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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sure don't feel like summer

July 29....

Sure hasn't been feeling like summer. Been too cool for it. I'm not complaining, but I am, lol. I'm used to the hot bringing on the produce.

Today I canned up two quarts of hot pepper rings. One of the local produce places had the hot banana peppers, and I figured I would do quarts instead of pints because I have a lot of quart jars but I'm short on pints and didn't feel like dinking around with half pint jars. Don't it figure, no matter what jars I got, always seems like I need the jars I'm short on, lol.

Got a fourth batch of nasturtium leaves dehydrated today. Just a couple more, and I will have a super stuffed jar to add peppery herbal goodness do dishes all through the winter. Hmmm, maybe I should create a spice blend that features them. Actually collecting enough seed to please me, and there's a lot more on the plants that are ripening for picking.

Picked more peppers today and more summer squash. Getting to the point where I need to figure out some preserving on the squash. Debating on trying a squash jam recipe- we still have so many jams on the shelf and cramming the fridge I'm not sure if I want to or not, but it sure would be something different. Also debating on trying some pickled too.

Today was a big deal too- we signed off on the back 40. For the next couple years, we will be paying down on it while the neighbors are wrapping up business. Then after that it's whatever we want to do. But for the moment, it means we get to clean up the chicken coop enclosure to get it ready for chicks next spring, hooray! The whole thing makes me a bit nervous- I'm a worrywart about big things. But overall, I'm ecstatic about it.

July 30...

Another putter around kind of day. Did a ton of well overdue weeding in the herb garden and solarium side- couple barrows full of just crappy stuff that needed to be dumped out back. But now I can actually see the garden, lol. Found a couple huge chippy holes and stomped them in. Damn chippies. A couple of my corsican mints haven't fared too well, but some of them seem to be thriving, yay! Cut down a big chunk of the tarragon bush- and I have no idea what to do with it all there is so much of it. But now the winter savory is visible and apparently needs a goodly trim too.
Got a batch of broccoli on the dehydrator today- some stuff I picked up on clearance. Next up is to shred a bunch of squash since apparently I don't have any on the shelf. Thought I did, but I was mistaken.

Repotted the four hardy hibiscus- I'm hoping they overwinter well in pots and next year should be big enough to plant into the yard. And next spring I will start another set of hibiscus too.
Clipped the last of the dill heads for seed- had a couple wimpy plants, but those got pulled up with all the dead stuff. And I seeded in three new buckets of dill. Still early enough in the season that I will hopefully get a goodly batch of dill for the fall.

Cleaned up all my bags of seed, and ya know what? I got a fuckton of seed. I have so much seed I am not sure if I even have a wish list anymore. Ok, yeah, I still have a wishlist, but by golly it's much much shorter than it ever has been, and my outgoing trade list is much much longer. I still have to go through and catalog what seed I got because I did blow out a couple dozen kinds of seed this spring. On the nice side, I have more flower seed than I thought I did. On the down side, so much bean and tomato seed it's going to be a serious decision next year on what to grow.

Pulled out some other seed for fall garden. Alaska peas, Early Contender beans, Albino beets, Purple carrots, and lettuce mix. I still might pull some other greens too. Hopeful that I might be able to get some fall harvest in.

While out in the yard today I realized I still don't have enough blooms year round for bees. Sigh, hearbreaking sigh. I really wanted to start with bees next year. But till I have a lot of blooms to keep em fed, I just can't do it. Fortunately, I do have a lot of flower seed still to put out into the yard. A surprising amount really, I didn't use up nearly as much as I thought I did this spring. So more patches for the sanctuary, more to go around in other places in the yard. I even have more nasturtium seed than I thought! Will still probably need to get more milkmaid, but that's ok.

The tomatoes are plush as hell, full of fruits- and still green green green. Just hasn't been hot enough to prompt them to turn color. I swear, it feels like it's summer winding down instead of smack int he middle of the hottest part of it.

