Garden update

20120806-183752.jpg

I have been completely slacking on updating what is been going on with my garden boxes. As you can see from the picture above they look a lot different than last time I updated.

The bed that is now empty I am working on figuring out some form of irrigation for it in preparation for my fall garden.

My husband helped me build a PVC grid that he drilled small holes into in an attempt to form an irrigation system and also a marking system for the different sections. It works awesome for just being a grid. Sadly it sucks as irrigation because my boxes are not level. I think that grid is going to become a trellis.

Those are my tomato bushes that I was about to give in and rip out before I noticed that the entire top third of them are once again covered in fruit. There for a while the heat was so bad that they were flowering they weren’t setting properly. Now it’s back to me vs. the birds for tomatoes.

20120806-184352.jpg

Also along the lines of being lazy that is a baby cantaloupe. I picked up the cantaloupe plant on a whim one day at the nursery and forgot to plant it for about a week and ended up sticking in a large pot and setting it off to the side of the garden and forgetting about it. Apparently it was getting enough water to give me one baby cantaloupe.

Right now I am in the process of getting ready to start planting the empty box for my fall garden. November 20 is the average first frost date for where I live. That gives me about 90 days to start for plants that are frost tolerant, or about a month of plants that have about a 60 day plant to harvest time. If I cover when it gets cold, I might have tomatoes for a good while longer!

Garden downtime

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve updated my garden. Quite honestly it’s because it’s been around 100° for the past several weeks and everything has just sort of gone into stationary mode.

The cherry and plum tomato bushes have been producing decently well even with the heat and my lack of constant watering. However the larger variety tomato bush that I had has completely failed. By that I mean while the bush would flower almost continuously the entire time it has produced four tomatoes. It was removed today officially.

Right now I’m waiting for ‘fall’ transplants, and cooler weather.

In the meantime this is what happens when you assume that your cucumber plant is not producing fruit

20120709-212017.jpg

Birds vs. tomatoes

I can overlook a lot of minor pest issues in my garden. In fact I’ve been dealing with a prominent fire ant situation that I can’t seem to do anything about.

20120615-190907.jpg

But I about had a conniption fit when I walked out to check on my garden on Monday evening and noticed the carnage caused by the mockingbirds. What you see there is the remnants of my tomatoes that I picked off the ground in the garden beds. Apparently the mockingbirds had decided that my tomatoes would be a nice treat in addition to their regular diet of birdseed.

They actually entirely ate some of the cherry tomatoes, but what broke my heart was the random poking and destruction of my large salad tomato that was destined to become a BLT. So I put netting over all of my tomato plants.

It’s not very fine netting, they can still poke through it. It does however severely limit the number and location of the tomatoes that they have access to.

20120615-191227.jpg

If you look off to the right of that pictures you can sort of see some of it; I would say that that open spaces are probably quarter inch by quarter inch it’s still pretty open netting.

But you know what? It works!

Garden update 6-4

20120604-183511.jpg

First the bad news my sugar snaps did not make it. We had some storms a little while ago that had high winds. The sugar snap trellis that I made had become so top-heavy with the sugar snaps growing up it that it was knocked over enough times to pull their roots up enough to destroy the plants. It’s early enough in that year that I am going to replant them, but first I’m going to figure out a better trellis.

20120604-183809.jpg

My tomato plants are doing wonderful the plum and cherry tomatoes are so abundant right now that I can’t eat them all. My coworkers love them.

20120604-183912.jpg

In front is my regular tomato bush which is slower than the others but it’s still producing fruit. The incredibly large thing behind it is my dill plant which I’m allowing to go to seed. I am doing this so that next year I will have dill seeds to plant, and I will also have fresh dill seed to continue making pickles over the summer.

Other than that I’ve just been watering my garden on a regular basis because of the heat, I’ve also been adding compost tea and fertilizer. This weekend I’m going to go and add more mulch because a lot of what I had originally put down has broken down enough that it’s no longer serving the purpose of mulch.

My cucumber and squash plants are moving kind of slow right now. I think I planted them late, and the lack of mulch is slowing them down.

Sweet relish

20120527-180429.jpg

I’m sure that you are all familiar with sweet relish it’s counterpart dill relish and is something that I’ve always kept in my refrigerator. It’s sort of like the mayonnaise versus mustard argument some people like sweet relish and some people like dill relish. For me it’s sweet relish.

