September 30, 2010

Q: Zucchini? A: Muffins


I won't have a bumper crop of zucchini this fall because I only have a couple of plants. However, I'm going to make the most of what I do get!  My first one grew faster than I realized, so with it I made...

Sourdough Zucchini Muffins


Ingredients
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup sourdough starter (whole wheat)
1/2 cup oil (I used coconut)
1/2 cup sugar (I used raw)
1 egg
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Have on hand, a half cup or so of milk or water.


Blend all ingredients except milk. Then add enough milk or water (about a cup for this batch), for the batter to be not too thick, but neither too runny. Muffins with whole grain rise best if the batter is soft, something like this...


The secret to tender muffins is to mix the ingredients without over-beating. Beating begins to develop the gluten, which changes their texture. That's why old recipes call for hand mixing muffins or pancake batter for about 50 strokes.

Spoon into a greased or papered muffin pan and bake at 425 for about 25 to 30 minutes.

As a base recipe this makes about a dozen muffins.  With 2 cups of grated zucchini, I got a dozen and a half.


These are not overly sweet, which is how we like them.  They're perfect with butter, a favorite jelly, or homemade apple butter!

Q: Zucchini?  A: Muffins photos & text © Sept. 2010 by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

September 28, 2010

Harvesting the Last of Summer's Bounty

Except for a few random sunflower heads and one pumpkin, the summer harvest is pretty much gathered in. Oh, and the okra and sweet peppers, which are still producing. And if they manage, I may get another tomato or two. But the rest of our summer garden has been harvested.



Amaranth - We weren't sure when to harvest this. One source said the seeds ripen sporadically, so that the heads need to be shaken periodically to collect the ripe seed. Considering these are Golden Giants (pix in this post), which grow to 6 to 10 feet, and that the seed heads can weigh over a pound each, this was no easy task. Another source said that commercially, seed is collected after 4 or 5 months, or around first frost.  We opted for this method, and Dan hauled quite a few wheelbarrow loads to the house.

We grew amaranth for the chickens. I've spread them out and once the heads dry completely, we'll try putting them in a bag and shaking the seeds out. I'll have to let you know how much we get and how the chickens like them.


Sunflowers - I grew Mammoth Gray Stripe from seeds I saved from last year's crop. I've always grown this variety, because I love how they look. I'm thinking that next year though, I'll try the Black Oil Seed variety. Why?  Because I want to use these as feed too, but have read that the black oil is better for that. Sunflower seeds are a good protein source, which is a necessity for good dairy and egg production.

They are ready to harvest when the songbirds start helping themselves! Sunflower seeds make excellent songbird food over winter. Just set out a whole head and watch the show. Care must be taken when drying the heads out. Last year I didn't turn them frequently enough and had problems with mold.


Sweet Potatoes - These are Porto Rico Bush. I have to say that considering how hard our clay soil is, they did quite well. I grew them from purchased slips, but hope to start them next year from these. I haven't weighed them yet, but think they'll be adequate for our use this winter. As we improve the soil friability, we should improve the harvest.

The books say take care not to bruise or damage the skin. I don't think we managed that very well as the skin seemed very fragile. I'll have to keep an eye on them to see how well they store.  Last year Dan brought some home from a local feed store, and I wrapped each in newspaper and kept in a cool dry place in the pantry. They kept for months that way.


Buttercup Winter Squash - Most of these are harvested with one or two still maturing in the garden. The vine is still blooming, bless its heart, though I doubt these will have time to produce anything. I usually grow acorn and butternut squashes, but on a whim, decided to try these instead. They are supposed to have the best flavor, but I reckon that will be a matter of opinion in the end. We have tried one in a mix of roasted veggies. It was very sweet and the seeds were in a mass at one end, making them easy to scoop out with little waste. I can't wait to try them in our favorite winter squash recipes.