July 31...

Finally, it felt like summer today! Nice and warm, actually a relief to get into the shade kind of day. Started out first thing by shredding up all those ball squash and getting them onto the dehydrator- jucy little things, I had to squeeze the shred before laying the stuff out on jelly trays.
Finished up the weeding of the herb garden- super PITA pulling weeds when the ground is all dry from no rain. But that's ok, we will be getting rain in soon enough.

Got some seeding done today for some hopeful fall harvest. Planted in a round of Alaska peas and Early Contender bush beans out by the dog run- hopefully those will take, and no frigging critters will snip them. Planted in the rest of my Albino beets and some Icicle radish under the kitchen window, and all my Little Gem lettuce in the herb garden. Cut down all my Bright Lights swiss chard, yummy! Chard is a cut and come again plant, so I'm hopeful to get another crop off of it yet this season- maybe if I'm careful and protect it well, it might give me another crop after the snow flies!

And super exciting, I think we may have spotted an endangered species- Regal Fritillary Butterfly. Saw it this morning in the garden, and when I described it to my sister because I wanted to hunt it and get some pics, she said she had seen it too on the back 40! Eeep, of course he didn't come out when we both went back there, but he did come out for her later, so I'm hopeful that we will actually get some pics of this guy and confirm if we do or don't have a special critter here.  I have confirmed about a half dozen Monarchs in the yard, very pleased about that- the milkweeds are paying off. And some swallowtails, which are lovely.
But despite not getting the pics of the specific butterfly I was looking for, I did get a nice handful of pics of other lovlies- dragonflies and butterflies.

Haven't the foggiest what any of these are, but I thought them all rather lovely.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Makin Kraut

Had to go out and about today... Got a glorious head of cabbage at the fruit exchange for $1.95. So guess what? It's kraut making time :)

Kraut is a lacto-fermentation. Remember those yummy ass carrots? Same thing, veggie, salt, and mother natures preservation. And by luck, I happen to have a crock I can ferment in- thanks sis!


Here's the crock, weight plate, and that lovely head of cabbage.

Most folks only see a cleaned head of cabbage- just the head with all those wonderful outer leaves stripped off. I stripped off the outer leaves too, and bagged those up for some stewing greens. That left me with a 5 pound head to shred up. You want to use 1/4 cup of kosher salt per pound of cabbage, so it's important to weigh the head before you start shredding.

And right off the bat, you need to sanitize your crock and weight plate. Simple, some white vinegar and water, bring to a boil, and fill your crock up with the plate sitting on the bottom. Let it sit till it's needed. But sanitizing is necessary, to kill off anything that might be around- just like when you do canning, you sanitize the jars, even if they are freshly washed.

I used my serrated bread knife to shred the cabbage. Just a bit easier than using great-grandmas mandolin, though I wanted to use that instead. The bread knife is long and sharp, perfect for making those super thin slices. You want to stay within a quarter to dime thickness- over a quarter thick is just too darn thick, thinner is better. I halved, then quartered, then cut the quarters into eighths before cutting off the core section and shredding. The cabbage was rather big, so eighths made for easier shredding and better final shred lengths. 

Big ass bowl full of 5 pounds of shredded cabbage. Why use a bowl, and not just right into the crock? It's easier to mix the salt in this way instead of having to sprinkle in layers, and gives you a better idea on what your liquid yield is after wilting. And the cabbage all fluffy crunchy won't want to pack down into the crock, but after salt wilting it packs up right fine. I used 1 1/4 cups salt for the 5 pounds, keeping in the 1/4 cup per pound ratio. I placed a clean floursack dishtowel over the bowl during wilting to help keep out any bugs or nosy kitties. Gotta keep it clean!

So here's what it looks like after an hours wilting. I went for a stroll to check out the blackberries to kill time during this so I quit peeking at it. It's noticeably less fluffy, and pressing it there is no more crunch to it. If it had still been crunchy, I would have let it wilt longer.

