Sweet Relish

Sweet Relish

When I shared a few days ago, I had told you that I would share my recipes I have for canning and preserving vegetables from the garden, since I have had so many asking.  Now that it is slowed down quite a bit, I feel like I am taking back control of the schedule and can begin to share again.

As written  in an earlier blog Is Your Kitchen Busy These Days, the garden at that time was in full swing and total chaos was taking place.  I have just gotten my last run of tomatoes and they are on the stove now making pizza sauce. The peppers and cucumbers are done but the okra and all the herbs are still in full swing.  Please know that I am just trying to give you an honest picture of  gardening and preserving foods for your family.  I have said it many times, and I will say it again, it is many long hours and a lot of work, but so very much worth it!

Anyway, today I thought I would share my Sweet Relish Recipe.  It goes great on those summer hotdogs cooked out on the grill and we often use it for making chicken and tuna salad or just as a side with a big bowl of beans.  It’s not complicated and I’ve tried several recipes that were.  I like simple.  Mine is a combination of a couple that I found on Pinterest, I’m sorry but I don’t remember where on Pinterest to give you a link,  as was well as my trusty Ball Blue Book for Preserving Book.   My book is the 37th edition so there are many on the market.  I got mine as a birthday gift from my daughter and I love it!

SWEET PICKLE RELISH

Yield:  about 4 pints

4 cups  – Chopped Cucumbers

2 cups  – Chopped Onions

1 cup – Chopped Green Bell Pepper

1 cup – Chopped Red Bell Pepper

1/2 cup – Pickling and Preserving Salt

3 cups  – White Sugar

1  tbl sp – Celery seed

1 tbl sp – Mustard seed

2 cups – White Vinegar

Pickle Crisp (optional)

I will be honest my first couple years of canning, I was using a vegetable chopper that I got from my mom and chopped what felt like hours in a metal tub, but wow,  it took a really long time to get the vegetables chopped fine enough for a relish and my arm was horribly sore the next day.  Last years Black Friday, 2016, I was determined to make things simpler and quicker in the kitchen so I splurged for a Hamilton Beach Food Processor and its been a life saver. I do want to mention that I keep a list on my refrigerator for “wants” and when Black Friday rolls around, that’s the only day of the year I am willing to purchase such items. It’s Christmas for me and it saves us lots of money.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  If you are using a hand food chopper, you will need a large wash tub or bowl for chopping your vegetables in.  You will need to do these 1 at a time so you can measure.

1. Wash all your vegetables well in cold running water, drain.

2.  Cucumbers – Remove stems and blossom end, chop, and measure out 4 cups

3.  Onions – Peel, chop, and measure out 2 cups

4.  Peppers – Remove stems and seeds, chop and measure out 1 cup EACH

Combine in a large bowl all chopped vegetables and mix well.  I use my hand for doing this.  Sprinkle the 1/2 cup salt over the vegetables (DO NOT MIX IN IT) and allow to sit for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, drain vegetables and using a fine mesh strainer, such as this one, wash thoroughly to remove salt with cold running water.

Combine in a large sauce pan, spices, sugar, and vinegar.  Bring mixture to a boil until sugar has melted and pour in vegetables, simmer for 15 minutes.  Your vegetables will turn a darker color.

Cooking Sweet Relish

Fill hot jars with mixture, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.  Add 1/4 tsp pickle crisp if you are using it. Place lid onto hot jar and tighten ring finger tight and place on the rack in your water boiler canner.

Cover jars with 1 inch hot water and place lid on boiler.  Once water comes to a boil, reduce heat and process jars for 15 minutes.   Gently remove lid or boiler and allow jars to rest for 5 minutes in the water.  Remove and place on a towel on the counter and allow to sit for 24 hrs.

Sweet Relish in Mason Jar

Check your seals,  label and store.

 

I hope you enjoy the sweet relish when you try it.  How does your family use Sweet Relish?

