Sunday, July 27, 2014

Slowing Down

Not the amount of stuff that needs to be done. Me... I'm 36 weeks pregnant today and am really starting to slow down and not have the energy to get all the things done that I need to. It is frustrating but I keep trying to remind myself Que Serra Serra. All in all I think I do pretty good for someone this late in pregnancy. I am still cooking most meals from scratch. I am still push mowing the yard, although the amount I can do at a time gets smaller and smaller.

Last night we processed chickens, which meant that I did all of the actual "processing". Brad and Keegan did a lot of the work though. Keegan caught all of the chickens, some of which were free ranging and were not keen on being grabbed. Brad set up my work station for me which was a huge help. As always, he also did the machete swinging (my aim is shite), and the post processing cleaning and bagging of the finished product. Keegan also cleaned all of the gizzards, hearts, and livers which will become dog food, and buried the bucket full of "left-overs". To be realistic, there were only 8 of them and 3 of them silkies which didn't get processed, just culled. That is nothing compared to the amount of roosters we usually process each year. I am proud of myself for not getting over optimistic this past spring and thinking that I could take on a full load of meat birds. Maybe having debilitating morning sickness was a good thing. It kept me grounded. We kept 2 roosters out of this batch. One Keegan named Ronald, and hopefully he will be a good breeder for our speckled sussex girls. The other we call "pathetic" and he is just what his name makes him out to be. I have never seen a more tame rooster in my life, and all of our roosters are tame. The ones we intentionally keep, anyway. Einy steps up onto my arm like a parrot. Red is such a gentleman that I have seen him chase a hen across the yard with a blueberry in his mouth as a gift because she wasn't paying attention to his attempts to be romantic. This one... he is a whole other level of tame. He tries to follow us inside. When we pull into the driveway and open the car door he greets us with the dogs and tries to jump into the car. I just didn't have the heart to put him in the freezer. I was trying to reason my way out of keeping him because it is one more mouth to feed. He is worthless as a rooster, but Brad said he is happy to keep him as a pet. He is a big softy and I love him.

I'm glad to have that out of the way! Especially since we are going to be starting another animal adventure soon! My Father in-law and brother in-law showed up yesterday with a new cement pig trough! That means that we will soon have pigs! I'm not sure how many yet... or even how old they are. That means that I need to start getting the garden sectioned off to train them to the electric fence. I also need to start working on getting the waterer functional. Once that happens the pig paddock needs to be fenced off again, only bigger this time. Thankfully, a single strand of electric is easy peasy to put up.

I admit, now that I know it is happening I am a bit panicky. What if I end up having to have a c-section again and am bed-ridden? That is not the plan but you never know. Ugh... I will chalk it up to end of pregnancy worries and again say, Que Serra Serra. Whatever will be, will be... there is nothing I can do about it, regardless how big of a control freak I am. This pregnancy has forced me to relinquish control a bit and allow Brad and Keegan take more control of certain things. It has been a difficult thing to wrap my brain around. I was a student and a single mother for a long time and am used to doing everything by myself. Trusting that things will be done correctly when I'm not the one doing them is really hard for me. I'm not good at asking for help and usually just take everything on by myself. I have been having to learn that not everything will be done "my way" if I don't do them, and that is ok... sometimes. Also, if I don't take the time to teach them rather than doing it myself because it is faster and easier, they will never learn to do it, which will make life easier in the long run. Yes, I am still having issues with it. LOL The two of them have been a god send though and I don't know what I would do without them. This, like all real learning experiences, is difficult but will be a blessing.

Now some random pictures...

Typical lunch primarily from the homestead. Home-made garlic cheese spread (store-bought cheese) on freshly baked french bread (store bought flour and such) layered with shaved cucumbers (ours), cherokee purple tomato slices (ours), and a fresh peach from our tree. My eyes were bigger than my tummy and I had to share with Keegan, but oh was it good! 

