Friday, July 29, 2011


A couple of days ago, my sweetie brought home another surprise...from a farm market stand he discovered right next to the place he was working that day.  Blueberries! 8 quarts of yummy, plump, sweet blueberries.  And the reason it was such a special treat is because we unfortunately did not get any from our 3 bushes this year. The birds however had a feast and our cars... well...lets just say we were twice as frustrated that the birds got our blueberries.

Usually, mom and I pick several gallon zip bags worth of berries from our bushes, but this year my timing was wrong when I scheduled big family work project which kept me away from the house for 4 days, the wrong 4 days I guess.

One year we tried netting the bushes to keep the birds from eating the berries...but we caught a Flicker (bird with a big beak something like a woodpecker)  and had quite a job of untangling his feet and wings from the net in order to release him.  Really the only thing to get more than the birds do (besides building a screen cage around them...hint hint...) is to be watchful, and get out there and pick!

Well, anyways, I just had to share pictures with your because I can't get over the size of these blueberries. They are GIGANTIC! Ours are usually much smaller sized, maybe because our bushes are really old? or needing a good trimming? or fertilizing?  I am not sure, but my plan is to give them a good pruning when cool weather comes this year, really get the weeds cleaned up around them, and maybe mulch around the base of the bushes too.

Ok, so now what do I do with the berries?! Well, there are blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins, and blueberry get the point...but since we can't eat them all up right away--into the freezer they go! (If you haven't guess by now, after reading in all these recent posts I've put up about freezing fresh produce, we have a great big freezer for storing this stuff.)

Even though I am normally very particular about washing things, blueberries are one crop that I do NOT usually wash before freezing. We do not use any spray on ours so I am not worried about chemicals...and I think it is just too much trauma on the tender berries giving them mushy spots, in addition to helping the berries freeze all together in a lump.  I simply sort through the berries, and pick out any dried up blossoms that may be stuck on the berries, and throw away any that are otherwise yukky...etc, etc.   Then, like many other fruits and veggies I put up in the freezer, I flash freeze the blueberries on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet before bagging them in zip bags.   The bagged berries last quite a while before getting too frosty, but I have found a use for them even when they are icy--I put the berries in a strainer, rinse the ice off with water, place the berries in a pan, add some sugar, and start cooking them over medium heat. Cook them down til nice and thick, then use as a topping on ice cream or waffles, or mixed with cream cheese as filling inside of crepes! (My youngest brother (14)  is becoming quite good in the kitchen a delicious recipe for crepes! YUM!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pick a Peck of Pickled --PICKLES!?

If you're picking lots of cucumbers like I am, you probably have way more than you're able to eat, and what else will you do with them except make pickles.
Dill or sweet, you just can't beat homemade pickles!

Here's what to do.

Find a good recipe, there are tons of recipes available online of course, but you probably know someone who has an ol' family cookbook containing the perfect recipe! Or, use the basics I will list here, and experiment til you find what suits your own tastes--then be sure to write it down because more than likely someone will ask you for your recipe some day!

For canning in general you will need the following supplies: 
canning jars, lids, and rings--available in a variety of sizes, with regular or wide mouth 
a canner--a great big pot containing a rack to keep the canning jars from sitting directly on the bottom
other items that will be useful include:
a jar lifter--specially designed tongs for safely lifting jars in and out of the boiling water
a magnetic lid lifter--a tool made to grab the metal lids out of hot water
a funnel--self explanatory 

Of course, wash the cucumbers in cool water, and then cut off the ends about 1/4 inch or so. You may cut spears or slices if you wish.  This picture shows the crinkle cut knife I use to make slices for both dill and sweet pickles.

The next step is to put the cucumbers into an ice bath (big bowl, layer cuc's with ice and cover with cold water) and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours (overnight it ok).  This has something to do with the crispness of the final product, but also buys you some time to prepare everything else you will need.

Now, fill the canner with water, submerse the clean empty jars in the water, put it on the stove and wait for it to boil.  Continue boiling for 10 minutes to sterilize the jars.  Put the lids and rings in a small pan, cover with water, and bring almost to a boil and keep hot.

