Sunday, July 31, 2016

These Hot Summer Days & Frugal Accomplishments

Last week, I harvested dill for seed & seasoning, elderberries which were then crushed & added to a batch of tincture, the last of the Corot Noir grapes, which I froze, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, cucumbers.  I canned a batch of tomatoes.  As the first of the corn was just about ripe, the raccoons helped themselves to those ears.  The next day, we picked any that were getting close, so we'd be sure to get some.  We had 8 small ears for dinner, & I froze the rest in meal size portions.  The raccoons have visited several times since, so it appears that one picking will be all we get.  We ate a squash casserole two nights, and I froze the remainder, enough for two more meals.  I'm joining in with Frugal Accomplishments today.

I canned kosher dill pickles, harvested basil, made a double batch of pesto and froze it, and started another jar of elderberry tincture.  I made yogurt and kefir, and shared tomatoes and a cucumber with a friend.  On the day after our thermometer registered 101, I found one of the little chicks dead in the coop.  She was in her usual night time spot, and I wonder if the heat just didn't do her in.  I've had older chickens die during very hot days, but this is the first chick.  Once the nights get warm, we leave the coop door open to their enclosed yard so they have a cross flow of air.  I'm sad about that sweet chick.  I'm not sure what else I can do other than bring cold treats and ice water during the day.  Their yard has a lot of shade, but it's just so dang hot.  Now there is an older hen that is struggling.  She usually sits next to the water, & has been drinking.  I'm giving her probiotics & extra nutrition, in case it's something in addition to the heat... yogurt, kefir, some of the sauerkraut, crushed nettles, shiso & kelp.  Thankfully, the forecast shows the coming days are cooling off a little bit.

Most of the eggplant I harvested went into a dinner of Pasta Norma.  For this meal, I used our fresh tomatoes and herbs.  It's been six weeks, so I tried the batch of chocolate mint extract that was brewing.  It didn't taste like much, so I strained out the leaves, and added more fresh leaves of chocolate mint.  We'll see what that does. I made a batch of kombucha, and chopped up the extra scoby for the chickens .  They loved that.  What was left of the last batch of kombucha went on the compost.  J & I tied all the tomato cages together with twine, to make them less likely to fall with wind or under heavy weight.  There are also tall rebar stakes in every other cage.  I began tying up tomato branches that escaped the cages, so they won't break when heavy with fruit.  There's not much to do with the ones that come out the top and fall over, but I can tie the lower ones.  The cages we make are 4' tall, but most tomatoes grow taller.

I got the toaster oven out of the pantry, and have used it a few times to warm items, rather than using the oven.  I tried the sauerkraut.  It's getting a nice tangy flavor, so I'd say that experiment was a success.  I'm going to move it to the root cellar, and just keep a jar in the fridge for current use.  I listed items on ebay, and made swagbucks goals most days.  It's been nice to have time to do some "piddling" around the house.  I've taken care of paperwork, saved seeds from flower heads, swept, and did hand washing.  I gathered magazines that will be shared at the library and with the homestead group.  Stay cool these hot summer days!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Eggplant Caponata & Frugal Accomplishments

I was saddened to see our local feed & seed is going out of business.  We've gotten lots of our seeds there, many plants, organic fertilizer & amendments, and chicks & chick feed.  I'm sure it's tough to make it in these times, but I will miss them.  I stopped in to get seeds, not knowing until I drove up about the closing.  The seeds were 1/2 off.  I got organic fertilizer at 25% off, and plants for $1.  The plants included stevia, 2 Provence lavender, marigolds, and 2 Jewels of Opar.  The Jewels of Opar are new to me, & I was pleased to find while researching that it blooms from June to frost, readily reseeds, is a good pollinator plant & is edible.  I think they're quite lovely to look at too.  I'm joining in with Frugal Accomplishments today.

