Canning

Canning is proving to be addicting.  After my first test run of making strawberry/black currant jam, I went running back to the store and bought a bunch more jars and Mom chipped in for a fancy new pot.

The first batch of jam was made using a regular recipe with LOTS of sugar.  It tastes good, but I prefer my jams less sweet.  So for my next two batches, I started experimenting with alternate recipes I found online.

One really interesting one was for Blueberry Vanilla jam, using honey as the sweetener, and chia seeds to thicken it.  It worked like a charm, and Mom really likes it.  I’m not entirely sold on how the honey overwhelms the vanilla flavor.  I’ll try it again, I think, using “less sugar” pectin.  NOT the kind that calls for a Splenda substitution, however.  That stuff is so bad for you, it could literally be called poisonous.

Since we have a ton of blackberries ripe right now in the back yard, I made Blackberry Jelly next, using the less sugar pectin.  Worked really well, and I was able to add just enough sugar to sweeten it just enough, while leaving a little tartness.  Loved this one, and I’ll be making more of it, I think.

I also canned about fifteen half-pint jars of sweet cherries.  I used only a very small amount of sugar in the syrup, and YUM.  So good!

I’m really excited about canning peaches, and making apricot jam.  Two of my favorite things!

 

Harvesting the Garden, plus Newborn Puppies!

I’m really liking these Gelber Englischer Custard summer squash.  The plant is producing prolifically, and one of these little guys is just right to cook for either a snack, or as a side dish for one person.

They have a better flavor, I think, than the standard pattypans I grew last year.

The winter squash are also coming along well.  I have a few good-sized hubbards, which I’m very happy about.  Last year, my blue hubbards won my winter squash taste test.

And the Sweet Dumpling is turning into a jungle.  It is one of the varieties I planted in the cold frames, and most of what you see below is it.

There are a TON of little squash on it, and at least one (that I’ve found) is quite large.

I’ve never tasted a sweet dumpling before, so I hope I like it.  I’m not even sure how I ended up planting one.  I know I didn’t buy seeds; it must have been one my friend gave me.

The fig tree is up to nine little figs now.  The two largest ones are actually ripe.  We picked one earlier and ate it.

I have to say I’m still not really a fan.  Mom loves them, though, so pretty much this tree is for her.

The millet is looking so wonderful.  It won’t be long now, until it’s time to harvest.  I’m definitely planting a bunch of this next year.  It’s super easy to grow, and looks quite attractive in the garden.  Plus, the leaves make a wonderful rustling sound in the wind.

One thing I’ve discovered is that orange flowers look really pretty in the vegetable garden.  I have several bunches of marigolds in mine, and they make me happy every time I walk by.  Plus, they draw beneficial insects!

What else?

The cabbages have formed lovely heads.

Oh, and my teeny little by-the-back-door patch of glass corn is taller than me now.

Not only are they tasseling, but they have tiny little corn ears.

Last year, the dastardly squirrels got to them, and ripped apart all the ears JUST when they were almost ready to pick.  I didn’t get a single one.  This year, they are by the back door in the hopes that I’ll be able to protect them better.

Today I bought some canning jars.  I have never canned anything in my life before, but I thought I’d give it a go.  Since I don’t want to invest in a pressure cooker until I know this is a method of preservation is one I care to do, I’ll stick to high acid fruits this year…things I can safely can using the water bath method.  I remember my grandmother used to can peaches this way, and they were SO INCREDIBLY GOOD.  Seriously, store-bought ones cannot even be mentioned in the same breath.

So I thought I’ll do some peaches, and maybe a few cherries.  And also, some jam.

I picked the black currants from the little bush I planted this Spring, and found I had a pound of fruit.  I found a recipe online for black currant/strawberry jam, so I think I’ll try that.

And the most exciting news?  My new puppy Dexter the Corgi has been born!

dexter

The breeder says there are 2 girls and 3 boys in the litter, and we will get first pick among the boys!  When they are a week old, she will take individual pictures of them.  By then, their coloring might have started to change as well.  What you see now is definitely not what what the adult coloring will be.  Corgis are interesting that way; it’s really hard to know what you’re going to get by the time they are a year old.  I just want one with great white markings, because that at least tends to remain pretty much the same throughout its life.