Popcorn - Japanese Hulless. I got a harvest, but not a great one. Definitely better than my sweet corn, which did poorly due to poor germination. Okay, and bugs. Bug damage on the popcorn too, which you can see. Some of them were moldy, so I had to discard these. I'm still husking, but hopefully I'll get enough to enjoy for a good part of this winter. Popcorn is my favorite anytime snack.


Black Turtle Beans - I've been harvesting these as the pods have dried.  There are still a few more green pods on the vine, but they seem to dry more quickly as summer came to an end. These will be an important protein supplement for us this winter.  I  am so looking forward to cooking these over the wood heater.
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For the moment, most of the harvest is spread out on old sheets on our screened in front porch. I turn it all everyday, to ensure even drying, though yesterday rain blew in all over everything.

A place for curing is something we need to consider for the future. The porch enables us to do that somewhat, while keeping out our many squirrels and chipmunks. After we finish the back bathroom, we are going to put in our new (energy star rated!) front door. As with most old house projects, this will require a number of preliminary steps including doing some repair to the porch floor joists and replacing the original wood pillars. That step will mean taking out the screens, which DH thinks were not aesthetically installed in the first place. Because of that, we haven't decided whether or not we'll put the screens back.

I do love a screened porch but maybe the front isn't the best place for it. It gets traffic noise and the hot setting sun. Not sure what we'll do instead, maybe a screened deck in back? That's a project for the future, so who knows.

Harvesting the Last of Summer's Bounty © September 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

September 26, 2010

Vacation Project: More Fence

Dan usually takes his vacation late. This year, October. What are we going to do?  A homestead project of course!  I know "staycations" have become popular with the downturn of the economy, but for us, the last thing he wants to do as an over-the-road truck driver, is take a long drive somewhere!  All he really wants to do is stay home.

There are a lot of projects to choose from around here and you'd think the bathroom would be our top priority.  It is our top house priority, but if the weather is nice, we decided on an outdoor project instead.

Earlier this year we fenced in the back field for the goats. We figured eventually, we'd fence in the front field as well (sketch of all this on our current master plan). This is the field Dan cut with a scythe, harvesting our very own homegrown hay (of which I'm pleased to announce we recently got a second cutting).

Then came the problem with our septic system and having to put a new leachfield in. Doing so destroyed a lot of vegetation, and left a huge area of bare ground the goat field. Our concern is that even with only three goats and a llama, are they getting enough to eat?

DHanthinks not, so we are now on a mission to make that hay field available to them for grazing.

This field will actually be faster and easier to fence than the other one. For one thing, we can tie it into the existing fence, which will save work, materials, and money. For another, we're only putting in one gate, as we will use a gate we previously installed for access to the back. Then too, these sections will be straight, requiring fewer corners. On top of that, we're "old pros." Not. But we do have some experience under our belts. We made our first bracing assembly with library book in hand, reading and following the instructions step by step.

Also, there was a lot of clearing to do before we could put that first fence up. The property was badly overgrown, and the vegetation was encroaching the borders of the field. Last year I spent my summer  out there with saws and clippers. For the front field, we only have the north property line to clear out a bit.


It makes a nice privacy hedge, but is too thick for installing a fence. Rather than clear it all out however, we decided to just make a wide path along the actual property line, to give us room to put up the fence. Below is a view along the line.


I had the first go. Armed with clippers and bowsaw,


I cleared a path so that Dan could get in there with the chain saw. He took it from there.


Now there is a clear path along the boundary markers for the fence. The biggest challenge was all the trash that had been dumped on our property by whomever had cleaned up the little rental house next door, including slabs of concrete walkway they'd torn out.

The only caveat with this project is that we will also have to fence around my rabbiteye blueberry bush. It's in the middle of the field and yes, goats like blueberry leaves. (I gave them a test branch to check.)

Getting the animals moved to the front field will enable us to address the condition and vegetation of the back one. Our goal is to grow our own hay and grain, so we need to figure out how to do this with our limited acreage. We're brainstorming, and I'll fill you in on those as we go along.