My sister & spent a day together, making the rounds of a few thrift stores.  My main goal was to find pillows that I could sew covers for, & I found two 16" & two 18" pillows for $6.50.  I'm always on the lookout for cashmere, & scored 3 sweaters and a scarf for $1- $2 a piece. I also found a cute summer blouse, a fleece vest for winter, & 2 flannel pillow cases for .49 ea.   I harvested cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, raspberries, tomatoes, basil, oregano, blueberries.  Hand picked japanese beetles & fed them to the chickens, along with greens. Did lots of weeding in the garden.

I harvested the first of the year's elderberries, and began a jar of tincture.  I harvested eggplant with the thoughts of canning them, but then decided to make a batch of my Mom's caponata.  She always tripled the recipe & I did too.  I only measured the seasonings; most of the ingredients were added by sight.  It freezes well, and is especially nice eaten with a good loaf of Italian bread.  Here's the recipe:

1 eggplant (I used 4 smaller asian eggplants for each eggplant), cut in cubes
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup tomato sauce or a little tomato paste ( I used fresh cherry tomatoes, did not use the water & added 2 or 3 tbs tomato paste for a triple recipe)
1 tbs wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of dried oregano or some fresh
1/4 cup water (see note above)
A variety of olives to taste, pitted (around 1/3- 1/2 cup)- I used a mix of black, kalamata & cracked green olives this time.  Use what you have.

Saute eggplant & celery in olive oil for 10 minutes.  Add onion & garlic and saute another 5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients & simmer covered for 5-10 minutes.  Add more sugar, salt or vinegar to taste if desired.  Some also add peppers or capers.  Enjoy!

This is the table I painted last week.  I'm glad I took the class when I did, as it's already gone up $6 and now requires another basic chalk paint class as a prerequisite that costs $99, so taking it at the right time saved me $105.  I bought supplies to do the pieces I have in mind, with a 10% student discount.  A neighbor I had taken a mushroom class with years ago came by.  She was interested in wild foods, so we did a little weed walk around the garden.  She tasted lambs quarter & purslane, & went home with a few cucumbers.  I planted all my dollar plants from the feed & seed, & watered them in with a bit of nettle tea.  Squished a number of squash bugs.  It's been very hot, so I've been bringing a wash pan of ice water to the chickens each afternoon, along with cool treats like cucumbers & cut up pineapple.  A friend gifted me with cantaloupe rind & berries she had made jelly with to give to the chickens.  They loved it.

This is McNibs asking me "are you ready to walk yet"?  I pulled all but the two smallest cabbages, put one in the crisper, & made my first batch of sauerkraut with the rest.  I canned dill pickle relish with our cucumbers.  After picking the first of our lima beans, I blanched and froze them, & plan to add to the bag as they come in.  If enough come in at one time for a meal, we'll have some fresh.   J & I went out to the garden Sunday morning to find our bean trellis twine had snapped from the weight.  He says that's all they ever used in their garden when he was growing up, & this never happened.  We expect the quality of present day twine has diminished.  We replaced the top row with a metal wire & pulled it all back into place.  J created a teepee for the tromboncino squash, & after seeing signs of squash borers in our summer squash, worked on those areas & killed the eggs he saw.  We're not sure if it's rabbits or deer, but something chewed off all the sunflowers I planted in the newest garden.  That's the life of a gardener.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The July Garden & Frugal Accomplishments

I hope summer is treating you well, friends.  I'm happy to be joining in with Frugal Accomplishments today.  Last week, I colored my hair at home.  I harvested cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, basil for pesto, blueberries, a few raspberries, & kale.  Picked up 2 pots of caladiums for the shade garden.  I was able to divide them into 6 plants when planting.  We've had some very hot and humid days, but on days when it cools down enough at night, we open the house up for fresh air and save on electricity.  I took the water collected in the dehumidifier and watered plants.   Grated a few of the smallest carrots & a couple that something had chewed on for the pups dinner.  Papers that had a blank back side were saved for scrap paper.  Greens and japanese beetles were picked and fed to the chickens.

I made hummingbird food, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. After an appointment in the town where my food co-op is (I live an hour away now), I bought groceries including several sale items & received a 10% discount for owner appreciation month.  I also found a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread on markdown.  I delivered soap to a B&B that has a little book swap library set up outside, and donated 6 books while there.  I looked through the books, but didn't find any I was interested in reading.  Ran into a nearby thrift store, & got some pretty floral fabric to use in wrapping my Garden soap.  I requested 2 library books from another library in our system.

