Thursday, July 18, 2019

(An Old Dog?) Learning A New Trick

Each year when I look at the luscious spinach and Swiss chard I'm able to grow in the garden, I think about freezing some of it for use during the winter.  Then I quickly nix the idea because of the stories I've read of gardeners harvesting a garbage can full of the greens, painstakingly washing them, blanching them, cooling them, squeezing out the water and packaging them to end up with four cups of spinach or Swiss chard for the freezer . . . after standing in the kitchen for half a day accomplishing this little task.

I may be fanatical about growing and preserving the best possible, nutritious food for our table, but enough is enough sometimes too much.

But then, eureka!  I stumbled upon an article that said you can freeze greens WITHOUT blanching.  Wahoo, this is something I had to try.

The only caveat is that you should use the unblanched product within six months of stashing in the freezer.  I can do that, I said to myself.  If I freeze greens now in mid-July, that would mean they would hold their optimum nutritional value until near the end of January.

A week or so ago, armed with my biggest stainless steel bowl, out to the garden I went to cut leaves of spinach. 

Brought them in and submerged them in cool water, mixed them around with gentle agitation, poured out the water and did it once again.

This is my trusty, old, well-used salad spinner.

Then I ran each individual leaf under running water and put batches through my salad spinner.  Spread two bath towels out on the table and laid the leaves in a single layer to further dry.  In a bit, I patted the leaves with another towel to remove all the moisture drops I could.

(This picture is of Swiss chard as I
didn't think to take pictures
when I was doing the spinach.)

Stuffing the quart freezer bags as full as possible, squeezing out as much air as I could, and sealing the bags were the final steps.

Still too much unnecessary time and trouble?  Yep.  Hey, I'm a lazy busy lady.

When I next harvested more spinach, which is planted intensively with grass mulch under the plants to prevent dirt splashing up onto the plants when it rains or when I water with the garden hose, I inspected each leaf as I cut it.  Hmmm.  No dirt and only a crawly bug (or two) was spotted.

Why was it necessary to wash and dry this spinach before packing it?  I knew the soil it was grown in, I knew the plants had not been sprayed with chemical poisons, I knew the leaves were not dirty, and I had flicked off the couple of bugs I came across. 

Just to be sure I didn't pack any unwanted "protein" in with the spinach, I inspected each leaf, both top and bottom, after bringing them into the kitchen.  Then I stuffed them into the freezer bags which would be their home for the next six months.  Or, in most cases, less.

A day later I repeated the same process with baby-to-small leaves of Swiss chard.

After the spinach and Swiss chard had been in the freezer for several days, we cooked and taste tested both greens.  They were delicious.

How did I cook the frozen product?  (You could also use the frozen greens in a smoothie or other health drink without cooking.)  

I brought a small amount of water to a rolling boil in a saucepan.  Then I took the still frozen contents out of the quart freezer bag, broke it apart so it would fit into the saucepan, and brought the water back to a boil.

I then cooked the greens over a medium flame for, I'm sure, less than five minutes.  Poured off the water and used a wooden spoon to press out as much more of the water as I could.  

Back on the stove over a low flame, I added garlic salt and pepper, a little butter and in one case, some sliced mozzarella cheese on top.  (Yum!)  Put the cover on the pan and let the contents simmer until the butter or cheese melted.  (To reduce the amount of nutrients lost, you could also consider steaming the frozen greens.)

Even with the shade cloth cover, my spinach is beginning to bolt so I don't know how much more of it I will get.  Of course, the Swiss chard will remain vibrant and healthy until a really hard frost knocks it out, but until then we'll use it fresh, and I'll keep harvesting some of it to freeze for this coming winter.

I'd be curious to know if any of you try this method of preserving greens and if you find it simple enough and are as satisfied with the outcome as I've been. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tiptoe Through the Tulips . . . Ooops, I Mean Garden

Here's an overview of the raised beds (for you, Michelle) taken from a second floor window this morning.  Empty bed front middle row was all radishes.  All gone now.