Directions for the Dill Pickles:
Make a brine of water and white vinegar, about 3 to 1 ratio. plus 1/3 cup of pickling salt. (I have read pickling salt is some how different than regular table salt and will not make the solution cloudy as the table salt will, but I have no proof of this at this time)  Bring the bring to a boil. Fill the jars with pieces of cucumber and add a few whole cloves of garlic, and fresh dill. Pour hot brine mixture into the jar leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, put a hot lid in place, and screw on a ring. Return the filled jar to the canner and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars, and set aside on a clean towel and allow to cool.  Check seal when cool. Ready to eat in 4 weeks (full flavor)

The Directions for Sweet Pickles:  Bring to boil a mixture of 3 c cider vinegar, and 5 c white sugar, 1/4 c salt, tsp tumeric, tsp celery seed and Tbsp mustard seed.  Drain cucumbers from their icy bath, and add to the vinegar mix, bring to a boil again. Fill hot jars, with in 1/2 inch of top, wipe rim clean, add hot lid and ring, set aside to cool. Ready to eat right away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What to do with all those beans!?

Now that we have our gardens growing well and starting to really produce...what, oh what to do with all those beans?--put them up in the freezer of course!  If you have never done that before then here are the easy steps I take to prep and freeze our homegrown beans so we can enjoy them throughout the rest of the year.  (And yes, that's me in my new shirt from my mom's recent vacation which included a visit to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant)

It is important to process your beans a soon after harvesting them as possible, and use firm, straight beans not lumpy, over ripe, or dry ones.

First, wash the beans in cool water. Then, the ends of the beans need to be trimmed, removing about 1/4 inch from both the stem and the blossom ends.  This can be done just with your thumb and first finger by snapping or breaking off the ends, or using a knife. You may also cut the beans into smaller pieces if you wish, though I prefer to leave mine whole.  Since I usually have quite a bowl full when I get around to putting them up, I sometimes will use it as a reason to rest in the evening--I can sit with my feet up and a bowlful in my lap, snip all the beans, then pop the in the fridge overnight and finish the process the next morning.

Something special I think of whenever I am prepping the beans, is the image of my great grandmother sitting on the porch with a big bowl in her lap, snipping lots of beans...just makes me smile.  Putting up beans also brings to mind one time when I was very young and a bunch of the family was together at my great aunt's house.  I can't remember all the details but the gist of it is that we had big garbage bags full of fresh beans, and everyone was sitting around the table snippin' them...well, I was snitchin' them instead--I munched on so many that I ended up with a tummy ache!  I still LOVE fresh, raw green beans!

Next you will need to blanch the beans. All fruits and vegetables have enzymes which help them grow, and after harvesting the enzyme activity continues. Blanching the vegetable halts the enzymes, and stops the ripening.  Produce that is frozen without blanching can have discoloration, toughness, and loss of flavor.

To blanch the beans you need a big pot filled about 2/3 full of water and bring it to a boil.  You want to have a large enough amount of water boiling so that when you put the beans in, it won't cool off the water too much and mess up your boiling time. Put small batches of the beans into the boiling water, and put the lid on.  The blanching time for beans is 3 minutes, and it varies for other vegetables.  After 3 minutes, use a strainer or something similar (even tongs will do) to remove the beans from the boiling water. (You don't want to pour out the whole pot of hot water if you have more batches to blanch, it's ok to reuse the boiling water.)  Immediately put the hot beans into a big bowl of ice water to cool them quickly and stop the cooking process so you don't end up with mushy beans.  Leave them in the ice bath for about 3 minutes, then scoop them out with the strainer, drain off the water, and lay them on a clean towel to dry.

