Where did the last two months go? Haven’t been able to get to this much over the last few weeks due to a variety of reasons. Just plain busy, both by obligation and choice. We’ve enjoyed the beautiful weather that Southeast Minnesota has given us over the last few weeks, we celebrated our first full year at the BRB. October weather in the mid-60’s for most of the month has been much appreciated. We’ve been working on alot of the winter prep around the BRB, cleaning the basement, checking the furnace, getting pellets for the stove, dealing with MICE! Finishing up the lawn and landscaping for year, hopefully we won’t have to mow again but if it meant another couple weeks of nicer weather I’d take it.
The Family: We had my mom, sister and nieces down for a wonderful late summer afternoon a while back. We got to witness my youngest niece take her first un-assisted steps across my recently tidied lawn. Clover helped pull veggies from a productive garden. A good lunch was prepared and the girls got to run around with the dogs. I took my mom and nieces to the state park that’s near by while my sister and Liz spent the afternoon turning a bunch of ripe tomatoes into more salsa for future Football Sundays. It was good to see the little ones but sad in a way, since they visited our house I’ve seen them only once and it’s remarkable how fast they grow and change.
The Garden: Late Sept/Early Oct we got our first partial frost, fearful that it would be worse than it turned out we pulled most everything from the garden, any and all fruit that was approaching ripe was harvested. The rest was left for nature to do with as she pleased. It turned out that we lost only a handful of cucumber vines that were hanging on the ground, some of the larger leaves of the zucchini and summer squash went as well but the rest was left un-scathed. Over the next couple weeks we harvested close to another 150lbs of tomatoes, many of which were given to our friends, family, co-workers and others we care about. We’ve since pulled everything from the garden, bare bones, dirt. Everything that could be composted was, others like the tomato vines were dried and are awaiting flame in the firepit in the back of the yard. My neighbor stopped by one morning with a truck bed full of cow manure of which I was glad to help him remove. That manure along with a good thick layer of fall leaves have been turned into the soil by hand. I am dedicated to the idea that a motorized tiller will not touch the soil we’ve worked hard to make a worm haven, and a worm haven it is. I almost didn’t want to use the shovel to turn the soil after I realized how many worms were being cut in half with my blade. I suppose better a couple than the vast majority. Soon the last layer of fall leaves with be applied to “tuck” the garden in for winter.
The Department: In our absence Liz and I have been busy with a few other non-house related things. 1st on the list would be our First Responder class, required in the State of Minnesota if your going to be on a Fire/Rescue Dept that provides medical assistance. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-10 for the last two months was spent in a classroom learning the skills needed to assist our local department and neighbors with any medical emergencies that may arise while we are home or in our area. We passed our final exams with flying colors. We joined the Fire and Rescue department together as a way to connect ourselves with our neighbors. We both have family within a couple hours but we wanted to have a greater sense of community and this was one way of getting to know those around us. We were a bit skeptical at first if Fire/Rescue was a good fit for us but we’ve been on the department for about 8 months now and are enjoying it, we are both on the Fire and First Responder crews for our department, learning to drive new (much larger) vehicles, learning about our area, the hazards and the responsibilities that come with this kind of service. Since we’ve joined Liz and I have helped save a neighbor’s house from a car fire, put out a brush fire, dealt with a couple medical incidents at ~3am, the usual for the job I suppose. Soon we will be taking Fire 1 & 2, and if things work out right we will be trying for our EMT licence in the spring, again more night class…
The Trout: Aside from class we have spent a fair number of days in the month of October to our south doing what I love… fishing for trout. Liz and I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and as such a bit of fall camping was in order. Recently we purchased a new fly rod and reel for Liz and now she’s got the itch. We have plans to head south yet again for a couple more days before the end of the year, perhaps maybe a bit of early winter camping will be seen. Liz is a damn quick study and has in a very short amount of time picked up the skills she used to use when she was younger with her father, the same man who motivated me to learn to fish.
Things Not Yet Finished: Got a bunch of crap to finish around here before it gets much colder, the underside of the barn is a flipping mess, garden supplies scattered everywhere, parts for this, that and the other thing lay everywhere. The recycling that I’ve been collecting for a year still sits in the bed of my truck, packed as tight as I thought I could get it without risking any loss to road travel. This must be dealt with, so it goes, hopefully to Iowa where they pay for such items (more than the local scrap yard around here) . We bartered a guitar for a ’94 Saturn that came from a good friend that still needs some TLC, despite my best efforts I have not been able to solve an overheating ailment, I am no mechanic but I could try harder. I’ve got one car that needs to be junked, sick of seeing it collect dust and pigeon crap in the barn. I won’t even get into that disappointing mess, just know that I tend to put things off until I’m properly motivated, then and only then will it will be addressed and dealt with. Needless to say I think the first snowflakes will be my motivator. The snowblower needs to be looked at as well, I think something’s wrong with the carburetor but again… I’m an angler…not a mechanic. If someone was offering that class I’d be there, in the future, if time permits Liz and I have discussed the need for such education, out here you’ve got to be your own everything… including mechanic.