I love snapping beans. I did it the lazy way and carried the necessary stuff to the couch and snapped beans while watching netflix. I can't just sit and watch tv... I have to be doing something else at the same time so this was perfect. Lazy and productive at the same time. The next best thing is a simple knitting project, but I just can't get into knitting when it is hot outside, even with a baby on the way. 

Beautiful halved egg yolk tomatoes waiting to be made into sauce for lasagna, pizza, and spaghetti.

The egg yolk and amish paste tomatoes once they were added to the browned sausage, hamburger, and onions (all ours). This took a couple of hours but it cooked down to a beautiful and very yummy sauce. I may use some of it tonight for pizzas. I have been making tomato sauce pretty regularly because we haven't had enough tomatoes at once to can, but if we have tomatoes I don't want to open jars of already canned sauce. Luckily, it is sooooo easy to do, though it takes some cooking time. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Goings On ... and Sunflowers!

 Today while I was in the garden tending to things and picking veggies Brad came out and took beautiful pictures of my sunflowers which have started blooming over the last couple of days. These are Titan sunflowers. The others didn't make it. Partially thanks to the armadillo that kept digging in that area, and partially simply because of poor soil I think. Even these didn't get as big as they should have before blooming. They sure are pretty though. Sunflowers are my FAVORITE! The bees seem to be enjoying them too!

 I had to straighten some of the sunflowers, along with some corn. Some of the peppers had to be tied up and the tomato row fence reinforced. It has been raining for the last couple of days, and will continue for the next week or so. The wind during storms, coupled with the water logged soil, has been causing plants to topple. The tomato row is simply getting too heavy. Next year I need to put more t-posts in spaced closer together to support the heavy plants and fruit. Also, next year I only need to plant a couple of egg yolk plants. They produce a ton of small tomatoes, but we don't use them as much and they take garden space away from the larger tomato producing plants. Next year will contain primarily Cherokee purple and Amish paste tomatoes. Maybe a couple new varieties.. just because I can't help myself when it comes to buying seeds. only a few will be aded to sample if that is the case though. I probably need to add another entire row of tomatoes so I will be more likely to have enough to can next year. I love the taste of Brandywine tomatoes but those plants seem to be the most susceptible to issues and either die or not produce fruit. Very few Brandywines survived long enough to make it to the garden, most of the ones that did died shortly after planting, all but a couple immediately started showing signs of blight, and those ones were the plants that I found nearly all of the caterpillars on causing destruction this year. Now, the caterpillars could be a coincidence, but I also wonder if they are perhaps more tasty or less caustic than the other plants? Regardless, I have harvested a single pink tomato this year, and while huge and delicious, it is not worth the massive amount of space taken up. This has happened every year I have planted them and I have to just decide that they don't do well in this area and move on. The Cherokee purples are delicious too, and much more productive and sturdy plants that I have had good luck with. I have already saved seed from a massive amish paste, and quite a few perfect egg yolk tomatoes for next year. I still need more amish paste when I get some more perfect specimens to collect seed from, and a lot from the cherokee purples. I keep getting overly excited and eating them all before I collect seed from them...

The tomatoes and cucumbers are starting to produce well. I'm still not getting enough of either to can though. I'm ready to make pickles and relish! There are tons of little cucumbers on the vines, which are taking over my pathways, but I never seem to find many perfect sized fruits. A few of those and a few gigantic ones which the chickens and turkeys really enjoy as a treat when it gets hot. The jalapenos were really full of peppers today! All of the pepper plants are getting massive. Granted they are in raised beds (1-1.5 ft) but they are almost shoulder level with me and I am almost 5'10". I am excited to say that I have harvested 4 perfect zucchini! Those plants have grown to massive proportions too and haven't succumbed to vine borers yet. A basket of green beans have been coming in every other day too. I made green bean casserole last night (one of keegan's favorites). Next year I need to plant more so I can pressure can some for winter. We just aren't getting enough for a canner load. I may start doing a couple of quarts at a time though.