So that's our vacation plan. If it rains, we've got the bathroom project to fall back on. The animals are more important though, so we'd sure like to get this fencing done.

Vacation Project: More Fence © September 2010 

September 24, 2010

Techy Note

I just posted my Colors of September post below, but wanted to add a note about my computer situation. Some of you know I've been having computer issues and so have gotten a new computer! So, there's the huge chore of transferring things off the old and onto the new, including bookmarks, etc. But also, not being a fan of Windows (7 preinstalled), I need to install my operating system of choice, Ubuntu Linux. This usually goes without a hitch, but somtimes not. (I'm not geeky so I do keep Windows on my machine for dealing with hardware issues, utilizing a duel  boot.)

If you don't hear from me for awhile, this is what I'm working on. This includes blog visiting and email correspondence (I owe several of you replies!)  Hopefully though, you'll never even notice that I've been gone.

Colors of September

I have to make a confession here.  These colors have not been typical for September this year. But at the tail end of August, we got rain. When September arrived, the ground was moist and the temps cooler. During the first week or so of September, we had fungi galore. I was amazed at the variety I found, and couldn't resist photographing them. I know absolutely nothing about mushrooms, so I won't attempt to label any of these. They are here strictly as my Colors of September.












I did research mushroom identification sites, and have this link list to offer:

American Mushrooms
MushroomExpert.com
The Fungal Jungal
Backyard Nature Mushroom Identification
Rogers Mushrooms

I've not tried to ID any mushrooms with them, so let me know how they work for you. Or if you have another suggestion, I'll be glad to add it to the list.

For more Colors of September, click here. Sue (Life Looms Large) has a linky list of participants around the world.


September 22, 2010

Fall Garden 2010

As my summer garden is winding down for the year, my fall garden is just beginning to make it's mark. I confess that I was slow to get it planted. According to this nifty planting schedule by zones, I should have started planting in July. But is was sooo hot in July. I couldn't imagine cool weather loving plants wanting to start growing in such heat. So I procrastinated. Then August was rainy and the soil was often too wet to work!  Argh!

We started preparing the potato bed for fall planting right after we harvested the potatoes. The soil was loose and easy to work. One thing I did get planted in July, was zucchini. This is not technically a fall crop even in my part of the South. It was a "what the heck" decision, in hopes first frost would hold off long enough for us to enjoy some. It sprouted quickly, but for awhile there, it looked as though the little plants were goners. Some of them made it!



It looks like we'll have zucchini to enjoy after all.

The other thing I planted early, was potatoes. It was a bit of work, because the ground was so dry in July. In between my two potato trenches, I planted cabbages, from plants I purchased because I missed the cabbage seed planting date. So far so good. Then I read in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that potatoes need a rest before they are ready to sprout.  In other words, they can't be planted from a freshly harvested crop.


Sadly, this proved to be the case.  The plants you see in the potato trenches, are actually volunteer tomatoes!

Even so, I do have potato plants (Red Pontiac)!


These are volunteers in the old potato bed. Didn't they read the same book I did??? There are about 6 or 8 of them, and they are very welcome.

Also planted are Yellow Ebenezer onion (seeds)...

So far a no show.

Detroit red beets...

Doing very well but needing to be thinned.

Broccoli...

This is Waltham 29 and not doing so well.
Lots of gaps between seeds.

Lettuce and radishes...

No lettuce yet (Parris Cos from saved seed),
and only a few radishes (Pink Beauty).

Turnips...

Saved seed, purple top white globe.

And carrots...

These are the Scarlet Nantes from seed I ordered last spring.

Quite a few carrot seeds were washed out of place from a heavy rain! They are coming up nicely though and ready to be thinned.

September has been dry again too, so I've had to do some watering. I'll start mulching soon too. I still have a few things I can plant, like mesclun, and maybe more radishes and lettuce. First frost should be around the middle of next month, but I'm still experimenting with the best time to plant fall crops. Last year some things simply overwintered and then started producing in the spring.