Quail and Garden Update

I was so excited the other day when I discovered my millet is making seed heads!

So far this seems to be a really great crop for my area of the PNW.  It is fairly shallow-rooted, though, so in a recent wind-and-rain storm we had, I came outside to discover most of the stalks were flat on the ground.  I tied them up again and they don’t seem to be fazed by their near-death experience.  Next year, when I grow a much larger crop, I’ll be sure to put them up inside some kind of support from the beginning.

The test crop of quinoa is also doing well.  I have the beginning of flower heads on those.

It will be a lot of fun to feed these these crops to the quail, when they are ready.

The rest of garden is still going gang-busters.  It’s become a jungle out in the front yard vegetable garden!

I’ve harvested the last of the bush beans, almost all the turnips, and the early plantings of lettuce are bolting.  Some of the swiss chard is also bolting.  That’s okay.  Some of it I will let do its thing, so I can collect seed for next year.  Some of it, I’ve been feeding to the chickens and quail.

This weekend, I’ll start planting some fall crops in the newly available garden space.

Speaking of the quail, I’ve found each bird definitely has their personal preference when it comes to taste.  With the two newest girls (the golden italians) one is a millet/bird seed gal.  She comes running to me when I open the coop, begging for me to hold out some seed in my palm for her to eat.  Even if there’s some already scattered on the ground, she prefers “fresh” seed right out of my hand.  The other girl really couldn’t care whether I have seed or not.  She’s all about the greens.  While the first one is eating her seed, the second girl is dancing around my knees, pleading with anxious eyes.  When I pluck a leaf and hold it out to her, she rips into it like a Bengal tiger.

And the standard quail?  It’s worms, worms, worms, for them.  I can’t use the trowel or turn over any stones/bricks within view of their coop without them going crazy.  I think I’m going to have start raising mealworms.

Beans, and Travel Plans

The garden is going insane…with beans!  It is wonderful.  I went out yesterday, and picked a large batch to freeze.

All together, I ended up with 11 quart-sized bags in the freezer.

And then, I remembered that I’d completely forgotten to even look at the Runner Beans.  As I suspected, there were some monsters on there.  Runner beans get HUGE.

Some were larger than this, and these are really too large to eat as green beans.

I’m composting all the ones that grew too big – I don’t want to leave them on the vine yet, because I want it to produce as many blooms as possible for the hummingbirds, who adore them.  Later in the season, I may let them go to make dry beans.  I’ve heard they make good dry beans, but I actually have never tried them before.

They are also so ornamental.

They come in red, white, and a lovely pink.

This is more the size of bean I pick to eat.  They are tender and not stringy at this age.

Today, I ended up cooking the Runner beans along with a few more bush and pole beans for lunch.  I like just simmering them in a pan with water, salt, and bit of bacon until they are tender.  So good!

I picked my first squash today.  This is a Gelber Englischer Custard squash.

Also, I have a bitty little watermelon.  I have high hopes for this baby.  It’s a Blacktail Mountain, which is supposed to do marvelously in the PNW.

AND, the State Dept. took their travel warning off Egypt, so as long as nothing changes in the next year, I’ll be back to Plan A.  England and Egypt, my two favorite countries in all the world.

I’ve started putting patches on my Little Backpack of Geek in preparation.  Besides the fact that I might as well travel with a cute/funny bag, it will be a bonus if all the thieves assume it’s a kid’s pack and don’t bother to try to steal it.  :)  By next year, I’ll have a patch on this for all my major fandoms and geekery.

Meet Cori

Some of you may remember that I was looking for a Welsh Corgi puppy to adopt.

Well, finally, we found one…only he’s not born yet.

This is Cori, his mother.  She’s due to give birth in about 20 days, and as long as one of the pups is a little boy, he’s going to be ours.

Picture 138

Two weeks after the pups are born, we’ll be able to select ours.  We’ve named him Dexter.  Look at that fat little pregnant belly on Cori!  The owner said she believes she’s going to have a really large litter.  Hopefully that means a good selection of boys!

Garden Update

Wow.  What a difference a month makes.  I can’t keep up with harvesting the lettuce, kale, beans, and beets!  The rabbits are getting a lot of greens, and have learned that when I come back in through the front gate, they should come running to meet me, because I’ll likely have a few leaves for them.  What they don’t eat, we are drying for winter; bunnies enjoy dried turnip and kale leaves.