Down on the ground and out tritzing through the heavy dew, here is one of the bean rows.  Since the field garden is fallow this year (where I usually plant all the beans), I used one of the raised beds for an 8' row of green beans and another bed for 8' of yellow beans.  No sense raising more than we can use or give away, so these are adequate.

Don't know if the Morning Glories planted at the base of this tepee trellis will ever grow big.  They are as s-l-o-w as molasses in January this year.

I planted pie pumpkins in the middle of this raised bed hoping I could convince them to climb up and over the hoop trellis.  There are finally some vines starting to run, but they look like they're trying to escape the bed all together.  I'm going to have to have a talk with them about using this fine trellis I've provided for them.

The shell peas are planted on either side of 40' of cattle panels for their trellis.  Not as much growth on them as I'd hoped to see by now.

A couple of years ago Papa Pea made a few shade cloth covers like the one on this bed over the spinach and Swiss chard.  I'm hoping to keep them going longer into the season by blocking some of the too bright sunlight.  The Swiss chard would probably be okay without the shade cloth cover but the spinach would not.

The scarlet runner beans are planted at the base of this garden trellis and they've finally taken off climbing.

There are colored gourds planted on either side of the trellis down the center of this raised bed.  I didn't think they were ever going to germinate.  (Too cold, I think.)  If our fall weather holds out (and doesn't frost early), I may yet get some decorative gourds from them.

My onions are kinda scary this year.  Most of them are now 3' tall!  I can only cross my fingers that all their energy hasn't gone to the tops and left none for the bulbs.

The green and colored pepper plants are starting to size up and even have blossoms on them.  One plant never got any bigger than when I transplanted it and eventually died.  The rest are looking good though.

That's a partial tour through the raised beds.  We got an inch of rain yesterday and it really gave the plants a shot in the arm.  Real rain does them so much more good than all the watering I can do.  With our now very summer time like weather, things were really drying out so we were glad to get the rain.  Now if this humidity (gasp, gasp) would just go away . . . 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Haskap Berries

Our three haskap berry bushes have produced abundantly this year.  And a few days ago, our resident robins were the first to alert us that the berries were ripe.

We checked the bushes out and sure enough, although there were still a few green berries to be found, several ripe ones had already dropped from the bushes to the ground.
Time to harvest.

The bushes are growing by leaps and bounds and we're wondering just how tall they will get.  Especially the Berry Smart Blue variety in the center.

The foliage looks very healthy and thick.

The berries a bit harder to pick than blueberries because the fruit grows on the underside of the heavily leaf-laden branches.

Over a two day period (last Thursday and yesterday -- thanks to Chicken Mama for her help in finishing up the task), we picked 98% of the ripe berries from the three bushes and left any that might still ripen for the birds.

Yesterday I processed them by first cleaning them . . . 

. . . and then measuring out the amount I needed for making our haskap berry syrup.

The above bowlful (a 6-quart bowl) is about a third of the total we harvested.

You may remember that in the past my attempts to make haskap berry jam following my blueberry jam recipe have failed and we've ended up with haskap berry syrup.  This has actually worked out just fine because we've used a small dribble of the syrup in our daily small dish of probiotics (yogurt/kefir mixture) and as syrup on pancakes, French toast and waffles.  We've been out of the last I made for a couple of months so I was eager to have more.

I made two and two-thirds batches yesterday (can you say hot and steamy kitchen?) and ended up with 10 pints and 2 half-pint jars.

There was a partial jar leftover that I put into the refrigerator for us to sample.

This morning I made French toast for breakfast looking forward to having and tasting the haskap berry syrup from that partial jar.

Can you guess what I'm going to say next?

We now have 10 pints and 2 half-pint jars of lovely, haskap berry JAM.

Why?  Why did I get jam this time when always before using the same recipe the consistency has been syrup?  I don't use any pectin in my jams so perhaps did the berries this year have more natural pectin in them?  Are the berries changing somehow as the bushes mature?  Are our haskap growing adventures going to drive me crazy?