The Random: We’ve been listening to alot of Muddy Waters records lately, something about my stash of vinyl hit me and I started tying trout flies, listening to the crackle and pop of the needle, something about those two things just feels so right. I picked up one of my guitars the other day and couldn’t remember how to play Blackbird by the Beatles… there was a time when I could have done this in my sleep. Sad.
The days are growing ever shorter, right now if we hurry home we are lucky to get two hours of light before the darkness comes. These days are bitter sweet for me, I love the winter, maybe more the change in seasons and not actually winter. We took a walk through the state park last night with the dogs, I guess I could be more accurate and say we meant to take a walk but try “walking” a German Shorthair pointer… basically your dragged. Need to do more of these things, simple things, scared of the winter and darkness, spending too many hours behind a screen. Need to read more, much more and they need to be words on a page, not a screen.
I’ll leave you with words I am currently listening to and have been for several days now.
You know that I care, what happens to you
and I know that you care, for me too
so I don’t feel alone, or the weight of the stone
now that I’ve found somewhere safe to bury my bone
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
a shelter, from pigs on the wing
Pink Floyd: 1977 Animals: Track 5: Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)
With mountains of ripe tomatoes lining our kitchen along with the fridge full of cucumbers Liz and I prepared to do more canning on Labor Day after our friends departed. Developing our canning skills and repertoire we decided that another round of pickles should be canned as well as pizza sauce and more tomato sauce to alleviate us of a majority of our ripe tomatoes. Pickles were the first on the list, these went smoothly and since we last canned we bought a proper canning pot with the removable rack to easily place jars into the water bath. Positioning this over two burners on the stove got things rolling quickly. Jars were sterilized and cooled then packed with garlic and fresh dill as before but this time we added a Pickling Spice we purchased to three of the six quarts we canned and dry dill to all six quarts in addition to the fresh dill. The other change with the pickles this go around was the idea of removing a quarter inch from the flower end of each cucumber. This has something to do with the crispness of the end product and we are hoping to notice a difference between these and the pickles we canned two weeks ago.
Pickles are pretty easy and we were quickly onto blanching ~10lbs of tomatoes, removing the skins and using the food processor to turn them into a puree. We then added a packet of Mrs. Wages pizza sauce mix and the recommended amount of sugar. This concoction was then brought to a boil and simmered for twenty-five minutes after which it was placed into sterilized pint jars, sealed and put in the water bath for a whopping forty minutes. While all that was going down we were already moving on the tomato sauce. Our BRB recipe tomato sauce is pretty simple, some traditional italian seasonings, a ton of onion (chopped finely), minced garlic, and close to 15lbs of garden fresh tomatoes. We started the onion and garlic in first cooking the onion until almost translucent at which point the rest of the ingredients were added and then stirred together and brought to a boil. We did add the recommended amount of citric acid based on the number of quarts we planned to can. After this was brought to a boil we allowed it to simmer for ~20minutes before filling the quart jars. Once full we were careful to remove any air pockets and top off to the recommended amount of head space. These were sealed and placed in the water bath for 35minutes. Twenty-four hours later we checked and again all of our jars sealed properly. So to review, six quarts of Pickles, four pints of Pizza Sauce and five quarts of BRB Tomato Sauce. Not a bad haul.
There is something to be said about this process and this day, I can only imagine what housewives years ago went through dealing with this all on their own. Liz and I were working in tandem checking each others progress and maintaining all the things going on at once. This took us a couple hours and was exhausting, if you know a serious canner and you benefit from their hard work, thank them the next time you crack one of those seals open. I wish grandma was around to teach me a few things, I bet we would have had a blast in the kitchen these days.