On July Fourth, I recorded a video tour of the front yard vegetable garden for you.  I didn’t get around to posting it, and now the garden is grown up even more lush.

The bush beans are producing like crazy now – I’ve eaten three meals of them, and still have a big bag of beans.  I think I’ll have a few more tonight, and then freeze the rest of the bag. These are Dragon’s Tongue beans.  I’m a big fan of colored beans, because they are so much easier to see and pick on the plants.

AND the pole beans are also beginning; I’ve picked a few handful of both the purple and yellow ones.

And we finally have tomatoes too.  These teeny little red ones (Red Currant Tomatoes) are so adorable in salads.  I love how they are all different sized when ripe.

The Indigo Blue Berries Tomato is ripe as well.  I don’t think I’ll grow these in the future, though.  They are gorgeous, but the flavor is not nearly so good as Sungold or Black Cherry.

The full-sized tomatoes, Japanese Trifele, are flushing orange, so it won’t be too much longer for those.  This is a great year here for tomatoes.  We’re in a bit of a heat wave, and the tomatoes are loving it.

The squash are happy too. I have tons of flowers and baby squash.  The ones in the cold frames are still hugely out-performing the ones in the ground.  I’m so glad I thought of doing this!  This is a photo from a week ago – they are even larger now.

And look!  Not only are the two figs on my bitty tree still ripening, but four more little figs have suddenly appeared.  It is seriously like magic, the appearance of those four figs.  Don’t figs have to flower?  I was watering the tree constantly, and didn’t notice a thing until suddenly…this.

How did that happen?

In chicken news, now that all the baby chicks are long gone from the local feed store, my mama chicken Josie has finally decided to go broody.  I told her she missed the boat for this year, and put her in ‘chicken prison’ – an outdoor wire dog crate I use to keep her outside and away from the nest boxes.  Hopefully in a few days, she’ll give up and go back to laying.  Maybe next year I’ll get her some chicks to raise…if she picks a reasonable time to go broody.  Silly girl.

Corgis and Beets

I love harvesting season.

These are Crosby beets.  Love the pinky-red stems!  They did really well – although I should have harvested those larger ones earlier.  I prefer to eat beets when they are very small, cooked up with their greens.  So good!  These too-big ones I may try roasting.

This morning we went to a local dog show.  I liked seeing all the different breeds, but we especially wanted to see the corgis.  After the death of our Jack Russell Terrier, we decided the next dog was going to be a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Originally, Mom was dead set on a female, as we’ve only ever had female dogs.  I rather wanted a male, since I discovered that the male of the species often seems to be sweeter.  (At least it’s true in cats and ducks.) At the show, we met the most charming boy.  As soon as I got down on the ground to pet him, he put his front paws up in my lap and just leaned against me, snuggling.  Then he did the same to Mom.  That was all it took to win her over.

So now we’re looking for a boy corgi, instead of a girl.  Corgi puppies seem to be hard to find.  There are hardly any breeders in WA state, and none that have pups available.  We have our name down with a breeder in Michigan (Carol’s Corgis) who ships, so hopefully she’ll have puppies born before too much longer.

In the meantime, we’re trying to settle on a name.  We had one picked for a girl, but now we need a boy’s name.  I like Pippin, because if there is ever a hobbit dog breed, it’s a corgi. (Short, furry-footed, and loves to eat.)  But Tucker is one name Mom and I both like, so at the moment, that’s the front-runner.

 

Harvesting

Today was a first for me – I processed a chicken.  I did everything myself: the kill, the plucking by hand, the gutting.  It was not one of my chickens.  My girls are my babies; I could never kill and eat them.  No, this was a young “accidental” rooster a friend of mine ended up with in her lot of supposed-to-be girl chicks.  Besides being a rooster she couldn’t keep because of legal restrictions, he also had a bum leg from an injury that he kept re-injuring.

So she was happy and relieved when I said I’d take him as my trial run into whether I’d have the heart and stomach to keep meat chickens as well as my beloved pampered hens.  She even bought me a kill cone.