Scratching my head I may be, but the jam is yummy.  It's full of antioxidants and who knows what other things that are good for us.  (I know it doesn't have too much sugar in it.  If only I had been able to make a video of our daughter's facial expressions when I asked her to sample it yesterday before it was refrigerated and set up!  I asked if it tasted too sweet to her.  I'll just say it did not, and let it go at that.)

So what will happen next season when I attempt making jam with those persnickety blue/black, nutrition-filled, prolific berries.  Darned if I know.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

(Jeopardy) Question: It's Been A Full Summer's Day

(Jeopardy) Answer:  Why am I tired?

First thing this morning, I harvested enough peppermint to
fill eight trays of the dehydrator and dried them.

This is about halfway through the drying process.  
Sure do shrink up, don't they, considering the
tray was solid wall to wall edge to edge
 leaves to start?

Harvested asparagus and processed it
for the freezer.  The wonderful
asparagus just keeps comin'.

Did four loads of weekly laundry and two loads
of rugs.  Hung out on lines to dry.

Made a batch of yogurt.

Split and stacked six wheelbarrows full
of wood (with Papa Pea's help.)

Watered the asparagus with the hose.

Watered the fruit trees with the hose.

Watered the window boxes with the watering can.

Fixed and served two meals.

Weeded the strawberry rows and then
put additional wood shavings
around the spreading
plants so the berries would stay clean.

Harvested the first real picking of strawberries.
(Found five ripe ones a couple of days ago.)
Only 1.65 lbs. today but enough for a big
family-sized strawberry shortcake.

(Old picture.)

Can I make it tonight?  
Don't believe I have the energy.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fourth of July Decorations

Here are some of my 4th of July decorations I've put up around the house for the holiday.  I think I promised to show these about two weeks ago, but I was a bad girl and have neglected to so until now.  Given that the holiday is tomorrow, it's now or never!

Apologies beforehand for the poor quality of most of these pictures.  Most were taken when the sun was shining too brightly in through the windows.

This banner of little flags hangs from a book shelf over our kitchen table.  (Looks as though somebody had better climb up to straighten those books.  Fast.  And dust while you're at it, too, please.)

A red, white and blue wall hanging is between our two big kitchen windows.

I made this runner several years ago and always meant to make two more for the kitchen.

It goes on this storage unit which is a shelf below my little kitchen TV.

One of the new runners I made this year turned out a little . . .  well, garish if you ask me.  I think I got carried away with the design and find I'm not particularly fond of it.  I guess that happens sometimes when you just let the creative juices flow unchecked.

I put it on top of the storage unit that holds the telephone.  (Yep, we still have a land line.)  Looks as though the runner could use some heavy pressing with the steam iron.

This second one came out much plainer because I was still suffering from the visual overload of the other one.

It's on a shelf unit next to the back door.  The basket holds library books to be returned.

Mr. Bear wishes all of you a very festive, enjoyable 4th of July spent in your favorite way!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Garden, The Bugs, and The Grouch Called Mama Pea

I have a few pictures of the garden taken on July 1st from various years back.  Although not quite July 1st yet, the pictures are definitely positive proof our growing season is very slow this year.  Who knew sun and warmth was required for the growth of plants?

The buckwheat we sowed in the field garden and two other smaller plots as a green manure crop was apparently too old and did not germinate.  At all.  Anywhere.  Duh, why didn't I think to test the seeds for germination?  We're going to replant barley, some seeds of which I have undergoing testing as we speak.

I did harvest the first of our radishes earlier this week.  The first two I sampled after bringing them inside for cleaning were hot, hot, hot.  I assumed they would all be that way because they grew so slowly.  Funny thing, after I had stored them in water in the refrigerator and then served at a meal later in the day, not one had that same unpleasant flavor.  Did the chilling cause the biting "hotness" to disappear?