I don’t really know how to explain entire thought process that got me to thinking ‘hey I’m getting make sweet relish’. It basically started with me googling recipes for something to do with the sweet banana peppers that I had ripe in my garden. The problem was I only had 2 sweet banana peppers, and 2 jalepenos that were ripe. Finally after an epic google session I went for sweet pickle relish with the garden peppers.

20120527-181043.jpg

That is the cast of characters. The orange looking pepper is one I left on the plant longer. I used the smaller jalepeno, both banana peppers, a sweet onion (a 1015 the Texas vidalia onion), the small gerkin sized pickling cucumbers, and some regular white onion and red bell pepper left over from making baked Spanish rice the other night.

20120527-181355.jpg

I used a small food processor to dice all the veggies up. The one I like the most is an attachment to my stick blender, and I like it because you can pick it up and shake it, while it’s running. You don’t want to make a veggie paste so stop at small dice. I had to work in batches.

20120527-181602.jpg

When dicing the peppers I decided to toss a couple cloves of garlic in. I love garlic. I don’t really have measurements of everything that was diced. I used what I had. This part is taste, what you have, and the amount and ratios are relative. Like heat? Add more peppers, or hotter peppers. Don’t want heat? Stick to bell and sweet banana peppers.

20120527-181835.jpg

Once everything is diced combine and add a few tablespoons canning salt. No you can’t substitute. Use canning salt. It is made to not discolor, and specifically for canning. You are adding the salt to draw as much liquid out of the vegetables as you can. I read several different opinions on how long to let the salted vegetables sit, mine ended up going into the refrigerator overnight because I used all of the vinegar in making my pickles. I’d say at least 2 hours.

Sweet Relish
This is the recipe that I followed for the cooking portion of making the relish. Below are the changes that I made.

-4 cups cucumbers, deseeded and chopped (I think I had maybe 2 cups)
-2 cups onions, chopped (I used one medium sweet onion and about a half of a white onion)
-1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
-1 cup red bell pepper, chopped (I used way less peppers. Just the -2 banana peppers, small jalepeno, and about half a red bell pepper)
-1/4 cup kosher salt (I put 3 tablespoons of salt on the veggies, none in the pickling brine)
-3 1/2 cups sugar (I used 1 1/4 cup)
-2 cups cider vinegar (2 1/2 cups )
-1 tablespoon celery seed (I only had about 1/2 teaspoon left after making pickles so I added about a tablespoon celery salt)
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (I used 2 teaspoons and threw in a little bit of carroway seeds on a whim)

Place the diced vegetables, vinegar, the mustard seeds, celery seed into a nonreactive pan and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. And then carefully spoon into your jars, or use a wide mouth canning funnel. Once the jars are filled make sure that there is enough of the pickling brine to leave about a quarter inch worth of headspace in each jar. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes remove, allow to cool and make sure the jars sealed.

In case you’re wondering what you can use sweet relish on other than hotdogs? It is delicious in potato salad.

I’m kind of surprised that I had never thought to make my own sweet relish before, but I can tell you that for the amount of effort that was required for me to only make four jars that are a half pint each I will probably not purchase relish any at the store again. You also are not stuck using only apple cider vinegar. You could use garlic vinegar, plain white vinegar, red wine vinegar, or rice wine vinegar depending on the flavor you wanted. Just make sure that whatever vinegar you decide to use clearly states on the label that it is 5% acidity. It may seem that a lot of vinegar went in to the recipe but you can’t taste it. It’s there to create a food safe level of acidity to discourage your canned relish from going bad.

I think that I harped on the importance of food safety in canning enough in my garlic dill pickle post that I’m not going to re-iterate all of the things that I said there but the same principles and rules still apply. If something happens and your jar does not seal you have two options: one you can re-process the jar in the hot water bath for another 10 minutes, option two put it straight in your refrigerator and follow commonsense. If it looks moldy, smells funny, or you even think it’s not safe to eat don’t.

20120527-184231.jpg
Here’s a picture of three of the jars of relish that I made, the other one is in the refrigerator right now because I busted into it to add to the potato that I had made earlier in the weekend.

This stuff is addictive.

Garlic dill pickles

I made these yesterday, and wrote the post yesterday. I wanted to taste the pickles before posting. In case your wondering they are yummy.

20120526-221832.jpg

Here is an important thing to remember. I love pickles. LOVE. Big shouty capital letters love pickles. We regularly make fridge pickles. Basically fridge pickles are what happens when you follow the following procedure up until the point of the hot water bath. They are usually ready to eat within 3 to 5 hours of putting the lid on the jars.

