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.
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.
Having a garden means alot of work, working the dirt, tending the plants and the harvest. What one does after the harvest can extend the reach of your garden far into the winter months. Liz and I have decided that much of what we grow will be canned for use over the colder months. Tending a garden, composting and now canning? The skill set out here is ever increasing. Canning, sweet. We watched a handful of video’s on youtube.com and discussed ideas with other canners we know and settled on the cold pack method for our first attempt at canning pickles. Timing here is clearly an important element, something we hope to improve on over the next few weeks as we work on more ambitious canning projects. For now these five quarts of pickles gave us a good idea of what canning is all about and the confidence to continue. One of these jars will end up with my sister as I’ve never met anyone else who enjoys a good pickle more than her.
Sustainability. I remember eating dinner with my grandparents when I was young, I remember grandpa scraping any acceptable scraps into a milk jug that had the top half cut off. The jug was used, re-used then used some more. I remember it being stained and kind of stinky but every morning grandpa walked that jug somewhere and emptied it. This is my first memory of anything compost. Composting out here is going to be a necessity, reading more about what my future garden is going to need to be as productive as I’d like is going to require massive amounts of compost. Liz and I have been discussing the location and size of our compost area for a while now, knowing that anything we put in place will serve for a long time we didn’t want to rush things. After a visit to a friend’s compost site I had the motivator I needed to start this task. This was going to require some serious weeding, earth moving and a bit of construction.
My reading has me constructing a three bin composting area made of wood pallets we got for free. For now only two of the three bins will be constructed with the third coming as soon as I can get the remaining pallets needed. My friend Heath joined us for the initial site clearing, with a sharp machete and a weed whacker things were trimmed down to size in short order. The 8+ft tall barn weeds were piled in a trailer to eventually become my (seemingly) annual 10ft tall bon fire. Once cleared Liz and I arranged the pallets and used screws I had on hand to fasten the pallets together forming the first two bins. To promote air flow we used pallets to form the base of the bins as well as the sides, once fully assembled and in place we proceeded to begin constructing our “hot” compost pile.
My limited understanding of the composting process has led me to attempt a “hot” compost pile which if constructed properly should heat to an internal temp close to 160°F and will break down the materials in short order, if done right this process could take as little as a month to complete. To construct the “hot” compost pile we used the lasagna method by layering consecutive “brown”, “green” and soil/compost components making sure to moisten the “brown” layer each time. Our “browns”, which provide the carbon for the pile, came free from the loft of our barn. Old straw and hay remnants layered with aged pigeon droppings should make for composting gold. This was layered roughly 2inches thick each time, my reading says it can be as thick as 3 inches but this straw/hay has been compacted over the years and I did not want to impede air flow. Before building the pile up we inserted a wire mesh cage (made from left-over deer fencing) in the center with a diameter of ~6inches to allow for additional airflow.
The “greens” which layer after the “browns” provide the nitrogen needed, my information says you’re looking for a 30:1 ratio between “browns” and “greens”. The “greens” layer can be between 1 and 6inches thick depending on the materials used, materials that are loose will provide more air pockets can be piled thicker whereas fresh grass clippings which get matted and block airflow can be only an inch thick. Having let our rhubarb plants go too long we cut them back to the ground and used the leaves and some stems for the initial couple layers of “greens”. The soil component that can be supplemented with compost and topped with just a bit of manure (if you have it on hand) is layered after the “greens” and should be no more than 1/2inch thick, this provides the needed bacteria and organisms that will break the other layers down. We used half composted sod left-over from the initial garden construction. The proper way to compost sod is simple, layer it with the root side up and make a nice neat pile. I did not do this, rather I picked a site out of view and simply dumped load after load of the into what turned into a huge long pile. Despite my “piling” method I removed all the surface weeds to find a moist, almost composted under-layer.
For a “hot” compost pile to heat up to temp the pile must be of adequate size and depth, we are shooting for ~4ft deep. After the first layers we quickly began running out of “greens”, weeds (that hadn’t gone to seed) were pulled and layered along with some fresh grass clippings to help get the pile closer to the 4ft mark. Liz came up with an easy to install and remove front panel consisting of a handful of 1X6 slats of wood (all from scrap wood we had lying around). This allowed us to build the front edge of the pile up without it spilling over onto the ground. When the pile is ready to be turned we can easily remove the slats and turn the pile into the next bin. With the basis of the first pile in place we are now set to install the third bin and continue adding to the pile we’ve constructed with the same scraps my grandpa toted to his pile years ago. The goal for us is to use and not waste any of the energy we have growing or existing here at the BRB. Now weeds and other seemingly nuisance items can serve a purpose and eventually help my garden. Waste not…
Here at the Big Red Barn we are learning all kinds of new things, living out here you’ve got to be your own everything. Mechanic, roofer, plumber, and as we’ve found… trapper. These are the Country Challenges and they test your wits and resolve. So today we tackle the mole problem, after coming home from a week away we found a large hole next to a handful of what I could only assume were mole runs. They made their first real appearance when my mower got a nice taste of loose earth from the burrowing bugger. Not wanting to see more lawn disaster I went straight to the store and looked at mole traps. I opted for a slightly more expensive trap because it is harder to set off from above ground, an issue I was concerned about with respect to the dogs we have running around here. After a bit more research I came up with these simple things to keep in mind:
- Determine the most active location: Look for a Mole mound, not a hole.
- Do not press existing mole runs into the ground, leave them until you’ve trapped your target.
- Place the trap in the early evening around 5-6pm. Moles come out at night and early morning.
- Check and reset your trap after 48hrs if you haven’t bagged your target.
- Be vigilant, keep your grass cut short and areas around trees clear to spot activity before it becomes an issue.
A jungle, a mess, a beautiful, wild mess, that is how I would describe the tomato plants in the garden as of yesterday. This first year’s trials are teaching us subtleties of our garden that will allow us to better plan and prep for next year. The tomato plants require more support than we’ve given them. We’ve also given thought to pruning back some of the determinant plant’s branches but at this point almost every branch has fruit hanging from it at some point. Next year a hand-made tomato plant support system will be required if we choose to attempt the tomato jungle again. As of now we have over 30 varieties growing many of which are beginning to ripen. My favorites are the Garden Peach, Italian Ice and the Lemon Boy. I’ll go over the varieties more in detail once oodles of red ripeness start showing up daily.
Other developments: The pole beans have grown and grown and are now full plants that are eagerly laying claim to the trellis that is supposed to be for the peas (spacing problem #44). The issue here is that despite vigorous growth we have no fruit, no beans. If we get them they will provide enough to freeze several bags, if not I have just fed a very large web of green leaves. Another note, if the pickler cucumbers you’ve planted are even borderline ready… pick them. 24hrs later they will have grown into a HUGE cucumber that is best on salads and not in the pickling jar. More on the cucumbers later… The corn is growing ever higher and has finally stretched above the 6ft tall tomato plants, the ears are beginning to really fill out. Squash is coming daily along with hot peppers and a few tomatoes, soon we will be forced to learn to can on a larger scale. For now things are progressing well, the thick layers of mulch have kept soil moisture up allowing the onions to take off splitting earth as they grow. We decided to see what if anything the carrots were up to, needless to say we were pleased. They need more time but are doing well, we will be eating our first one in salads this next week. Raised Beds allow for deeper larger root growth, that can directly translate to a larger longer carrot.