I have been more and more disappointed recently about the prospect of not having pigs this year. Aside from the very end when the pigs were really big and getting a bit aggressive (and I was miserable because of severe morning sickness and didn't have the strength to deal with them) having pigs was a joy! I love having pigs on the homestead. They are so full of spirit and it is nice to have something to eat all of the scraps (not just being picky like the poultry). I also love having such high quality pork in the freezer. My Father in-law asked my BIL to raise some this year instead of me since I am expecting soon. He was trying to make my life easier. I was surprisingly saddened by this, and became more and more disappointed as the time went on. I talked to my MIL yesterday and asked if my BIL had gotten the pigs yet. She said that they hadn't been picked up yet because the pig enclosure had not been prepared yet. I eagerly told her that I would take them again! All I need is a new fence charger, as Brad has been unable to fix ours. Putting up electric fencing is extremely easy, and I have a section of unplanted garden that can be sectioned off to train them to the fence while I fence off the rest of the pig area. She said she would let my FIL know. I may be raising the family pigs again this year! I even woke up excitedly making plans to prepare for them before I even opened my eyes. I am so excited! Hopefully I will still feel that way over the next month or two. Liam is due in 5 weeks. Keegan is also going back to school in around 3 weeks and Brad about a week and a half later so they won't be here to help as much. We shall see. I still can't help but to look forward to the prospect. Pigs really are such easy creatures to care for when they are on pasture.

Blueberry Pruning

The blueberries are pretty much done producing for the year. There are still some berries hanging from the branches, but so sparsely that it isn't a productive use of time to pick them. Keegan is ecstatic that the end of berry season is finally here. Have I mentioned that he really dislikes picking blueberries? Brad and I made it official today by pruning the bushes. I like doing it right at the end of berry season. It gives me the opportunity to see where the best producing areas are, where the thick overgrown areas are, and where the majority of scraggly dead growth is. It is much more difficult to tell during the fall/winter when there are no leaves. Also, the berries grow primarily on new growth so pruning while there is still plenty of time left before the end of growing season gives the bushes a chance to produce lots of new growth to replace what was pruned. Many people disagree with this and prefer to prune in the early spring, especially in areas that have harder winters. Having done it both ways, I prefer this timing for this area (zone 8B).

Every year it is almost painful for me to cut branches off of my beautiful bushes. Last year I pruned particularly heavily and I felt terrible about having done it for months. That is, until this spring when the bushes started blooming and I realized just how many berries I would have this year. The bushes were so heavy that I had to prop them up in many places. It was the best year we have ever had, with a close second being the year after we first moved here after I had to rescue the nearly dying and badly overgrown bushes from the advancing forest. Following suit, we pruned heavily again this year. We really needed to though. Despite thinking that the bushes had plenty of room a few years ago when we transplanted a few bushes, they have grown a great deal and are crowding each other out. The overhead trees have also grown a lot and are shading the bushes more than I had planned.

Blueberry bushes produce most berries on growth that is 2-3 years old and the least on growth that is more than 7 years. Each year I remove some of the oldest growth to allow more room for the newer canes to grow. Today we removed some of the biggest and oldest branches, which I had been putting off for years. Along with the old growth, some of the thicker growing and crowded areas were thinned a bit. It seemed like a ridiculous amount of branched piled up, but I think it was probably about the same amount as last year. Possibly a bit less in total but bigger branches. The bushes look so much happier already! They have so much more open space to allow sun in and more growth. We also completely removed the rose of sharon bush that was planted in the berry grove. I really hated to do it, but it was taking up prime blueberry real estate and negatively effecting the growth of the berry bushes. I console myself a bit with the fact that both of the little rose of sharon bushes I planted a couple of years ago have started really blooming this year, so they can act somewhat as a replacement for the big beautiful bush that we removed. A little blueberry bush was beginning to grow under some much taller bushes so we rehomed it. There wasn't enough sunny spaces left that would not be shaded out in the next couple of years to plant it near the rest of the bushes, so it now resides on the south side of the property near the chicken coop. Hopefully it will be happy there and will be joined in the future by any other volunteers we manage to transplant.

