas in a big bowl of cold water while running more cold water over and through the peas.


Then the peas are dumped into a colander and left to drain for a few minutes.


All that is left is to package them for the freezer.  One and one-half cups of peas is the right amount for a meal for the two of us.  I fill small sandwich size bags with the measured amount, lay the filled bags flat on a cookie sheet and put into a freezer until frozen solid.  Then I package the individual bags into a gallon freezer bag and store back in the freezer.  Whenever I want to serve peas with a meal, I reach into the freezer bag and pull out one of the smaller bags, drop the contents into water in a small saucepan until the water boils.  Peas are done, drained and seasoned with a pat of butter before portioning out onto our two plates.

I usually aim for having about 40 servings of peas in the freezer to get us through from late fall to early spring time.  This year I currently have 37 servings in the freezer and don't plan on getting any more from the vines that are left in the garden.  (As you can see from the picture of the two peas rows above, my vines are pretty well spent and starting to turn yellow.  I'm hoping to let some of the "over-matured" pods dry on the vine and use them for seed next year.)  Harvest of the peas would usually have been earlier than it was this year, but our very cold spring and early summer challenged everything in the garden and set it back a bit.

Hope this helps explain, Kristina, how I grow and preserve my shell peas.  Anybody still reading?  Yep, I did use lots of words and perhaps say more than you wanted to know!