More Bottling Adventures…

The cherry wine is finally ready to bottle! We used our slightly over-ripe Rainier cherries to make 10 gallons of wine, or roughly 45 bottles. Now that I’ve bottled wine a few times, I’m reducing the spillage that occurs, which is great. The wine will be ready in about a year; hopefully over the next 12 months, it’ll clear up a bit and mellow in taste.

cherry-wine

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It’s Time to Get Planting for Fall

As I sit back and enjoy the literal fruits of my labor in the garden, I’ve turned my attention to the fall plantings. I live in an area that is relatively mild all year long (although the Farmer’s Almanac predicts a wet and cold winter this year), so cool-weather crops thrive in the garden.

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This year, I’m planting kale, cauliflower, two types of broccoli and Brussels sprouts and I’m starting some of my onions and garlic from seed. The seeds are nestled in potting mix in starter trays on my deck.

 

Once they sprout, I’ll plant them in the garden. I’ve been enhancing the soil with finished chicken and horse manure and covered the area with old carpet to smother weeds.

 

Traditionally, we don’t get our first frost here until November (although if the Almanac is correct, it may be sooner), so I won’t plant this outdoors until November. To protect them from frost and bugs, I’ll cover them. However, I may reuse our old shower doors to create a cold frame.

 

Of course, fall is also the time to plant garlic and your spring flower bulbs. Buy your bulbs now and get planting!

 

What will you plant this fall?

 

If you want more garden tips, be sure to sign up for my gardening class on Skillshare.

 

Tips for Growing Brassicas

If you live in a temperate area, consider growing brassicas. Brassicas include garden staples like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, turnips, kale and kohlrabi.

 

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Brussels Sprouts in the garden

Brassicas do best in moist, well-drained soils with full sun. They tend to be susceptible to diseases and pests, so maintaining proper moisture levels is essential. It also helps to cover your plants with row covers to keep pests in check. And, remember to space them properly to keep air flowing between the plants.

 

Since they’re cool-weather crops, they tend to bold during heat waves. For broccoli, I’ve had luck pulling flowering buds and giving them to the chickens.

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Harvest when you want; however, keep an eye on pests and bolting plants.

 

Be sure to rotate your crops. Don’t plant a brassica where you planted one last year, so don’t plant broccoli where you had cabbage, or Brussels sprouts where you had cauliflower. Planting them in the same spot year after year will make them more susceptible to disease.

 

 

If you want more garden tips, be sure to sign up for my gardening class on Skillshare.

Grow Broccoli

In an effort to rely less on the produce section and more on my garden, I tried growing broccoli this year. I tried growing it from seed, but it didn’t work out for me so I bought starts from the local nursery and, boy, did they deliver. I’ve been harvesting florets from the 12 plants I purchased all summer.

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Broccoli from the garden tastes different. I know, I know—that’s what everyone says. It’s true though. It’s a bit sharper than store-bought broccoli, and that’s not a bad thing. When I steam it, it’s more fragrant than store-bought broccoli. It’s nice to be able to really taste and smell the vegetables before I eat them.

Since broccoli is a cool-season crop, I can grow it all year in my temperate climate. Woohoo, broccoli for days.

 

 

 

 

 

If you want more garden tips, be sure to sign up for my gardening class on Skillshare.

 

In the Healing Garden

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We rely on our gardens for a lot things, and healing is one of them. Being in the garden is not only good for your mental and emotional health, the items you plant are good for your physical health. This goes deeper than fruits and vegetables–many of the herbs and flowers you grow have healing benefits. Aloe is known to sooth sunburns and is an excellent moisturizer. Lavender has proven properties of relaxation, as does chamomile. Calendula is more than a dye, it has skin soothing properties as well. The list goes on.

lavender and thyme_smallerMy youngest son has eczema and most bubble baths and lotions cause his skin to flare up an angry shade of pink. Since I’ve been making my own facial moisturizers and body bars for the past few months, I decided to make him a special bath tea and lotion as well. I feel very lucky to be able to grow many of the ingredients I use in my own garden.

So, to help others put their gardens to use for more than dinner and green smoothies, I developed a course for Skillshare that allows anyone–whether they’re living in an apartment or on a dozen acres–to grow their own healing gardens. At the end. I give students simple recipes for their own bath teas. As more people turn their hands at becoming self-sufficient, having healing herbs and flowers nearby will become even more important.

If you want to learn more, check out my class for free, while supplies last.

Gimme Some More…Jam

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

Just when I thought I was done making jam for the season, we discovered blackberries and a cherry tree on our property. I had noticed the fruit on the cherry tree about a month ago when we were clearing wood from the front of the yard. We wondered if the fruit was edible, but didn’t want to take any chances. When our friends visited us this weekend, they identified it immediately and ate a few of the cherries. When they didn’t die or tax our sewer with explosive diarrhea, we picked the rest of the fruit and started drying and canning it.