Here all those 5 pounds are packed down into the crock. Packing is important, get the air out. Now, if I had layered and salted, this thing would have been super full and harder to manage and pack, harder to tell if the bottom was crunchy or not. So I took a couple handfuls at a time, packed them down, and repeat. And hell yes, you make sure you pour all the rendered cabbage juice into that crock too- that's vital. You can't really see it, but the juice is just barely up to the cabbage top. With the weight plate and a bit more break down, the cabbage will be fully submerged. Shouldn't need any saltwater addition.

Now for the weight plate. It's not the weight itself, but makes sure to evenly press all the cabbage down.

This is the weight- a quart bag full of saltwater. Just a couple tablespoons of salt and hot water. Why saltwater? Just in case the bag leaks, you are adding brine instead of water. And after an hour of the crock sitting like this, the liquid was well over the cabbage.

Then cover the crock with the floursack dishtowel to keep dust, bugs, nosy kitties out. Since we are having a rather cool spell right now, it can sit on the counter. If it turns hot, it will need to be taken down to the cellar. This fermenting does better under cool conditions- makes for a far tastier fermentation.

How do you know when the stuff is fermented? Well, during fermentation, there are bubbles, and once the bubbles stop, fermenting is done. This can take a couple weeks, but by keeping it cool and letting it ferment longer, you get a tastier kraut. I've seen some folks say it can be done in days, but slow and low is better as far as I'm concerned. So this will probably sit for a goodly month before I do anything else with it. Some folks just leave their kraut in the crocks till eating time, but alas, I only have one crock right now. So when it's time to take it out, I will either vacuum pack it for the fridge, or more likely, can the stuff in a hot water bath to make it shelf stable. That is, if there is any left over to store once we chow down on it :)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Bounty

Today is Sunday, the 27th. And summer bounty is coming in.

The one ball and cue ball squash have been growing like crazy. Been picking a couple every couple of days. A few of them starting off off got a bit too big but there weren't enough for stuffing for four, and so I had to figure out what to do with them. Came up with a squash casserole, southern style- it's yummy! So much so we have had it a couple times recently.

Squash casserole- 9x13 pan
1 box stuffing mix
2 sticks butter
3-5 squashes, a couple pounds worth, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
2 medium onions, juilenned
1 can water chestnuts, drained- I used diced ones
2 cans mushrooms, drained
1 pound cooked and cubed meat- I've used ham and chicken, both are good. The meat is optional.
2 t dried thyme
1 sleeve butter crackers- I've used Ritz butter garlic
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup grated carrot

Start out by piling up your sliced squash in heavily salted water. Bring to a boil, let boil 5 minutes, then drain, rinse well with cold water to cool it down fast, and then let drain really well.
Mix the grated carrot, sliced onion, cream soup, sour cream, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and thyme in a big bowl.
Once the squash is cool and well drained, pull it out of the strainer, leaving any seedy bits behind, and fold it into the creamy mix. Using your hands is easiest for this.
Melt the first stick of butter, and mix it with the stuffing mix. Make an even layer of the mix in the bottom of the pan. It won't fill in the bottom completely, but should have pretty decent coverage.
Layer in half the squash mix- using your hands is easiest for this. Make sure it is spread out completely over the stuffing mix, and pat it down well.
Layer in your meat, spreading evenly.
Layer in the other half of the squash mix, patting it down.
Melt the second stick of butter. Crush the sleeve of crackers, and mix it with the butter. Then spread it evenly over the top of the casserole.
Cover the casserole, and bake it at 350 for about 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake for another 15 minutes. Then kill the heat on the oven, and let it rest for another 10 minutes in the oven.
Serve up, yum! Yep, sounds like a billion calories, but it's well worth it. Makes a nice moist casserole, the onions are tender crisp, the squash stands out yet blends with everything else.