Liz and I invited a couple friends to camp at our place over the weekend. Our guests arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday after a rainy and cold morning. I had been spying the weather radar the entire morning and took advantage of the couple hour break between rain showers. The lawn around the house was mowed in a hurried fashion, I wanted things tidy for our guests and shorter grass would dry out faster keeping them a bit dryer through the weekend. The guys arrived between rain showers and opted to wait until the next storm passed before setting up camp. An impromptu lawn mower ride ensued and after the rain that seemed would never end did in fact end we opted for a short hike in the nearby state park rather than rush to put up camp with the wet everything. A mile and a half later, after seeing a beautiful view of the Mississippi river valley we made our way back to the BRB to hit the garden hard. With three sets of additional hands we quickly filled our baskets full with the garden haul. We hadn’t harvest anything in two days so we got a rather large load. Afterwards one last check of the weather confirmed the rain had passed and camp could be assembled. The guys pitched their tent while playing with the hounds as the sun set around them, they got to see one of the sunsets that I try not to take for granted.
Dinner was prepared on the grill, we ate squash and zucchini from the garden along with corn picked moments earlier by our guests, the corn was excellent and prompted many smiles. A campfire was built despite the difficult wet conditions and with that we said goodnight to our guests. The next morning Liz and I decided to deal with ~12lbs of tomatoes by turning them into tomato sauce and canning it, all of which was done before breakfast really got off the ground. Our guests came packing some excellent pancake mix and homemade syrup which was a good thing because I totally forgot that we don’t really do breakfast and didn’t have any syrup for the already made hot cakes. With breakfast completed we got the boys out for a hike and some afternoon fishing, these guys are awesome and always looking for a good time outside. Toads… looking for toads, frogs, snakes… basically any reptile. We visited a local trout stream and let James hit the first good run that offered an easy casting lane. The creek was almost muddy from the rain the day prior but a couple fish had hit my flies so the potential for James to hook a trout was present. Danny rode on my shoulders as I made a couple casts watching James get encouragement from his dad who stood back and let him control the whole scene. Soon James was fishing on his own with his dad just downstream fishing and keeping an eye on him. Good to see this scene play out. James gave it a good effort and then opted to hunt up toads and frogs, this gave his dad and I the opportunity to attempt a couple trout of our own. Many strikes ensued, I had a hard time getting a hook to stick but after switching to a larger fly I managed a nicer 16inch Driftless Area Brown Trout. It was fun for me to see the boys so excited over a larger fish. A quick set of pictures were taken then Danny helped me release the fish for a later adventure. With that the time on the creek was coming to an end, we hiked upstream through random showers surrounded by blue skies.
Once back home some downtime was seen, the dogs were played with and eventually another trip to the state park was taken. I stayed back home with Liz and let the guys go adventuring without me as Liz and I needed to tend the garden, pick fruit and begin dinner preparations. Dinner consisted of salmon from Liz’s brothers recent trip to Alaska, steamed peas fresh from the garden, grilled zucchini and a healthy load of salad with cucumber, onions, carrots and tomato all from the garden. Liz and I used apples from the trees in the backyard for our first apple crisp desert for the boys, it was baked too long (my fault) but still tasted good. With full bellies we migrated to the fire ring for another evening of toasted marshmallows and melted chocolate.
The next morning saw a late rising BRB and guests, breakfast was made after black coffee was consumed. Bacon and eggs were readily eaten by our younger guests and we began the process of saying good-bye. Camp was deconstructed, the tent dried as we picked a handful of apples to send our friends with. After things were good and dry things were put away and we bid the guys good travels as they split for home. I’ve known these fellas for a while now but mainly in the context of me fishing with their dad, it was nice to spend more time conversing and getting to know them. James and Danny were a load of fun, full of good questions and lots of humor. I spent a majority of the time they were at the BRB smiling. Thanks for the good time guys, we hope you come visit again soon.
From canning to composting these guys have been rocking my radio for the last couple weeks. I find myself immersing my ears and brain with work from a particular group or artist for long stretches at a time, I’ve been coming back to Blind Melon for a couple weeks now. Music, reminds me of the times in the past that it was prominent, it brings back the memories and emotions attached to it. It makes me smile and sad at the same time, to miss those times, to remember those times and to smile again thinking about them. My first exposure to Blind Melon was from my mother, she rocked some good tunes when I was younger, then when in college they came back for a long time thanks to my good friend Mikey Paul. Shannon Hoon… we miss you and your music thank you for it.
