Kale Yeah!

We ate some kale fresh, gave a lot to the chickens, but largely my spring crop was ignored.  The day I (finally) processed the chard, I already knew that the kale needed attention. And that was over a month ago.

My lovely abundant garden is a weedy mess. It’s time to start working on fall stuff (which will likely be minimal because I’m wearing down) and I really need to get in there and do some cleaning.  So I started with cleaning out the kale. 

The kale was tough and may not come out very good but we are going to eat it, damn it! 

Outside we washed it, pulled it apart, and deveined it. Then I brought the big washtub in and began processing it, batch by batch. I scooped up big bowls full, chopped it, sorted through it, washed it in a vinegar bath, transferred it to a plain water bath, then steamed it. After finding two cooked baby caterpillars, I freaked out and sorted through all the steamed stuff again, and washed it a fourth time before packing my jars. After two pressure canning batches (and about total 12 hours of kale fun) I was still quietly and secretly fretting over the amount of suprise protein that may be in the jars. 

But then I read this article and felt a hell of a lot better! My cans are probably worlds less buggy than the ones I buy. And they are poison free, to be sure! I tell my kids to eat earthworms if they ever get lost in the woods and so if they find a caterpillar, I’ll just tell them it’s their survival training. 

Cucumber Love

Many years ago I had a cucumber addiction and would visit a roadside vegetable stand almost daily, just to buy a few for eating whole. I mostly chalked it up as some cruel Freudian craving because I was very pregnant and Gordon was temporarily living a thousand miles away from me. However I apparently just truly love good cucumbers. 

I’ve never grown cucumbers before, but with all of the pickling experiments I’d been doing, I wanted to try and grow a pretty heavy yield. However, as was typical for this season’s start, I had germination problems. I planned for 30 plants and ended up with maybe 16-18 (I forget) of two varieties: Parade Pickles (heirloom seeds I picked up on Etsy) and Picklebush (Burpee).

I didn’t even realize that some cucumbers were climbers and some were bush variety until my dad told me that he always grows climbers for space reasons. Then I studied really hard to figure out what I had and how and where to plant them. Perhaps the name PickleBUSH would have sent a signal to a more confident gardener, but not me. I had to obsess for a few days, never sure that I had it right until the plants themselves showed me that all was ok.

Parade Pickles

I love the way my parades look. They are beautiful plants growing so prettily up their fencing trellis. The cukes themselves are dark green and almost perfect cylinders, becoming striped as they thicken.

Parade Pickle
Parade Pickle

The Parades have an almost floral flavor to them. Picked when small, the skin has very little bitterness. 

Picklebush

The Picklebush plants are wanderers, but not crazily. They are supposed to be compact for smaller garden spaces. 

Picklebush Pickle

Their color is bright green and I find that they are narrower at the blossom end, but that it seems to even out somewhat as they grow. The picklebush flavor is mild and delicious. They are a very refreshing summer snack and although I still prefer the smaller ones, the cukes that have been left on the vine for a couple of extra days are still great with almost no bitterness. 

Cucumbers, cucumbers, cucumbers! Oh how I will miss them when they are gone! Tuesday I picked enough to try a small batch of pickles. I found a recipe that I thought Gordon would enjoy — good old vinegar-based, shelf stable Bread and Butter.  (Food.com)

They turned out great! I was worried that I’d overcooked them, but I did not. They have a lovely crispness about them, even after cooking the pickles and the 10 minute water bath to seal ’em up good. Next time I will cut the sugar by maybe a third and make the pickle slices a bit thicker. Also maybe more onion would be good. I added a few cloves this time around. 

Today I assembled some tried and true lacto-fermented kosher dills (but tossed in a handful of green beans and a few jalapenos). Also found a cool idea online to pickle squash with basil instead of dill, so I’m trying that with garlic (and a few baby carrots for fun), also lacto-fermented. The dill I had stored in the freezer in a gallon bag because it was all ready when the pickle plants were newborns. The large leaf basil was freshly picked today.

I love the fermented kind of pickles for not only their healthy probiotic properties, but because they’re so easy to do! So far I’ve found that everything works well with a 3.5% salt water brine poured over whatever ingredients you like. Then they can sit (in a tray of some kind) on the kitchen counter for 2-3 weeks depending on what it is and how big the pieces are. (I did a chopped onion and it took forever!) The fermented pickles should get bubbly and then cloudy and usually they have some minor pressure explosions (hence the tray). And you can just keep tasting until they’re done. But tasting messes up the dynamics inside the jar, so it’s an adventure. 

I’m excited to try weird basil squash pickles. I’ll let you know what happens!

New Garden Helper (or Puppy Party)

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I’d like to introduce you to Scout.  She’s the newest member of our family and my latest farmhand.  She’s a 6 week old boxer pup who specializes in wrestling with watermelon vines and herding chickens.

Wendell loves her.

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He’ll even (somewhat reluctantly) share his space with her.

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Welcome, Scout!

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(Slipped on a rock and dunked my camera into a creek in Floyd, VA….so I’m down to my crappy cell phone camera.)

