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! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

A New Week Is Upon Us

The start of a new week has always been energizing for me.  (Even when I was working outside the home.  Is that weird?)  How about you?  I know many folks feel that way about weekends, but Mondays have the "fresh start" feeling.  A new beginning and all that.  Another chance to improve myself, make things flow more smoothly.


Last night was the first night this summer when it was too uncomfortable for a good night's sleep.  Heat.  Humidity.  Thunder and lightning.  The storm (we got 3/4" of rain) did nothing to reduce the stickiness.  Temp first thing this morning was 77°.  Which wasn't what many  of you would call hot, but with the heavy air it felt much warmer.  Now at a smidge after 10 a.m. it's down to 70°.  Hooray!  Hubby has been telling me we're in for cooler temps this week.  Now if the humidity would just go away along with the higher temperatures . . . it still reads at 84%.  Gleesh.

But when you consider this is the end of August, and we haven't had to battle any real prolonged heat until now . . . well, I shan't complain too much.

I have a list to choke the proverbial horse today.  Laundry and ironing since it is Monday, ya know.  I had a whole bunch of things to accomplish in the garden, but that may not happen today because I'd have to don a rubber suit to work out there this morning.  We had sunshine for about 11-1/2 minutes a half hour ago but now we're back to grayness which means the garden won't dry out until at least this afternoon, perhaps not even then.

It's all okay, 'cause I have one mell of a hess facing me on my desk.  Bills to pay, things to order, research to be done, correspondence to answer, typing of notes I've made on preserving, new methods I've tried.  (If we don't succumb to botulism this winter, I'll keep the notes for next year.)

I must admit to rather haphazardly tossing newly harvested and frozen garden produce into one or another of our freezers without a lot of rhyme or reason.  What I really need to do is defrost and sort all the freezer.  I know, I know, I should have done that before the preserving started . . . but didn't, so really need to do it now . . . and pronto.

Just made a quick foray into the garden to see how wet things really are.  They are.  Very.  Very wet.

I'll close with a picture of my cilantro blossoming prior to going to seed.  Such a delicate, lovely display.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Am A Slug

I am a damp, moldy slug.  How's that for painting quite the (un)attractive picture?  Both Papa Pea and I have found ourselves feeling dull, slow and (I'll admit it) slightly depressed.  It's all this heavy, heavy grayness.

We have had nothing but rain or drizzle or fog with cloying dampness for months now.  Okay, not months.  But weeks.  Okay, so it hasn't been weeks, but I truly cannot remember the last time we saw the sun. 

Our weather is not hot, but it is humid.  Very humid.  Which makes ones clothing feel cold and clammy and downright . . . ishy.  How can one feel cold and sweaty at the same time?  Dunno, but I don't like it.

My beans are moldy, my raspberries are moldy.  Oh, for a light and bright, breezy day with lots of sunshine!  On the other hand, the forest fire danger is very low right now.  I think you'd need a blow torch, lots of paper and kindling inside a tent to start a fire out there right now.

The garden is at the stage where it reminds me of an old woman who is too tired to try to keep up appearances anymore.  Blowsy, disheveled and falling apart.

The onions have all done FALLLL-en down.

The trellises of sugar snap peas at either end of this bed have gone crazy.  I am so tempted to tear them out to restore some order but the darn things just keep bearing and bearing so I keep harvesting and processing them.  How can I not?  They are delicious.

This portion of the field garden is busting its buttons growth-wise.  The shell pea trellises on the left are starting to turn yellow, but still putting forth edible pods.

Believe it or not, this is one single head of lettuce that I'm letting go to seed hoping I can harvest them from it.  It's over three feet tall.

While so many of you are up to your ears in canning tomatoes, this is all I have to show in the tomato department.  Green ones and on a cherry tomato plant to boot.

But looky, looky, looky!  We're getting nice ears of corn forming!

And I'll be arrested by the Brussels Sprout Police if I don't get some of these beauties harvested soon.

Sometimes the weather doesn't seem ideal for humans the crops you want to grow and certain crops just fail (or get moldy!), but I've gotta admit, all those wonderful plants out there do their darndest to give us good food for the coming months.  Even though a garden is hard work, I love doing it and am so appreciative of the harvests we get.  Even without benefit of the sun.  And too much moisture.  How DO those plants do it?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

So Far This Week . . .

It appears I planted too many beans.

We're having some heavy
weather and rain.

It's not helping the continuing 
roofing project.

But I get a rest from preserving.

Raspberries are dropping off the canes
like flies though.

Two little adorable munchkins
(of the human variety) 
are creating enchanting havoc in our
house for a couple of days.