At the show I did a few weeks ago, another vendor spoke to me about chalk paint.  The thought of a durable finish with little to no prep work intrigued me, so I took a class this week.  I painted a table that we got from Joseph's storage shed a few weeks ago, in Old White paint, which I then distressed.  For my first time painting a piece of furniture, I'm pretty pleased.  There are two larger tables we got from storage at the same time, which I want to paint for the porch, & possibly a rocker.  Then there is a large wardrobe that will be used for storage in the new room.  I was a little intimidated by this piece, but after getting my feet wet with this class, I'm feeling more confidant than I can do it justice.  I'll try to take a photo of the table this week.

mountain mint is a good pollinator plant
I'll admit it, I've been petting bumblebees again.  What can I say?  It makes me smile.  I've also been talking and singing to the frogs who live next to our porch.  We've put plastic down in preparation for gravel there.  It's holding water, so they decided it was the perfect spot.  Sometimes I'll see six little heads poking up out of the water.  That makes me smile too.  I'll be happy once I don't see the plastic, but it will make me a little sad too.  I suppose I'll just have to mosey down to the pond to visit them.

We're growing our first Armenian cucumbers, which apparently are not a cucumber at all, but a melon.  The pros are they're prolific, early bearing, have small seeds & withstand high temperatures.  The cons are they're quite susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew, & will pass it on to other cucumbers.  I wish we'd known that before planting them next to our other varieties of cucumbers :o(.  We're enjoying them so far, and are hoping they remain healthy.  I expect I'll soon be canning pickles.  I thinned the plum trees.  It's always hard to thin fruit, especially in a year when there is not a lot to begin with.  I made tzatziki sauce to go with falafel.

darn June bugs
I shopped at the discount grocery store.  Some good finds were a new quart Weck canning jar for $2, and 24 oz. of organic whole flax seed for $2 (good til 2018 & $7 savings over Amazon price).  I decided to begin harvesting the wine grapes.  The bunches are almost all ripe, & the June bugs continue munching on them, so it was time.  There are not enough for wine, so I will probably juice them.  I had tried a tip we read online, which said to mix 1/2 c molasses into a 1/2 gal water. & place in a milk jug near the June bugs to trap them. It didn't work.  There are lots of little eggplant now, & I found out that several touching the ground were getting eaten, probably by pill bugs.  I harvested those with holes in them, and a couple that were still intact but touching the ground.   Also harvested the first summer squash, a golden zucchini, which were planted from some of my Mom's seeds.  A friend gifted us some lovely peaches.  I've been buying a few here & there, when I run across organic ones, but the prices have been fairly outrageous.  I expect the frost that did ours in hurt the orchards too.  So that's what I can remember from the week.  Are you growing anything for food, medicine or beauty?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tomato Tar & Frugal Accomplishments

We had a gathering here on the 4th of July for family & friends.  I made asian cucumbers with the cukes I was gifted last weekend.  To save a 30 min. trip to town for organic fruit, we decided to make homemade ice cream using almonds & the remainder of our hazelnuts, which I toasted.  It was delicious!  I gathered flowers for 2 bouquets from the garden, & picked the first 3 cherry tomatoes, & used them as part of a pasta salad.  J found a 10# bag of rice on markdown at the local grocery, & I dry canned it in jars.  We did some research, and J found special lids that go over canning lids that you can vacuum seal with, instead of oven canning them as in the past.  We were hoping to be able to seal foods without subjecting them to heat.  Though we didn't manage to get the jars to seal using our vacuum cleaner as promised in a youtube video (we don't have a vacuum sealer), J got his vacuum pump from the shop, which worked wonderfully.  I'll be happy to not have the added expense of gas for the oven as well as the heat, at least with summertime dry canning.  The sealing went very quickly, which is also a bonus.