If you don’t want to read about how it went, skip down to the first picture below  – that will be the beginning of the safe portion of this blog, the part about how my garden is doing.

I knew it would be easier to kill a bird (unlike my quail) that I didn’t “know”.  And it really was.  He was calm when she brought him, and he had no objections to me putting him upside down in the kill cone.  Once his head was through the bottom hole, I petting him a little on his face, and he just instantly relaxed, even closing his eyes.  It was just like he was going to sleep.  So then I just took off his head with a pair of hedge loppers.  It was hardly fun, but not nearly so emotionally difficult as holding the quail and letting thim go through their death convulsions in my hands.  Even though it’s just random muscle spasms, it’s not pleasant to feel.  I  greatly prefer the more hands-off of dispatching with a cone.

I heated water up to about 180 degrees, filled a bucket, and dunked the body a few times to loosen the feathers, then started plucking.  He was such a young bird, that it hardly seemed worth plucking all the wing feathers, so I just took the wings off at the shoulder instead.  Plucking wasn’t at all difficult.

Gutting was…interesting.  Quail are so much easier, because you just spit them open at the backbone and slide the guts out.  You have to reach inside the chicken which was…awkward, since I didn’t know what I was doing, really, and was afraid I’d burst something I shouldn’t and contaminate the meat.  I think I worried for nothing, though, because after I did some timid (and ineffectual) tugging, I finally just gave everything a firm pull, and it worked.  Nothing went wrong.  Here’s a tip: scrape the lungs out with a spoon.  They come right out, and it works for quail and chicken.

All together, from kill to final washing of the meat, it took just under an hour.  Not too bad, and I wasted a lot of time looking at gutting directions on my Kindle, and being a little squeamish.

I discovered that I could definitely be okay with meat chickens.  And my friend who gave me the rooster is also interested in keeping some, as is another friend of mine.  Neither of them is ready to do the killing themselves yet, but we’re talking about each raising a few meat birds next year, then getting together for the processing.  They are willing to pluck and gut, which are the two most time consuming things.  Me, I’d operate the kill cone.  It’s not the job I’d like, but I believe SO strongly both in eating meat, and in eating meat that has been raised in a healthy and humane manner.

So…we’ll see.  It’s a weird world.  If you’d told me even a couple of years ago that I would be writing today about how I butchered a chicken, I would never have believed it possible.  But I’m glad I’m here.  I’m glad I have the resolve to live up to what I believe, even when it’s a hard, unhappy thing.

And now you get some pretty pictures of my garden.  The front yard vegetables have grown by leaps and bounds since I posted that video tour three weeks ago.

The beans are as tall as me, and beginning to bloom.

The Runner beans in the back yard are also in bloom.  I love beans.  Usually I eat all the ones I produce right away, but this year I planted a ton.  I’m hoping to have enough to freeze some.

The experimental millet planting seems to be doing really well.  If I actually get millet sprays, I’ll plant a whole bed of this next year.  The quail would adore fresh millet!

I’m discovering that Oakleaf lettuce is real winner.  It’s so pretty, and tasty, too!

The tomatoes in the grow bags are getting close to ripening.  I think I’ll have my first red currant tomato ripe next week, and these Japanese Trifelo tomatoes are getting huge.

The tomatoes in the straw bales are also doing better.  I was hoping that there would be enough in the breaking down of the straw itself to nourish them, but that appears not to be the case.  I gave them a boost of fertilizer, and they seem to be greening up and putting out healthy new leaves.  I don’t believe straw bales are going to be a method I’ll use in future.  The ones in the grow bags are doing SO much better that it isn’t worth the expense of buying bales when I’ll just have to fertilize them anyway.

Speaking of grow bags, the very cheap seed potatoes I bought from Walmart seem to have been infected with some virus.  They suddenly developed black spots on their leaves, then turned yellow and died.  The other potatoes in the garden are lush and fantastic and beginning to flower, so I can only think it must be a virus affecting these.  So I just pulled them out and tossed them

But to my surprise, they’d already managed to set a nice small crop of new potatoes!

Yay!  I can’t wait to taste these.  I’ve never actually grown my own potatoes before.  Now I’m really hoping for great things from the other two varieties.

The chickens, quail, rabbits, and of course we humans are really enjoying the salads we’ve been getting from the garden.  All the different varieties of lettuce really made for a pretty salad!