 

 

 

 

 

Is Your Kitchen Busy These Days

Is Your Kitchen Busy These Days

It’s the middle of July here in the Tennessee Valley and the garden is in full swing.  The 3 grandsons are here as well for the summer with school out and there is a whole lot going on at the homestead.  The kitchen is very busy with everything from canning green beans, tomatoes, and beets to making Bread and Butter Pickles, Dill Pickle Spears, Sweet Relish, Pizza Sauce, Salsa, Spaghetti Sauce and even herbs drying in the dehydrator.   I like to describe this time of year as controlled chaos in a good way.

I had to giggle yesterday when I stood back and really took a look at the counter tops, what chaos and no more room on them that’s for sure.  During this realization, from the other room, the two smaller boys 8 & 11 break out into an argument and I have to go in the room be the referee and stop the chaos in there as well.  Controlled chaos, it’s what summer time is all about I suppose.  I have friends that are asking questions often and want to learn how to preserve foods for their family?  So I thought , why not, over the next few days, start sharing with you my step by step recipes and let you decide if you want to pursue canning and preserving for your family.  I will admit, canning sounds great, the pictures are pretty and it does save a whole lot of money, but it is far from easy.

It’s long hot hours in the kitchen standing over a hot stove peeling and cooking for hours.  We here on the homestead decided to do our best to grow and preserve enough food for our family to last all winter long. If you choose, you can do it as well for your family.  Our goal is to slowly eliminate the need for the grocery store for food completely.  Remember the idea of Hidden Springs Homestead being created is to obtain self-sufficiency and to be less dependent on the dollar and have more time together as a family.

Even though this is only my 3rd year in canning, I have learned a lot and made a lot of mistakes too.  As my story goes, (here) I was raised on a small 5-acre homestead complete with all the animals and garden, but growing up, I wasn’t at all interested.  That has all changed – I’m loving the idea of growing and preserving our own food.  It does, though, take a lot of time and energy and we are in just the beginning of our journey.

The day begins at 4:30 -5  am and a lot of time, it doesn’t end until around 8 pm and bedtime is a 9 pm, just because it’s been a long day and I can’t keep my eyes open.  Summers are brutal in Tennessee, the temperatures get up to around 92-98 degrees with a heat index of well over 100 and the humidity makes it very difficult to be outside.  I now understand why my mom, dad and grandparents got up so early to get out before the sun rose when we were growing up at home.  It is necessary to beat the heat in the garden and doing outdoor chores,  so I am out there by 6 am to get all my work outside done and then try to be inside no later than 10am to begin in the kitchen and in July, 10 am is already hot.  It does begin to cool down around 6 pm  so at that time, I can go back out and continue to work on whatever needs to be done out there.  In the meantime, between about 10 am and 6 pm, work is going on in the house and normally, I’m in the kitchen.

Canned foods for winter

The above is a picture of my canning shelves that are currently located in a bedroom.  Our plan is to enclose the back porch and put the canned goods and the freezers out there, but until then it remains in the bedroom.

As I have already said, I have friends that ask often how to can foods and store up for winter, so over the next few days I will be sharing with you all my canning tips and recipes and hopefully inspire you to create your own supply.  I will not make it to look pretty and tell you that it is easy, but that it is hard work that is well worth all the effort.  It is though, very nice to able to walk into another room of the house and have most of your food stored.  It makes you feel good to know that you are helping to take care of your family and feeding them healthy foods.

So, are you interested in learning how to preserve foods?  If so, leave a comment or questions that you may have and I will do my best to address them as quickly as possible.  I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do feel like I can help coach you along.  Stay tuned for recipes to come.

Are you already canning for your family, if so, what?

 

 

 

Is your yard BEE Friendly?

Is your yard BEE Friendly?

