July 30, 2010

Taters 'n Onions

Last week DH and I harvested our potatoes. The tops had all died back and we need the space for the fall garden.  Except for a few volunteer potato plants in the past (from winter trench composting), this was our first year to grow these.  As you potato growers know, harvest time is like a treasure hunt. At least it is the first time!

The potato fork goes in....

The potatoes come out!
These are Red Pontiacs, which are supposed to do well in the South.

1st load
I would say they did very well. We planted 9 pounds of seed potatoes on April 7th and harvested 120 pounds.  Potatoes are supposed to take anywhere between 90 and 120 days to mature. We harvested ours on day 112.

According to Mike and Nancy Bubel's book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables, potatoes should be allowed to cure one to two weeks before storing.  To do that, we spread them out in the carport....

The harvest 
The ones that had been speared with the fork or looked otherwise unsuitable for long term storage were set aside. Some we'll use for a fall planting which is supposed to go in the ground this month.  The rest we'll eat  first.

The onion tops had died back as well, so I harvested onions while DH dug potatoes....

And onions
These are Ebenezer onions and I'm pleased that some are a nice size. The smaller ones I'll try to replant for more onions and seed next spring. They are currently being allowed to cure on the table in my summer kitchen.  I haven't weighed them yet, but they won't be enough I'm sure, as we use a lot of onions.

There is a behind-the-scenes incident to those potatoes.  Several days after harvesting, we got a much needed rain.  Unfortunately our carport floods when it rains, so DH and I were out there at 10:30 at night, in our PJs, trying to gather in all the potatoes before they got soaking wet.  We spread them out all over the summer kitchen floor, until there was no room to walk.  The next day I transferred them to the front porch.  Fortunately, alls well that ends well.

Taters 'n Onions © July 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/ (both photos & text).

July 28, 2010

Dehydrating Blueberries: An Experiment

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about our blueberries. I thought the comments were interesting, especially on the topic of dehydrating.  The consensus was that home-dried blueberries end up more like little rocks than raisins.  I know that has certainly been my experience.

I cannot say I am an expert when it comes to dehydrating foods.  I've had some good results and some bad.  The bad have included everything from food that molded to those rocks we mentioned.  I have suspected that there is both an art and science to drying foods, just as there is to baking bread.  Knowledge is certainly required (the science of it), but experience fills in all the gaps that written directions leave wide open (the art.).

After reading all your comments, I took another look at the instruction booklet that came with my dehydrator.  I have an old, 5-tray  Excalibur, which continues to work quite well.  The setting for fruit is 135° F (57° C).  The time table in the booklet allows for quite a range of drying times for berries, anywhere from 10 to 15 hours.  I suspect this variance takes into account the type of berry, its moisture content, and the air's relative humidity.  I can see how each of these would be a factor.  According to the manufacturer, properly dried berries should have a "leathery" texture.  Obviously blueberry "rocks" have been dried too long!

Since I have an abundance of blueberries this year, I decided to experiment.  I decided to dry small batches for each of the recommended times, put them in containers, and observe them throughout the year.

I put a quarter cup of blueberries on each tray, set the temperature gauge to the fruit setting, and timed it.  After 11 hours, I took out the top tray.  I removed the second tray after 12 hours, etc.

The texture of the 11 hour batch was still quite soft, with the berry skins papery.  From my reckoning, they are still too moist.  The 12 hour batch was similar, but the smaller berries were firmer.  The longer the berries were left in the dehydrator, the drier they became, obviously.  In the 14 and 15 hour batches, the smallest blueberries were pretty hard.

Each one has been put in a labeled half-pint jar, and set on a shelf in my pantry.  I will check them from time to time, and give updates on how well they're keeping in my "Around The Homestead" posts.

Nest Box Giveaway

Due to the unfortunate circumstance of my chickens not being the least bit interested in laying in my 3R nest boxes, I'm entering a nest box giveaway!  Details here - Life on a Southern Farm. Do go check it out.

July 26, 2010

Colors of July

It's time to show our Colors of July. Sue, over at Life Looms Large, hosts a monthly local color photography challenge, and I've been joining in. There is almost too much to choose from this month, but I think these photos give a fair sampling.....