I lost count of how many gallons of blueberries we picked this year. I know that I froze at least 2 possibly 3 more gallons of berries since the last that I mentioned here. I will have to go back and look to see how many we froze before that. We need to make wine soon to clear the ones that weren't used up from last year out of the freezer. I also need to make more pepper jam now that the jalapenos have started producing. Hopefully next year we will have a good berry year too because of the work we did today. Oh how I love blueberries! I, like Keegan, am not sorry that picking season has come to an end, though. Now it is time to begin dreaming of next years harvest, and try to forget how itchy and sweaty the actual harvesting part really is.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Back to Basics

That has been the underlying principle of the summer for us. Don't get me wrong, this is a normal thing for us simply for a sustainability and health stand-point. We also never have a large budget. Brad and I were students for a long time, he still is, and I spend most of my year focused on the homestead and growing as much as possible of what we eat. We take turns working to keep the bills paid but the focus is always on family, home(stead), and school. We prefer it this way. This, rather than unnecessary luxuries (along with the bills and debt they require) is what makes us happy. That being said, we are on an even tighter budget than usual. Brad normally works in an office during his off time from school. The further he gets in school the less time he has to work and starting next month he will have a teaching assistant-ship in grad school meaning he will have a full time paying position plus school. I am very proud! He has had to settle for working whenever he can at office this summer though since he won't be back full-time anytime soon. We are grateful for this, but money is tight. He is also working doing  odd-jobs (mostly computer work) when he can. Have I mentioned that I have a brilliant husband? Mostly he is staying home and checking things off of the massive to-do list that has managed to accumulate over time when he is busy at school. Brad is my best friend and I am loving having him home so much! I'm going to miss him when he has to go back to school next month.

Our modest home and car are paid for so that is hugely helpful. It is still nerve-wracking knowing that we still have bills and money going out with very little coming in. Lets be honest though. The beginning of the school year is always stressful money-wise. Especially since Keegan's (and now Liam's) birthday falls at the same time. We always manage somehow though. Everything always works out. We just have to work at it.

My job has been mainly to keep the gardens going, keep the yard cared for, keep the house functioning, canning and preserving like crazy, and cooking from scratch with as many things from our homestead as possible. The last one alone seems like a full-time job sometimes. A very rewarding job though that saves us a ridiculous amount of money. And despite being low on money, we have been eating very well. This past week we have dined on pizza, lasagna, and calzones from scratch. The cheeses were bought in bulk so they were much cheaper. I make all of our bread, including pizza crust, and the cost of flour (even good flour) is much cheaper than the prepackaged or fast food version. All of the sauce and toppings (minus pepperoni which we love and splurge on) were grown or at least picked and processed by us including sausage from our pigs. Other favorites are spaghetti, tacos, or beef with white gravy over rice, all from our family's (FIL) grass-fed beef or our sausage, sauteed with our own peppers and onions, homemade salsa or tomato sauce, and very few other basic ingredients (tortilla shells, some spices, pasta, rice). Our link sausage has been the center of many meals as well. Usually sauteed with onions and peppers and served along side green beans and potatoes, freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, or some other veggies that we have grown here.

We have also been having wonderful breakfasts and desserts. I lump them together because I usually make them at the same time, in the middle of the day when it is too hot to do anything outside, and then put them up for later.We have had lots of fresh bread and biscuits with home-made jam, blueberry or pumpkin pancakes with homemade strawberry or blueberry syrup (homemade thinly gelled "oops" jam). Blueberry, pumpkin, and banana breads with our berries or left over fruit that needed to be used up. Blueberry and lemon meringue pies from our berries, eggs, and left-over lemon juice from canning. Basically, what-ever I can pull together with very little outside input from very basic ingredients. I am proud of some of the things I have been concocting and have getting to the point where most of the time I have very little use for a recipe. I used to be a very un-practiced and just plain bad cook. Now I feel like I can manage most anything with minimal instruction. It is a good feeling.

