Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to make garlic dill pickles

Hot Garlic Dills

4 quart jars, rings, and lids

Sterilize and keep hot rings and lids.

In each quart jar, place:

1/4 tsp. alum

2 peeled garlic cloves

2 heads fresh dill, or 2 tsps. dried dillweed, or 2 teaspoons dried dill seed

1 or 2 dried hot peppers

2 peeled pearl onions

Pack cucumbers tightly on top of all this, and place in open stock pot; bring to a boil and remove.

Also, in a separate non-reactive pot, bring to a boil:

2 cups white or cider vinegar

1/2 cup pickling salt

4 cups water.

Ladle hot vinegar mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Place lid and ring on top to seal. Make sure jars are sealed tightly before storing. Pickles will be ready in 6 weeks.

NOTE: We left out the hot peppers since our little ones are the pickle-eaters in our house. That'd just be a dirty trick.

If man could live by cucumbers alone.

The corn may be messed up, the okra may have gotten too big to be any good, but we have cucumbers.

I mean, we have more cucumbers than we know what to do with. Over the last couple days we have been hatching our plans for next year's garden. We have realized that we have more than enough cucumbers to fill our kids' pickle cravings, eat plenty of light cucumber and tomato salads, make some spreads for crackers, give away a ton and feed a few to the chickens.

The plan was to pickle the okra too, but with four or five plants we haven't gotten enough to pickle. My youngest loves pickled okra, I mean LOVES pickled okra, but we get a couple ripe pods, and then we have to wait until the next ones are ready--so by then the first ones aren't good anymore. We have to plan on lots ripe at the same time in order to get a jarful.

Selecting plants for your garden based on what you plan to eat or preserve is as important as what will grow. I have eight banana pepper plants that have cranked out piles of great peppers, but next year I will plant more bell peppers and poblanos and less of the banana peppers.

The radishes are a good example of having too much of something you don't really need. On occasion, I like a radish, but I don't eat 'em enough, so most of them have waited too long to be picked and have gone bad.

We definitely need to get our balance right of what to plant and when. Next year we will plant more rows of green beans and stagger the planting times so they produce over a longer period of time. We need to do as much planning as digging.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Corn for us, corn for the chickens

We picked the corn today. This is what was usable out of all the corn we planted. I don't know much about growing corn, this I am sure of.
We have about fifty corn plants. Sounds like lot; doesn't look like much. Out of all that, this is our harvest. If we were depending on us growing a crop of corn to get through the winter we would be like burnt toast, done.
Most of the corn was eaten by some kind of worm, some destroyed before it produced, a little ruined by ants as far as we can tell and this is what is left. This has led us to spend lots of time discussing what to do differently in the garden next year.
Next year we will try to find a local variety that
produces well and is possibly more resistant to local conditions. On the One Million Gardens site, a few people suggested putting a drop of mineral oil on the silk as it emerges and using a clothes pin to tighten the husk to keep critters out.
The up side of our corn disaster is that our chickens will love to eat this corn, including the worms, which they will find a tasty treat. My kids actually took a couple of the worms off and hand fed them to the chickens. I feel a strange sense of pride seeing my kids pick up a worm and feed it to a chicken without being squeamish about it.
Living in Las Vegas you get a weird sort-of santized reality where everything looks clean but really, it probably has hepititis. In the country lots of things look nasty but are totally harmless.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No rain again, prepare for less tomorrow

Today, the rain came down for about a minute. Too bad, I ran out of water that I had been saving from rainfall on Father's day. I finally had to break out the hose to water the blueberries, the raspberries, fig trees and the peach tree. Each rainfall I have been collecting about 80 gallons of water. The rain came spaced out just enough that right when the buckets and the five gallon jerry cans that I have been using were empty we would get a down pour. I have been collecting since the beginning of April, I figure I have used around 2000 gallons of rainwater this year. I need to get a couple of plastic barrels and make some good rain barrels. They sell for around fifteen bucks at the feed store. I think I need to be able to store around four hundred gallons to get through the driest parts of the summer, maybe six hundred.
Like many people I talked to my dad on fathers day. He told me he only had two little cucumbers this year which amazed me cause we have already make eight jars of pickles and we pick bucket full every day. He thinks it is because it is not hot enough in northern California and they are not getting enough water. He also thinks they are going to raise the water rates. Living in any densely populated area the cost of water will soon outweigh they cost of gardening. Any kind of micro agricultural enterprise just wont be feasible on a large city lot because no one will be able to afford the water. There is a blog I like about homesteading in downtown Houston and starting what they call the high density home orchard, but water costs are just going to get exponentially higher over the next couple decades.
Orchards are the kind of thing you have to think of in terms of decades. They just don't happen in a year or two. We are really lucky to have plenty of water here. We have lived in the desert so we know what it is like to have a water bill that can double in a year. Living in the country growing some of your own food does make you think about the resouces around you what can you do with them? how do you sustain them? what are they worth? what I am doing to protect them for my self and my kids?
The colors in the garden are so bright it is hard not to get out the camera and start taking pictures of what is growing. I always find that the even good pictures don't really do justice to what is being photographed. I am not really a wonder of nature kinda of guy, but it is hard not have a sort "hey, I grew that, look, look at what I did" feeling when you pull apart some leaves and find something new in the garden.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dig It - in the garden with Jane Mcbride

After taking my kids swimming at there Nana's house I came home and spent a few hours reading. This is not my normal routine. Luckily the kids obliged by playing nicely together so I got a chance to check out this blog by Jane McBride who writes for the Beaumont Enterprise.
Dig It gives tons of useful information about gardening and living in South East Texas as well as feeling like a glimpse into a private life. The blog is punctuated with beautiful photographs that inspire you to get into the garden and start growing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Luci's Chinese Dumplings

Every once in a while, we start craving food we can't get in the tiny burg where we live. A big food culture we miss is Chinese--and there's not a Chinese restaurant for at least half an hour in any direction. Luci's been playing with different recipes and cookbooks since we made the move to the country. It's always edible, but some experiments are better than others. Let me tell ya, this time we have a winner. She just made this for our family tonight, and really, it's even better than we get in our semi-local Chinese buffet line. Wish I'd taken pictures--they were really beautiful, but they disappeared way too fast to snap a photo. Thought I'd post the recipe in case anyone else is dying for potstickers.

Luci's Chinese Dumplings

1 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground turkey OR ground chicken
1/2 lb. thawed, peeled shrimp (can use cooked or raw)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts
3 or 4 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon garlic/ginger mixture, or 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic and 1 1/2 tsp. minced ginger
Whiz above ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

1 package refrigerated round dumpling wrappers (or square wonton wrappers with corners cut off)
1 small cup of water for moistening
Lay out six wrappers side by side. Drop a teaspoon of the meat mixture in the center of each wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water and fold together, pleating as you go. Place finished dumplings on a cookie sheet and cover with a moist paper towel. Repeat until you run out of wrappers. (Freeze the rest of the meat mixture for another day.)

You can either cook these as steamed dumplings or as potstickers.

For steamed dumplings, place in a bamboo steamer over boiling water and cook for 20 minutes.

For potstickers, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet. Place dumplings in the skillet with 1/3 cup water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. Remove lid and cook until undersides of the dumplings are brown.

Serve with dipping sauce, recipe follows.

Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili sauce (we like Sriracha) OR a few drops of chili oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil

MMMMMMMMMMM! Be jealous, we also had lettuce wraps and grilled chicken with peanut sauce.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Smashing tomato bugs with my fingers

Some days life in the garden and in the country is nasty, just plain nasty. The amount of bugs that live out here is insane. We're trying to stay as organic as possible, resisting the temptation to spread massive amounts of pesticides, but the bugs are putting the hurt on. We have lost some tomatoes and, in an effort to solve the problem without chemicals, I turned to man's greatest gift: the opposable thumb.

Yep, trying to catch little beasts and smush 'em between finger and thumb.

You kinda gotta squish a couple and walk away 'cause after a minute, they notice and fly off, but when you come back they are at it again. This would be the old-fashioned way. Before I had kids I might have been too grossed out to do this, but you have to lots of gross stuff when you garden, live in the country and raise a couple of kids. I'd say squishing bugs in your fingers ranks somewhere between a diarrhea diaper and vomit down your shirt...not the worst by a long shot.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Success so far

The sunflowers are booming. The leaves are covered with little golden flecks of pollen.

Luci wanted to plant the gourds. The plan is make some birdhouses out of these.

This what I am most excited about: the first signs of melons. This one is a little bigger than a golf ball. The rest of the melons are like gumballs.

Still planting. Maybe it is too late to plant, but I have the seeds and they were cheap so what do I have to lose. I have been trying to water the seedlings in the morning and at night. The days have been are getting long and hot. I don't think our watering system is effective enough and I am afraid some plants will die. The sprinklers are just too inefficient for the size of a garden we put in this year. I think next year we will have to do something else; we may even have to do something else this year to keep everything alive. I put in cucumber seeds that have sprouted, and the garlic bulb in the kitchen window needs to be split up and put into the ground. So it keeps going.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Victory is mine

Today, I won a battle. Our Craftsman riding mower and I have been at war for months now.
After sitting around for almost a year while I was in Vegas, the engine wouldn't start. I have been monkeying with the thing since I got back. I started working on our mower even before I tore apart the tiller that I got working to put in the garden.
Machinery is just part of living out in the country. Often you drive through the country and see these houses with big open fields of grass around them and think how nice it would be to have so much open cleared space...but you don't notice the tractor sitting back in a garage behind the house that has a payment as much as a car. Right now we are just happy to have the mower going again. After taking it half-apart, changing the spark plug, cleaning the carburetor, sanding the rust off the flywheel, cleaning the fuel lines, sanding the battery cable terminals and spraying an assload of carburetor cleaner in the spark plug chamber, the mower finally fired up.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

the accidental coyote hunt

Living out here, I find that I have done a few things I never thought I would do.