Crepe myrtles & Japanese maple (yellow) over housetop


Ripening blueberries

Summer squash blossoms


Purple petunias, black eyed Susans, & calendula

Butterfly weed
(Petunias & calendula in the background)

Colors of July (especially the photos) © July 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

July 24, 2010

IDC Update: July 18 - 24

Every week I try to link back to Sharon Astyk's blog, and her latest post on the progress of the Independence Day Challenge.  I have been meaning to mention, that both Alison (Yarn In My Pocket ) and Geodyne (Steps Toward Self Sufficiency) have been participating with a slightly different focus, sustainability.

In some ways I think this whole exercise lends itself very well to sustainability, i.e. working toward being able to make what one needs with what one has available.  Seed saving is an example.

On the other hand, I realize that not everyone lives where this is possible, nor does everyone wish to do it.  Still, I think being prepared for an emergency, and being able to provide some things for oneself is wise.  The goal with this challenge isn't to burden oneself with a huge project, but rather to work a little at a time toward that sense of accomplishment, self-sufficiency, and independence.

Do check out Alison's and Geodyne's blogs for their updates, and Sharon's as well, for what others are doing.  Here's mine:

1. Plant Something -
  • nothing this week
2. Harvest something -
  • cantaloupe
  • black turtle beans (1st pods just beginning to dry out)
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Rutgers tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • okra
  • yellow summer squash
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • sweet basil
  • thyme
  • catnip
  • chamomile flowers
  • okra
  • eggs
  • sweet corn
  • watermelon
  • corn silk
  • blueberries
  • sweet peppers
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • buttercup winter squash
3. Preserve something -
  • froze summer squash
  • froze cantaloupe
  • froze blueberries
  • froze okra
  • dried all of the above herbs I harvested
  • canned pizza sauce
  • curing freshly dug onions & potatoes
4. Waste Not
  • the usual: line drying clothes, dumping cooled canning water on plants, recycling all our plastics, metal cans, cardboard, & glass, giving weeds & kitchen scraps to the chickens and goats, etc.
5. Want Not
  • Seed saving: marigolds, cantaloupe, tomatoes (Roma & Rutgers), calendula, watermelon
  • I found half-gallon wide-mouth canning jars at a grocery store and bought a dozen.  Since the USDA doesn't recommend canning in them, I didn't think they were made any more.  Back in the day, we actually did use them for canning, but I doubt one could find processing times for half-gallons now.  At any rate, half-gallon quantities would too big for Dan and me, but they are perfect for yogurt making, storing whey from yogurt cheese, storing dried goods, etc., and, I'm thinking they'll be perfect for milk once we start milking.
  • bought a 5# bulk bag of Clear Jel for making and canning pie fillings
6. Build Community Food Systems
  •  blogging about it to encourage you
7. Eat the Food
  • this is the first time I've been able to make my pizza sauce from all homegrown ingredients
  • eating that pizza sauce on, yup, pizza
  • and pasta
  • finished the last jar of last year's Muscadine jelly :(
  • tomato & cucumber salads
  • sautéed garden veggies like okra or summer squash
  • blueberry sourdough bran muffins
  • blueberries on cereal
  • blueberry yogurt cheese cheesecake
  • blueberry sourdough buckwheat pancakes
  • blueberries as snacks
  • blueberry filled cantaloupe 
  • boiled sweet corn
  • homestead eggs scrambled with homegrown tomatoes
  • raw cukes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon
  • roasted potatoes & buttercup squash
I think that's it for this week. 

July 23, 2010

Our Mousers Are Growing

Our future mousers that is.

Katy & Riley last May, at 8 weeks old

Katy & Riley now, 16 weeks old

Riley (on the right in both photos) especially is just dying to get outside.  He begs and begs.  That won't happen until after they've had all their shots and been spayed/neutered.  To his credit, he's already caught at least one fly in the house, and eaten it!

July 21, 2010

Why My Kitchen Smells Like Pizza These Days

No, it's not because I'm making lots of pizza. It's because the tomatoes are coming in by the basketful! With garden production shifting into high gear, preserving the harvest is too.

Between my Roma tomatoes being ready to pick every 2 to 3 days, and the fact that sauce making takes me about the same amount of time, I have a batch of sauce in the works at all times.

Steps in making pizza sauce
After picking, the tomatoes are cut into chunks and cooked till soft. Then I run them through my Foley food mill to remove the skins and seeds. After that, the juice is cooked down in my crock pot. To that I'll add onions and maybe some sweet pepper sautéed in olive oil.  Also a little salt, perhaps some raw sugar, and whatever herbs I have available......