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and bats are credited for providing one of every three bites of food eaten in the world, as they facilitate the reproduction of 90 percent of the world’s flowering plants. Bees are the most important single group of pollinators in North America. Habitat loss and excessive use of insecticides are the biggest contributors to pollinator declines – See more at: https://www.tn.gov/twra/news/15654#sthash.tjax6l8V.dpuf

Do you realize?  Pollinators can live without humans, but humans CANNOT live without pollinators?

I don’t how many times I have read this and heard people talking about the trouble that our pollinators are in.  Reality hit me today though, NOTHING happened!! When I was growing up, my dad raised watermelons and boy were they good.  We would sit out in the yard, he would cut one right down the middle and we kids would dig in.  But within 15-20 minutes of being outside with a melon, the bees began to swarm because of the sweet sugary smell it put off.  We would be swatting at them, crying, complaining, because they wouldn’t stay off our melon.

Mr. J and I don’t have enough property to grow melons here on the homestead, but we both love them and I buy them weekly at the grocery store until the local vegetable stand, owned by the Thompsons, opens and then she has the best tasting homegrown watermelons around.  It’s nothing for me to stop at her stand and buy 2, sometimes 3 a week.

Recently, I completed the Tennessee Master Gardeners program in our local County Extension office.  One of our classes was on bees and how to raise them.  I haven’t ventured into that yet, but I learned how important bees are to our food source, I had no idea.  We as humans cannot live without the bees!

So yesterday, fathers day, I cut open a great big watermelon for Mr. J to eat and decided to take my rinds outside, lay on a colorful plate in the garden for the bees, rather than putting them into the compost bin as I normally do.  The more bees I have in the garden, the better my vegetables will produce.  Remember, when I was growing up, it took 15-20 minutes for them to arrive.  This morning, I checked the rinds and NOTHING HAPPENED – NO bees!  There wasn’t a single bee eating on the sweet melon rind.  We have a problem!  OUR BEES ARE TRULLY DISAPPEARING!!!!!   This has been a great eye opener for me.

The Bees are missing!

 

We are killing our bees and we cannot live without them!  Without pollution from the bees, our gardens don’t produce.  As you can see in the picture, the rinds are even near bright colored flowers and they’re no bees on them.

I posted this blog just to make you aware of what is happening.  It really hadn’t hit me too hard until today.  I’ve been reading and researching for the past couple of months, attended a pollinator class, and trying to learn how to better provide for them, but really not done too much.  I’ve been working on a 5-year plan to make our yard an eco friendly environment and I think the need is even greater now.   We need to be growing native plants, bee friendly flowers, trees, bushes, etc.  Stop using the pesticides, stop spraying the yards for mosquitos, using weed killers, etc.  and realize that pollinators are important and without them, we don’t survive.   My planning is even more urgent and on the forefront of my plans for the homestead now and I hope this blog has inspired you to do some research, look at your yard and maybe you will decide to help save the bees.

If I were to start sharing my research, would you be willing to follow and maybe make changes in your yard?  Is your yard already pollinator friendly, if so, feel free to share.

How to make Compost Tea

How to make Compost Tea

It’s no secret that compost is the number one thing you can do to your garden to grow healthy plants that produce an abundance of vegetables.  When planting the spring garden, it’s important that whether you planting seeds or plants, they need adequate water and consistent moisture in or to germinate (seeds) or to establish strong healthy roots (plants).

Rather than using simple water, I accidentally let Mother Nature create compost tea for me over this past winter.  After building the 15 new beds last fall and hauling in aged cow manure, compost and garden soil.  I did have some manure left over, so instead of exposing it to the elements and allowing it to just “go away”, I wanted to store it.  I placed it into 20 gallon tote with a lid and left it sitting outside.  Over the winter, the lid slipped and rain water continued to pour into the tote.  I just left it sitting and as a result, this spring I had a tote full of compost tea for planting / fertilizing. 