Tonight for dinner, I think I’m going to steam a pot of baby beets and beet greens, along with some of those new potatoes.  Yum.

One real success I’m having is the squash plants I put in the cold frames.

These plants are easily four times as large as the ones I put straight into the ground.  When the nights were still a bit cold, I closed the tops, and that kept them nice and cozy.  Next year, I think I’ll put melons in the cold frames.  This just might be the perfect method for melons in my Pacific Northwest climate.

 

Last post, I told you about how I built a new raised bed around the Honeyberry bush, and planted strawberry seedlings in it.  The other day, I looked at it from a little distance, and saw that weeds had planted themselves in it as well.  But when I went over to pull them out, I realized something interesting:  almost all the “weeds” were actually vegetables!

I had kale and lettuce:

And even two squash plants!

How funny is that?  I left most of them there.  I wish all my weeds would actually be vegetable volunteers!

Are Aliens Using Our Rabbits to Communicate?

This past weekend, I got a bunch of work done in the garden.  Mainly grunt work, like weeding around the vegetables, and digging out 522 of the 5022 buttercups that are infesting portions of our plot.  Specifically the portions that I want to turn into a pasture for the chickens, future meat chickens, and ducks.  So those buttercups have got to go!

One fun thing I did was work on the little espaliers-in-training.  They have grown branches long enough to stretch out and tie to wires.

See?  Look at that!  They almost look like real trees!  :)  This one is the pear.

I also put in another raised bed in the east yard.  This one is built around the one Honeyberry bush that I currently own.  It is absolutely flourishing, and next Spring (or maybe this Fall) I need to get another one planted on the other end of the bed.

Under and around the Honeyberries are little alpine strawberries I just grew from seed.

Speaking of strawberries, the Sparkle strawberries I planted on top of the quail coop are doing great.

Right as I was beginning this post, actually, mom brought me a bowl of berries she had just picked.  They are so sweet and good!

Also doing well are the “White Soul” strawberries I planted, although none of those are quite ripe.  We have to wait until the seeds turn red – the berries themselves will stay white.

The fruit I’m most excited about are the hardy kiwis.  After making me think all last summer that they wouldn’t survive, they are finally thriving…and producing fruit! Of course, the MALE vine is covered in flowers, while the female has exactly six.  But I hear some kiwi vines don’t produce at all for upwards of seven years after planting, so I’m quite thrilled with six.  Fingers crossed they all survive.  With all those male flowers, they should at least be well-pollinated!

All my potatoes *seem* to be doing fantastic – although I won’t really know for sure until it’s time to dig them up and see how well they produced.  These are the batch I’m growing in a trash can.  Whichever method works best will be the method of choice for next year.  I’m kind of rooting for the trash can.  It takes up the least amount of space!

In chicken news, one of my white egg layers surprised me yesterday with a lovely cream egg.  Not to be outdone, one of the new Italian quail girls laid a pure white egg.  I’ve had two pure white quail eggs from her now.  I’m very happy with that!  I was hoping there would be a white egg line in these new quail girls I hatched out.

And that’s pretty much all the news around here.  So now I’m going to end this with a few gratuitous garden pictures and two video tours.

You’ve heard of crop circles, and how some believe aliens are using them to communicate with mankind?  Well, I think those same aliens are also using my bunnies.  See those black lines on Daisy’s nose?  That alien-in-appearance furry crop circle?  She has them all over, and they are constantly changing.  One day she has circles on her nose.  Then she has drag queen eyebrows.  Then peculiar black squiggles on her back.  I need to start documenting her fur…for science!

Now, video tours!  Number one, a tour of the new front yard vegetable garden.

And the back yard garden:

Processing Quail, Plus Bee and Garden Update

A few weeks ago, I processed the four extra male quail.  While I had previously helped clean (and then ate) two of my quail from a previous hatch, this was the first time I had done the entire process all by myself…including the kill.

It was a weird thing.  I’ve spent about 40 years raising animals, and nursing them back to health when injured.  I did kill a wild mouse once that was caught in a trap, but that was only time I’ve ever deliberately killed an animal.  The hardest part of the whole process was simply the before: picking the quail up, soothing it so it wouldn’t struggle at the wrong time, then deliberately thinking: Yes.  I’m doing this.  It just went so counter to all my instincts.