Homestead garden grown herbs
This is the first year I've had my own herbs to add. Top left is sweet basil, top right is rosemary. Bottom left is thyme, and bottom right is oregano. What I don't add to the sauce, I dry to preserve. I long ago gave up the charming custom of hanging bunches of herbs upside-down to dry. When the leaves get dry they get brittle, crumble, and end up everywhere. Plus bunches of dried herbs get dusty. I may try placing them in paper bags to hang them some time, but for now, I spread them out in low cardboard boxes, giving them a turn every day or so.

I process in a water bath. I used to add a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint, to ensure the correct acidity for water bath canning. More recently I've tried citric acid; it only takes 1/4 teaspoon per pint. Processing time is 35 minutes. It can also be pressure canned, 20 minutes for pints at 10 pounds of pressure (for my altitude).

Pizza sauce is the most frequent way we eat canned tomatoes, and each batch is different, depending on what I add to it. I put it up in pints because that lasts us for two weeks. And for the two of us, a pint jar of sauce is perfect for spaghetti too. I only call it "pizza" sauce because we eat more pizza than spaghetti!

Last year I used my excess Celebrity tomatoes to make sauce. I like the Romas better because, being a paste tomato, they have a lower water content and so cook down faster.  They have a somewhat sweet flavor and make a good tasting sauce.

Since we have pizza every Friday night, I need 52 meals worth of sauce, plus extra for spaghetti, lasagna, or other pasta dishes. 26 pints will do it for the pizza. Spaghetti or other pasta dishes we have at least once a month. Based on that, I reckon I ought to aim for a minimum of 40 pints this year.

I'm just getting started on putting it up, and I'm pretty certain I'll make my goal. After that, maybe I'll try some canned tomatoes for soups and stews this winter, or even put some up with okra.  It will depend on how well my plants produce!

July 19, 2010

July Garden Tour

July debuted with temps in the mid-90s F (mid-30s C), and another two weeks of no rain on top of the rainless week we had at the end of June. I can't tell you how many times I lamented not getting all my mulching done earlier, but now with picking and putting up, there's little time to do more mulching. Or weeding for that matter. Sigh. I'll have to chalk that up as a hard lesson learned for next year.

That lament aside, are you ready to take a tour of my garden in July?

1st cucumbersStarting at the top of the garden, I'm pleased to say that my cucumbers (National Pickling) did get mulched. This is good because they wilt terrible during mid-afternoon, and so need all the help they can get. Fortunately, they always bounce back in the evening. We're just starting to get cucumbers for eating, and I'm hoping for a goodly harvest for pickles and relish. I'm happy to tell you that these plants are grown from last year's saved seed.

Sweet pepper beginningsMy sweet pepper plants also suffer in the heat. However, they're hanging in there and just beginning to produce peppers. These are an open pollinated variety I hadn't heard of before, Chinese Giant. I hope they live up to their name. The plants are ones I started myself, early indoors.

My Roma tomatoes and companion marigolds. The two rows in the background are recently cut Swiss chard (Fordhook giant). I've canned quite a bit of the Swiss chard, and will let this bolt so I can collect the seed.
Of those tomatoes, I made the mistake of not staking them. Dumb, I know, but I read they are determinate, meaning they only grow so tall. I figured I might be able to get away with not staking, but alas, they are heavy with fruit and tending to lie rather prostate. Another lesson learned for next year.

Both tomatoes and green peppers started out with blossom end rot. Fortunately this is easily resolved with a calcium spray.

These are my black turtle beans, which will all be allowed to dry for food storage. They seem to brave the heat pretty well.

The real surprise is that in spite of the heat, my pathetically drooping broccoli plants (Di Cicco) are still producing!

The Sugar Baby watermelons have been invading the okra (Clemson Spineless, also from saved seed). I did manage to mulch most of the watermelon patch early on, with large sheets of cardboard, now covered with vines and leaves.

My Prolific Yellow Straightneck summer squash is another that tends to wilt during the day. These are from saved seed too. We love them sliced and sautéed with onion and fresh sweet basil. The overgrown ones can be stuffed and baked (recipe at the bottom of this post. Scroll down to get there.) The surplus we can't eat, is being put up in the freezer.

The sweet potato plants (also new for me) seem to be doing well. These are a bush type called Porto Rico. You can see the cardboard mulch on one side, no mulch on the other. The cardboard isn't very aesthetic, but neither are the weeds growing on the unmulched side!

Sunflowers in the left corner, buttercup winter squash behind.