When the beans have dried off somewhat, you may put them in freezer bags, however at this point I prefer to flash freeze them before bagging.  What I mean is, I put the beans on a single layer on top of waxed paper or even the shiny side of freezer paper on a cookie sheet and set the whole thing in the freezer.  After a couple of hours the beans will be frozen, and then I bag them usually in quart sized zip freezer bags.  This extra step keeps the beans loose from each other instead of freezing together as a lump, which keeps them from getting "freezery" tasting as soon and makes for nicer cooking/serving when I am ready to to use them. Another tip to keeping them as nice as possible is to remove as much air from the bag as you can when sealing it closed. The extra air in the bag allows space for those ice crystals to form, and it makes the packages harder to stack in your freezer if they are all poofy.

I have kept the bagged, blanched beans in the freezer for up to a year with no problems at all.

Beans can also be canned, but I have never attempted that--not yet--I think thye have to be processed in a pressure canner (which I do not have) or else pickled with a salt and vinegar mixture of one kind or another.  Oh wait, I just remembered I did add green and yellow beans to a pickled-pepper-veggie-mix that I canned a couple years ago.  The vinegar based brine was a little on the spicy side with dried crushed red pepper in it, and the beans were really quite good that way along with the cauliflower, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, and carrots that were in the mix.  One more idea that I might try is to make our own 3 bean salad with the green and yellow garden beans and a can of red kidney beans....add a little finely chopped onion and some Italian style dressing....sounds pretty good?!

Vegetable Garden Update 3--It's a Jungle Out There!

The recent HOT weather, extra watering, and a few thunderstorms, have really given the plants a boost and they are getting huge--even over taking the pathways between rows, and producing enough to keep me busy already!  I thought I should give you an update as I am starting to get some good veggies out of the garden now!

Today's harvest included about 8 pounds of green and yellow beans, 3 small zucchini, 1 yellow summer squash, a dozen jalepenos, 15 or so banana peppers, and a grocery bag full of cucumbers.  A few days ago I already had a great amount of the cucumbers and beans as well.

All varieties of tomato plants have been tied up twice already and some need to be further supported again as they are sprawling everywhere--full of blossoms and some green tomatoes.

The watermelon vines are spreading out and we have a few softball sized fruits.

The winter squash (pumpkin, acorn and butternut) are really growing all over the place and have lots of flowers too.

The white potatoes grew to about 2 and 1/2 feet tall. I have hilled them up and now they are flowering. I sure hope we get some good spuds this year.

The leaves of the sweet potatoes were all eaten by a ground hog who came up from underneath the greenhouse right in the middle of the fenced in garden--so much for our great fence! :(   Gary the Groundhog has since been "dealt with" and no longer poses a threat to the crops...I am convinced however where there's one, there's a whole family... and I will be keeping a watchful eye for signs of more hem...well, you know... take care of them too if need be...we'll just leave it at that, ok ?

Upcoming posts should be coming at you soon, and will be on the topic of  what to do with all the harvest now that the garden is producing!?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vegetable Garden update 2

I guess I kind of forgot about blogging for the last couple of weeks.  Well, you see, I've been a little busy.  Vacation Bible School at our church, the 4th of July picnics n' more, weeding and watering like crazy, tying up tomato plants, etc etc etc.
So, before I embark on another crazy weekend..... here's little garden update: It is growing...a lot.

This picture shows a bunch of the 2x2's I pounded in to the ground to use for supporting the tomato plants. It also shows that the plants have really taken off, and so have the weeds, but I have been working at weeding and I think only the tomato rows are left to do.

 Here you can see one of our little Pickling Cucumbers ready to be picked!  These plants were sure tricky as they went from mostly dead looking to  producing mature veggies seemingly overnight!

A tiny yellow summer squash is starting to grow. These plants didn't take hold as quickly as they should have, but now they seem to be ready to do their thing and we should have some yellow squash and zucchini coming up very soon.

The first few peppers to be picked were 3 sweet banana peppers, one jalepeno, and one very small green pepper.   Sometimes the "first fruits" of your garden will be smaller than desired, misshappen, and will be one here and there rather than several at once.  These should be picked right away so the plant can keep working on growing more pieces, rather than have most of the strength zapped up by one or two random fruits.