I did have lots of mosquito larva in as well, so I had to work quickly to use it up.  I couldn’t stand the thoughts of just dumping it out.  So this is what’s left in the bottom, its not pretty to look at but the garden LOVES it deeply.  I will say that I did go ahead and dump the left over, mosquitos were getting out of hand.  If you want to store compost tea, make sure the container is well sealed to keep out unwanted critters.

You can make your own compost tea very easily and it doesn’t take all winter to do so.

MIX:

5 gallon bucket

1 shovel-scoop of quality aged manure, finished compost, or worm castings (I used manure)

Non-chlorinated water (rain water is best)

(If you must use chlorinated water, fill a separate 5-gallon with water and allow to sit for 2-3 days to allow the chlorine to evaporate)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.      Dump a shovel of aged manure OR finished compost into the five gallon bucket.  Fill the rest of the way up with the non-chlorinated water.

2.      Stir well with the shovel and set aside for about a week or so.  Keep it stirred 2-3 times a day.

 

APPLY:

Finished tea can be sprayed directly onto the plants themselves or used to drench the soil. If you plan to spray this on your plants, you will need to strain the tea first before putting it into the sprayer.  (I choose to put directly into the soil-much easier)    If tea is really dark, you can add additional water to dilute it some.

When putting your seed/plants into the ground, pour a portion into the hole or in the row and then plant.

What’s your thoughts on compost tea, do you use it?  Feel free to leave comments.

 

Drying Basil

Drying Basil

Our basil is growing and doing great.  Harvesting seems to have started early this year, maybe because I purchased a new species, a simple name “Sweet Basil”.    I did purchase plants instead of planting seeds this year as well.  Anyway, on Friday as I was out walking through and enjoying the garden and I noticed that my basil had some really large leaves, several stems had more than 6-8 leaves on each.    When a stem gets 6-8 leaves on it, prune above the second set to encourage additional growth.  With great excitement, I ran back into the house and grabbed a basket to start harvesting.

There are a couple different ways to harvest/store basil either drying or freezing.  Freezing is the best method.  It prevents it from losing some of its flavor.  Since it’s early in the season though, I opted to dry because canning season is coming and I will be using it in my homemade spaghetti sauces, pizza sauces, pico de gallo, and salsa recipes and I will need crushed dry basil for these.

Drying can be done several different ways as well.  If you’re patient and have time, it can be hanged to dry, placed in a dehydrator, baked in the oven, or if patients are not one of your strength or its needed immediately, you can use the microwave. I have noticed when I use the microwave, it seems to lose additional flavor and since I’m currently not in a hurry – this go around will be hanging.

You will need:

Basil leaves

Rubber bands

Paper lunch bags

Scissors

Permanent Marker

Hanger

Clothes pins

 

Lay your leaves out individually on the counter and gather 10-12 at a time by the stem.  Once you have a small bundle, take a rubber band and wrap around the stems until tight.  As the stems dry and shrink, your rubber band will remain tight holding them together. 

On your paper bag, use the marker and label what will be in the bag and put the date on it.  This helps me tremendously to know specifically when I started drying. 

Use your scissors and cut the bottom off the bag.

Take your basil and insert it into the bag and gather the bag around your stems.  Use a second rubber band and wrap it around your bag with the basil inside.  The purpose of the bag is to keep dust and other stuff from getting on your basil while it is drying over the next few weeks.

After the rubber band is wrapped, use a clothespin and insert one finger side of it under a couple strands of your rubber band.  This will secure your basil for hanging. 

Take a hanger and clip the clothespin to it and hang in a dry dark spot out of the way for 3-4 weeks.  Once dry, remove and process.  Do you grow basil in your garden?

How to grow Healthy Tomatoes

How to grow Healthy Tomatoes

How to Plant Tomatoes to be Strong & Healthy

This year begins my 3rd year in planting my own garden and I have learned a lot since the beginning – the hard way unfortunately. I tried this way last year and it worked really well so I thought I needed to share so you can have healthy tomato plants too. I know there are all kinds of tips, steps, instructions etc listed on pinterest and other various sites, but I can speak from experience this way worked well for me.
Before I begin though, I will admit, I tried for the first time this year, starting my own plants from seed since tomato plants are so expensive – failure. That’s another blog I will be sharing.
Yesterday, I put 25 tomato plants in the ground.  Make sure when you purchase plant the roots are healthy.  If not, they will be weak not thrive in the garden or even die.  Healthy roots will be a white-creamy color.

