Thursday, August 30, 2012


While out picking comfrey and plantain yesterday, I noticed that the lone sunflower outside had opened.
And Mr. Bumbles was busy pollinating it.

Our weather has really been fantastic this year.  There's no doubt that the garden has been the best ever, but this beauty really takes the cake.  It's the first sunflower I've managed to grow OUTSIDE in the north that's actually flowered.  It's only 3 feet high, and sadly, probably won't have time to develop seed, but I just love that happy yellow flower!

Herbal Remedies

Ok, so to be honest, great things are not happening in the perennial bed.  Transplants died in our hot, dry spring, weeds overtook the beds while I was away, seeds never seemed to germinate...  I will add more seed directly outside to the same spots next spring, and maybe overwintering will help some of them out.  For now, I don't have a lot to work with.  Except, of course, for what was always there to begin with.

Plantain, Comfrey, Rose Hip, Raspberry Leaf

And the few transplants that took:

Jacob's Ladder,  Lady's Mantle, Speedwell

 An internet search on plantain (the easiest thing to start with- a simple weed) brought up some pretty basic instructions to make infused oils and salves.  The most basic,  CALENDULA - COMFREY SALVE RECIPE

I don't have any beeswax (or calendula), so I was thinking of just doing an infused oil, skipping the salve steps.  But further reading, through a blog's comments, led me to believe that I already have a good alternative, and access to an even better alternative in the future.

It seems that my beef tallow will work nicely as a salve in place of both the olive oil and the beeswax.  Isn't that handy?  And bear lard is supposed to be even better.  Right up my alley.  For now I will use the tallow, and render bear lard at my next opportunity.

Here's what I did.

Pick a bunch of plantain and comfrey leaves.  Chop them up roughly and put them in a baking pan.  
Add tallow.  The tallow is very hard in the jar, and has a beefy aroma.  I added a drizzle of olive oil after all, and some rose petals.
Stir and bake at 170°F (my lowest oven setting) for 3 hours.
Strain through cheesecloth.  (I didn't let it cool first, as it would start hardening).
Reheat the oil.
Add vitamin E.  Mix through.
Pour into jars.
It hardened to a lovely shade of green, with just a tiny bit of sediment at the bottom of the jars.  It smells pretty good, not really rosey, but not beefy either.  It's still a bit stiffer than I would like it, about the consistency of chapstick.  I'll add more olive oil to the next batch.  Must save more cute little jars!

Another one of those things- if it's so simple, when did it become so hard?  What shall I try next?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Harvest Monday

We went away for a few days again, just Husband, #3 and #4 this time. When I got home the cukes were waiting for me.
Lots of pickling cucumbers, and 4 lovely Marketmores.  There will be more Marketmores in a day or two.  They're really coming along nicely now, and I really like the flavour and texture.

 I picked a handful of peppers off the plant I thought was the Medusa (sweet green peppers that grow like jalapenos), and a couple off another plant.  It looks like they may both be Medusas, no bite at all from the second batch.  They're definitely a keeper, and I'll be saving seed from them, despite that they may have cross pollinated from the hot peppers.  I'll look for Medusa seed when I order next year as well.  It's nice to have a green pepper that actually produces around here.

One big tomato from the greenhouse, 2 little ones from the perennial bed.  Tomato season may be upon us!  I'm pinching off flowers and suckers ruthlessly now.

I also started deheading squash flowers last week, and came home to find this one had doubled in size.  I have an overwhelming desire to pick it now, but it's still so green.  It's the biggest squash I've ever grown!
 I soaked the cukes for dill pickles (found dill in the grocery store last week), then went out to pick the yellow beans.  #2 had picked some while I was gone, but I thought he must have missed some, since there were only a couple of inches in the bucket.  I didn't find too many more, ending up with just enough for supper and one bag for the freezer.  Afterwards he told me he had picked a full 5 gallon pail- he just ate them all, lol.

I pulled a few northern (dry) bean plants that were starting to topple over and turn yellow.  I think the yield there will be quite good as well, about a pound from just a few plants.

Mom gave me a bag of cucumbers last night, so today I think I'll try a batch of dill pickle relish.

Last week's Cream of Celery soup took a bit longer than expected, but didn't break the rules after all.  The recipe called for chicken stock, rather than milk and flour for the base, so I had to cook a turkey, then make stock, then make the cream of celery soup.  This one will definitely be a winter canning project in the future.  It's nice to have a few jars sitting on the shelf right now though, ready to make Balogna Rolls with all of those beans at a moment's notice!

