August 9, 2020

Canning Figs

Our figs are starting to ripen. Just a few at first, but they need to be picked daily. By the end of next week we should be picking bucketsful. For now, it's too many to eat fresh but not enough for a full canner load. Figs don't keep, so I freeze, dehydrate, or do small batch canning.

Preparation is simple. After washing, I cut off the stems. These are fed to the goats.

Figs must be hot packed, so I make an extra light syrup, and bring it
to a boil. Then I add the figs, & return to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Extra light canning syrup: 1¼ cups sugar to 5½ cups water.

I estimated only 4 or 5 pints, so I used one of my tall stainless steel pots
instead of my water bath canner. This saves on water and heating time. 

Utensils laid out. Not pictured, tongs for the scalded lids.

Filling the jar with hot figs.

One tablespoon lemon juice is added to each pint jar.
If I have cinnamon sticks, I add a piece of that too.

Hot syrup is ladled into the jar leaving ½-inch headspace.

Rims are wiped clean.

I use Tattler reusable canning lids. They are two piece and have
been scalded in a small saucepan. The rubber gasket is first.

The white lid is next.

The canning rings are not screwed down tightly. They are
tightened after the jars are removed from the boiling water.

Filled jars are placed in the hot water bath, which is brought to a boil.

Processing time starts at full boil; for pints it's 45 minutes.

My yield was 4 pints plus about a cup extra to eat for breakfast. 

With Tattlers, I test the seals after the jars are completely cool. I remove the rings and pick up the jar by the lid. If it holds, the seal is good! If I can pull it off, no seal. Then I pop the jar into the fridge and we eat the contents within a couple of days.

So I've made a start. By the time the figs are done, I hope to have several dozen pints put by. As pickings taper off at the end, I'll switch to dehydrating them.

Of fruit, I'm still picking blueberries, and the apples and pears are about ready. No time to be bored when harvest is in full gear.

Canning Figs © August 2020 by Leigh

August 5, 2020

A Nifty Gadget for Lacto-Fermenting

Has anyone else had trouble finding canning supplies? I had been looking for low-sugar pectin for weeks, and noticed canning jars and lids always seem to be sold out, especially wide mouths. Canning salt seems to be sold out regularly too. I did find this, however.

I couldn't resist buying it. If you've ever lacto-fermented anything (like sauerkraut), then you know that the challenge is keeping all the chopped or shredded veggies submerged in the brine. The bits tend to float, and if they have contact with the air, they will get moldy. The package was less than $10 and I thought worth a try.

The box contained two stainless steel springs made to fit wide mouth canning jars and two fermentation lids.

In the above photo, you can see that the lids have a little check valve that lets the carbon dioxide escape but keeps oxygen out.

I was anxious to try this gadget, but we still had a half-full gallon crock of sauerkraut in the fridge, so I wasn't ready to make a new batch. Instead, I transferred my sauerkraut to a wide-mouth half-gallon canning jar to give the gadget a try.

The spring pushes the veggie contents down to keep them in the brine.

The lid holds the spring down and keeps the jar airtight. Unlike a sinking weight, the spring is easy to remove to get to the contents.

I finally ordered my pectin in bulk from Pacific Pectin, but I can't tell you where to buy the Ball fermentation kit. I found it at Walmart, but online, it's currently unavailable or double the price I paid for it. You may have to check out your own favorite local places that sell canning supplies, if you're interested.

August 1, 2020

Pantry Cooling Project: What's Next?

Our objective with the pantry project is to improve food storage conditions. About a year ago, we started giving this a good think because after we quit air conditioning, the pantry became the warmest room in the house. Doing something about that has meant a feasibility study, analysis, researching alternatives, and formulating a plan:
  1. Moving the freezer and auxiliary fridge out of the pantry.
  2. Replacing the old upright auxiliary fridge with a chest fridge.
  3. Putting the freezer and chest fridge on solar energy. 
  4. Replacing old pantry windows with energy-efficient windows.
  5. Add insulation to the pantry walls.
  6. ➡ Cooling the air in the pantry without air conditioning.
Steps #1-5 of our plan checklist are completed (they're linked to take you to their respective blog posts). Already, they have made a difference! The pantry is no longer the warmest room in the house, but even stays a couple of degrees cooler than the kitchen, with the bonus that it isn't as humid!