I do know one thing, it's so much more fun to garden in cooler weather.


Fall Garden 2010 © September 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

September 19, 2010

A Gift Of Apples

My DH drives a big truck for a living, which has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage of course, is that he's gone for days at a time, but it also means he has several days off at a time too. Traveling around the country means that he's sometimes able to find things we can't find locally, like my 10 gallon sauerkraut crock. He's brought home maple syrup from New York and Michigan, sweet corn from Indiana (Southern sweet corn can't touch sweet corn from the Midwest), cheese from Wisconsin, and filé from Louisiana. The other day though, he brought home a bushel of grown-close-to-home Carolina apples!


These are Rome Beauties, recommended by the orchardist's wife as being her husband's hands down favorite for pies.

They were huge!


It only took three to get the 6 cups I needed to make a pie (recipe at end of post)


I started preserving them with a batch of apple butter, because I knew it would take the longest to make.


I used this recipe, and the crock pot method of cooking it down. Since my crock pot only holds three quarts, I had to divide the recipe into thirds.

Then I started canning apple pie filling. I did that next, so I could add the cores and peels to the applesauce pot.


Since I bought 5# of Clear Jel awhile back, I figured I need a canning recipe which uses it. Those are basically USDA recipes, of which there are several versions around the internet. I finally chose the one from PickYourOwn, here, because it contained the most pie spices, and we like a spicy apple pie.

I have to say though, that I found the USDA's recipe to be quite complicated and neither fast nor easy to make. As with canning my figs, I didn't understand the step of blanching something that's going to be heat processed anyway. The other "problem," was that this recipe called for more Clear Jel than my canned blueberry pie filling (for which I used this recipe). The resulting sauce was too thick to pour over the apples in the jars. PickYourOwn did give a heads up on this, so I used wide mouthed quart jars to make packing easier, alternating layers of apples and sauce as I filled the jars.


Still, it was very tasty, just like restaurant pie. Not as good as scratch pie made with fresh, raw apples, but good to have on hand as a home canned convenience food.

My last project was applesauce.


I chopped up and cooked down the rest of the apples for this.

BTW, does anyone else have use of these?


I don't even know what its called but I couldn't manage without it. The cooking pot sits on top of it, and it prevents scorching. I use it anytime I cook down jams, jellies, and sauces. I found this one at a thrift store, having disintegrated my first one. I can't remember when or where I originally bought one, and couldn't google up anything that resembled it.


Apple scraps were processed by our compost optimization department.


It is their responsibility to convert kitchen scraps into nitrogen rich manure, ready for the compost pile. They are extremely efficient at this.

Final preservation count from one bushel of apples was:
  • 7 quarts pie filling
  • 17 pints applesauce
  • 19 half-pints & 2 pints of apple butter

That was three days worth of canning, and I was scrounging for jars at the end! I'm out of half-pint jars, down to 1 regular and half a dozen wide-mouth pints, and have a dozen recently purchased regular quarts and 6 wide-mouth quarts left. I lament the dozens and dozens of jars I left behind in 2005, when we made two long distance moves in six months. I will definitely be looking for boxes of canning jars on clearance sale.

Lastly, the recipe. This is for a 9" pie:

Apple Pie
Crust:

2 & 2/3 cups flour (I used a 50/50 mix of whole wheat & unbleached white)
1 tsp sea salt
1 C organic palm shortening
1 egg
1/4 C cold water (or enough to get desired consistency)

Cut shortening into flour and salt. Beat egg into water and add to flour mixture. Mix with a fork (not hands) until moist. Divide for top and bottom crusts. Roll out between sheets of vegetable oil sprayed waxed paper, and fill.