And one huge fail, just before we headed south.  The freezer in the hallway came unplugged, and no one noticed until it was too late.  Luckily it wasn't even half full, but sadly it did have the last of my roast beefs and corned beefs in it.  I've been cooking it up in my biggest stock pot for dog food, so I can package it in smaller portions.  At least it's not a total loss, but it makes me mad at myself for rationing out those roasts rather than eating them all. :(

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lemon curd

This one is a definite winner.  I had a hard time canning it, rather than sitting down with the pot and a spoon.  Delicious!

The banana jam was way too sweet.  The boys don't even want to eat it.  It might make a good filling for tarts or something. 

Back to beans today.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another Garden Update

Because, seriously, what else is there to talk about at this time of year?
The last dill weed.  It hasn't flowered yet.  Lots of sprigs on it though. I think I'll do a batch of cucumber relish with my next cucumber harvest, to give this little dill weed more time to flower.
Peppers are coming along quickly now.  There are at least 3 or 4 on each plant in the greenhouses.  The ones in the perennial bed haven't started fruiting.  Now which peppers did I plant where? I'll have to check my greenhouse 'map'.
Romaine going to seed.  These were transplants.  No signs of life from the ones that were direct sown.
Yellow beans still going like crazy, but the grasshoppers are starting to do some damage.  Some plants have hardly any leaves left.  Spotted a few snails in the hugelkultur bed as well.  Green beans are slowing down.  That does not upset me.  I left the last row to go to seed.
Yesterday I canned another 4 quarts of dill pickles, and 15 pints of yellow beans.  I'm canning beans now, because I have 30 bags of green, and 20 bags of yellow frozen.  That should get us through the winter.  So I figure extras will last longer canned.

I got a great deal on bananas, tomatoes, and assorted fruit on the cheap rack in the grocery store.  99¢ per bag.

The tomatoes I bought to eat fresh, then mom gave me a bag of tomatoes from their garden.  Then I found the peppers.  Now I'm thinking of doing a batch of salsa.  With red tomatoes.  Go figure, lol.  I started canning salsa a few years ago when I had about a million green tomatoes that obviously weren't going to ripen.  Google led me to green salsa, and it was an instant hit.  It almost feels like blasphemy to make it with red tomatoes.  And what shall I do with all of the green tomatoes I end up with at the end of the season?  But I don't think I have enough red tomatoes to do a batch of pasta sauce.

I did do a batch of pasta sauce the other day.  I cleaned out the freezer in the garage and found a bunch of tomatoes from last year hiding at the bottom.  My big roasting pan full of tomatoes resulted in 3 quarts and a pint.  Is it worth the effort?  I'm not a small batch canner.  All of that farting around and all of those dirty dishes for 3.5 quarts?

Hmmm...  Maybe I should just freeze them.  I'll think on it.  While I'm thinking on it, how about another BLT?  Maybe the 'problem' will go away on it's own....

Today's adventure- Jamaica Banana Jam.  If I can get it done before the boys inhale the rest of those bananas.  ;)  And then I want to break a bunch of rules again, and can cream of celery soup.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Greenhouse Update

Greenhouse #1. Half jungle, half desert. Or at least that's how it feels. Most of what I planted on one side is stunted, or didn't come up at all.
While the other side has cukes crawling up the post at the back, squash plants out of control, even though I pulled them outside at least three times.  They keep sending out new shoots, and now they're climbing the corn.
The corn, which is at least 8 feet high, bumping it's tops on the roof.

The cukes are producing now, but slowly.  Peppers are still flowering.  I'm not even going to try to get anywhere near those beans.
Greenhouse #2 has flowered in a big way. :)
There are two on this side, and one nearly on the roof on the other side.  There are two sunflowers outside, that are just getting ready to open now as well.  They're not even two feet tall, lol.  I think they like my greenhouse!

Cukes in #2 are doing well as well, there are green tomatoes everywhere, the beets are monstrous, and the carrots are looking good. 

Next year- more dill.  It didn't germinate well.  And more walkways!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rhubarb-Raspberry Jam

Herdog suggested I try a batch of rhubarb-raspberry jam, and am I ever glad I did! This could possibly be the best jam I have ever tasted. Absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, not too sour. Just perfect!
While out picking the rhubarb, the mint smelled yummy, so I picked a couple of sprigs to toss in.
Yield isn't great on this recipe- barely two pints.  Definitely worth doing again though.