That's fennel growing on the left. Or maybe it's dill, I'm not sure. I planted them both in the same row but they are so similar that I don't know which is which! There's a little garlic planted in with them as well. Fennel is something new for me.

Ebenezer onions (from sets) on the right are nearing harvest time. I have some seed too, to plant this fall to make my own sets.

Amaranth is getting tallThis is amaranth, also a new crop for me. The tallest plants are about 5 feet and growing. I will collect and save the seed heads for the chickens this winter.
Not everything is doing so well however. My potatoes (Red Pontiac), have been attacked by blight....

Potatoes & horseradishAnd some of my sweet corn (Stowell's Evergreen) took a dive after a brief, but high wind rain storm the other day....

This falling over of the stalks is called lodging.

My Japanese hulless popcorn is doing fine though ...

Those are comfrey plants in the foreground. Growing with the popcorn are my Kentucky Wonder pole beans...

KY Wonders in the popcorn... parented by last year's crop.

Of my culinary herb bed in the front yard, I'm harvesting, using, and drying rosemary (bush in back), oregano (spreading out in front), and thyme in the middle. The pink petunias don't count.

What you don't see is the sage, which is coming along, and the lavender, which isn't growing very well. Or maybe it's just growing slowly.

My other herb bed is finally sporting flowers! There are Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) at top right; Calendula (Pot Marigold), also yellow, to the right of those and a little shorter; and orange Butterfly Weed at the bottom. The pink zinnias on the left are volunteers. Behind them are growing yarrow plants (no blooms there yet.)

I have done some watering. In fact I had to switch from soaker hoses, which take too long, to a sprinkler, which can cover more ground in the same time.

Now, about that sprinkler. I thought I was doing a good deed by buying the higher priced metal rotary type one rather than the cheap plastic model. Was I ever annoyed then, when the metal was so cheap that it bent within the first week and broke about a week later.

Anyway, harvest is obviously shifting into high gear this month. I only wish my garden helpers were willing to expand their job descriptions....

Katy snoozing in strawberry basket

Riley resting in the strawberry basket

July Garden Tour text & photos copyright July 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

July 17, 2010

Shopping Styles, IDC Update, & A Recipe

Several IDC updates ago, we were sharing our favorite stores to shop for stocking up. I found another one at Kids and Canning Jars that I wanted to share with you, Produce Terminal. This link takes you to their site where you can see if there's one near you.

The best part of inexpensive produce of course, is being able to buy large quantities to process for food storage. I feel fortunate that I'm able to grow most of my own this year, with a few exceptions like strawberries and peaches.

If, like me, you are on a limited grocery budget, then the idea of buying extra to build a food storage likely seems impossible. Again, I feel fortunate with the garden, because all that homegrown produce frees up budgeted grocery dollars for stock up items.

The point I would like to make however, is that it doesn't take a lot of money to build a food storage. It takes a different style of shopping.

Most of us probably shop on an as needed basis. We make a list of what we need or want, and then pop into the grocery store once or twice a week to get it. Gosh, I've known folks who go to the grocery store every day. Of course, as needed shopping makes sense for things like perishables (produce and dairy), but not for everything. One disadvantage of this style is that unless one manages to hit a sale, one pays full price. Another is that it is easier to make impulse buys, which can pad the grocery bill considerably. (We all know the old adage, "never go food shopping when you're hungry"!)

The other type of shopping is bulk buying, whether it's a 25 pound bag of brown rice, or a case of canned green beans. This is the way to take advantage of sale items obviously. The downside is that unless one's family is willing to eat brown rice and green beans all week, variety on a limited budget is more difficult. At least it is at first.

When I built my first food storage, (many moons ago), we were a family of four on a super tight budget. With Y2K looming around the corner, I felt a need to do this however, so I had to approach it the best I could. In the beginning, I would commit $5 a week for nonperishables to stock up on. I won't deny that this was a slow way to approach it, but I added our own canned goods from the garden, discovered discount grocery stores, and joined a food co-op, where each month, I split bulk bags and boxes of grains, beans, dried fruits, etc., with other families.

Of course we ate out of our food storage, and gradually, as it enlarged, I needed less and less from the grocery store, and was able to devote more of my food budget to stock up items. Even dairy products, like milk and cheese, which I learned can be frozen. When I found organic milk on sale for $1.00 a half gallon, I bought several and popped them into the freezer.

I admit that it took several years to establish a pantry that we could eat for months from, but eventually it reached the point where I didn't need to buy anything extra. I could simply wait until items we were low on went on sale, so I really was able to stretch my grocery dollars a whole lot farther simply by having a food storage.