We're having to admit which summer projects are
 NOT going to get done this summer.

There's a marauding black bear
back up on our hillside.

A timber wolf has been checking out 
our chickens.
(Fence between thankfully.)

I have a real longing for dark winter
mornings and sleeping late.

I am reminding myself this super-busy time
of year doesn't
last forever.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Still Blown Away

I'm still in awe of how well the ol' garden is producing after the terrible, awful, very bad start it got this year.

I wanted some green pepper as an ingredient in our dinner last night so went out and picked this beauty I've been eyeing for some time.  As many of you know, a sweet green pepper this fresh tastes nothing like one purchased in the grocery store!

When I was outside, I yelled to Papa Pea to please come take a picture of me standing next to the corn.  This variety is supposed to grow to be 4' tall.  I'm 5'3" and, as you can see, it's well over my head.  And this in a year when we haven't had that much warm weather.

There's no way to figure it out, folks, no way.  Happy weekend!

Friday, August 15, 2014

I Couldn't Stop Myself!

We haven't had any taters in this house since we consumed the last way too sprouted ones from last year's garden harvest early this spring.

When I've been trying to think of meals to make, a little voice in my head (or is it coming from my stomach?) has been chanting, "Potato Pancakes, hash browns, potato soup, mashed potatoes, potato salad," over and over again.

So the other day I grabbed my trusty garden trowel, put on my dirt-caked gloves and marched on out to the four long rows of potatoes growing in the garden.

Bonanza!  I struck it rich on my first dig!  (And, yes, I did manage to chop that one spud right in two with my trusty garden trowel.)

I was good to my meat and potatoes loving hubby who has been existing on salads and other fresh fodder from the garden and made him a meal of meat and potatoes and gravy.  (And a side of veggies fresh from the garden, of course.)  

He was very happy.  The potatoes tasted wonderful.  We are looking forward to a grand harvest of them this year.

The end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Watch Out, The Compost Is Flying!

Papa Pea got a bee in his bonnet regarding rearranging our compost bins, and he's been tearing into it for a couple of days now.

He's cleaning out the chicken house, dropping pit included, of course, and the birds' solarium.  All this goodness is being distributed in a couple of different spots along with weeds and vegetation I've been tearing out of the garden.  There's a patch of black dirt he's also using for layering all this bounty.

Like I say, beware when out in the yard or you'll get run down by a madman on a mission wielding a wheelbarrow and shovel!

I don't usually have much luck with any "fall" planting because we get zapped with a killing frost before anything matures.  Hasn't stopped me yet from putting seeds into bare spots in the garden though.  Where there is a gardener, there is hope!

We've actually been having some warm (HOT for us!) weather the past couple of weeks.  Temps way up in the 80s during the day.  Lots of humidity, too, but we're trying to deal with that without getting too cranky.  It's been just wonderful for the garden.  The one thing I always miss is being able to use the oven to bake in the warmest of our summer weather.  Our house does stay remarkably cool even on the hottest days, but I don't want to take the chance on heating up our naturally air-conditioned dwelling.  We haven't had one single night this summer that has been uncomfortable for good sleeping, and we'd both just as soon keep it that way.

Don't look now, folks, but I may actually get some flowers to bloom yet this season.  The sweet peas are letting me have a peek at a couple of flower stalks.

I have a few zinnias with nice blossom heads on them.  (These are the seeds you sent me, Sue.)

Buds, actual BUDS, on my cosmos!

And will you look at these nasturtiums that I was afraid were going to be all foliage?  What a plethora of lovely blooms!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm Pedaling as Fast as I Can

But aren't we all at this time of year!?

One disadvantage (oh, let me count the ways) of our short growing season up here near the Arctic Circle is that nearly everything in the garden gets "ripe for the pickin'" at once.

Today I have shell peas, sugar snap peas, raspberries, blueberries and bush beans that are all yelling to be harvested and processed.  Forget about the beets, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, herbs, cabbage and all sorts of salad greens that are getting away from me.

All of this to do besides the every day, usual stuff that seems to keep me occupied from dawn to dusk during the "down time" (ha!) of winter when I don't have the garden to consider.

We had gone several days without rain (somewhat of a miracle this summer) before getting another good soaking Sunday night/Monday morning.  Did I ever squeak by with getting the garlic harvested on Sunday while it was still dry!  Looks like it will be a really good crop, if it cures well.

Not complaining.  Lawdy, lawdy, this is what we work and plan for nearly all year.  Homegrown, nutritious, delicious food that's better than we can purchase anywhere else.  Just using the busyness as the reason (hoping to get an excused absence) that I've been a mighty poor blogger both in getting up posts and answering your (always appreciated) comments to me and making comments on your (always interesting) posts on your blogs.