The main things that we have been having to purchase outside of our little bubble are:
- Canning jars
- cheeses
- milk
- butter
- yogurt
- flour
- oats
- rice
- sugar
- green and mint tea
- spices (salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon)
- peanut butter
- honey
- tortilla chips
- lemon juice
- vinegar
- Olive oil
- Dog food

I list these things because I want to try to start reducing having to buy even most of these things. Canning jars are simply a good investment. I will be using them for years to come. I keep trying to convince Brad to let me have a dairy cow. That alone would cut our grocery money output by at least 1/3. Dairy is expensive (and highly processed, possessing tons of hormones and antibiotics, and from very cruel sources unless purchased from a local grass-fed dairy-i.e. even more expensive). Brad isn't giving any on that front so far. I need to talk to my father in-law about him possibly financing a share of a cow-share project if I do all of the dairy product processing work. I know I can figure out how to make soft cheeses, yogurt, and butter fairly easily. Harder cheeses will be more of a challenge, but we don't use them nearly as often anyway. I have already talked to him about wheat and think it is a definite possibility. I am willing to try oats as well. I don't think rice or sugar are a possibility in our area and I would just prefer to buy them.

I am already starting on the mint tea project! I have my mint starts growing happily under my light in the kitchen. I'm just waiting for them to get big enough to be comfortable planting them. I know from experience that they grow like wild fire and will take over any area they are planted in so I am hopeful that they will do well. I have been looking into green tea but it will be a much bigger project. It is the majority of what we drink here though (other than water). Some of the spices I will just have to buy, but I do plan to try garlic again this year (we use it in EVERYTHING) and purchase chili and cayenne pepper seeds this year as they are also often used spices. Especially chili power as we eat a ton of tacos and in the winter months chili is one of our favorites. peanut butter is a no-brainer. I should be making my own. Our area is known for peanuts and I have no excuse.

Honey is something else I need to get with my FIL about. Have I mentioned that he is my enabler and biggest supporter in all farmstead related en-devours? Brad jokes sometimes that he is worried that he must have married a long lost cousin or something. His (FIL) dad raised honey-bees so he knows quite a bit about it. I have already been seriously looking into it and have already decided where I want the hives. I just need to get the hives, equipment, and bees. That is where money comes in and I haven't made it further than that. I need to focus more on making this a reality. This will also cut down on the amount of sugar we use for baking, preserving, and such. I think I would rarely, if ever, use sugar if I had enough honey around.

Lemon juice is usually only used during canning season, but I do already have lemon and grapefruit tree root-stock growing in my kitchen. They are about a year old and need to be re-potted. I am hoping to graft good fruit varieties onto them once they are big enough. Hopefully by then I will have a greenhouse to put them in. My citrus trees died down to the root-stock last year because of the heavy frosts. I plant to graft onto those as well if they make it through this winter. The vinegar is very heavily used here. I use it not only for canning and cooking, but for cleaning. I keep a spray bottle of vinegar on my kitchen counter at all times to sanitize things. When paired with baking soda is does many other amazing things too (like unstop drains and scrub build up). I haven't done much research on making my own though. Perhaps in the future, but it is something that would probably be more easily bought.

I have indian flint corn growing in my garden right now that is supposed to be amazing ground up and cooked with. Hopefully it will do well. I plan to use it mainly for animal feed (one of our biggest expenses) but also try making corn flour out of it. Homemade tortillas and chips may be in our future. Most of this years crop (if it makes) will go for seed for a much bigger crop next year though. Finally, olive oil. I plan to cut way down on the use of this soon. Rendered lard from our pigs will replace it. Combining that with butter from our own cow or cow sharing would almost completely erase our need for it.  As for dog food. The dogs get supplemented with organ meat from all of the animals we process. They also eat scraps as we throw no food scraps away... ever (mostly meant for the chickens or compost pile... bread, veggie scraps, and such), and as much as I try to prevent it they get into the chicken feed every chance they get. They really eat very little when it comes to actual store bought food, but we could do better and it is something to work towards.