That said, here's my Independence Days Challenge for the past week. At the bottom of the post is the recipe.

1. Plant Something - nothing this week

2. Harvest something -
  • sweet basil
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • blueberries
  • watermelon
  • onions
  • eggs (1st Welsummer egg!)
  • yellow straightneck summer squash
  • okra
  • Roma tomatoes
  • slicing tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • cantaloupe

3. Preserve something -

Home dehydrated onion
  • dehydrated remaining (locally grown) storage onions which were going bad
  • froze summer squash
  • froze blueberries
  • froze okra
  • dried sweet basil
  • dried chamomile flowers
4. Waste Not
  • the usual
5. Want Not
  • bought 2 milk crate type containers for the pantry
  • bought 2, 1/2 aseptic containers of almond milk to put in the freezer
6. Build/support Community Food Systems
  • blogging about it
7. Eat the Food
  • sauteed squash with onions & fresh basil
  • blueberry sourdough muffins
  • blueberries on morning cereal
  • blueberries for snacks
  • more blueberry pie
  • watermelon
  • steamed green beans cold in salads
  • homestead omelette: our own eggs, onions, & tomatoes
  • cantaloupe
  • homestead salads of tomatoes and cucumbers
  • and the recipe.....
This is stuffed summer squash, and it is my favorite thing to do with overgrown squashes. I grew Early Prolific Straightneck Squash, and they are a good choice for this recipe. I think any kind could be used though.

Stuffed Summer Squash

1 over grown summer squash
1/2 pound bulk sausage
small onion, chopped
2 slices homemade whole wheat bread, cubed or in crumbs
grated cheese of your choice
salt & pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Bake or steam until tender. In the meantime, pan cook the sausage with onions. When the squash is tender, scoop out the insides to make little boats. Add the scoopings, bread crumbs, grated cheese, and seasoning to the sausage. Mix well and spoon the mixture into the squash boats. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 F until golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.

We ate this with a garden salad of tomato and cucumber, and more blueberry pie for dessert!

To see what other Independence Day Challengers are doing, click here.

July 15, 2010

July Means Blueberries!

Our blueberries have been ripeningWhen we moved to our property last year we were delighted to find out that we have a large rabbiteye blueberry bush on the property. Blueberry pie is Dan's favorite, and those blueberries made a mouthwatering one. We also ate blueberry pancakes and muffins, and I was able to put 2 and a half quart jars full of dehydrated ones into food storage.

As happy as we were to have them, I have to admit that they were a little disappointing; small, not very juicy, and not especially good for eating fresh. I figured this was becuase they were rabbiteyes, and so bought two new bushes to plant in the spring.

Even so, I wanted to take care of the bush we had. It was badly overgrown so I cleared out all around it. In the fall I pruned it and mulched it with pine needles. In April it was loaded with pale pink blossoms and I looked forward to a bountiful harvest.

Toward the end of June, Dan and I were walking the property and stopped by to check on the bush. It was loaded with berries and they were beginning to ripen! The next day I thought I might get enough for breakfast, and was able to pick five cups. And look at them!

We have blueberries the size of a dime!Big, plump, juicy, and sweet! Some of them are the size of a dime. What a difference from last year. First order of business?

Yummy blueberry pieBlueberry pie! I think I'm going to love this as a tradition. My recipe? Click here.
I'd like to think that caring for the bush helped, but also last year we were in the tail end of a drought. Water makes a big difference for the fruit. This winter and spring we got plenty of rain. Between that and caring for the bush, we have beautiful, mouthwatering blueberries.
Last year I dehydrated them. This year, I decided to try freezing the fresh berries.

Blueberries ready for the freezerIt's super easy because they don't require blanching. Just wash, dry, and spread out on cookie sheets to place in the freezer. After they're frozen, they can be put in containers and popped back into the freezer. For step by step details, click here. So far I've frozen 10 quarts, and the bush is still producing abundantly.

The two little bushes I planted and later had to replace are struggling because of our long dry spell. I have watered them, but shamefully haven't made them my watering priority. Hopefully their pine needle mulch is helping them on that score.

We're eating blueberries daily for breakfast, and putting them in pancakes and muffins, but maybe it's time to expand my blueberry repertoire.

See also, Dehydrating Blueberries: An Experiment - what I decided to try after reading your comments

July Means Blueberries! text & photos copyright July 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/