Sunday, March 30, 2014

So Many Photos -- So Little Time

I spent a lot of last summer photographing my garden and incidentally posting some of the views on Facebook. Did I ever update my blog? Not like I should have. It was off my radar.  I still have the photos, and Blogger does allow a person to set the date for a post, so all is not lost. I can go back and fill the gaps.

Now it's spring again! I so love spring! My friend Dave gave me a small electric tiller last fall as a birthday present. I love my tiller!!! Now I am going crazy tilling various raised beds and making new ones. I have pretty much tilled every possible vegetable bed I can put on this property without touching the front yard, the orchard or the area around the fire pit. Of course I could garden those areas, too, but dang. The kids are grown. I don't need the entire 100'x150' yard turned into a garden!
 With that said, I do have a lot of raised beds (10 last count.) I want to grow enough food to can. Yes, I supplement my canning supply from the farmer's markets in Ottawa, Lyndon and Emporia, but if I can grow it, I don't have to pay for it. :)  I will be adding one more raised bed behind the circle garden. That will be the last bed that can fit in the area that was my parents' garden. I have ventured into "new" zones -- the shade garden under the ash tree (near the metal dog pen) and the kitchen garden just outside the back door. I love that kitchen garden! It was full of tomatoes last year, with kale, lettuce and a few other greens squeezed in along the edges. I will plant tomatoes there again this year but down the center of the bed, not across the back of the triangle. Considering how they spread, tomatoes, a bit of basil and some marigolds and nasturtium may be all that grows in the kitchen garden this year. Lettuce, kale, spinach, etc. will all be shifted to the shade garden.

My son, Joe, and I are slowly increasing the height of the raised beds from one landscape timber high to three high. This will allow me to improve the soil more easily and to grow root crops better. So far the only root crops that worked well were the sweet potatoes I grew in the shade garden last year. That was probably because that ground had never been tilled before. Every Christmas Uncle Robert gives me a gift card to Sutherland's Lumber. (Ah! I love that man!). The gift card will go toward more landscape timbers and spikes for the other beds.So far we have two beds completed.

The one shown has potatoes planted in it. I will be spreading straw over the potatoes this week. (Yes, I got the spuds in the ground before St. Patrick's Day. :) )  The other quote is "Plant peas when the daffodils bloom." I'm on track with that, too. The potatoes in wire cages didn't work out last year, so we built the first 3 timber high bed for potatoes. This year that bed holds two kinds of peas: English peas and snow peas.  Rotate your crops! I don't want nightshade family following itself (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers) so I tend to move peas into a nightshade bed the following year. Legumes restore nitrogen to the soil.

The pantry shown is just one of the spots where I stashed last fall's produce. I have more shelves in the South Room. (Need to get a better name for that room.)  Joe built me this pantry section last year when I knew I was going to be doing a lot of canning. He had the presence of mind to use adjustable shelving. I've already had to have him cut more boards as I inserted more shelves to hold more jars. If you notice lots of pints and half-pints in my canning, it is because I don't anticipate cooking for more than one or two people, so I want smaller portions in the jars. If company should show up, just open more jars!

Two things I learned. First, some things are better in quart jars. Diced tomatoes, for instance. Many of my recipes (soups and chili in particular) need two pints of tomatoes. Pie filling also requires a quart of fruit. So don't waste effort. Can them as quarts. This year at least half of the tomatoes I can will be in quarts.

Second, it's nice to can soups! When I make too large a batch of chili or stew, I can the extra. It makes a quick meal ready on the shelf later on. This year I will try my hand at canning stews directly, not as an afterthought. I do love soup. Check two of my Pinterest boards for recipes I'm going to try someday:  or  In the same vein, I have really enjoyed having canned chicken broth on hand. Three whole chickens and about 1/2 a left over turkey gave me 2/3 of the winter's needs for broth. I canned them in both pint and half-pint jars. Some of the broth was canned with mushrooms added. This became the base for homemade cream of mushroom soup.

I have really enjoyed having canned beans on the shelf. I posted recipes on the canning-and-preserving board of Pinterest on how to can dry beans. I like to can pinto beans and navy beans. My daughter likes black beans. I am still looking for the right mix of spices to make my own Ranch Style Beans. The recipe found in the Homesick Texan's blog is not quite what I want.

When I wasn't canning last summer, I was dehydrating. I have dehydrated onions, corn, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, celery, and carrots as well as various air-dried herbs and spices. The jalapenos were ground in the coffee grinder to become a fine powder. Just a few shakes give taco soup and chili a new tang. The dehydrated corn wasn't a big success. It takes far too long to reconstitute, but the other dried veggies are great soup starters. I toss them into the liquid early in the cooking process. They re-hydrate by the time the dish is ready to eat. Frozen green peppers and onions are handy to toss into a quick omelet.

I swear, I have been channeling my Mother! :) It's either that or I am in danger of becoming a half-hearted prepper.

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