Lettuces are still too small to harvest, but I do have some baby spinach leaves I can now use for salads.  And baby Swiss chard is nearly big enough, too.  Hooray for the first crunchy greens of the year.

Much was accomplished in the garden yesterday but not without me unwillingly donating blood to the still present, and abundant, black flies.

I started by donning a long sleeve shirt, head net, gloves and bug repellent but they found the plackets of my shirt sleeves and dove in for the kill bare skin.

Black flies draw blood to the surface when they bite and I had traces of it coming through my shirt.  Somehow several also got under the head net and I got a bite on my hairline in front, outer corner of my right eye, cheek and crook of my ear right where the bow of my (close work) glasses hits.

I came inside and took some Apis and slathered on calamine lotion both of which sometimes help with the prolonged swelling and itching I get.  Changed my outfit to the total bug shirt which I tied tightly around my hips and wrists.  This outfit resulted in only two of the little black devils finding their way to my skin.

I realize people who don't attract biting insects like I do can't relate to the agony it causes me.  That's my excuse for the terrible grouch I was for most of the day yesterday.  Good thing not many souls were exposed to the spread of my very bad vibrations. 

Why don't I just stay inside until the bugs disappear?  I told Papa Pea yesterday that if the bugs were this bad every year, I would seriously contemplate not gardening.  (Whoa, did I actually say that?!)  As it is, those of you who do garden know you either take advantage of any time you have to keep up with thinning, replanting, transplanting, harvesting and weeding in a timely manner or your gardening efforts will be for naught in short order.

On the upside, the less than pleasant time spent outside these days is balanced (well, almost) by the progress made and the wonderful warm shower, clean clothes and inside bug-less atmosphere when I come in for the day.

And sometime soon, the life span (and reproduction cycle) of the black flies will be over.  Please tell me it will happen.  And make it happen soon, please. 

P.S.  For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with black flies, here's a picture for you.

This morning I ran (literally) out to the garden to crack open the cold frames (without protective clothing on -- dummy) and was attacked by the biting black devils.  When I came back in, this one was caught in my hair.  He did not live to bite another day.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Tree (Almost) Down On Driveway

We had rain most of the day yesterday and then A LOT of rain last night.

This tall, dead tree apparently couldn't hold on anymore in the soft, wet dirt.  It came down right across our driveway, but got caught up in trees on the opposite side so never hit the ground.

It had been dead so long that nearly all of the bark was off of it which enabled the wood to dry out quite nicely.

Making the first cut was the trickiest part but Papa Pea did a good job of it.

Then the whole length got cut into stove size pieces.

We loaded them into the truck to haul back to our wood splitting area.

I'm dressed in my down-filled work jacket and was none too warm.  The day was very damp, cool and foggy.  (We're really into mid-summer, you say?)

A rather quick way to get more firewood.  Plus, much easier trying to drive in and out of the driveway now.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Harvesting Mint 101

The best time to snip little sprigs of mint is early in the morning before the sun hits the mint bed enough to start heating it up, so 'round about 6:30 this morning, I took my trusty kitchen shears and a couple of big bowls out to the garden to make my second cutting of mint.  

The first was made in desperation a week or so ago although the mint wasn't quite ready to be harvested.  I did this because I had run out of what I had thought would be a year's supply (it wasn't) a couple of weeks ago, and Papa Pea had been using organic store bought mint for his morning cup of tea until ours was ready to be cut.

During this short time there was some comment made about his tea brewed with the purchased mint tasting about as flavorful as dead grass.  I knew I had to harvest and dry some of our own asap.

By today, I knew our bed of mint had grown big enough (thankfully) that I could start this season's harvest in order to begin accumulating  the required amount for our year's supply.  Or what I hope will be a full year's supply this time around.

The premature cutting I did about a week ago was enough to keep him going, plus a little left in reserve, and he said it was the best mint tea he's ever had.  (Don't know if that was strictly true, but it did say something about the purchased mint leaves he'd been using.  Ooops.)