Now I must run.  Need to take hubby a couple/few miles up the road to pick up one of the vehicles that needed work and is now back in good shape.  We hope.

See ya in the bean patch!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Loose Ends

Last night we taste tested the garlic scapes I fermented a couple of weeks ago.  So how were they?

Blech!  Awful!  Terrible!  Inedible!

They had turned into garlicky, green twigs.  No matter how much we chewed and chewed, we were left with a fibrous lump that we really didn't want to swallow.  (Aren't you glad you asked?)

Might have been my fault in not cutting them soon enough after they appeared on the garlic stems.  But I was regularly cutting the scapes, chopping them and sauteing them in various dishes I cooked and they were fine.  Back to the drawing board on that one, I guess.

Remember the damage I had on those miscellaneous brassicas I stuck in at one end of a garden bed?  Before we got any footage on the trail cam we set up, Papa Pea and I had just about decided it had to be crows.

Every morning just after dawn, we have 3 or 4 big, black crows that have been visiting the garden.  This year they've acted like robins, feasting on worms they find in the grass.  I suppose all our moisture has brought lots of worms to the surface.  We see them (the crows, not the worms) hopping around in various spots in the garden but had never actually seen them go after any vegetable plants.

We never did see them taking a peck on the brassicas, but the trail cam did show them in and around the raised bed.  So we're fairly certain they are the culprits.  Thus far, no further damage has been done.

However, just this morning we noticed them in the blueberry patch helping themselves to our ripening blueberries!  Our bushes are loaded with berries as they never have been before so we're really looking forward to having a bumper crop.  Fortunately, we have a good supply of netting that is now spread over all the bushes.  Let's hope that will keep the black bandits foiled.  If not, the term "eating crow" is gonna take on a new meaning.  They just may find themselves baked into a pie yet.

Do you know what I'm missing in the garden this year?  Flowers.  I've planted my usual mainstays -- Sweet Peas, zinnias and cosmos but not a single one of them is blooming yet.  I always keep vases of cut flowers in the house and so far nothing has been available except whatever wildflowers I can find.  I'm feeling downright blossom deprived.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fiddling with Kindling

Our wood sheds may be full, but our kindling bin is not.

At least it's not totally empty . . . but I won't feel comfortable until it's filled up to the tippy-top before the start of the fall heating season.

Yesterday Papa Pea and I hauled the wood cutting cradle over by our stack of slabwood that I use for kindling.  This wood is sitting out in the open and with all the rain we've had this summer, it is W-E-T!

We knew we had to get some bundles made and put under cover so they would dry out in order for me to split them into the right sized pieces for kindling.

We fill the cradle, cut the wood, tie it into bundles with baling twine, and then take them to a sunny, covered spot that's protected from the rain.  I'll leave them there for about a month.  Then they'll be ready to be split into kindling and tossed into the kindling bin.

I'm curious to know . . . those of you who have a wood burning stove, how do you handle your kindling situation?  Do you need it for starting fires?  If not, how do you get your fires started?  If you use kindling, do you store a ready supply (and where) or do you make it as you need it?  What kind of wood do you use for your kindling?  Inquiring minds (or at least mine does) want to know.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pictorial Stroll of the Garden

This is the first time in years I've planted sugar snap peas.  I put a 4' high trellis on each end of a raised bed.  I think if the trellises had been 8' high, these peas would have climbed them.  Pods are just now forming.

Don't know why my corn looks as good as it does.  It's not like we've had corn growing weather.  The Painted Mountain corn only grows 4' high which it is now, and it's starting to tassel out.

The onions are doing great.  I have three beds of yellow and one bed of red.

This is a new mustard green for me.  It's called Scarlet Frill.  So far we've only had it raw, and it really packs a punch!.  I'm eager to try it cooked when it sizes up more.  A very pretty addition to a tossed salad.

This is the biggest of the green peppers forming.  But don't get excited.  It's actually only 2" long.

I planted some nasturtiums on either end of a bed with zucchini in the middle.  Guess this proves the soil in the bed is pretty good:  Mostly foliage and few flowers!

Here's looking across a section of the field garden.  Brussels sprouts closest, then bush beans and then shell peas.

Another shot of the two rows of Brussels sprouts.  I'm going to start snapping off the bottom-most leaves today.  (Go, you little Brussels sprouts, go!)

The row of yellow beans is lush and just starting to form beans.  The green beans (to left), for some reason, haven't grown nearly as fast.

I need to put on my harvesting hat and get these beets cooked, sliced, packaged and in the freezer.  Doesn't this one look as if it's trying to walk right out of the garden and into the kitchen?