Now, we're contemplating #6. As a baseline, I've been keeping track of temperature highs and lows in three places: our shaded outside back porch, the kitchen, and the pantry.

Baseline of daily highs and lows. O = outside, K = kitchen, P = pantry
Morning low on the left, afternoon high on the right. All in Fahrenheit.

The pattern is that the outdoor high is about 8 degrees or so higher than the kitchen, and the kitchen  is about 2 degrees higher than the pantry. So there is typically a ten degree difference between outdoors and the pantry. The question is, can we do better? Can we bring the pantry air temp down a little more? I listed quite a few ideas in this post, with some being more realistic for us than others. Dan has been researching and collecting more ideas, and he's ready to experiment with some of them. If something works, I'll let you know!

July 28, 2020

Hoping to Save Some Elderberries

Last year my elder bushes bloomed well, but birds got most of the berries. They will eat them green, which means I don't have much of a chance when it comes to getting a share of the harvest. I never mind sharing with the birds, but I want some too!

This year, I decided to try netting bags, to see if I could save some of my elderberries.

I bought them on Amazon (link here), 50, approximately 10-inch by 6-inch net bags for about $16. The netting is sturdy, seams are double folded, and each bag has a drawstring.

Size-wise, they are a little small for large clusters of elderberries, but the next larger size jumped too much in price.

I made do by either stuffing the clusters into the bags, or splitting them between two bags.

I thought 50 would be a lot, but in fact, they didn't go very far! So I bought another set and ended up using about 90 total.

How well they'll work, I have no idea. I suppose it depends on how much sun the individual berries require. I think they would be useful for seed savers too, to prevent cross-pollination by insects.

Making these bags would be an easy DIY project, if one could find sturdy enough netting. The netting and tulle I see in fabric stores would be too soft. But that would be the best way to have larger bags. Dan was hoping to use them on his sunflowers to protect the seed from the birds, but these are too small. Larger bags are definitely in order.

Hopefully, I'll get plenty of elderberries this year! Do you have critter problems? What are your solutions for critters who help themselves to more than their fair share?

July 24, 2020

Book Review: Backyard Dairy Goats

Backyard Dairy Goats: A Natural Approach to
Keeping Goats in Any Yard by Kate Downham.

This book won me over in the introduction.
  1. The author loves goats (her favorite animal)!
  2. She mentions Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care (one of my go-tos).
  3. She makes her cheeses with natural cultures (me too)!
Since I'm tracking in the same direction with my goatkeeping and dairying, I knew I would not only enjoy reading this book, but would glean useful tidbits from author Kate's experience and research.

What sets this book apart from most other books about keeping goats, is a keyword in the title, "Backyard." While most other books about goats assume acreage, Kate keeps her goats in her backyard. That makes this book unique, and I would say important in times such as these, when many folks are looking for ways to expand personal food security. More people have backyards than acres, and this book is perfect for them.

The book is divided into five sections: Understanding Goats, The Needs of Backyard Goats, Getting Your Goats, Day to Day Goat Keeping, and Cheesemaking and Recipes.

Understanding Goats begins with A goat's place in the backyard ecosystem and provides excellent reasons why keeping your own goats is good for you, the environment, and your property. This section covers goat behavior, herd dynamics, handling goats, introducing goats to the milking stand, introducing new goats to the herd, dealing with escaped goats, and how to herd goats. "Goat health and observation" covers common health issues with goats and how to prevent them.