20120526-222123.jpg
That is a bag of what is referred to as pickling cucumbers, or Kirby cucumbers. They are smaller, more bumpy, and quite honestly different than what is considered to be a salad cucumber. They have less noticeable seeds and a lower water content. I have also seen them referred to as salad cucumbers here in central Texas.

20120526-222336.jpg
These were purchased this morning at Barton Creek farmers market, it’s about 5 pounds of them separated into “large” medium and small size. Size terms in reference to pickling cucumbers is relative I personally would not purchase a pickling cucumber that is larger than 6 inches.

The small size pickling cucumbers which are very close to what it’s called a gerkin I used to try an experiment in making sweet relish. I’m going to post on that experiment later, but I will say I did the process in reverse order.

But, back to garlic dills

20120526-222848.jpg

Whenever I make pickles I’ve always made sliced pickles I’ve never really made spears. The reason for that is when making fridge pickles you want a thinly sliced cucumber that will pickle very quickly in the vinegar brine.

I start by slicing both ends off of the cucumber, come to find out later that is part of the reason I’ve had such success in making pickles. The end of the cucumber that was attached to the bush and has the blossom on it contains an enzyme that will cause the cucumber to make mushy pickles. Grape leaves inhibit this.

20120526-223441.jpg
When slicing the cucumbers I use a mandolin slicer with the wavy blade. In my own opinion this increases the surface area and and promotes quicker pickling especially in fridge pickles. For pickles that will be going through a hot water bath for proper canning I sliced them thicker then I would if I were simply making fridge pickles.

20120526-223818.jpg
The larger bowl is the sliced cucumbers that will be used in canning the pickle, the smaller bowl is the nub end of the cucumber that was no longer safe to slice on the mandolin.

Here is where I went wrong. In the future I would use those nubby ends to make relish. This time I used the ends
to make pickle chunks. If I had sliced the small cucumbers and saved the ends the way I did on the others I still would’ve had enough cucumbers for the relish recipe I’ll post later. That is the reason I’m posting about the pickles first and the relish later, don’t follow my mistakes.

20120526-224337.jpg
I harvested as much of the dill as I could while attempting to preserve the flowering head that are coming up on the plant.

20120526-224447.jpg

Take the sliced cucumbers and began to place them in the jars about halfway up in a clove of garlic and some of the fresh dill.

20120526-224553.jpg
These are the jars once they are packed. You want to get as many cucumbers in the jar as you can and then push them down, not to the point of bruising or squishing any of the cucumbers. But, you want to get as much airspace out of that jar as you can before you add the pickling solution.

20120526-224828.jpg
These are the packed jars with the pickling solution poured over the top.

At this point you’re probably saying awesome how do I do this?!
First take a second to visit a recipe at food in jars.

Copied and modified from Food In Jars post. The dashes are modifications, all pepper was omitted. I don’t like heat.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Makes approximately 8 pints (total yield varies depending on size of cucumbers)

-about 4 lbs pickling cucumbers, ends removed and sliced at least 3/16th inch thicko
– 3 cups apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups plain white vinegar (make sure of 5% acidity *
– 5 cups water
– 7 tablespoons pickling salt
16 (plus some) garlic cloves, peeled (2 per jar)**
– I used about 4 heads of fresh dill seed per jar. {1 teaspoon dill seed per jar (8 teaspoons total) if using store bought dill seed, if so don’t feel bad this is what I have used every other time I have made pickles, today I was lucky enough to have someone hand me fresh dill seed heads}
– 1 tablespoon celery seed
– 1 tablespoon mustard seed

Some housekeeping notes:

I use an 8 quart stainless steel stockpot for water bath canning. I use it because I found it at a Ross store for less than $20. Also, it won’t react with the vinegar.

I used pint widemouth jars for a these pickles. With one widemouth half pint jar for the remaining cucumber ends. I have worked in food service before and I understand the need for sterilization, and food sanitation. To sterilize the jars for canning purposes I use my dishwasher on a heat dry setting. I put the jars the lids and the band into the dishwasher for a full cycle. If you do not have a dishwasher boil everything for at the least 15 minutes. This is not a step that you can skimp on or halfway to do. If you have never looked up what botulism is please take a moment and do so now. It’s not funny and is not worth you slacking off that part of the canning process. If it seems like I am over stressing sterilization please understand that I work in a field where I encounter the aftermath of food borne illness on a regular basis.