Many of these things may not happen until long in the future, but I have high hopes that they will happen. It is inspiring to look at this and see how close we are to needing almost nothing in terms of food from outside our little bubble. Amazing really. It makes me want to try that much harder to make it a reality. With hard work and determination anything really is possible. What a beautiful world we live in.

Friday, July 11, 2014


This is today's bounty! I went out to the garden with a single gallon sized bucket and ended up having to come back in to unload the bucket, and a my shirt which was also overflowing with veggies. They were encroaching on Liam's space and he was kicking the cucumbers. Then I went out after beans and peaches. All the while Keegan was picking blueberries. Quite a few of those berries are soon destined to be the filling of a pie. Brad brought me home ice cream just for the occasion. First I have to make calzones with the pizza dough that is currently overflowing from the bread maker. It takes a lot of hard work, but I am definitely feeling blessed.

Photo Heavy Early July Garden Update

I've gotten behind in my posts again. Partially because I have been busy. Partially because I have been tired and very pregnant. But mostly because I feel like a broken record in every post just updating on things. I looked back at the pictures from the last couple of posts and am amazed at how much things have grown! If nothing else, it will help me in the future to see how things progressed at this part of the year in the past.

Elliot was helping to show off my beautiful little Rose of Sharon bush. It was a twig when I planted it a couple of years ago and now it is so big and covered in flowers. It sets outside my front living room window and the bright blooms still surprise me every time I glance that direction. I even saw a little hummingbird eating from one the other day.

No walkabout would be complete without my boys circling at my feet.
I finally got my serenity garden weedeated and mulched! Every time I mow I get through there, but I have put off weedeating all summer because my battery life is at a premium and usually reserved for the veggie gardens. This was a 4th of July project while Brad bush hogged the outer property. Everything looks so nice now! We celebrated by watching fireworks that evening at the park with Brad's family, which is a tradition that I love! This photo was taken several days after I mulched and surprisingly most of it was still where I put it. I sprinkled an entire canister of cayenne pepper on top of it after I watered it down to deter the chickens and turkey hens from scratching it all back up. Apparently it worked!

The fig trees have little figs on them. I'm still new to figs and not sure what to do with them once they ripen. I will have to remedy that before these two trees get much bigger and start producing enough fruit to need to be worried about. Right now there are probably 15 on each tree, most of which the birds will probably get to before me.
The rooster coop is starting to empty out. Only because I have had no choice but to release all of them except the two white bullies and the three silkies that can hold their own. The other roos are roaming the property for the time being. Processing will happen very soon. I have never had such an aggressive batch of roosters! And the agressive ones are easter eggers! They are usually so nice! Those two white ones are nasty fellas though. I won't miss them one bit.

While checking out the chicken coop the sun started shining through the clouds onto my little front yard. So pretty! I was checking out Tabby, the bourbon turkey hen that was nesting in the bottom of the run. Something stole her eggs one by one until a few days ago she had none left and is back with the flock. Tallow, my slate hen that made a nest in the wild about a month ago, has not been seen since. I think it is about time to assume the worst. Poor Yellow has no ladies left and is the lone blue turkey.

My garden is really starting to fill out. I wish I could get pictures of the whole thing that really did it justice.

The pepper plants are getting huge. They must be 3.5ft tall. I have harvested a few jalapenos but no bell or pepperoncini peppers yet. Soon though. There are little baby peppers growing all over! There are also volunteer watermelon vines growing under them at intervals.

I can't believe how much the cucumber row has filled out! I replanted that row three times and was worried that I would have no cucumbers. They are taking over now! Every day when I walk through the garden I turn each of the vines trying to grow into the walkways around to grow back toward the middle. They are still escaping their rows.