I had found some olives that we loved last year at Big Lots, and was delighted to find them again last week.  I bought all the jars I found at $2 ea.  I mentioned in a post a while back that I was given the OK to pass along any of my friends antiques that didn't sell on ebay after a time. Last week I gifted my second box of antiques, to a lovely local woman who unexpectedly lost her husband last year (in his 50's).  She has a consignment shop with all sorts of vintage goodness.  I hope these items will sell well for her.  Various spots were weeded, including the carrot bed, around blueberries and a flower bed.  I trained cucumbers up the trellis, as well as some beans.  Squash bugs have arrived.  J & I squish them whenever we find them on the cucumbers or squash.  We enjoyed steamed chard from the garden.  One of our cabbage heads had split, so I harvested it & made asian slaw.

unwrapped soap shortly after "the incident"
There was a day last week with several water challenges.  The first happened when I put a load of laundry in & headed to the garden.  When I got back, I found one of the washer hoses spewing water.  That wasn't great, but our little laundry closet happens to also be where my shelf of soap inventory lives. M & I quickly unwrapped close to 150 bars of soap & I got the dehumidifier running before running to town for new hoses, which J then changed.  Thankfully, it appears most of the soap will be salvageable, which means hours of wrapping will be on my to do list this week.  Next I hung two loads of laundry on the line, with the forecast for 20% chance of rain.  Just minutes after I got the second load hung, the rain began & quickly got heavier.  M came to help me get the laundry in.  About the time I got most of the first load in the basket, I remembered there were chicks out that needed to be let into the roofed area, so took off running to do that, as the rain came down hard for several minutes.  That evening, J realized we had no water pressure.  With changing our system over to rainwater, all the residue from extremely hard well water is gradually coming loose, & it clogged up the system.  After changing the 3 whole house filters, he had to take apart, clean out & put back together our tub temperature regulator 3 times while I ran outside to turn the water off & on.  I'm glad things typically come in 3's rather than 7's!  Then too, I notice what's happening in lives other than my own, and I know this is small stuff in comparison.  This post was a bright spot in a rough news week.

Love the coloring on this April born chick
I harvested more lambs quarter, then blanched & froze 2 bags.  Harvested parsley for potato salad and drying, harvested sage which I began a medicinal tincture with, & spearmint which I'm drying for tea.  Speaking of potato salad, I brought in the potatoes we had harvested & weighed them, which ended up being a little over 27 lbs.  Not our best harvest, but that's the life of a gardener.  While picking japanese beetles for the chickens, I found dozens of june bugs on our wine grapes.  We have the green type (june bugs, not grapes :o). They definitely put a hurting on the grapes.  I may have gotten 1/3 of the bugs; the rest flew off, but I'm sure they'll be back. I'll have to be vigilant in the coming days.  During a time I was out picking blueberries, the tall stem of one of the 12 apostle lily clusters fell over, so I cut it and brought it into the house to enjoy.

I've been looking for new recipes for swiss chard, & tried making a wrap using a large leaf.  I made hummus & put that in first, then added carrots, grape tomatoes, black olives, cucumbers & feta before rolling it up.  I thought it was pretty good, but J didn't care for it.  He admits to not being much of a wrap kind of guy though.  I made pizza dough with mostly home ground wheat, our garlic & oregano, & peppers gifted to us, in addition to a few store bought items.  J picked our first cucumber for the salad.   For many years, I'd wondered why my hands & arms turn black when working with tomato plants. I finally thought to look it up, & found out it's due to tomato tar.  Who knew?  It seems as though it must vary some, & I wonder if it might be due to a person's chemistry.   Lemon juice helps a little, but not much.  I read of vinegar and tried that, but it didn't do anything on me.  Does it affect you?  Do you have any tricks to remove it?  J worked up the soil where we harvested potatoes, & planted the first of the fall garden.  We planted collards too late last year to have a good crop, & want to be sure that doesn't happen again. Have you begun planning your fall garden yet?  I'm joining in with the inspiring Frugal Accomplishments community today.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer Fruits & Frugal Accomplishments

Last week, J & I put up trellises for our cucumbers and beans.  We've replanted our squash so many times, we're no longer sure where the squash needing trellising are.  Tromboncino squash are probably the only ones getting a trellis, and they will once they're identified.  We usually don't trellis our pumpkins and other winter squash.  They're in a garden where it's not a problem if they ramble.  Cucumbers and winter squash are starting to blossom, so I'm hoping to be harvesting cucumbers soon.  After creating my new logo, I hadn't taken photos of most of the soaps in their new labels, so I finally got that done.  When I first opened my online shop, I hired a photographer friend to take photos of my soaps.  I helped do most of the styling, & he said I was a natural.  Since then I've taken my own photos.  Good thing, as I expect I've taken thousands of photos for my shop and ebay listings in the 8 years since.