Filling:

6 cups prepared apples (peeled, cored, & sliced)
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
salt, just a dash
2 tbsp butter (more or less)

Mix apples, sugar, flour, and spices. Spoon into bottom crust.  Dot with butter. Add top crust, seal edges, and poke a few holes in top for juices to bubble out. Bake at 450°F for about 40 - 45 minutes. I use a pie shield so the edges don't get too brown, and put an old pizza pan on the rack underneath, to catch dripping juices (saves on cleaning the oven).

I've never used Rome apples before, but they made delicious pie, apple butter, and apple sauce. We didn't plant a Rome Beauty apple tree, but I'm thinking about it. :)


A Gift Of Apples (both photos & text) © September 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

September 17, 2010

Summer Garden In September

I love autumn.  The nights are cool, the days are warm, and the air is dry.  The only sad thing about it is the waning of the summer garden.  Mine is producing less, some plants having finished their annual purpose, others are slowing down, and I have a few things yet to be harvested.


Through the dying leaves of my amaranth plants, you can see sweet potatoes still thriving in the foreground.  Behind them, are fading but still producing bush beans, with my sweet pepper plants sprinkled with yellow cosmos in the back.


The peppers are ripening and I'm just starting to freeze some. We've had stuffed peppers once, and have been enjoying them on Friday night pizza for weeks.

Here's a question for you tomato experts. Do you remember last month's garden post, when I thought I'd lost all of my tomato plants to blight? Well, look at this...


Both Romas and Rutgers have amazed me by putting out fresh new growth, complete with flowers and...


... tomatoes. Are they supposed to do that with blight? I mean, isn't blight supposed to kill them dead?

Whether or not these have time to ripen before first frost (probably mid-October), remains to be seen. What I'm really curious about, is whether or not they'll rot from the inside like most of the others did.

My cucumbers finally succumbed to mosaic...


... so I didn't get nearly enough for all the pickles I wanted to make.

The cantaloupes and summer squash are done, and I may have one or two small watermelons yet to harvest.  I confess that I let a lot of the melons go. There seemed to be a point where they were ripening so quickly that I didn't keep up with them. It's not like we didn't get our fill however.

Besides the sweet peppers, I'm still harvesting okra, green beans, Swiss chard, and occasional Buttercup winter squash, and black turtle beans.

The black turtle beans have been pretty neat. They are a bush bean that produces a pretty little purple flower. Some, but not all of the bean pods turn purple.
The two photos shown here were taken two months ago, but even in mid-September, I'm finding a few new blossoms. I wait until the pods are dry to pick them, and have been getting a steady stream since about the third week in July. Shelling them makes a nice mindless activity to keep my hands busy while I talk to Dan on the phone of an evening, or listen while he reads to me.

Something I haven't mentioned in awhile has been my front yard herb garden.


I've harvested rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage regularly from this bed. Lavender is there too, but it has been pretty stunted this year, probably due to my lack of regular watering. One thing I definitely need to do is to border this bed as the grass has consistently tried to invade it. That will probably be a task for later this fall. Amazingly the pink petunias have refused to die.

In the other bed my butterfly weed and calendula are finished flowering, but my yarrow has finally started to bloom.


My echinacea hasn't, but it's alive and growing, and should bloom next year.


Even though I'm no longer doing the Independence Days Challenge, I'm going to continue some parts of it for my own record keeping. I will probably be tweaking it as I go along, but here is this month's (so far):

Planted: nothing. I wonder it it's too late...

Harvested:
  • green beans
  • okra
  • watermelon
  • black turtle beans
  • eggs
Purchased locally:
  • apples
Preserved:
  • froze okra
  • froze sweet pepper
  • froze eggs
  • canned apple pie filling
Seeds Saved:
  • okra
  • cucumber
  • sweet pepper
To Do:
  • harvest sweet potatoes, amaranth, popcorn, and sunflower seeds
  • pull out cucumber and cantaloupe vines
  • prepare for wintering over
Rainfall: none
I'll post a report on my fall garden soon.