Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kindergardens - The edges of the day

Dawn, and dusk. Something about those times creates magic in the garden. Dawn still retains some of the darkness and mystery of night. Fog and mist twine around the growing produce, especially here in zone 4 as we ease into chilly September. There's so much promise to the day, what will be new? A new tomato? A new squash blossom?
Dusk brings an easing of the day's heat. Dew gathers as the coolness of night spreads. The fading sunlight and the twinkling of the first stars. Yea, there's definitely something about the edges of the day.

August has been a productive garden month. We've had a steller run of the bush green beans and purple beans. I've got the first pumpkin, and we've harvested at least a dozen summer squash. Potatoes and onions and garlic are nestled in their storage locations. Rows of jars are full of August bounty. Little bits of summer, ready for the long winter ahead.

Rowen quickly learned the joys of green bean picking. After he tired of plucking at random parts of the patch, he decided to help move the piles of beans from one place to a "better" place. Then he decided that the green beans and the purple beans should be in different piles. lol
He's also really intrigued by the watering process. Mostly I think he just likes to play in the water, but often he'll fill the can up and lug it around and water plants that interest him. It doesn't seem to be plants that necessarily need water, one time he spent 5 minutes watering one especially large squash leaf.

We have some amazing volunteer squash that have literally taken over the yard this month. (And the tree, and the garden and the compost pile....) Behold, the elusive tree squash. A delicacy, or so I'm hoping.

Stay tuned for an exciting child related announcement later this week. :-)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Projects getting done

Well, in spite of the busy garden season, I am finding time to finish up some projects. Sewing projects first, since I've been garden heavy on this blog lately.

I've finished my first knitted scarf! It's really basic, with an easy to wash yarn and a pretty variegated green color that should match well with my camo parka. That's right, camo matching tips, right here on My Path to Freedom. hahaha Seriously though, I wasn't sure I'd like knitting. It seemed complicated and I thought for sure the 2 year old would unravel everything at least once, but to my surprise, it was a nice project for those evenings when I didn't want to read, and it was really nice to travel with. I think I must have knitted half of it on planes traveling for work. Yes, you can get on a plane with knitting needles in the US. I have done it multiple times since the increases in security after 9/11.

I've already started project #2, it's a headband/ear cover in a plain black wool, with nice ribbing. The ribbing was tricky at first, but I feel like I'm really starting to get a handle on multiple stitches and patterns. The ribbing makes the headband stretchy, but in a firm sort of way, so I think it will stay on nicely.

I finished a wall hanging for my mother's birthday! A bit belated, but I think she likes it. I'm usually not big on fancy sewing for hanging on a wall. But, she's my mother and she deserves it.

I made a big bag for Rowen to put his Little People playset in. It's one of those sets that has a dozen little people, with little cars and a farm house with little animals... cute, but annoyingly easy to spread around the house like little bits of chaos. So, a big soft bag, with drawstrings was in order. I used Minky, strong seam techniques and some tie line from Dave for a free drawstring. Love it.

With the ever patient help of my husband, we got the curtains up in the basement food storage room. This means I can get the potatoes out of the kitchen and down there and hopefully have fewer of them sprout this spring. We also got gifted my Dad's hand-me-down shop vac, so the basement can get a much needed cleaning. Cleaning is important for more than just superficial looks, it means fewer attractions for vermin and fewer things for mold/mildew to hangout on.

Curing has finished for the garlic and onions, and I'm doing a bit of cleaning and sorting and trying to get them in their proper places. I have over 60 onions and about 25 garlic heads. I still need to find more of both, in order to store sufficient quantities to see us through till next spring. The cleaning isn't an involved process, I'm just trimming up the dried roots and trimming off the dried tops. (I don't braid them, if you are braiding, you'll want to do that while they are still green and pliable.) The garlic usually has an outer layer of the paper-skins that's dirty, and I'll gently thumb that off, mostly for appearance, partially to keep dirt out of the garlic storage bags.

We got 5 pints of salsa canned this weekend. Sssshhh, don't tell Rowen that we don't need the food mill to make salsa. He does love to help.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sharing the Canning Fun

We've been doing lots of canning the past few years. I've gotten better at gardening, and at finding local veggies and fruit when they are in season. I've also been gifted boxes of jars regularly which helps immensely. I have bought some too, but I've been amazed at how many jars found their way to me when I started to tell people that I was a canner. Out of basements and attics of people who are passed their canning hey-day. (Thanks Grandma Dee Dee!)

I have to give credit where credit is due. I can't do it all. Dave has stepped up and has helped a lot with the processing and preserving this year. I couldn't do it without him. Between 2 jobs, volunteer work and the garden I just don't have time to salt cucumbers for 3 hours for tasty Bread & Butter pickles, not if I want to sleep too. :-D Asking for help has never been a strong suit, and there are hiccups when we do things differently than the other would, but overall I think we do a pretty good job of working together. Often a job will start with me in the morning, then pass to Dave in the afternoon, then be completed by me in the evening. The drawbacks to this arrangement are obvious, more chances for something to get missed. We've found that lists and lots of notes help with communication. The benefit is that even with the miss-steps, we get a lot more done, things that neither of us could do alone.