Dunno what I'm going to do with the rest of the ball squash I've already picked yet, there are a lot of possibilities. Zucchini has started coming in, and I decided to try out a recipe from one of my bread machine books- a wheat zucchini bread. It's not a quick bread, it's a true yeasty bread. That turned out pretty darn good too.

The banana peppers have started cranking the fruits out- I've picked a couple batches and stowed them away in greenie bags till I had enough to warrant canning up a batch of pepper rings. Todays pickings gave me enough, and I made up a half dozen pints of the things.

Dill seed and Spanish Black Round Radish seed are coming in right fine, already picked a bunch of both, with more to come. Parsley seed is coming along too, but not ready for harvesting yet. I can hardly wait till next year when I get to really start harvesting leaves and seed, woot!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Birthday Bee and gardening

Yesterday was my birthday, and it was a great day. My two birthday wishes were good weather and good food, and I got both :)
Unfortunately, the neighbors decided to open burn garbage unattended, filling my home with toxic fumes and making us immediately ill- I saw the fire marshal show up and shortly after they were out with the garden hose, putting out the fire and swearing up a storm.
For dinner I did up a small beef roast with baby red potatoes in the crock pot- sis did the gravy with the liquid. Sides were steamed carrots by mom, and spinach and beans I made up a few days ago. Man, I gotta say, that vacuum sealer lid attachments were well worth the pennies! The spinach stayed nice and fresh for far longer than they would in a regular container.
Picked up some greenie bags on clearance a couple weeks back, and those are paying off too- been able to keep peppers, beans, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes fresh for way longer than they would otherwise.

Started my third batch of nasturtium leaves in the dehydrator today. By the time the season peters out on those, I should have a rather nice stock of peppery green goodness for the cold weather months. I make a homemade jambalaya mix that I like to use peppery greens in, last time I used radish greens, but next time I'll likely use the nasturtium leaves. The things have been putting out enough seeds that I'm fairly optimistic that I will have a goodly amount of seed stock and some seeds to try grinding up to see how they substitute for peppercorns. If I have this kind of luck next year, I will for sure be trying out false capers with the things.

Right now the freezer is chock full of excellent deals that we have been getting lately. Plenty of fish that was 9 bucks for a 5 pound bag, country ribs that were 1.70 a pound, and a 10 pound bag of chicken leg quarters that were 70 cents a pound- 7 bucks for the whole bag! Got a bunch of other porky goodness like loins and ham that have been on sale lately too- I really need to get the smoker fired up to do up that ham, yum. Frugal shopping now will see us into good eats for a few months :)

The garden is looking good all around- been picking squash and peppers.
From left to right is spaghetti squash, one ball squash, cue ball squash, and Long Island pumpkin. That crazy vining up is the goats eye beans. Only been picking one ball and cue balls, the spaghetti squashes were labeled as "two man", but the things are huge enough to feed 4 of us with leftovers. I'm watching them ripening with baited breath. The Long Island pumpkin has lots of blooms, and starting to grow fruits- those I'm extra hoping for goodness out of.

The pepper bed. The pepperonchini isn't doing as well as I had hoped, but ah well. The top crop beans I seeded in in a last ditch effort to get any beans growing after the critters chomped up so many of them are starting to take off- I will hopefully get a couple pounds off of them before the year is out. The star producer so far is the banana peppers. And of course the jewel nasturtiums, those are absolutely wonderful.

The monster tomato bed- I'm not sure how I'm even going to be picking the ones in the middle. But next year will see some serious spacing adjustments. To the left you can just see the zucchini which is finally producing some fruits, and I'm not too sure if those late season buttercups I put in are really going to do anything or not.

Picked the last of the garlic today- the bed looks a little funny empty. I want to shovel in a bit of horse poo and work it in before doing anything else with the bed.

This is the last of the garlic, Russian Giant, Skips 3, Skips 2, and Up North.