A week ago I was concerned the pole beans wouldn’t produce anything. We walked through the garden the other day after a strong wind that produced the picture below. Bean flowers strewn everywhere, this sight prompted the second photo… some serious beans coming our way. I am no longer concerned, we will be freezing beans soon…
We’ve been collecting tomatoes on the island in our kitchen for a couple of weeks now and the desire to see no waste prompted Liz and I to deal with a bit of the red bounty. Canning salsa, a bit different from pickles, more prep work, longer water bath time, more tasting/eating during prep. It was an enjoyable experience and we were proud of the nine pints we were able to get out of ~10lbs of random varieties of tomatoes. Due to lack of experience and some time constraints we choose to use two kinds of pre-prepped salsa mix for this round of canning. One from Ball and another from Mrs Wages, with that said we don’t always like following rules. The packets of seasoning mix called for 4 and 6lbs of tomatoes but no green peppers, lemon, garlic or onion. I know there are some of these in the packets but we felt it was going to need more. We cut and diced four green peppers and two large yellow onions, threw in an extra kick of garlic and just a couple hot peppers. We tested the two kinds as we prepped jars and lids (being careful to keep things sanitary, no double dipping) and both were quite good. I was kind of hoping they would be just “ok” which would force me to look up and try other recipes in the future but for now these salsa mix packets will work.
With tomatoes flying, water boiling and jars cooling the canning process began. It took longer than the pickles but was maybe a good primer for going at tomato sauce, pizza sauce and other items we will be canning in the not to distant future. One thing we know, we need more supplies…lids, rings, and jars…oh my. This is awesome, the majority of fruit is still on the vine in the garden and we are approaching capacity with the supplies we started with. Motivation to see more jars filled to the brim for use over the cold months. We bathed the sanitized and filled jars for 35min in our boiling water and within a couple of minutes of being removed from the bath the signature “ping” was heard which in turn prompted a couple smiles and a good swig of beer. This being the 1st time we’ve canned salsa and only the third time we’ve tried canning, the process perhaps took us longer than it should have but with some continued practice we ought to be able to get this down to a smooth science. Basically exhausted and really full, I mean I normally eat a good-sized dinner and last night Liz out ate me. I’ve got to remember that making the salsa for canning is to preserve it for later and not to eat it all now. We’ll let you know how it tastes come football season!
p.s. The picture of the dog (Lily), taken because she looked so pitifully bored while we worked hard in the kitchen. She’s awesome.
The Great Tomato Disaster of 2011: Then there was the wind. We’ve dealt with the effects of the Ridge Wind out here but this has to be on the top of the disappointment list, right next to losing the 50ft white spruce this last winter. We came home the evening of Aug. 24th to find the wreckage from a 30+mph wind that decided to take aim at the tomatoes. The corn had minimal damage but the poorly supported tomato plants, some of which were approaching the 6ft mark, packed with heavy fruit did not fare so well. Row after row were toppled over onto one another, green tomatoes strewn about on the ground and stems bent and broken. What was once 6ft tall lay close to 3ft. So we went about figuring out what to do regarding the problem. Stakes were procured and placed, support structures were erected and the plants re-supported. Unfortunately this process took us a handful of evenings and was mentally/physically taxing. It’s our own fault frankly, we put so many plants so close to one another and didn’t prune or train the plants much, a simple flimsy cage to get them going and we ended up with way more than those cages could handle. Personally I got frustrated several times as I untangled a plant only to have multiple branches break off, borderline mad. Mad at my ignorance, like you could just put them in the ground. Next year careful consideration will be taken when dealing with tomatoes and the wind, pruning will occur regularly and the plants will be dispersed amongst more beds rather than all contained in one or two. Significant support structures will be put in place prior to planting, learn from your mistakes.
After a couple of evenings struggling to get the tomatoes back to their former glory we had close to twenty pounds of green tomatoes and with them the first batch of ripe tomatoes on many of our plants. The bright light at the end of this tunnel? Learning. We know what went wrong and I’ll be hard pressed to see it happen again next year. Despite many broken and damaged branches the plants should come back alright and will provide us with a bounty of tomatoes. As a result of the Great Tomato Disaster we were forced to clean up and deal with many of the dead and dying branches on the plants exposing us to fruit we couldn’t see before as well as exposing that fruit to the healthy rays of sunlight that couldn’t penetrate the thick canopy.
The rest of the garden was fairly untouched by the strong winds, things are rolling along well. Our fears that a late start would result in less edible fruit has faded with the ripening of the corn and the later varieties of tomatoes. Our zucchini and summer squash continue to give up a healthy bounty daily. The cucumbers are giving us a handful of good-sized fruit each day as well as the peas. The big bright spot for the weekend: pole beans. Liz and I were hoping that we might be able to harvest enough beans to freeze a bunch for over winter, with our poor success with the bush beans we put all our stock in the pole beans which up until this last weekend had grown large and full but hadn’t shown us any signs of beans. Where there is a flower… and now we have the first of many beans growing. On the long list of things to do this week: mulch. Mulch everything, the garden paths, the tomato beds and especially the onions and carrots.