We’ve since identified the trees as Rainier cherry trees. Our trees are older and well established, and the fruit is sweet. Apparently Rainier cherries are the sweetest of the cherry varieties, which is great because I used less sugar in the jam recipes, saving money and my pancreas.
The thorny bushes around the perimeter of our property are blackberries—rich, delicious blackberries. Although the berries are a pain—literally—to pick due to all of the thorns, the bushes produce a shit-ton of berries. We spent 20 minutes picking the berries within arms-reach and came out with a huge basket of berries. And there’s more where that came from.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

 

I had thought they were wild roses, and thought it was odd that they never produced flowers. Now I’m wondering how many of the prickly vines that I’ve ripped out around the property have been roses and which have been blackberries.

 

 

 

4 Things to Do When You Have a Bounty of Fruit

1. Dry them. Our food dehydrator has gotten a workout over the past few days as we’ve been drying about 10 pounds of cherries. (If you’re a fan of sour candy, drying cherries is for you.) We’ve dried everything from apples to kale in the dehydrator. Drying time varies by fruit—more watery fruits may take longer—but the result is delicious. Although dried fruit will last a fair bit of time, it will probably be eaten within a week.

2. Jam them. Jam is the easiest thing to do with fruit. Find a great recipe either online or in a cookbook, but don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe a bit. I love adding cinnamon to everything—it gives the recipe a spicy little kick. While some things in jam recipes should remain balanced (e.g., the fruit, sugar and pectin proportions), experiment with adding spices that you think will add to the finished product.

3. Freeze them. While I haven’t done it yet, freezing excess fruit is a great way to have fresh fruit year-round. This is a neat guide to help you if you want to find out more. http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_freeze_fruit.pdf

4. Give them away. Many food banks will accept excess fruit from private citizens. While sometimes they’ll send out gleaners to take the fruit off of your hands, other places may allow you to drop it off at their facilities. Check with the food bank near you to learn more.

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A Garden Miracle!

Maybe there’s hope for the zucchini after all.
I harvested two very large zucchinis this week, giving me hope that I’ll be able to enjoy them this summer. The egg shells and organic fertilizer must have worked!

The garden this week.

The garden this week.

I’ve been harvesting from the garden more frequently. The spinach is ready to pick, as well as the lettuce that I haven’t let bolt. We have tons of sugar snap peas on the vines; although by some mystery they never seem to make it into the house. The onions appear to be ready, but I’ve been hesitant to pick them. This is my first year growing them so I’ve had to consult the books and Google to make sure that I harvest them correctly and at the right time.

What did people do in the days before Google?
Even though I have a few gardening books at my disposal, I’ve been consulting Google a lot this year for gardening tips. As a person born on the cusp of Gen X and Y, I find that it’s easier to type a question into Google and see what comes up before I think to consult the index of a book or call my mom. Actually, it’s been so long since my mother had a large garden that she often can’t remember the answer to the question I’m asking. I’ve been reading Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Jenks Farmer, a book that seeks to take gardening back to its roots, where people passed wisdom down through the generations. In many ways, passed down knowledge can be more reliable than what you read in a book, especially when it concerns native plants, how to deal with pests and what vegetables grow best in that area. But, when you don’t have the luxury of knowing this information from a local, the next best choice is Google, I guess.

What’s going on in the garden?

July is a great time to see the rewards of what you planted in the garden a couple of months ago. Many of the plants that take a while to grow, bloom and fruit are reaching their potential. When I was planting the seeds and starts in my garden, I remember worrying that I wasn’t planting enough. Looking at my garden now, I realize that I should have given some of my plants a wider birth (I’m looking at you, borage).

The garden this week.

The garden this week.

Tilling is a great workout. After two months of being covered by old carpets, the soil in the garden next to my current garden has fewer weeds and was ready for a good tilling. I used a digging fork to get deep into the soil, which was much easier to break into than it was a few months ago, to unearth rich soil. It took me most of the afternoon to double-dig the 8’ by 10’ plot, pulling up rose and weed roots as I went. Then, on Monday, I planted some snap peas, sunflowers, beans, radishes, cilantro, parsley and transplanted some strawberries. Eventually, most of the garden will become a strawberry patch, but for now I’ll grow some yummy vegetables.

 

Forget plain ice cubes. Since my borage began to flower, I’ve been cutting the best buds and freezing them in the ice cube tray. They add some life and color to regular water and make me feel a bit fancy. Since the cilantro I planted is growing like gangbusters, I cut them back to encourage more growth and then chopped and froze the leaves of the clippings in an ice cube tray. Fresh cilantro from the garden all year round!

That’s plum crazy! I finished up the plum preserves the other day. One full tree of plums has yielded 9 half pint jars of plum butter (with an assist from 5 Granny Smith apples) and 8 half pint jars of plum jam (with an assist from 3 Granny Smith apples). While the butter has a wonderful tartness with a sweet aftertaste, the jam is smooth and not too sweet.

All in all the jam was easy to make. While it did involve a lot of stirring, it wasn’t as labor intensive as I feared it would be. I was worried that it wouldn’t set well—while I was ladling it into the jars, I was worried that it wasn’t thick enough. After it had time to set, it did so perfectly. It’s my new favorite jam.