Archive | June 2014

Yes I Can!

Although I’m still a mediocre gardener at best, we have the good fortune to have a master gardener in the family: my father-in-law! When our gardening exploits go awry, he keeps us well supplied with all sorts of fresh produce – enough to eat, and often even enough to preserve as well. Strawberry season is at hand and that’s usually the first batch of preserves I make for the year.

My favorite go-to recipe is this one for strawberry jam with fresh thyme and balsamic vinegar. I adapted it a little to follow the directions for liquid pectin instead of powdered, since that’s what I had on hand. Luckily, the recipe is basically the pectin-box recipe with vinegar in place of lemon juice, and fresh herbs added, which makes it easy to adapt to your favorite type of pectin. Just start with your fresh ingredients,

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cook as directed,

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process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes,

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and allow to set!

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I only learned how to can a few years ago, from my mother-in-law. I was pretty nervous, since it seems like most stories about canning involve how cumbersome and difficult it is. Once you know the basics, though, it’s really not too bad! Setting up your workspace with a good flow is one of the most important things. I cook my jam on the left side of my stove, and fill my jars on the left side counter. Then I process the jars in the water bath on the right side burner, and set the jam off on the right side counter to set.

The other most important thing, for me anyway, is to use a candy thermometer to make sure your jam hits the crucial temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply boiling for one minute as the recipes generally recommend isn’t always enough to be sure. Experienced makers of jams and jellies can sometimes tell by looking whether the jelling point has been reached, but I find it beneficial to check the temperature and be sure. I made plenty of batches of “ice cream topping” from jam that failed to gel before I did some research and learned that little tidbit. My favorite site (and book) for canning advice is Food in Jars – check out her Canning 101 series for lots of great advice!

This is my husband Avery’s favorite recipe, and he looks forward to it every year. I’m hoping to make some more to give away as holiday gifts as well. We’re pretty well out of last year’s jams and jellies, so there is plenty to be made this year!

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Patience is a virtue…I don’t quite possess

So much of farming is about waiting. Chicken eggs incubate for 21 days, duck and turkey for 28, and my Muscovies 35. The baby birds take 4-6 months or more to grow into productive layers, or to reach butchering weight.  The young pigs we have in the barnyard right now were born in mid-April, but won’t be ready for the butcher until mid-October. So it may surprise you to hear that I am just about the least patient person ever.

Still, I fare much, MUCH better at raising meat than I do in the world of gardening. Despite the fact that most vegetables have a much faster yield than my meat projects, I find the waiting even more difficult. If I want to, I can candle my eggs to see if there are chicks developing inside. I can measure my piglets and see evidence of their growth, and even calculate their approximate weight. But I can’t dig up my seeds to make sure they’re germinating! All I can do is watch and wait for them to break through the soil. So you can imagine how excited I get when I check the garden beds and find these!

First Planting Cucumbers

First Planting Cucumbers

Pole Beans

Pole Beans

Second Planting Cucumbers

Second Planting Cucumbers

Baby Tomatoes!

Baby Tomatoes!

A garden again!

After a very, VERY busy weekend, we finally have this year’s garden more or less installed! We got a late start this year, but there’s still plenty of time to get a good yield of fresh veggies.

The property we currently rent is on the border of our landlord’s 200+ acre horse farm. The property manager is our neighbor and is kind enough to till our large garden plot with the tractor in the spring. However, because of the hard winter and all of the delayed chores and storm cleanup this spring, we’ve had to wait our turn – which of course, we are happy to do, since this is after all a favor! Luckily the garden was tilled late last week, which meant we had the whole weekend to get it in order and plant as much as possible.

Because of the late start, I did go to the local garden center and buy several started plants to get a bit of a jump on things – zucchini, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, hot peppers, and (just for fun) a watermelon. We also had some extra tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet peppers that my father-in-law started from seed under his grow lights earlier in the year, plus plenty of seed for beets, carrots, beans, more zucchini and cucumbers, and greens of all kinds. After two days of work, almost everything is planted and mulched! Later on we will add winter carrots, fall brassicas, hardneck garlic, more greens, pumpkins, and winter squash. As you can see, we have plenty of space left to fill.

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We have a pretty big weed issue in this garden, so we use a layer of newspaper under our straw mulch to help. It’s a trick we tried when we grew pumpkins a few years ago, and it worked very well, so we’re using it throughout the garden, anywhere we would usually mulch. It definitely adds work to the initial setup, but if you’re like me and hate weeding, it’s completely worth it!

I also brought my new chicks from the hatchery order up to our farm from my in-laws’ place. They are still a bit nervous, but some mealworms do wonders to win them over! This year we added several exotic breeds: Silver-Grey Dorkings, Dark Brahmas, and Salmon Faverolles. We also got some new young Speckled Sussex, Ameraucanas, Barred Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons.

Bacon and Pork Chops are getting much more comfortable with life here on our little homestead. They are champs at the use of the nipple waterer and self-feeder, and have learned that their feed pan fills itself with delicious treats every time we come to visit. We make sure to keep their mud wallow in the center of the pen nice and damp so they can keep cool, and they no longer spook when I refresh it with the hose – in fact, they love to play in the stream of cool water!