The Needs of Backyard Goats covers shelter, different kinds of fencing, bedding, and feeding goats, including things you can do and grow yourself. All important water and minerals are covered in detail. You'll also find tips for acquiring a milking stand. This section concludes with everything a prospective goatherd needs to understand before committing to the responsibility of caring for goats.

Getting Your Goats contains information you need to know beforehand. Discusses what to check on before bringing goats to your backyard, and how to deal with potential objections from neighbors! Discusses horned goats versus no horns, dairy goat breeds, and how much milk you can expect. Tells you how to spot a good quality goat and where to look for dairy goats. The author gives you a list of questions to ask as you consider potential purchases, (something I wish I'd had when I got my first goats). Transporting goats is also discussed.

Day to Day Goat Keeping helps you sleuth your way through health observations and questions goatkeepers face, as well as basic natural "cure all remedies." You'll learn how to give an injection, how to check eye membrane color for internal parasites, and what you need to know about breeding, pregnancy, and kidding. The remainder of the section gives excellent details on milking and milk handling.

Cheesemaking and Recipes starts with information about ingredients and equipment. Quick and simple cheese recipes follow, and then you'll find a thorough discussion of how to make cultured and renneted cheeses. All the cultures discussed are natural alternatives to commercial powdered cheese starters. All the cheese recipes in this book use natural cultures. My own favorite cheeses are included, along with a good variety of cheeses I haven't tried. Yet! The recipe section finishes up with recipes for using your cheese. I'm especially looking forward to trying her Chévre pastry crust and cheesecake.

The information in this book to the point, yet personal, and well organized. It brings hope to people who might want their own homegrown source of milk, but thought they needed an actual farm to do so.  You don't!

168 pages in paperback for $10.89 (that's currently ⅓ off the list price) or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Check it out here.

July 20, 2020

Conserving Water in the Garden: Inverted Bottles

Here's another idea for conserving water in the garden - an inverted bottle waterer. I'm trying it in my African keyhole garden, because the blazing afternoon sun with no rain has been unkind to the borage and lettuce growing in it.

Jericho lettuce seems to beat the heat! Borage behind it.

I got the idea from Liz at Eight Acres, and she got the idea from someone else, and I hope you'll try it and pass it on too! Idea sharing is what makes the internet useful.

Yes, you can use plastic bottles, although Liz's experiments favored glass to plastic because plastic bottles tend to suck in as the water empties. Plus, she found the glass bottles held water longer. Even so, I'm willing to see for myself. I don't buy bottled water or soda, so we rarely have plastic bottles, but I had one that contained seltzer water (mixed with fruit juice concentrate for a yummy sugar-free soda pop), So I'm using it to experiment in  my large back porch planter.

Originally, I planted lettuce in this pot, but violets took over. They're
a good test subject because they wilt quickly when the pot dries out.

I suspect longevity will depend on the quality of the plastic. Many water bottles these days are extremely flimsy and I doubt would last long. Even so, all plastic eventually dries out and cracks.

Punching a small hole in the cap will slow the emptying of the bottle.

Actually, we rarely have glass bottles either, but I think they will last longer than plastic. This seems the absolute best way to recycle them!

Watering a sweet potato plant. This one is thriving
compared to the sweet potato plants in the garden.

An observation—the smaller (12 oz) bottle empties as soon as I put it in the ground. But the sweet potato is thriving, so I won't complain. The larger (750 ml) bottle delivers slowly. It was empty about 24 hours later. Both of these have made a wonderful difference for those poor plants.

Like the olla, this idea certainly makes watering easier and more effective. With both, water is delivered directly to the roots, so there is no surface water loss through evaporation. Compared to the olla, the bottles are quicker and easier to install; no digging required. That would make them preferable for perennials or other plants with established root systems. It would also be great for potted plants, which always dry out too quickly. On the other hand, the olla holds more water.

Be sure to read the comments as folks are sharing a lot more good ideas. I'm definitely going to expand on all of them!