Wild blackberries, blueberries, and a few mulberries and raspberries make their way into my basket most days, eggs are gathered, and japanese beetles are gathered and fed to the chickens.  I'm working on eating down our freezer to make room for summer produce, & cooked spaghetti squash, lambs quarter & tromboncino squash.  When I tried to use 1/2 onion & 3 avocadoes that I noticed during my crisper clean out, I found they were too far gone.  A frugal fail, and into the compost crock they went.   I hadn't realized you could extend the life of an avocado in the crisper until a friend told me.  If you wait until it is just barely ripe to put it in the crisper, it significantly extends the keeping time, which  I still managed to pass.  I sewed a button on a nightgown, and made a vinaigrette using mixed berry syrup I had canned.

This spring I learned about Long Keeper tomatoes, bought seeds & planted 8 in pots quite a bit later than the others.  As you don't harvest them until you're expecting frost, which is October here, they should be fine.  I planted the seedlings in the garden & fertilized them with nettle tea.   Another gardening experiment in the works.  I also planted asters and sweet marjoram that I had grown from seed.  We'd had a good rain & a cloudy and cooler morning, so it seemed like the time to plant.  I made a hearty salad, and used our eggs and arugula in it.  Orlaya flowers are lovely in the spring, but they'd rather overtaken my rose bed.  I pulled up all the spent plants, and set some aside for seed saving.  As sweet marjoram is said to be an annual here, I put it in some of the space vacated by the orlaya in the rose bed.  The asters went where they can be viewed from the porch & the new room.  I'm hoping they do well, and we'll have some pretty fall color.

I gathered and washed a basket of lambs quarter from the garden.  Watched an episode of Victorian Pharmacy online.  J & I dug our potatoes.  They're lovely, though there are not many due to an extremely wet spring that delayed planting, & some pretty hot temps early on.  We'll cherish every one.  I harvested kale & brought a kale salad to a gathering, & was delighted to be gifted a basket of cucumbers while there.  I added several strands of twine to our cucumber trellis, & hope to soon be picking our own.  Had a fruit & homemade yogurt breakfast, including our blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries with a bit of mixed berry syrup canned last summer.  After scrubbing off rust with a wire brush,  I applied stove polish to our woodstove, which has it looking much better.

Last year, I took both pups to the vet for their rabies boosters the same day, so I was surprised to get a notice that one was due for another booster.  When I called, I was told they gave one pup the 3 year & the other the 1 year because it was only his second time there (the 1st time being just a few weeks earlier).  I noticed the same serum lot number on both their certificates, & after researching, learned the vaccine used is usually the same for both 1 & 3 year vaccines. A lot has to do with the states laws, & some to the vets discretion.  Both pups have always been kept up to date on their rabies vaccines, & vets say they give immunity for at least 3 years, so I can't in good conscience subject him to an unnecessary vaccination.  We have pet sitters come in rather than board them when we're away, & they almost never leave here except to go to the vet, so I don't feel it will be an issue.  This & this are two of the sources I used in my decision.  Though it does have a frugal outcome, that is just an added benefit of what I feel is doing the right thing.  Have you any thoughts or similar experiences?

My heart has been heavy for a dear friend.  Her 20-something son has been very sick, but no one seems to have any answers so far, even after a week's stay in the hospital and multiple tests.  They've thankfully ruled out a number of things, but the waiting is scary and frustrating for everyone.  I'm hoping the coming week will bring good news and better days.  I'm joining in with Frugal Accomplishments today.