Here's what todays pickings look like compared to what I picked on the 10th. Skips 1, Leningrad, and 2 bundles of Pearl Porcelain. Right now it's looking like I will not be replanting the Skips 1, and unless it tastes really good, the Skips 3. I'm debating on the Up North too- that will totally depend on how it tastes too. For sure will be replanting the Giant Russian and Pearl Porcelain.
The partially cured garlic was good enough done in my estimation for me to take the next stage of curing.

Here's the Pearl Porcelain, Leningrad, and Skips 1 trimmed up and tied up to finish curing. To the far right is the Kankakee softneck. The Skips 1 is noteably smaller than all the rest of them. These will cure up for a couple more weeks before I give them their final trim. All the rest of the garlic is now on the top shelf in the laundry room curing away. The huge pile of Kankakee hardneck is looking great, but I didn't think the leaves had died back enough to warrant trimming like the above heads.

Now it's time for me to scoot because I need to get the brush wood picked up around the yard and down to the firepit... Thank goodness for pickup trucks, lol.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good day sunshine

Started Monday, the 14th..

Been a rather nice few days. Got to have a weekend out at faire :) It was absolutely wonderful. Got to see a lot of friends, work the booth, do a little shopping. Got a couple of sweet ass beaded spiders. Some garlic goodies.. A couple of metal rose hairpicks.

And I used the first head of homegrown garlic today. I had one Kankakee Hardneck I had pulled. It was still really fresh.
This is what it looked like before I busted up it's 8 medium sized cloves. The outer skin peeled off more like a shallot and was already too tough for fresh eating, I could tell it was far from cured.

A bunch of the lilies in bins have bust into blossom.

The small red ones on the left are Little Joy, the one on the foreground is Night Beacon, and the one in the background is Budda. Thinking most of the lillies in bins will fill in the back corner of the white fence, and if we have enough, I would like to link up the pine islands in the back yard. Make a nice mowing aisle around it instead of mowing around each tree.

Hate to say it, but I think all eight bleeding heart dried root bits failed to take. Next year, I will pick them up and pot them up.. let them grow out a bit before planting in.

The mint border is looking really nice. Chocolate Mint and Pineapple Mint are growing in good. Looks like the weed out and bend over shoots of a couple weeks ago are proving in for a plusher bed. I need to get out there and do some more bending over of shoots. The lemon mint and toothache plants are looking wonderful too.

The herb garden is out of control with weeds. I got the deck clutch cable, but haven't installed it yet, so some of the yard is overdue for mowing. Been too wet to mow anyway. Seriously need to get around the yard with pruners and the hand mower.

Now that there is a fence up between us and the icky neighbors, and that seems to have sunk in.... My dust has settled a lot. Starting to turn my thoughts into more positive use. I am now thinking of building up a tick repellent plant border along the sanctuary fenceline.  I know I want to grow a lot of those sorts of plants for general use, and for seed collection. And I need to be careful about where I set them in in large mass. I still have those five second year lavenders to plant in. Got rue putting out mad flower heads I can start plants with for next spring. Catnip and feverfew for other sections.
And perhaps planting in spearament and peppermint along the angle line of the easement. The shade might help control the growth a bit. 
Gonna trim down this years willow growth in the sanctuary, and start laying it in to accommodate the fenceline and keyhole. Put those trimmings to good use as border edging.

It's Thursday :)
Mostly more puttering around and getting mostly nothing done. But I picked up a bunch of yellow and green beans today to make spicy and dilly beans with. And I pulled up the rest of the Kankakee Hardneck garlic today- will be needing a bunch of it to make the beans with!
Sat down and had a serious chat with the awesome neighbors about the back 40- looks like we will be able to buy it, woot! It'll still be a couple years till everything is transitioned to start working on the barn, but looks like we will be able to start right in on getting the chicken coop and enclosure cleaned up and set up to get chicks next spring, hooray!!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

And July rolls on

Monday, the seventh..