Roots on Tomato

I chose to go with the 4-pack of plants because I was planting 24 and cost is always an issue, they were very healthy and will grow quickly, the plants were approximately 8 inches tall.  Remember, I tried to start my own seedlings this year.

Tomato Plant 4-pack

Normally you will place only the roots under the soil, but with tomatoes you want to go much deeper than that. You will want to place your plant deep-deep into the soil, approximately two-thirds of the plant will be underground.   Dig a hole as deep as your plant is tall. Remove the plant from the pot and place into the hole, without putting the soil back in to make sure it was deep enough – if not, remove and dig deeper.

Hole deep enough to cover two-thirds of plant

Remove the lower leaves leaving the top one-third of the leaves.

Before and After removing leaves

For my 8 inch tall tomatoes, I left about 2 inches out to soil. This means I placed the plant into a 6 inch hole.

One-third stem out of ground

Roots will grow from the tiny white hairs you see on the stem making the plant stronger and allowing it pull more nutrients from the ground. A plant with a deep root system is more able to withstand drought conditions in the summer as we have here in the Tennessee Valley.

Once the hole is deep enough, I add to the bottom of the hole the following:
A handful of good organic vegetable fertilizer  (I use Epsoma)

A  handful of bone meal (I use Jobes)
A handful of worm castings  (I use Natures Solution)
A handful of Crushed egg shells (I crush my own)
A handful of Fish meal (I use Alaska Fish)  mix according to instructions on container.  If you have access to actual fish heads, even better, use them.
2 cups of compost tea (I make my own)

And 2-uncoated, crushed aspirin (any brand)

Below is a collage of ingredients to add to the hole to give you an idea of my measurements…

(Left to right)  Organic Fertilizer, Bone Meal, Uncoated aspirin to crush, egg shells

Tomatoes are susceptible to disease and the aspirin will help to boost the plants immune system. Place your plant into the hole and fill back up with garden soil. Tomatoes like to be in 7-8 hours of full sun and need about 2 inches of water per week.
The plant will begin to grow straight up in the next few days. It will need support throughout its growing time so be sure to place a cage around it for support.
As I wrote earlier, I have had success using this method, but I am always looking for better ways. What do you do when you plant tomato plants? Feel free to leave comments below…
Happy Planting…
Dianne

Soil Temps & Spring Planting Time

Soil Temps & Spring Planting Time

Spring is only 3 days away!!  The temperature outside right now is a brisk 22 degrees, obviously way too cold to be planting the garden, but warmer temperatures are coming!!  Tomorrow is supposed to get up to 62 degrees and that’s exciting.  Here in Tennessee, it can be 16 degrees in the early morning and reach 70 degrees in the afternoon.  Our weather is also extremely unpredictable this time of year.  We were wearing short sleeves and some had gone as far as shorts last week only to have this week’s highs in the low 40’s with bitter winds– brrrr.    But with all this said, spring planting time is coming.  We will be out in our gardens planting before we know it;   it can’t come quickly enough though.  With the swing in the weather, how do we know when it’s time to plant our garden?

To plant our gardens, we have to consider 2 important factors and knowing this information is vital.