The actual physical moment of doing was shockingly easy and simple.  (I used the scissors method, because I felt it seemed the quickest and the most humane.)  Afterward, holding the lifeless body as it convulsed and bled out was not fun, but not nearly so traumatic as I thought.  I knew it was dead, so  it wasn’t like holding a ‘dying animal’.  I don’t think I could ever use the throat slitting method on a critter – I couldn’t stand the long several minutes waiting for it to die.

Afterward, I did feel bad, but not to the extent that I wouldn’t process more animals.  If I’m going to eat meat (and I am), it feels so much better to have control over how the animals lives, and how it dies.  It makes me sick to read and see how the animals in factories are raised and killed.  I don’t want to support that industry, that sort of torture and inhumanity.  I also don’t want to eat that sort of polluted food.  I don’t agree with or support PETA as an organization, but this video does a good job of showing what goes on in those factories.

Quail, however, are not going to be a meat animal for me – unless I have a few extra males that I have to dispose of in the future.  Four adult quail made enough meat for one meal.  I don’t like that ratio of death.  With a standard sized chicken or duck, I can get up  to four meals from one death.  Maybe more with a rabbit.

The other thing I don’t like with quail is how many tiny little bones they have.  They are seriously like fish bones!  I tried to be super careful with my de-boning, and I still missed a few.  And the taste of the meat is not my favorite, either.  I wouldn’t call the flavor ‘gamey’ precisely, but it’s quite different from chicken, and nowhere near as fantastic as duck.  Quail just aren’t worth it, as meat animals, in my opinion.

However, I do adore them as garden companion animals – and they will be even more helpful once I get the rotating garden bed/quail cage set up and operational.  And I like the eggs; I’m getting into the habit of throwing a few quail eggs into whatever dish I am making.  I can’t ever see myself not wanting quail as part of my little homestead.

And now on to happier things.  Here are some photos from last week in the garden.

The foxglove and roses are in full swing.

The two tomatoes in the grow bags seem to be winning the contest, as far as growth and health are concerned.  That could also be because they were the last I put out, when the weather had finally turned to a proper Spring.  In front there is a Black Japanese Trifele tomato.  This is my first time growing it, and so far, it’s brilliant.

Look at the flowers!  They are HUGE.

Below is a shot of one of the straw bales.  I poked several squash seeds down into them a few weeks back, and now they are coming up nicely!

Below is one of my potato patches.  Potatoes are in the innermost square, and beets are around the outside.  I keep piling on more straw as the potatoes grow.  Adding more is on my list of things to do this weekend….

Because I’m not using the cold frames for anything, I decided to try growing summer squash in them…with the lids left raised, so the vines can tumble out.  So far they appear to like it.  This morning, they were already a good four times larger than this.

When I was inspecting the front yard garden this afternoon, I surprised a wee wild bunny doing an inspection of her own.  I didn’t see that she’d damaged anything – other than trampling down one sunflower and snapping its stem. That was hardly her fault, though – it happened when I surprised her and she was frantically trying to get away from me.  I may have to put some bunny-proofing out there if she becomes a regular visitor, though!

And the bees…sadly the bees are going to be a failed experiment this year.  I think too many bad things happened to them (difficult long trip through the mail, dead queen, wet weather) and their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  Bees only live for a few weeks, so when starting a new hive, they really need to get off to a fast start – they need that next generation or the colony will die of old age.  Right now we’re down to fewer than 100 workers bees.  I suspect as well that something is up with the new queen.  Either she was not accepted, or she died, or something.  The brood that has been laid seems to be all drones (males).  This can happen if a hive goes too long without a queen.  One of the worker bees decides to become a queen, but unlike a true queen, a worker is only capable of laying drone eggs.

We’ll start over again next Spring.  I found a guy who naturally raises bees (no chemicals or pesticides used in his hives).  His bees come from Oregon (so they will be used to my climate) and he delivers to my area.  Unlike the bees I ordered this year, his bees will arrive within one day.  I wish I could have gotten them from him this year, but we started so late that he was sold out.

Well.  At least we know we love having a hive, and really enjoy the bees!

 

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