Gardeny Morning

Unusually crisp air and a bit of extra time made my morning trek around the yard especially nice.

Tomato Alley seems to be adapting well to being all tied up to stakes.  I haven’t grown Romas or Russian Queens before, but whichever these are, they are my tallest plants.

This guy is just adorable:

And in the old spring side of the world, wildness abounds.

The volunteer mystery squash is most decidedly a pumpkin.

This gardeny morning gave me a smile to take with me to work. 

Swiss Chard Harvest

It’s challenging to keep up with processing the succesful harvest extras from the spring garden while trying to get the summer garden going. But that’s what I wanted: Lots of food that can be stored and used later.  Like Homesteading Lite…. turning seeds into groceries all while having a full time job and a family. 

(Am I insane?)

My beautiful chard had been getting neglected. Mature stalks, speading out and lying on the ground until I’d rip them off and toss them to the ladies in the chicken coop. Until today. Today I planned to blanch and freeze my kale, make chard stem pickles, and use the chard leaves for dinner along with the few turnips that surprised me this morning. 

(Yeah, I’m insane. )

So the kale is still in the garden, getting blissfully soaked by a quick downpour. But I did manage to do up the chard. Made pickles and chopped, blanched, and came up with a single flat gallon bag to freeze. 

Dinner is Hamburger Helper and store bought corn on the cob that had been hanging out in the fridge for a week. Also Gordon is cooking while I sit blogging and watching the boys play a video game with hopelessly chard-stained fingernails and uncleaned toilets calling my name. 

I’m hoping the pickles turn out good. There was no water in the brine, only vinegar. And the vinegar seems a little overwhelming at this point. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to the fermented vinegar-less kind. This is the recipe I decided to try:

http://heartbeetkitchen.com/2013/canningpreserving/pickled-swiss-chard-stems/

Next day update: 

Pickles are already great! Not too much vinegar. Subtly sweet and sriracha-

2017’s Late Start Summer Garden

It took a lot of time and effort to expand from this:

2016 Summer Garden

To this:

And I had a few setbacks — mostly because I got overly excited and started things too early.  Also I had some sloppy technique in the seed starts and I had to do some replanting. 

I got discouraged a time or ten and worried that our labor efforts and money spent on fencing would be for naught. But as late as it is, compared to everyone else’s gardens in the area and compared to how big my few plants were this time last year, it’s coming along one little leaf at a time. I have lots of healthy babies and lots of room for them. The goal in expanding was to grow enough food to can and freeze some.

Tomato Town
Too Many Watermelons
Wendell and the Mystery Squash
Mystery Squash

I’m a Pollinator Killer!

After I poured fish fertilizer on the newly transplanted baby tomatoes and was giving the rest to the ancient brussel sprout plants, I noticed a few caterpillar guys on my carrot tops.  At that moment I also realized that the chickens were infiltrating the baby tomatoes to scratch in the (very undercooked) compost we just put down. I immediately plucked off the caterpillar guys and tossed them to the chickens, trying to distract the birds and eradicate the vegan predators at once.  So ingenious! 

Then I took the last caterpillar in to show my kids (and torture my eldest by putting it on his head) and then have a caterpillar photo shoot. I left the little wormy guy in some weeds with a “Bye, Falicia” and then went in the house. 

So after a little while I googled this guy and realized he’s a baby black swallowtail butterfly, an important pollinator. Damn it! What have I done? I ran out to rescue him from the weeds and put him back in the carrots. Then I looked for his siblings and found only one, half squished in a bootprint. (So I finished that one off.) 

Upon returning into the house I told Gordon what had happened.  I told him that I really need to take a moment to educate myself before I just get scared and then go around immediately killing things.  He chuckled and said, “Yeah, quit acting like a man.”

Ha. 

The Inside Dirt

There’s another kind of dirt I’m touching now. It’s every bit as organic as the dirt of my official quest. I’m digging deep and unearthing a powerful soul. This part was always known to me, but was never really seen for long. She’d get brushed away with cynicism or smothered with guilt or buried under embarassment. And well, she’s not really lovely or good or any other kind of sugary spice.

But – –

She’s a fucking badass and I’m beginning to like her.

Three Frigid Nights Ahead

The veg garden is going to have to endure on its own at least for tonight (they’re crucifers after all) but we’re attempting to save the herbs with a warmed tent. 

Tonight is supposed to drop below 25 for an hour or two, tomorrow we’re expecting a hard freeze, and I’m not certain about Thursday night, except that it too will suck.

I think the basil is already dead and the chives may be too, but we still have baby dill, cilantro, parsley, summer savory and peppermint that are worth saving. Not to mention the new rebirth of the balm, sage and oregano. 

Good night, little troopers!

Spring Left (or Winter is Coming)

(See what I did there?)

It’s pretty. For now. Before the carnage is revealed.

I forgot to tarp the girls and they’re a little pissed off about it.

I did cover the herb garden, as well as the lettuce and newborn carrots. I suppose I shall see what actually happens.

The snow makes Wendell fast.

And then we had snow cones made from real snow!

(Aaannnd super awesome Game of Thrones date night happened this week:)

Winter is Coming