Pickling!

Two summers ago I went to a fermentation workshop at Blooming Glen Farm in Bucks County, PA with Amanda O’Brien of Phickle.com. I really enjoyed the workshop and learned a ton. I left feeling inspired and determined to eat only fermented veg from then on. But I ended up killing everything I tried! My cabbage kraut got dry and moldy and my whey-pickled carrots were just gross. I enjoyed the pickled beets we made during the workshop, but since I had been keeping them in the microwave {uncovered}, the jar ended up overflowing and pink pickle juice was everywhere. I started to think pickling wasn’t right for me.

But this summer I was determined to try again. I attended another fermentation workshop in February, this time hosted by the local chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, and something about hearing some simple recipes and tricks from women just like me made it seem 100 times more doable.

Bormioli Rocco Fido Hermetic Jars

The most important thing I learned that night was to use the swing-top, Fido brand jars for everything. The rubber gasket allows built-up CO2 to escape, and that positive pressure means no air {or mold} can enter the crock. This summer I have made at least 8 batches of pickles in my Fido jars with zero mold. I did a test batch in a regular mouth mason jar with an airlock {like this} with the same results.

Cabbage Kraut JuiceThe second most important thing I learned: If you’re mashing up some cabbage, and you don’t have quite enough water squeezing out to cover the cabbage {even after you’ve added a weight}, you can add more salted water and still have positive results. It seems pretty obvious to me now, but my very first attempt at sauerkraut, way back in 2012, was such a dry, dismal disaster I threw it out and swore I was done with homemade sauerkraut. That’s three summers of no fresh kraut. But my kids decided they love sauerkraut, so I had to give it another try. For my first batch of the season I had such an old head of cabbage, I didn’t think any amount of mashing would yield enough liquid. So after mashing and squeezing as much as I could, I just topped it off with salty water everything turned out just fine.

IMG_5164I’ve been using the Sour Pickles recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He calls for “2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled,” but even with my “epic” garlic harvest this year {approximately 60 heads}, I don’t have enough to do that, so I usually end up doing 5-6 cloves, and 3 Tbsp. dill seeds, plus a “handful” of oak leaves {supposed to keep ’em crunchy}. I fill a half gallon mason jar with water and 6 Tbsp. of salt and shake to dissolve. Once my crocks are packed with veggies I pour the salty brine over everything. Sometimes I need to mix up a little more, but if I have extra I just save it until the next batch. I’ve used the same recipe for pickling cucumbers, beets {peeled and sliced}, and green beans {raw} all with delicious results. {Read here about why a cloudy brine is OK.}

Overall, I’ve been really excited to get pickling this summer and encourage you to give it a try!

{OvO}

Recipe: Zucchini Muffins

‘Tis the season of the Zucchini….. Here’s a great recipe we made this week as a special birthday treat. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! And here’s a quick link to another of our favorite zucchini recipes…in case you’re as covered up as we are.

Don’t forget: If your garden is growing faster than you can eat it, consider donating some items to your local food pantry or community kitchen! I’m taking some zucchini to The Community Table this week!

Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!

Zucchini Muffins :: A great birthday breakfast!

Zucchini Muffins

Ingredients
3 C. grated fresh zucchini
2/3 C. coconut oil
1-1/3 C. coconut sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
3 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl combine the coconut oil, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. {Optional: Add 1 cup of nuts and/or 1 cup of raisins or cranberries for a little umph!}
  3. Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little butter or coconut oil. Use a spoon to distribute the muffin dough among the cups, filling them completely.
  4. Bake on the middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press them; about 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick or bamboo skewer to make sure the centers are done.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin pan and allow to cool another 20 minutes.

*Note: If you are adding walnuts or dried fruit you are likely to have more batter than what is needed for 12 muffins.

In the Garden :: May 30

In the Garden 2015 May 30

Things are growing pretty well…for the most part. The onions are still completely choked with weeds, but the garlic is looking really good. I pulled a few garlic hoping to give the remaining plants more space, so we’ll see…

I harvested the teeniest little carrot the other day, while I was working with the tomatoes. These were actually seeds I planted in the fall, hoping for a “winter garden,” but nothing {no-thing} grew. I was very surprised to find these little guys growing when the weather warmed, and even more excited when I harvested a full-size, grocery-store-looking carrot this week! We haven’t eaten it yet because it’s just too awesome. I’ve been “growing” carrots since we started gardening in…2010?, and I’ve never {ever} harvested a dinner-worthy carrot. Accident or not, it’ll be good eats.