This morning's harvest gave me two big bowls (of the size pictured above) of vibrantly green, healthy looking sprigs.

I stripped off the leaves and put them on the dehydrator trays in preparation for drying.

I used to think I had to meticulously spread each leaf out on the tray so it didn't touch the one next to it.  (Self-proclaimed dummy here.)  Pffft.  (Notice two trays heavily laden in picture above.)

As soon as each leaf starts to dry in the dehydrator, they shrink in size leaving plenty of room between its neighbor.  Even if some leaves seem to remain overlapping, I can easily separate them when I periodically check to see how the dehydration process is going.

This is one of the trays of mint completely dried.

I transfer the dried leaves onto a sheet of waxed paper and using the heels of my hands, crush them.

Then using my fingers (ye gods, don't they look like chicken feet in this picture?) to make sure all the leaves are crushed to the size I want, and feel for any that don't seem completely dry, they get transferred into a quart measuring cup so I get an accurate measurement of how many cups I have put by.  The processed mint is stored in a glass canning jar with a tightly secured canning lid.

So far, I have 3-1/2 cups socked away, not counting Papa Pea's working jar that he takes from for his cup of mint tea every morning.  A ways to go, for sure, but I'm gonna keep at it this summer so we don't run out and he has to drink "dried grass tea" next spring.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Happy First Day Of Summer!

I may be the first to wish you Happy First Day of Summer, but that's only because I'm writing and posting this the evening of the 20th.  (Sneaky, huh?)

For some of you, summer weather has been in evidence for quite a while already.  Not for us though.

Yep, although we've had a couple of days when we've felt the heat of mid-day as the (infrequently appearing) sun was shining down on us, our weather has remained on the cool side.  Still, and yet.  Sigh. 

The garden isn't doing much while waiting for warm weather to give it a needed boost.  (Funny how the weeds don't seem to care what kind of weather is prevalent; they always sprout and grow like . . . well, like weeds regardless.

I think I told someone recently that we got our first strawberries last year on June 27th.  My mind is slipping because I just looked at the calendar and saw a notation that the first berries last year were picked on the 21st.  Yes, that was early compared to the usual time of right around the 4th of July.  This year it looks like the harvest won't begin until at least a week or two later than the first week in July.

Nary a berry showing yet, just blossoms.  And I have a suspicion the harvest is not going to be great.  Just not as many blossoms as usual.

Considering the radical pruning I had to do on our blueberry bushes this spring in an effort to get rid of the very invasive Witches' Broom fungus, we do seem to have a lot of blossoms on the remaining bushes.  (I ended up digging two -- of our best producing bushes, of course -- out completely.)

You may remember I wrote of the girdling some nasty little rodents did this winter on several of the new dwarf fruit trees we started a couple of years ago.  We decided to leave them in the ground for this season to see if they might possibly live.  Two of them are deader than a door nail, but the remaining ones (both girdled and non-girdled) are loaded with blossoms right now.  Late, for sure, and we might not stand a chance of getting ripe apples if we don't have a l-o-n-g fall season, but they currently have so many blossoms on them that we'll have to do some thinning once the apples begin to form.

Our asparagus patch has been going gangbusters.  We eat it fresh at least every other day (we had it twice today!) and I've now got more in the freezer than I did for the whole season last year.  The season isn't over yet so I know there will be still more for this winter.  Yay for the asparagus plants!

That's all there is to report right now.  Next post I'll show a couple of new quilted pieces I made for 4th of July decorations.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

And The Patriotic Candle Mat Goes To . . .


Many thanks to all of you who threw your name in the hat for this giveaway.  It was fun to read the little stories you included as to how you remember the 4th of July being celebrated when you were growing up.

Charlotte, I'll need your mailing address so I can get the quilted piece in the mail to you.  You can send it to me by clicking on the "Contact Me" button over on my right hand side bar.