The recipe I started with here, and what I ended up doing here.
Pinky and Smitty.  'Why aren't we allowed in the garden?'

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Pinky and Smitty, napping on my bed.  She's a tub compared to him.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Class

The Bigs are both in for the one-stop weekend PAL and Hunter Ed course.

 They both passed the PAL today. Hunter Ed tomorrow. Awesome.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gardens and Puppies

My first sunflower, in greenhouse #2, about to blossom.  I am very excited.  This is the first sunflower I've grown in the north to even think about flowering.  Growing them between the cukes though- bad idea.  They're all entangled in the vines.
Smitty, still so tiny.  He packs a wallop though, so don't let that tiny frame fool you.  He'll knock you on your butt (while you're trying to avoid stepping on him, of course!)  Puppies are doing very BAD with house breaking, although I'm blaming that on my very BAD children, who think they're too cute to keep penned up in the sunroom, and then forget that they're responsible to WATCH them while they're roaming the house.  At least they know not to mess in my room.
Pickling cucumbers in greenhouse #2 are coming on strong.  While only enough for a few jars at a time, I'm still very pleased with the results.  The marketmores (eating) cukes in greenhouse #1 are just starting to catch up, and I should be harvesting the first ones  in just a day or two.  Tomatoes are starting to turn yellow, ears are forming on the greenhouse corn, tiny squash abound.  I'd like to see the peppers doing more than just flowering, but all in all, I think it's coming along nicely.

Peas are still coming in the garden, but slower now.  Beans are crazy.  Mangels have nice large visible roots, definitely a success, and their leaves look delicious.
Huggie beans and mangels
We've got maybe another week left of volunteer potatoes, and then I think we'll just continue harvesting to eat the potatoes we planted on purpose.  It's much easier on the back to just dig a bit at a time, even if some of the potatoes are a little small.  Carrots are still sad and tiny, but I'm actually thinning them out this year, eating as we go, so maybe the rest will get to a decent size.

The beats in the greenhouses are doing as well as the mangels outside, but in the garden, they're still tiny little things. 
Garden corn has just started tassels.  The asparagus beans are barely surviving amongst them, and no fruit.  I think they were too shaded too quickly.

Lettuce is still going like crazy, with a few forming heads (that never happens here) and a couple starting to bolt. 
Cabbage has woken up, and is starting to form heads now. A lot of bug damage though.  I don't see any worms, but lots of grasshoppers this year.  Do grasshoppers eat cabbage? Still little happening with the broccoli and brussels sprouts.
A walk in the pasture revealed lots of perfect little puffballs.  I picked a bucket full for supper last night.  Yum!

What's that flower?  Cranberry suggested Jerusalem Artichokes when she was up visiting.  There are two patches- one in the garden beside greenhouse #2, and one beside the woodshed, where a former flower bed was.  (The flower bed also has a patch of horseradish, so anything is possible).  The plants are easily 5-6 feet tall, and just started flowering.  I haven't dug up any roots yet.  Most Jerusalem artichoke on google images shows a more defined, daisy like flower, although some do have more petals.  These do seem to have a lot of petals by comparison.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

TOO-BLUE-Raspberry Jam and Strawberry Too!

Dad spotted these berries last year, and thought they might be a type of gooseberry.  I went searching for gooseberry recipes, and everything I found was green.  The berries taste good, and didn't poison us, so we ate them anyway.

Well, as luck would have it, just the other day, Kevin posted about his Saskatoon berry gleaning and I thought to myself, hmm...  those berries look familiar.  I did some internet research, and discovered that Saskatoons are native to Northern Canada- not just the prairies, and should taste similar to blueberries.  Well, folks, I believe we have a match.

And then I went picking.  Not enough to do anything with on their own, but there were raspberries growing alongside most of the plants.  And I had a yogurt container of blueberries sitting in the fridge already.  So it only seems logical, this being a bad berry year (late frost, dry spring), to mix it up.