After packing the cucumbers, and adding the pickling brine that has been brought to a boil make sure that the lid of the jars, the pink or red rubber seal is moistened before placing on top of the jars. This allows a good contact field before you loosely screw on the band.

(In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I say the band there is the glass jar there is the flat lid with a a rubber coating around the edge, and then the screwtop circular piece that circular piece is the band. I’m harping on these points because this post is aimed at someone who has never canned something to food storage specifications. If properly canned these pickles can sit on a shelf without refrigeration for a year or better. I recently ate some bread and butter pickles that I had canned two years ago.)

Place the sealed and loosely screwed jars into the hot water bath for exactly 10 minutes. If you purchase a basic canning kit that is available at Walmart it will come with a pair of jar grabbers, a jar funnel, and a headspace measuring tool. These are all very useful especially the jar grabber.

Once out of the hot water bath allow the jars to come to room temperature. Push in the center of the jar lid if you hear a popping noise stick that jar in the refrigerator immediately. That popping noise means the jar did not seal correctly in the hot water bath and is not safe to leave out at room temperature. You’re not always going to get hundred percent perfect seal rate when canning. In fact for me today that little half pint jar of pickles and did not seal, it is currently sitting in my fridge and is going to be what is known as fridge pickles.

If at this point you’re still reading and still intrigued please understand that this is not as daunting at the task as it seems. If you don’t have the materials to do the hot water bath you can put the jars of pickles in the refrigerator immediately after they have come to room temperature with the boiling vinegar brine. Those are fridge pickles I would say that they are safe to eat as long as they are not discolored, moldy, or smell funny. If you can’t tell that what you’re eating smells funny that my dear friend is Darwin in action.

Admitting failures

20120520-184936.jpg

When I talk about admitting failures in gardening I’m not saying that I don’t have plants that are doing wonderfully and are exceeding my expectations. I’m saying that there comes a point when you need to realize that something that you’ve planted is not working and it’s okay to just pull it up and start over. It’s also okay to admit that you planted something that you don’t like, or don’t care to eat.

20120520-185111.jpg

The collard greens are a good example of something I planted that failed despite my efforts. With them I don’t know if it was I planted them too early, in the wrong place, or if it was just a bad batch of seeds. So I just picked a different square of something else that didn’t work out and replanted them to see what happens in a different area, and actually in the other bed.

20120520-185502.jpg

Another thing that did not work out for me very well where the onion transplants. For these it could’ve been that I bought them late, did not plant them immediately, or who knows what happened. Either way they completely failed to grow after the first month or so. After a couple of weeks of pulling one or two dead onion stocks out I finally just pulled them all. I decided to plant bunching onions in this one of the squares that they had been. I planted collard greens in the other square in an effort to help give my lettuce square some additional shade as it gets hotter.

I don’t have a picture of my other failed plant. And it was kind of a different situation, I hated the plants growth habit, it was Malabar spinach. It was growing it was doing well, the failure in that plant is that it sends up runners. I didn’t realize when I bought the plant that this is what it was going to do which in this case is my lack of research. After several weeks of going through the garden bed and pulling up spinach sprouts everywhere, I sort of had a little temper tantrum and just ripped them all out.

Another thing that I did today was to go through and work on my succession planting of beets and carrots. While I have not harvested either of these plants there something I am determined to grow successfully.

Meal planning

20120514-213540.jpg

That crammed white board is like a beacon for me some days. Cooking for 2 people seems as much of a challenge as cooking for 4. You see, it’s cheaper to buy the ‘family pack’ of meat. That meats what to do with 2 lbs of ground beef with 2 people when the serving size is less that 1/4 lb. per person. One answer is making an entire meal planning on using everything again.

Thursday last week I made chicken fried steak (see the Apple Crisp post for my cool new skillets), with collard greens and mashed potatoes.

20120514-214045.jpg

For the mashed potatoes I used small skin on red potatoes and peeled russet potatoes boiled in water with chicken stock concentrate (also a great base for potato salad). I use a scaled down version of The Pioneers Woman’s mashed potatoes .

Some differences to point out.
1. I boil my potatoes in chicken bouillon, or condensed stock with garlic powder

2. I use a stand mixer to make them light and airy

3. I bake them and then refrigerate the leftovers for another meal.

This works because it takes time to get them done, and when planning in advance it’s worth it, oh and make instant potatoes taste like cardboard.