Frost dates:    Depending on the area you live in, frost dates are important.  Young seeds and plants can be killed with frost being on them.  Here in Tennessee, our last frost date is a 50% chance on April 17 and it goes down to a 10% chance on April 27th.    To get these dates, I contacted my local agriculture extension office.  They were able to give me these dates based on the last 30 years of weather data from local stations.   I would recommend you contact your local agriculture extension office, you can find yours by searching – Agriculture Extension office with your county name and state in the search.    (EX:  Agriculture Extension office, Bradley County, TN)

What do these percentages mean?  On April 17th, the chance of the temperatures getting below 32 degrees, frost temps, is at 50% and as of April 27th the chance of these temps occurring drops to 10%.  But of course, I don’t want to wait until after April 27th.  So I need to be prepared to watch the weather, and have a plan to cover my seeds/plants in the event of low temperatures if necessary.   Your seed packets will give instructions on the backside that will say something like:  Planting Instructions – …2 to 3 weeks prior to last frost…

Baker Seed Company Seed Pkt

This packet is from my favorite seed company Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  If you would like to receive one of their catalogs, follow the link to their site and request – it is free.

A second thing to consider is:

Soil Temperatures:      Various garden seeds require soil temperatures to be at certain levels before planting them into the soil.  This is because they need certain temperatures in order to germinate.  Most seed packets give this information on the backside of the package.  A very simple way to know if your soil is warm enough for planting is to use a simple kitchen thermometer.  (I use this one)

Soil Thermometer

I’ve gone out into the raised beds and stuck it into the garden soil to get a reading of the soil temps. I’ve done this on several occasions now so that I have a record of soil temps.  (Soil temperatures in raised beds do warm quicker than ground level soil, so do keep this in mind).   Its probe is approximately 6 inches long and you will not be planting seeds this deep. As long as the lower layer of soil is at a consistent adequate temperature, you can start planting.

Some seeds that you can plant in March are:

Carrots, Beets, and Onions -are root vegetables and grow underground.

Carrots: Carrots should be planted directly into the soil, and not started indoors.  Here in Tennessee, it is best to plant them about 4 weeks prior to last frost.  If your soil temp have consistently been 60-70 degrees, it is time to plant carrots, anything below is still too cool.

Beets:  Beets need be planted in consistent 60-65 degrees.  These can be started inside though if you prefer.  If planting directly into the garden soil, they can be planted 6 weeks prior to last frost.  Beets do have a really hard outer shell and it is recommended that you soak these in a shallow bowl of water for 2-3 hours before planting.

Onions:  Though onions are a root vegetable, they should be treated as a leaf vegetable and protected from extreme temperatures.  Soil recommendation temperatures for onions are 55-75 degrees.

Several more above ground seeds that can be planted in March are:  Spinach, Lettuce, Peas, Cabbage, Summer Squash, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Radishes,

Spinach:  It is not recommended that you sow indoors.   Spinach is a cool season plant and needs be planted as soon as possible, because it does not thrive in warmer temperatures.  Ideal soil temperatures for spinach are 50-65 degrees.

Lettuce:  Lettuce seeds can be started indoors about 4 weeks prior to last frost and then transplanted outside.  They can also be sown directly into the soil if you prefer.  Recommended soil temperatures need be 55-65 degrees.

Peas:  Don’t start these inside, they need to be planted directly into the soil.  Safe soil temperatures for peas are 60-65 degrees.  It is also recommended you soak the seeds for 2 hours to soften the hard outer shell before planting.

Cabbage:  Cabbage seeds can be planted inside 4-6 weeks prior to last frost and then transplanted outside when soil temperatures average 60-65 degrees consistently.

Summer Squash:  Is another seed that can be sown inside 3-4 weeks prior to your last frost date.  Soil temperatures need be consistent at 70-75 degrees.  This is one of the vegetables I would recommend following the 10% frost date and then use row covers during the cool temperatures at night.

Broccoli:  This too can be sown indoors if you prefer, 4-6 weeks prior to last frost, but it is not necessary.  Broccoli seeds can be planted directly into the soil.  Safe temperatures for soil need be 60-65 degrees.

Brussels Sprouts:  Date to sow indoors is 4-6 weeks prior to last frost.  This is as well, not necessary because seeds can be sown directly into the soil as well.  Temperatures to plant Brussels Sprouts safely need to be consistently 60-65 degrees.