The asparagus didn’t look harvest-able for as long as I was hoping. We got maybe 8 pounds? We ate what we harvested and had asparagus every few nights for about 2 weeks. That’s probably normal but still a little disappointing. I was especially concerned when it didn’t seem like any more would grow – so we wouldn’t have anything to leave through the fall to do its thing. Fortunately, there’s a pretty decent stand of asparagus morphing into tiny trees out there now, so hopefully our patch isn’t doomed…

The raspberries should be ready to harvest soon. Lots of fruit growing. I’m concerned about the nasty fruit flies we had last year… I’m also disappointed that even though we worked and worked to tame the canes last fall, there is so much new growth you can barely even see the mature canes, better yet harvest from them without drawing blood. I’ve found a fair number of wineberry canes around the farm, so if we can harvest a good amount from them I may not keep the raspberries. {If it’s even possible to get rid of raspberries – they put out runners 6+ feet away!}

Some of our tomato starts are actually still alive. Most didn’t make it, but a top dressing of chicken house shavings seemed to help a lot. The starts we got from the farmer’s market are way more full and already setting fruit.

My Sugar Snap Peas didn’t germinate very well. Only 50% even though I’m pretty sure I put two seeds per hole… The four plants that are growing look really great, and starting to set some pods. We’ve actually never grown this tasty snack, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for something edible.

I planted black beans again for drying. I had good luck with the plants in 2012 but didn’t plant enough to actually eat any. Practically speaking, I think I would need to plant hundreds of row-feet to grow enough to eat for the year. If these produce we’ll save some for planting next year and enjoy one special beans-from-the-garden meal sometime this winter. I’m still not sure if planting in the ground will be an option for us here – there are SO many rocks! My pasture management plan is focused on #1) producing healthy animals and #2) building up organic matter. {More on that later.}

That dag-on Winter Rye is still persisting! It even put out seed this month! The kids and I hacked it back and I gave it all to the sheep, hoping we wouldn’t have any accidentally seeding itself in the garden. I think I’ll cover the last remaining bed with cardboard and compost and let it sit for a while. Ugh.

I started my first potatoes this month! I’ve never grown potatoes but I had a rather large bag of spuds sprouting in the pantry to I went ahead and put them in the ground. I had very little hope for anything, but they are all {ALL} growing green leaves and looking really good! I honestly can’t believe it. I *think* they are New Potatoes, but I’m not sure if that just means young potatoes, so who knows what we’ll end up with.

How’s your garden growing?

In the Garden :: April 27

2015 Apr 27 In the Garden

Things are coming along pretty nicely these days.

Our number one biggest success has been the garlic! I planted it in October and basically crossed my fingers. I was surprised not to find any scapes this spring, but the leaves seem pretty tall and full. Out of curiosity I went ahead and pulled “one,” but I actually had 3 little scallions. How did three grow instead of one?

The garlic!

The garlic!

The asparagus seemed to take forever to start growing but we harvested our first handful this week! A friend suggested uncovering the bed, that the straw might be keeping the ground too cool. I am so paranoid about weeds that I just couldn’t imagine taking it off, so in its own perfect timing, the asparagus came up anyway.

Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!

Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!

And now for our biggest failure in the garden. At least, so far. I know using a cover crop is a critical part of creating organic matter in the garden. I searched and read and decided to use Winter Rye; it seemed to be highly recommended. Problem is, what they don’t tell you, is that getting rid of Winter Rye in the spring is next to impossible, at least without mechanical assistance. It just doesn’t die. I’ve spoken with a friend, and found on a few “how to get rid of winter rye” discussion boards, that Winter-killed Oats would have been a better choice, sooooooo… At least I know what I’m going to do next year.

To get rid of the grass in my raised beds I tried cutting it back. I cut the beds with loppers. A few times. Turns out, Winter Rye is crazy resilient and grew back. With gusto.

After being cut. Twice.