I have found the time to teach my canning skills to a friend here. She promised to take me out bow hunting in exchange for a canning lesson or two. (Yay barter!) I invited her over for the whole tomatoes, which are easy because I like to raw pack them, but at the same time we got to go through the pressure canning process which was really intimidating to her. She was pleasantly surprised by how easy things were, and how straightforward the instructions were in the little canning booklet. I told her about the tools I like to have, and which instructions are more important than others. (Spices can be tweaked, PH can not. )

Keeping in touch with experienced canners has helped too. This is a bit of a challenge since I live half a continent away from my grandmothers. I have canned a few times with my mother, and that's always a joy. My neighbor is a canner, and I'm using her salsa recipe right now. But, mostly I rely on the internet to keep me in touch with other canners, to swap recipes and get inspiration.
Food in Jars
Punk Domestics
Local Kitchen

There's always new things to try. New recipes and new tools. It's hard work, but I enjoy most of it. I really enjoy the home canned goodness in the long winters.

Totals so far:
4 pints of sweet corn (there's still a lot left from last year)
5 quarts of applesauce
7 quarts of whole tomatoes
5 pints of garlic dill pickles
6 pints of Bread & Butter pickles

We have a box of tomatoes/peppers and a large bag of green beans waiting patiently for their turn in the canner.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's my birthday!

Yup, August has always been my favorite month. Enough sunshine that I'm finally warm. Tan lines, and tomatoes. Parties for my favorite people. (August babies are the best, and not just because I'm an August baby.) The days are still long, the nights are clear, and everything is growing. This post is a bit of an amalgamation, as things are busy, and I have stuff to share, but not enough time to flesh them all out into their own posts.

Rowen and I invited a co-worker and his daughter over for the potato harvest. We all dug in the dirt and came up with a big pot full of potatoes and a wide array of bugs, spiders, rocks and weeds. I swear the kids were just as excited over the bugs. :-D The potatoes yielded a good amount of well formed tubers. They didn't have the scab problem that I noticed last year. I was hoping for that, because I had read that a first-year-from-sod garden would grow out of that problem the second year. I know others nearby that don't seem to have my success with potatoes. I would swear I'm not doing anything special. But, I'll write down some of my practices, in the chance that something will work for those attempting to grow potatoes.

First, I put them in the ground early. Here in zone 4, that means a week or two before the last frost date. I'll protect them with a quilt or something if there's going to be a hard freeze, but they are otherwise able to handle the cold temps and frosty mornings. I dig a trench, and put the potatoes in there, mounding up the dirt to one side. I cover with part of the dirt, and a small layer of straw. As the vines grow, every 6 or 8 inches, I put more of the dirt on top, and more straw. New potatoes will be formed above the seed potato that you planted, so you have to give them room to do that. Loose soil, with the straw to keep things airy, but at the same time, light is no good, and will turn them poisonous, so the layers have to be as sunlight blocking as possible.

I don't do anything to the seed potatoes. I'll let them get some good budding on the eyes, and then I just plant them. I don't cut them, I don't dust them with anything... I'm very laissez-faire about it. I have had good luck buying seed potatoes from an Iowa source, Seed Savers, and I've had good luck buying seed potatoes from the bins at the farm store in town.

That all I do. :-D I watered them a couple of times, during really dry weeks, but not very much. For those struggling with golf ball sized potatoes, maybe some of this could help. You could try asking your local ag people too. Here in Iowa the people to ask are the ISU extension offices, they have all sorts of good info on local growing environments and what grows well and how to do that.

My coworker's daughter had a great time, and hopefully enjoyed the potatoes I gave them. Rowen loved having a little friend to play with. Total win-win.

In other news, the plum tree and the apple tree that I gleaned from last year, are both a bust this year. The plum tree has no fruit set, and my neighbors report that the apple tree is sparse and wormy. I'll do my own recon of the apple tree, perhaps some higher branches have something worth picking. This compounds the problem of the raspberry canes not producing much this spring. So, it's looking like this weekend I'll have to do a serious search for some local fruit and spend some money to get my fruit preserving done. I hear there's an apple orchard on the south side of town. This is ok. We're much better off financially than we were last year at this time, and if I have to spend money on something, at least it can be local fruit. It's too bad about the plums though, those spiced plums were freaking delicious.

I'm doing some canning outreach. As a twenty-something I'm well aware of the skills my generation is missing. One of these is How To Can. So, when a local gal mentioned she'd love to learn, I took note. I have 20 pounds of tomatoes to process this week and I've invited her over to help and learn the basics. She's a great bow hunter, so I'm hoping she'll return the favor and teach me a bit about turkey and deer hunting, since all I have experience with is birds.

So, summer wanes, the toddler grows, and I'm trying to get my community more prepared for the unraveling. I love it, but there's always work to do. :-) That's about as profound as I can be today. As always, I love hearing from y'all, so chime in if there's something you're dying to talk about.