Radishes:  It is not recommended that radishes be sown indoors.  Seeds need to be planted directly into the soil once it has reached 60-65 degrees consistently.

As I had shared earlier, last frost dates and soil temperatures are two vital considerations with planting vegetable seeds.   If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email and I will respond as soon as possible.  I live in Tennessee and we have a relatively early last frost date and it’s important that you know yours as well.  Seeds need certain temperatures in order to be able to germinate and produce vegetables.  I want nothing more than to hear that you have had a successful spring gardening venture.  Did you find this blog helpful?  Leave a comment below…

What are your spring soil temperatures like where you live?

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Soil, it’s necessary

Healthy Soil, it’s necessary

I really hate the idea of adding chemicals to the environment, and I’ve worked really hard to not add any to our garden.  Last fall I built 15 new raised beds and hauled in 12 truckloads of aged cow manure and compost to fill them from an area farm.  I’ve recently had a soil test done and my pH level is high, which means that my soil is too alkaline to have healthy plants.  This is important…

15 New Beds

The soil pH value is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity.  The pH level is one of the environmental conditions that affect the quality of the plant growth.  The scale ranges for 0 to 14, mine is at 7.47.   If you have never had a soil test completed, it is very important that do so.   You can contact your local agriculture extension office and they could help steer you in the right direction.  It normally takes about 1 week to get the results.

The vast majority of vegetables thrive in a pH level of 6.1 – 6.8.  With my results I could have super unhealthy plants or no growth at all this year, who knows at this point.  I am already experiencing spinach, mesclun, and lettuce growth as being slow and not looking very healthy, the beets and carrots that I planted have not came up at all;  I will be replanting.

Nutrients for healthy plants are divided into three categories: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) – primary; Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S) – secondary and the third category- micronutrients contains Zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn).    All of which are necessary.  Though this all sounds complicated, a soil test will give you exact measurements of each and then decisions as to what type fertilizer or amendments you need to add to your soil will be simplified.  With my pH level, I have a choice of three ways of lower the level:   Adding to my soil –

1).    Organic matter.  Like compost, age-composted manure, or acidic mulches such as pine needles will reduce the pH level over time

2).    Sublimed sulfur.   This is a slow acting product but it will lower pH.  This is generally an inexpensive fix and it is a natural product.

3).    Aluminum sulfate which is fast acting.  Aluminum sulfate produces acidity in the soil as soon as it dissolves, which basically means instantly.  Not organic or natural.

All three products can be purchased at your local garden center and of course you can make your own organic matter at home with a compost pile.  Instructions for composting will come at a later date.

Because I am trying to stay organic I chose to add Sulfur to the aged manure and other composted soil I have in my beds.  It’s now early March and I have tested my pH level again and it has not yet came down.  My garden is in jeopardy!  I’ve said already, I hate the thought of adding chemicals to our garden, but planting season is only a few weeks away.  I now have to make a decision…will I go against everything that I’ve worked hard “not to do” and add aluminum sulfate in order to have a good crop this year, or go ahead and plant to see what happens and allow this to be a learning experience?   And by next season, the sulfur will have lowered the pH and next year can be much better.

I’m always learning here on the homestead.  This is a great opportunity for me to keep accurate records of this year’s garden so that I can share with all of you.  Hoping that you learn from my costly mistakes and you have even more successful crops.

After much thought of the past couple weeks, I have decided to wait – I will not be adding anything that is harmful to the environment or our health.  I will see how this year goes, learn from it, and look for a better crop next year.

If this year’s garden is a failure, then I have learned something new.  We should never be afraid to take chances.  Failures make us stronger and mistakes are bound to happen but as long as we learn something, we are still successful!

What mistakes have you made in your garden?