So while I don’t have photos. The mashed potatoes from chicken fried steak night and burgers from Saturday night came together for dinner tonight. The left over burger patties were used along with a can of cream of mushroom soup, diced baby portabella mushrooms, diced onion and garlic powder. Sauté the about a handful of onion with about a 1/2 cup diced mushrooms and a good amount of garlic powder. When the mushrooms get well sautéed add in the cooked hamburger patties from burger night and a can of cream of mushroom soup, then add about 3/4 can of milk. For extra flavor you have options! A dash of beef bullion, or a splash of A1 (I did both). You can always cook the ground beef patties in the skillet and sauté the mushrooms and onions in the grease. This was how my mon did it.

The point is dinner one night does not mean left overs of the exact same thing.

Garden update 5-14

20120514-181158.jpg

Those were my tomatoes last Thursday

20120514-181329.jpg

This is what they look like today as you can see once they start to turn yellow and then red it’s a pretty accelerated process. Of everything in my garden my tomatoes seem to be doing the best which I’m really excited about because the way that they taste fresh, still warm from the garden with a little bit of salt on them is like nothing you’re ever going to find in any supermarket. If you can find them please don’t tell. It’ll just make me insanely jealous of you.

20120514-181511.jpg

I don’t think that there is anything cuter than a petite baby cucumber. I’m kind of surprised how small the entire plant is in relation to the number of flowers it has on it.

20120514-181616.jpg

We had some pretty bad storms here last week. High winds lots of rain, which while the rain was greatly appreciated I’m kind of worried about my sugar snaps. You see the issue with the trellis that I constructed is that as the plants grew up it’s extremely top-heavy. I came outside probably 4 to 5 times and found it just flopped over. I tried putting little stakes in the bottom of it to kind of help anchor it down but the problem with my soil in my garden boxes is that it’s so loose and airy that the stakes don’t really hold on to anything. Lesson learned.

20120514-182030.jpg

20120514-182052.jpg

Just a reminder that is a before and after picture of my cabbage. When I first planted it in the dead center of the square it took up maybe a quarter of the square-foot.

20120514-182151.jpg

And finally another failure to report. Those are supposed to be collared greens. I think that they’re doing poorly because they are getting too much shade from the tomato plants during the best sunlight of the day.

I guess the point in all this is that sometimes just trying something will work out in your favor you will be extremely pleased and happy that you did it, and sometimes you look back and realize that that wasn’t very smart.

Apple Crisp

Sometimes the purpose of cleaning the kitchen is to give yourself space to mess it all up again for a good purpose. My local grocery store had a promotion where you buy a large cast-iron skillet you got another smaller one for free.

20120510-155124.jpg

I plan on using the larger one to attempt to cook chicken fried steak for dinner tonight. And I’m going to use the smaller one to make a very small apple crisp for two people.

20120510-155246.jpg

This is my cast of characters I’ll post the full recipe at the end of this post.

20120510-160201.jpg
Into the pan I’ve put some butter, granny Smith apples ( I only used 2 this is only for two people). To this I added a little bit of cinnamon, pumpkin pie seasoning, honey and some brown sugar. And finally a touch of vanilla.

While that cooks down I’m going to melt about 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave as a base for the crumb topping. Add about a tbsp honey, and a splash of vanilla. I then add approximately a quarter of a cup of quick cooking oatmeal, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour as well as one package of crunchy oats and Honey granola bars that have been smashed up. Usually I would add honey graham crackers that were ground up in the food processor rather than quick cooking outs. Work with what you have eh?

20120510-161419.jpg

Are you combine the crumb topping ingredients you’re looking for a slightly moist but still crumbly texture, if you push down on it with your spoon it should maintain the indentation. You can tell when your apples are done when you can press slightly on the apple pieces and it begins to give slightly without smooshing apart.

20120510-161640.jpg

Go ahead and take that stick of butter and grease the inside surface of your cast-iron skillet. I really hate when food sticks, and cast-iron can be really bad about food sticking.

20120510-162045.jpg

Spoon the apples into cast iron pan, make sure to add the liquid from cooking the apples. Cover with the crumb topping. Bake at 350 degree oven 15-20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Apple Crisp Recipe
• 2 medium granny smith apples
•2 tbsp butter
• 1tsp cinnamon
• dash pumpkin pie spice
• 1 tbsp honey
• 1 tbsp brown sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla
Sauté till apples are tender

Crumb Topping
• 1/4 cup each of the following
Brown sugar
Flour
Quick cooking oats
• 2 1/2 tbsp butter melted
• 1 tbsp honey
• splash of vanilla
Combine all ingredients and spoon over the apple filling. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream.