Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pickling day

In order to take full advantage of the harvest vegtables have to be process and preserved for  later consumption.  We always pickle cucumbers and in the past have pickled squash, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes.  I say we, but really this is the first year I have been heavily involved in the pickling process.  My wife grew up out here in the country and has pickled and canned food since childhood. Today were making Garlic Dill Pickles and Pepperoncini's.

 Garlic Dill Pickles:
  1. 3-4 cups 4-inch cucumbers
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 2 cups white vinegar
  4. 1/2 cup pickling salt
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of alum (1/8 teaspoon per jar)
  6. 2 tablespoons of dill seed (1/2 tablespoon per jar) 
  7. 2 heads of garlic (4-5 cloves per jar)
 Wash cucumbers, if they were picked a few over the course of a few days soak them in cold water for about a half hour.Put on a large pot of water and start it to boiling. While they are soaking place the alum, dill seed, and garlic cloves in the sterile jars this recipe makes four jars. Pack the the jars with cucumbers holding the jar sideways and trying to get them as tight as possible in order to ensure that you have enough brine. Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a sauce pan and bring to boil. When brine is boiling pour into jars over cucumbers leaving about a  half inch of air at top of jar. Take lid out of simmering pot and  screw into place.  Place jars into large pot of boiling water making sure water covers jar completely. Take out after ten minutes and listen for the satisfying ping sound the jars make as they cool.

  Pepperoncini's -recipe in progress.

  1. 4 teaspoons of alum (1 per jar) 
  2.  4 tablespoons peppercorns (1per jar)
  3. 4 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (1 per jar)
  4. 1 head of garlic (3-4 per jar)
  5. Same brine as above

The first jars of Pepperoncini's we made tasted great, but did not get crispy so we are trying again with more alum in the recipe and we boiled the jar for slightly less time after it was packed with brine. The banana peppers seem to grow in abundance here no matter the weather so we need to perfect this process.  When each plant represents back breaking labor, waste is not an option.
Both recipies are for four jars, but if your jars are very tightly packed you may have enough brine for more.  We made six jars of pickles and one jar of pepperoncini's with a little brine left over. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Hard Garden

         Right now I have a good garden going with yellow squash, cucumbers, green beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, watermelons, pumpkins, banana peppers, pablano peppers, bell peppers and zucchini all in different stages of growth.  The first plants I start withed were cherry tomatoes and zucchini which have been big producers for us until this year the cherry tomatoes have done extremely poorly producing only a few tomatoes. The zucchini have been mostly unpollinated so the fruit would stop growing, turn yellow and fall off.  Six zucchini plants only produced three edible vegetables.  The lack of bees has been extremely noticeable this year.  Normally we have an abundance of every type of stinging insect and during the main growing season my garden is usually has an audible hum.  This year it has been very quiet with only the occasional bee floating around the garden, even now when the hum has returned there are not nearly in the numbers they were in years past.  The eves of my house are often plagued with carpenter bees that bore into the wood.  These bees are loud and hover right above head height there absence is extremely noticeable.  Even the wasps which are normally building summertime nests have been lower in numbers.  Bee keeping may be in my future.

         Getting this years garden started had its own challenges as my tiller is broken and I never seemed to have the time or money to get it fixed. Without a tiller I started growing in two raised beds we put in a couple years ago. This is where I planted the cherry tomatoes and zucchini that failed to produce. In order to fence this part I removed a section of fence from the main garden which was a mistake because the lack of bees has been offset by an over abundance of ravenous bunny rabbits that have shown a display  persistence previously unseen in my garden. The rabbits did some damage to my green beans, corn, and peppers eating the leaves off and leaving a stump behind, some plants rebounded, some had to be replaced.   Eventually I unfenced the the unproductive raised beds and put a complete fence around the main garden to keep them out.  Unfortunately this was all occurring while my wife was in the process of having surgery, then needing another surgery to help her recover from the first surgery, and spending a week in the hospital. So time which should have been garden intensive was practice in speed gardening during trips home to feed the dog.
        This red wagon and old garden hoe have been my main tools this season. The garden which was almost entirely unused last summer had reverted to a field of tall weeds and thick mats of tough grass with deep roots.  Busting up the soil was been a tough process in the stifling heat, after a couple hours all of my clothes will be completely soaked as if I just took a shower fully dressed. This process however has provided a sort of a natural flow to my planting. By the time one section is planted, time has come to plant something else.  This way after one thing is slowing on production something else is about to ready, today I need to pull my green beans and replant something else, but some corn should be ready to eat  in a few days.  The wagon has been my means of transporting the pine straw that I have been using as mulch throughout my garden.   I have been collecting from the woods and from the piles I swept off the roof and used it to lay a thick mulch through out the garden this has cut down on weeds significantly and hopefully will lead to healthier soil in the long term.