Banana & Black Walnut Crumb Cake

Banana & Black Walnut Crumb Cake

Prep Time:  20 minutes

Cook Time:  40 minutes

Yield:  2- 4×8 Loaves or a single 8×8 Pan

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease Pan(s)

INGREDIENTS:

Cake Batter

  • 3-4               medium bananas, blackened,(the softer, the better)
  • 2 Tbsp         brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp         pure vanilla extract
  •  ½ tsp          ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup          butter, softened (not margarine)
  • 1 cup            white sugar
  • 2 tsp             baking soda
  • 2                    eggs
  • 2 cups           100% Whole Grain Wheat Flour, I use (King Arthur Flour)
  • 1 tsp              salt
  • 2 Tbsp          sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
  • 1 cup             black walnuts

Crumb Topping

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup 100% Whole Grain Wheat Flour, I use (King Arthur Flour)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter, cold

Instructions

Cake Batter

  1. In a small bowl, mash bananas, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon, whisk until well mixed  – set aside
  2. In a larger mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  3. Add in eggs and beat until mixed
  4. To your wet mixture, sift in flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir until combined
  5. Add in sour cream and black walnuts
  6. Combine mashed banana mix into large bowl of ingredients
  7. Pour into baking pan(s)

Crumb Topping

  1. Combine ground cinnamon, Whole Wheat flour, and brown sugar, mix well.
  2. Cut butter with a pastry knife and mix all ingredients until the topping looks like coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle evenly over cake batter.
  3. Bake for 35-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean with just a few crumbs from the topping.
  4. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Move to a wire cooking rack.
  5. Enjoy!!!

Strawberries – Frozen Individually

Strawberries – Frozen Individually

Warmer temperatures bring on the cool season fruits and vegetables and I’ve gotten my hands on some Strawberries.   The local schools were selling flats as a fundraiser and since I currently don’t have my own plants, I purchased fresh berries from them.

We’ve always purchased frozen fruits from the local big box store, but our dream here on the homestead is to get away from this and to be able to grow our own.  Until then, it’s great to be able to support our local schools.

Strawberries are probably one of the easiest fruits to put in the freezer so today since I’m in the process of doing so; I decided to bring you along.

 

 

Strawberries come in these cute little bowls that are 1 quart each.  Each container weigh1 ½ – 2 lbs. or 4 cups of berries, depending on their size.  Many of these berries today are quite large, but this doesn’t make a difference when freezing.

 

The very first thing that you want to do is to gently pour your berries into a strainer and wash them. Allow them to drain for about 10-15 minutes. I simply sit my strainer inside my sink and use the sprayer. If you don’t have a sprayer, just run cool water over them to wash away any dirt or trash that may be on them, never soak your berries in a pool of water.  They will quickly become soggy and loose their flavor.

Once they have drained for a few minutes, you want to use a knife to remove the green stems and any blemishes the berry may have.  The stems make a great addition to your compost pile.

After I remove the stem, if it’s a large berry, I will slice it into halves or quarters.  The smaller ones, I leave whole and just toss them onto a cookie sheet or a dehydrator tray or any flat surface you can put into the freezer.  Be sure to lay them out individually.  Do not allow them to stack or touch each other.  The idea is to “freeze them individually”.   After you have filled your pan, slide it into the freezer and leave them 2-3 hours to allow them to freeze.

 

You can see from the picture some are sliced and others are left whole.  We like them small so when we grab them out of the freezer to eat, make smoothies or shakes, they are small and in bite size pieces.  This choice is up to you.

After they have been in the freezer for a couple hours, remove your pan and work quickly to toss them into a freezer bag.  I use Ziploc quart size bags; this size just works well for us.  A couple hints, 1) use a sharpie and write the date and item in them bag, so that 6 months from now you will know what it is, don’t trust your memory and 2) be sure to remove as much air possible from your bag.  Air is our enemy in the freezer.  Fill the bag and place the bag of frozen berries into the freezer for storage.

They will store for up to 2 years safely.    How do you freeze your strawberries?