Here's an early wish for a great 4th of July holiday to all of you.  It'll be here before we know it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Red, White and Blue Giveaway

Even though I'm not wishing our summer months to fly by any faster than they already do, today I'm thinking about the 4th of July holiday which will be here in a few weeks.

Traditionally, the 4th of July has been a time to celebrate and announce that one is proud to be an American.  Celebrations usually include picnics, parades, sparklers, fireworks and the display of our American flag.  This summertime holiday frequently includes friends getting together in a back yard, or often times family reunions spent at the beach or gatherings at the family lakeside cabin.

Sad to say, I've found in recent years I haven't been enthused about celebrating this holiday; I'm not proud of the way other countries view America or how they view us as members of our American society.  They most certainly cannot hold much respect for many of our politicians or policies.

Truth to tell, this feeling has put a bit of a damper on the 4th of July for me.

But this year I've been doing some thinking.  

I'm so grateful I spent my childhood and young adult years during a time of (relative) political and financial stability in our country, certainly so compared to these present days.  I remember it as a time of strong family values, the nuclear family predominated and the assurance that if a person was kind, honest, self-responsible and had a strong work ethic, life would be good all the way through retirement or the golden years of one's life.

So it is those values and proud emotional feelings of loyalty to our country that I'm going to celebrate this year.  I haven't put up any patriotic decorations for a couple of years now, but I will this year. 

If you plan to decorate your home or vacation cabin for the 4th of July,  you have a chance to have your name drawn for this patriotic themed candle mat or place mat or plant mat or however you might want to use it.

It's almost identical to one I made for myself and is approximately 10-1/2" square.

Follow the usual procedure and leave a comment at the end of this post.  If you feel like it, it would be fun to hear how your family spent the 4th of July each year when you were growing up.  We usually had a family picnic (big extended family, big picnic) in our city park, then trekked across the road from the picnic grounds and spread blankets on the outfield of the baseball stadium where we laid on our backs and oohed and ahhed watching the fireworks bursting in the sky over our heads.

I'll keep comments open for this giveaway until Saturday night, June 15th, along about 9 p.m., then draw a name Sunday morning to announce the winner of this small quilted piece.

How about it?  Anyone want a little red, white and blue decoration for the 4th of July?

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Family Portrait

Baby Pea (aka Chicken Mama), Papa Pea and Mama Pea

Well, yes, the black flies were very bad today.  What makes you ask?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Playing The Waiting Game

The subtitle to this post should be "The Trials and Tribulations of Gardening . . . and The Reasons To Do It."

I do have a vague recollection of mentioning that we were having some lovely, warm days.  Well, that didn't last long.  (Bad idea, I should never have said it out loud.)  

We're right back into gray, drippy, sunless days with temperatures barely reaching the 60s (most often in the 50s) and night time temps falling down into the 30s, or possibly only the 40s if we're lucky.

What's growing in my garden?  Not.  Much. 

 Even cool weather crops such as salad greens, radishes and peas seem to be hovering below ground hesitant to peek out until the sun finally appears.  I think I've noted visible shivering going on out there also.

Complaining about my minor difficulties in growing our own vegetables and fruits is hardly warranted when I think of so many other parts of our country where not only the home gardeners and market gardeners but farmers, too, are battling much more dire situations.

Okay, now that I've gotten my grumping and groaning out of the way, I want to inject a positive note and suggestion.

We've all seen food prices rising to new heights, and I don't believe it's going to get any better in the near future.

Even though raising whatever portion of your own food you believe you can handle is not a walk in the park, and you will face disappointments and a never-ending learning curve, I say start doing it if you haven't already.  If the market gardeners and farmers continue to lose crops, whatever you have in your own backyard will be worth its weight in gold (or at least in green beans) to you and your family.

Soon, in my neck of the woods, the nightly frost warnings will stop, the sun will reappear, my garden soil will dry out and warm up enough so I can plant the rest of the seeds I have waiting to become pumpkins, squash, beans, peppers and cucumbers.

And sunflowers will be raising their beautiful faces toward that warm sunshine!