I have been harvesting about 2 a day for the last week. There are so many flowers and little cucumbers everywhere! If things don't change drastically in the immediate future I should be able to make pickles soon! I'm afraid to get too hopeful quite yet because it is amazing how fast things can change in the garden.

The background in this picture is a good example. That is where my broccoli plants were up until a few days ago. They were getting big and pretty and then the other evening when I went in there they were being completely swarmed by writhing caterpillars. The leaves were destroyed and the only way to keep them from moving on to the rest of my tasty garden was to remove them. Keegan was my hero and cut them all immediately and disposed of them. On a happier note, in the foreground is the other end of my cucumber row where my watermelon vines are also happily  spreading and flowering.

My beautiful little Egg Yolk tomatoes have been ripening, a few at a time, for a little over a week. They are so little, but so full of flavor! I have been making a nightly cucumber and tomato salad with these little guys.
The bottoms of some of the tomato plants are starting to look a bit sickly. Hopefully I get a lot of tomatoes before they really succumb to anything too severe. Look at the size of these amish paste tomatoes! Last years were small even on the roma side of tomato sizes. These are softball sized and not even ready to ripen yet. Baker Creek seeds are amazing. These guys are on the end of the row which has the worst soil too. The vines are over 7 feet tall and are starting to fall over the opposite side of the rows. Impressive.

The first Cherokee purple tomatoes to start showing some color! I promptly picked these after taking this picture. They are on my table ripening.
This is what happens if I don't get to the low lying ones in time. Naughty naughty chickens! They take bites out of every tomato they can reach and they jump to reach higher ones. Brad has been unable to fix my fence charger. On the positive side, I haven't seen nearly as many insects on the plants as I would have expected. I mainly credit the guineas for that though. They patrol my garden without scratching up mulch or eating plants. They just grab every bug they see and move on. It makes me nervous to even state that my tomatoes are doing well for risk of them being smited. Please spare my tomatoes!

My sunflowers are looking very happy! Well... this side of the row. The other side must really have terrible soil even after amending. I will have to really make more of an effort to fertilize that area this fall. This side of the row already has flower buds appearing. The plants are around 4 ft tall and I am hoping they continue growing! They are supposed to reach around 12 feet.

The Indian corn is getting tall too. The pumpkins haven't spread as much as I had hoped, but the ones that are still up are looking healthy.
I was trying to capture how tall that pear tree in the center has gotten. It is easy to see in person but my sad broken camera just can't seem to do it. The tallest branch is at least 18 feet tall! And I may be under guessing that figure just to be safe.
Here are my beautiful bean/squash arbors! I am in love with them. The little beds that they are growing in are still mostly unplanted and being neglected. The logs are starting to rot away and I still haven't replaced them. That may be a project for next spring.
This bed is an exception. This is the arch that was most recently assembled and put in the bed. The beans were a later planting and are just barely visible in the picture. What I am most proud of here are the huge zucchini plants! The plants are bigger than I have ever grown them. They have some flowers on them, but no fruit yet. I will be happy if I get just a few zucchini before they succumb to squash vine borers like they always do. I love zucchini!

I can't wait until all of the arches are covered. I think it will be so pretty.
This Rattlesnake Pole Bean arch is already covered. It is so pretty to stand under. Always shady, even in the heat of the day. All of the little beans hang through to top and are so easy to pick. This actually makes picking beans an enjoyable experience. Not usually the case, in my opinion.

The beans really seem to be enjoying climbing the arch. Very little encouragement on my part was needed. I just wrapped the little vines around the first layer of wire to get them started. That was primarily because the arch was placed after the vines had grown that tall. I imagine that if they seeds were planted under the arch to begin with they would have found their way up from the very beginning.
The butternuts are doing amazing as well! They require a bit more training, but not much. Every day when I go out I just poke any vines that have grown through to the other side of the wire, back and forth each time they grow a few inches. It just takes a couple if minutes. Some of the vines have reached the top of the arch and there are at least 8 good sized squash growing.