 Several of the tomato plants are about 4 feet tall already and were sprawling all over the place, so this week, with the help of my youngest brother (farmer in training) I got the majority of our 139 tomato plants tied up to the wooden supports. Tying the tomato plants up is another tedious and messy job  (as you can see by the picture of my hands!) but a very beneficial task. This keeps the pathways clear, as well as keeps the forming tomatoes off of the ground, and therefore they are less susceptible to pest and disease. It is also much nicer to pick tomatoes without having to crawl through the vines laying all over.  This year I used Jute Twine to tie the plants to the stakes--Jute Twine is heavier than commonly found Sisal Twine and less likely to damage the plants.  In the past I have used strips of old T-Shirt material to tie plants and that works very well too.

Another crop that has started to produce now is the BEANS!  This picture shows a mix of the green and yellow beans--the first picking was on July 1st.  Since then I have been harvesting 1.5 to 2 good handfuls every other day, and soon the second planting of beans will be producing as well and I will be picking just about very day!  I think I will have to do another post just on preserving the beans, and maybe we can come up with some bean recipe ideas?

That's all for tonight. Have a good weekend!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Post Planting Problems

Well, as with everything in this ol' world, we have problems and pestilence in our garden.  I already told you about the Nitrogen lock up in the soil (which has now been remedied/released) but we are experiencing a few other issues that gardeners normally have to deal with, since we don't live in the Garden of Eden!

You know the old saying  "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched," well I have changed that to "Don't plant your garden before the fence is up"!! Ok, I know that's not quite the same thing, but it was a slight problem nonetheless.  Seems we didn't plan enough time for the fence to go up before the time arrived to put in the plants, and so we had some deer visit the garden and eat a midnight snack of tomato, sweet potato, and pepper plants.  Several of them were nipped right off to the ground, and others just topped.  Therefore, we put all other plans on hold a couple weekends ago and finished attaching the wire fencing to the wooden posts already in place around the perimeter of the garden.  Unfortunately, for now, hubby says no posting pictures til he finishes the wooden ribbon boards and tops off each wooden beam, and he will probably work on that within the next week or so, and I will put up more on the fence as soon as I can.

The fence protects against the deer, and groundhogs, and somewhat dissuades skunks, rabbits, (and neighbors) from entering the garden, but its not a guarantee against the raccoons.  In the past, with our first garden, the masked critters have not bothered climbing the fence and messing with any of the plants or veggies, however this year already I have seen their footprints, dug up areas in the dirt, and well "little presents" left behind inside the fenced areas.  I am hoping that they will lose interest, but most likely I will have to take "other measures" to protect our crops.   One thing that has been effective before is to sprinkle ground cayenne pepper on the plants. This has worked well for me for chipmunks eating rosebuds, and deer eating the lilies.  The hot pepper gives them an unpleasant taste and they won't continue grazing, and it doesn't hurt the plants at all, though it needs to be reapplied after rain or watering with a sprinkler and one must be aware of the direction of the breeze when applying or the gardener will be the one to be chased away!  AAACHOOO!

Aside from the animals, we have to consider that BUGS are everywhere out there, and there are so many types that will gobble up your plants before they have a chance to produce a harvest.  As I was walking through the garden the other evening I noticed that a lot of plants already had holes munched in the leaves, and I had to investigate farther to decide what to do about it.  I discovered we had the following bugs feasting:
Tomato Flea Beetles
Colorado Potato Beetle
Japanese Beetle

June Bug


Last year I tried going the route of non-poison pest control, by using things like the cayenne, dish soap, and baby powder.  However, with so much more at stake this year, I broke down and got a jug of insect killer.  It is concentrated, and must be diluted in a pump-up sprayer, and then applied to the foliage (upper and lower surfaces) of the plants.  Brand names I trust include Sevin, Bayer, and Ortho when it comes to any kind of bug stuff.  Of course, read the label carefully, to see how many times the insecticide may be applied to each certain variety of plant you are growing, and more importantly,  be sure to note the minimum number of days prior to harvesting that the poison may safely be used.

Note:  Sorry this post was started over a week ago and I just got around to adding the pictures so I could publish it.  I've been so busy but I will try to get another update posted this weekend.