This morning, Luci went out to check on the garden, and after a few minutes she started hollering for me to come outside. When I went out, she said she had just seen a coyote chasing down a baby deer just outside the opening where our back gate should be. I rushed back in the house to grab my boots and the shotgun. (We have a .410 Remington semi-automatic shotgun that we inherited from Luci's father. It is probably too small to kill the coyote from any distance, but the wound might do it in.) So I ran off into the woods where they were headed, assuming I would not find anything in our overgrown back pasture.

I walked to the edge of the first fence that separates what used to be two pastures and figured whatever was going on had moved on. BUT! As I turned to walk down the fenceline to get into the far back pasture, the coyote came around a corner through a little animal trail that snakes through the woods. I stopped, and he stopped, and as he started to growl or snarl or whatever I raised my shotgun and took a shot. He turned and darted in the bushes. It lasted about a second.

My wife says I should leave out the part of the story where I shoot at him (since I missed) but that doesn't bother me any. I know it is harder to hit a moving target than people often think, and I don't spend a lot of time shooting. I would have been happier to hit the little bastard, but I was just happy I had the gun.

See, that's a first for me. Never before today I have thought "Hey, probably a good thing I had a gun with me." The deer was about fifteen feet from me on the other side of the fence--I could see it bolt when I fired at the coyote. I realize coyote's gotta eat, but I won't feel bad killing 'em either.

I would imagine that the coyotes have been snacking on the rabbits in our yard, and now that they're all gone, the coyotes have had to start in on other food sources like the baby deer. On one hand, the coyotes keeping the deer away from my garden could be a plus, but I think these guys have to die. Either I am gonna have to man up and do it myself or get someone more experienced to do it for me. I just don't like the idea of my kids outside with them so close to the house.

Oddly enough, I know a genuine coyote killer. I met him a couple of months ago when I was working for the Census Bureau. We started talking after I entered his address into the computer and I mentioned that a few of our chickens had been eaten by coyotes while I was in Las Vegas last October. Luci called my one night after I had been out having a few drinks with the guys to tell me that there were wolves in the yard. To be honest it took me a while to wrap my head around that. This is not a call you get every day. Anyway, most likely they were coyotes. Department of Wildlife said wolves are extinct here so go ahead and shoot 'em. Anyway, Al-the-coyote-killer told me he only hunts coyotes and foxes anymore. He enjoys it because they are not easy and well, kinda dangerous.

Al explained the basics of coyote hunting. I guess you can either use a call or (and this sounds like more fun), a gut bucket. A gut bucket is exactly what it sounds like. Find a metal bucket or other container that you can close but has holes in it, and fill it with the nasty guts of something else you killed and leave it to rot and smell where you can wait a little ways off and get a clear shot. The calls come either electronic or blown. The problem with blown is that you are drawing a pack of hungry coyotes to yourself. Could be problematic. The electronic you set where you can get back and get off a clear shot.

I never pictured myself with much interest in hunting, but I must say it is kind of exciting. There is something about being out in the woods with a gun that makes you feel as if you need it. The same way a walk with a walking stick in hand has different feel to it.

I wouldn't really want to kill anything just to kill it, but to put food on the table or protect my kids, I wouldn't feel bad about it.

A few years ago I was working in Vegas and I told one of the guys that I was broke. He was an old timer and he asked if I was going home to go hunting for food. When I said no, he shook his head and said, "You ain't even close to broke yet."

As for protecting my kids, someone from the city might think that the coyotes are not really a threat, but I doubt they would want their neighbor's angry Rottweiler hanging around their front yard.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The kids are eating as fast as it gets ripe.

Everything is growing really fast now. The cucumbers are growing so fast that every few days we find a small pickling cucumber that is way bigger than we would normally pick it and eat it. We have had a couple of green bean dishes with dinner and the girls eat the tomatoes and cucumbers with a little salt within an hour of most pickings. That is, if I can keep them from munching the veggies still warm from the sun in our garden.

One of the corn stalks has a little baby corn wrapped up in a husk. A few other stalks have that silky looking stuff that preceeds the corn. I can't wait to have fresh corn cooked on the grill or roasted in the husk. I know the girls will love it. They are so much more excited about eating veggies fresh from the ground than they are from the store.

Most of the stuff you get in the store doesn't even begin to hold up against what you grow, but if you're not around the good stuff, you forget. A couple of days ago I was walking through the garden and I was overwhelmed by the smell. I could instantly remember being in my grandparents' garden as kid, which is kinda odd cause my memory blows chunks and I didn't spend much time in there when we were kids. We usually went to Delano for a week at Easter and a week in the summer as I recall.

I am not sure how it is that tomatoes in the store don't smell. Why is that? Where did the smell go?