 This is a single volunteer gourd vine that found its way to this bed. It is taking over despite my effort. I keep pulling it down from the sides of the fencing and throwing it back on top of itself. If it doesn't stop crowding my beans I may have to pull it up completely. Who would have thought that a gourd could be invasive?!

The peaches look, and smell, amazing! There aren't nearly as many left as there were. The fire ants keep climbing the tree and boring into the unripe fruit.
 I did manage to find a perfectly ripened peach. I ate it on the spot. Heaven. Since then I have managed to find another. I need to go check them today and see if I can scavenge any more before the stupid ants get to them.

My haul wrapped around my big pregnant belly. This is average for what I have been bringing in every other day. Loving it! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blueberry Pepper Jam

At a local farmers' market last year I stopped at a vendor table that was selling jams and jellies. I came across some strawberry habanero jelly and had to try it. It was AMAZING! Not only for typical uses like on toast, but over cream cheese and eaten with tortilla chips too. I knew I had to learn to make it. Since we have blueberries coming out of our ears right now I figured that would be a perfect way to use them. Luckily when my MIL and Keegan went back to the you-pick recently, they not only brought me tomatoes, but also jalapenos. Half of them went in this jam. Once my jalapenos start really producing I need to make some more. Nobody else likes my jam but I am officially addicted to it. Soooo good. Brad is a very picky eater, and Keegan is hesitant to try new things, especially when he thinks it might be spicy. This isn't spicy though. First you get the pepper jelly flavor, then the berry sweetness, and then at the end you get a slight twinge in the back of your throat from the spice. I couldn't find a recipe for it so I made my own. Luckily I thought ahead and made sure to write it down so I could replicate it if I like it. Very glad I did! I usually cook by just adding things as I go. I did make sure to make this recipe canning safe so it will store well.

Blueberry Pepper Jam

In a small sauce pan combine

1/2 cup Lemon Juice
2 cups Jalapeno Peppers finely diced (seeds and all) I used my ninja
1 cup Vinegar
1 tsp salt

Simmer while prepping the berries

In a large non-reactive pot combine

12 cups Blueberries (I chopped mine up in the ninja/ food processor)
7 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Lemon Juice
Pepper Mix from above

Boil to thicken stirring frequently to prevent burning.

While boiling place a glass saucer in the freezer to test the gel of the jam. To test gel simply place a spoonful of the jam on the plate and leave it for a minute. After about a minute swipe our finger through it. If the jam doesn't flow back into the empty space immediately, but either not at all or very slowly, you have reached desired gel. If not rinse the plate and place it back in the freezer and boil the jam a bit longer. Blueberries have a lot of pectin in them so they typically don't need added pectin to gel. It works best in smaller batches though.

Once jam reaches desired gel fill sterilized pint or half pint jars. Boil in water bath canner for 10 minutes for pints and 5 minutes for half pints. Allow to cool. Check seals. Remove rings. Done! This made 6 pints, plus enough for me to sample.

Pantry 14" Update

I thought I was done with tomatoes until the ones in my garden started coming in. I was wrong. Keegan and my MIL went back to the you-pick and brought me back a few more buckets of tomatoes. They were romas this time. I finally got them all put up. The blueberries are still coming in as well. To the pantry I have added:

- 12 quarts of crushed tomatoes
- 6 pints of Blueberry Pepper Jam (My Favorite!)
- 3/4 gallon of dehydrated blueberries ( about 2 gallons hydrated)
- 3 gallons blueberries frozen
- 1.5 gallons of dehydrated onions
- The rest of the onions (maybe 8 gallons worth?) that were dry storage stable put up to use fresh
- 2 cups diced jalapenos frozen

*UPDATE* plus 3 gallons blueberries, frozen 7/19