Here's to my first batch of  TOO-BLUE-RASPBERRY JAM

    8 cups mix Saskatoons, Blueberries, and Raspberries
    6 cups sugar
    3 Tbsp lemon juice

    Rinse stem fruit.  Throw it all in the Magic Bullet juicer.   Add to pot.  Then I poured the seeds and pulp in a strainer to drip over top.  It lets a few seeds in, but you get most of the pulp as well.  Mix well.
    Add sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
    Add lemon juice; bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently until thick, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.
    Pour into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space; wipe jar rims thoroughly.
    Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Not a bad haul for something I hadn't planned to do!

The next day, in the grocery store, I bought 6 pounds of strawberries on sale, 3/$5. US imports of course. I was too cheap to buy the fresh Ontario strawberries at $5/pound. Which made a lovely batch of Strawberry Jam.
My jam shelves have overflowed again, so I'm now working on the third.  Clearly I need to use it for more than just toast.

The beans are still going like gangbusters, so I've been slacking in the foraging department.  I might be able to squeeze in another batch of mixed berry jam this season, but I doubt I'll be doing any blueberry sauce or raspberry sauce.  It's just slim picking this year, and far too time consuming.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to Build a Greenhouse

Or woodshed, or pole barn, or turkey shack... Or whatever you think this structure would be good for. This post is for jambaloney, who asked for pics to copy the construction. The design is my dad's. He's awesome. #2 has taken it to new levels, and can whip up a new shack in just a couple of days. He's awesome too. The pics are from a variety of projects, so I hope they make sense, even though they won't match up exactly.

To start, go out in your woods and cut down some tall, straight trees, with about an 8" diameter.  Trim them all up, and then...

You will need:
12' posts X2
12' poles X3
8' posts X4
and a bunch of smaller stuff I'll send you back in the woods for later, lol. Give yourself an extra foot or so to level them off later as well.
Dig your first corner post hole 4' deep (or until you hit a really big rock and figure that's good enough).  Drop an 8' post into it.  Mark a board, (a 12' 1X3 works great) or something straight at 4', 6', 8', and 12' to use as a measuring stick.  Lay it out on the ground from your first post in whatever direction you wish to put the back side of the structure.  Dig your center post hole at 6', and your second corner at 12'.  Drop an 8' post in the corner.

Measure 12' forward from each corner and mark the front corner post spots.  Then measure 12' between them.  You'll need to adjust to square it all up.  Once you have it all square, start digging.  Drop an 8' post in each corner.

Cut your first corner post off flat at 4' above ground.  Cut the matching front post off flat at a level height.  Then do the same from the original corner post to the opposite back corner.  Then that corner to the opposite front corner.  Check the level with the first front corner before cutting.

Drop your 12' center posts into their holes.  Measure one at 8' above ground, cut off flat.  level the other, and cut off flat.
Cut a notch in each end of your 12' poles, half the diameter of the pole, and long enough to cover the top of the posts.  Set them on top of your posts and nail in place.
Back in the woods, cut a bunch of poles for the roof.  These only need to be 3 or 4" diameter.  Cut the top ends on an angle so they sit flat on the top pole, and nail in place.  We only used four on each side for the greenhouses, more for the lean-tos, or anything you plan to put a solid roof on later.  Cut the bottom end of the poles on an angle after the tops are nailed in.  Nail in place.
This one ended up with two center posts because no one noticed how crooked that tree was until it was time to frame the door.  Back in the woods, cut logs to go from corner to corner, corner to center, on the ground.  Actually, if you plan to lift the sides of your greenhouse, skip the corner to corner logs.  1X3s work better there.  Nail those into place.  Build the door frame.
Cut and nail in additional logs, about two feet apart, on the back and front sides.  This helps keep the wind from slapping the plastic against your plants.
Cover with plastic from the bottom of one side, over the top, to the bottom of the other side.  We just stapled ours on, but you may want to use some strapping to help keep the wind from ripping it out.  We use 1X3s on the bottom of the sides. 

Pop the 1x3 off with a crow bar, and roll the plastic up on it, and nail to the roof to raise the sides.
Add plastic to the front and back. 

You can build a solid door if you want.  We did, to keep critters out.  The door plastic is just a strip nailed above the door frame, with a pole stapled on the bottom.  I put in a couple of spikes at the top of the door frame to rest the pole on when rolled up.
We also added a couple of one by threes on top where the seam of the plastic over lapped.  A pole would be fine as well, just something to staple the loose edge of the plastic to.

Just a side note- if you're planning a wood shed- poles from the top of the sides to the bottom are all you need to keep your rows from toppling over.

Clear as mud?  Good luck to you.  I hope this helps!