Picked the garlic scapes today- really should have done that sooner I guess. But there's a heap of them that I will steam and saute tomorrow. Picked the first five cue ball squashes today too. Those will get made into something- maybe a casserole of some sort. And I picked all the lettuce, it's getting to be bolting time.

Ran out to the dealership this morning and picked up a new deck clutch cable. Only 20 bucks and I still need to get it onto the mower tomorrow.

The first of the banana peppers are almost ready to pick- Of course those will get canned up into rings. Unfortunately, no beans will really be forthcoming this year from our garden, damn critters. So I will have to pick up a bushel or two and do a ton of dilly and hot beans. The tomato plants are taunting me!

Thursday, the tenth...
Cut off the garlic scapes the other day- still need to steam and saute them. Picked the first handful of cue ball squash too, yum.
Today I started pulling up garlic!! Woot on a wootstick :)
From left to right is all 6 Kankakee softneck, 1 Kankakee hardneck, all 6 Skips 1, all 4 Up North, and all 12 Porcelain Pearl. Now I just need to be patient while they cure up- which can take another month or two depending on how humid it is around here. Curing is simply keeping them in a cool, dry, airy spot till the roots get crispy and the skins are well dried.
Still in the bed are Giant Russian, Leningrad, Skips 2, Skips 3, and the rest of the Kankakee Hardneck. Didn't pull those yet because their bottom leaves were not quite died back enough. But those will get pulled in a week or two, and I'll put in some carrots or something to get a crop in before I plant in seed garlic again in October.

And oohhhh, I got a vacuum sealer a couple weeks ago on sale at a great price. Picked up a regular mouth and wide mouth jar attachments yesterday. My food preserving capability just shot up. SQUEEEEEE with joy!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Holiday weekend

Not a ton going on around here. The fence works according to my awesome neighbor- the icky one didn't even look my way, but spoke to the awesome neighbor about it. Looks like the fence will indeed deter the icky neighbor.

Did some smoking- chicken one evening, and my Kefta Swiss steak another night. Did cooler corn- and that was spectacular. Got the corn fresh from a local favorite farm stand, and boy was it good as hell. Got the turkey stock made up from the turkey we smoked last weekend and the stock is in the freezer.
Made fresh blueberry muffins with lemon strudel topping- those were spectacular. Even paid mind to make notes so I can make them again, lol.

My attempt at canning cherries in apple juice was a fail- three quarts and all the seals were blown. So cherries went into the freezer- thank heavens for the chest freezer!

Lit off about 45 minutes of ground works on the fourth- it was sparkley and super fun. Made sure to hose them down real well after. Last night some of the locals blew off the big mortars before heading back into town- it was loud as a battlefield till midnight.

Went to mow another section of the yard today, and snapped my deck clutch cable. Boy, was I steamed by the time I got the stupid thing off to replace it. Now I have to wait till tomorrow to hit up the somewhat local dealer to see if they have one or can order one for me. Good thing I got dinky hands otherwise I would have never gotten the stupid thing off from under the engine case.

Started picking seed off the Alaska peas- there weren't enough for eating. But I still have a heap of Green Arrow I can set in for a hopeful fall harvest. Been picking and drying Nasturtium leaves too. And the garlic is looking so damn good, I can hardly wait till they are ready to pull up. I think I might just have to cut off the scapes for some garlicky dinner goodness soon. All the squashes look spectacular- I'm hoping for a serious crop this year. The tomatoes are all plush as hell, can hardly wait to start picking those too.

Got a faire weekend coming up- I sort of dread going through garb and seeing what fits, or more like seeing what does not, hahaha. But at least it's just a weekend behind the counter, and I should stop being a costume snob.

The family is settling in pretty good. We still have a lot of re-arranging to do, and a heap of boxes to unpack. But it's coming right along, peace and contentment is settling in.