After being cut. Twice.

I tried to cut it super short but only had really “dead-looking” grass after I left a heap of it on the bed. It seemed to kill the grass below it pretty effectively.

After being cut back and left to rot.

After being cut back and left to rot.

Dead spot.

Dead spot.

So a friend recommended digging and turning the soil to kill the roots of the grass. It was annoying, but not terrible. Here’s the bed above after being turned:

After turning today.

After turning today.

And here’s a different bed that was turned last week:

Turned a week ago.

Turned a week ago.

Takeaway: DON’T use Winter Rye in a raised bed, especially if you’re hoping to grow something early in the season without using mechanical tillage. I’ll be using oats next fall and will keep you posted.

In the Garden :: January

Raspberries Before

Raspberries Before

Our raspberry patch was one of the many reasons we knew this place the THE place. But we’ve never had berries before, so before doing any pruning, Tripp and I started with a Google search… Here’s where we started:

  1. Remove last year’s canes,
  2. Narrow the row,
  3. Cut out the weaklings,
  4. Attach the canes to a trellis.

Then, in the garden, just like I often do, we watched this:

Our biggest question, after narrowing, and cutting, was what to do with the tops of the canes. The Fine Gardening article mentions cutting out the canes with gray, dry bark – but there were none like that in our patch. Nearly every cane had a dry bunch of leaves and dead berries – but all the pictures I’ve seen show NO fruity tops, so we were unsure. We went ahead and whacked them off – I just hope we made the right call!

Raspberries After

Raspberries After

Next, we need to build a trellis to support the canes. A good friend in Doylestown has a sweet little berry patch and I’ve always admired their trellis, so when we moved here I asked for some photos.
IMG_1504

IMG_1510

Bad Bugs

GROSS ALERT: I was in the front yard, chatting on the phone, picked a raspberry and was about to toss it into my mouth when I noticed a small spider on my finger. I shooed the spider and was again about to eat the berry when I saw three small bugs {fruit fly-size} on the berry. In my effort to remove the bugs I mooshed the berry a little bit and inside I found tiny little wormies. I freaked out a little, hung up the phone, and googled it. Spotted Wing Drosophila. The article linked with the photo below says they’re a problem “after late-July,” so I’m pretty sure we’ve eaten them since we moved in. I’m shuddering again thinking about it. My only question now is: what should I do with the remaining canes/berries as we prepare for next year? Will the nasty buggers be stopped now that frost is on the way?

I’ll let you know what I find out.

Spotted Wing Drosophila larvae in ripe raspberries

Spotted Wing Drosophila larvae in ripe raspberries

in the garden :: September 28

IMG_3638

Panoramic | I’m standing in the southeast corner of the garden. House is due north.

IMG_3639

From southeast corner looking west-ish.

IMG_3640

From southeast corner looking north.

This is the first weekend we spent any significant time in the garden, so things were looking pretty sad! We’ve been eating gobs and gobs of Sungold Cherry {our all-time family favorite}, slicers and paste tomatoes, plus raspberries, but we’ve been kind of ignoring everything else… So, we had Betty over on Saturday to show us around and help identify weeds/plants. Turns out what I thought was dill is actually fennel, and what I was hoping was some kind of cover crop is really weeds… So I yanked out everything that doesn’t belong, and put together a plan for the winter.

I pulled about half of the basil plants today – they’d gotten so overgrown our last meal with the stuff was just awful.. There seems to be some new growth on a few of the plants, though, so I just hacked them back to see if anything tender comes up. The beans in the last picture are an unidentified white/golden wax bean. They were beyond edible when we moved in, so I’m leaving them there to see if we can harvest seed for next year. The chard has been here all along and even though it’s only rained 3{?} times since we moved in six weeks go, seems to be going strong. I’m hoping to eat up the big leaves this week and maybe throw some kind of blanket on it when the frost comes; just to see what happens. There are two prolific and healthy green pepper plants, but we just aren’t green pepper eaters, so they’re sitting there, looking beautiful. I really should take them to the farmers market or something! Next year we’ll plant some sweet orange peppers…yum… I hacked back the asparagus because it was beginning to turn  yellow, but then felt some anxiety that I had acted too soon. In add to my guilt, Betty said she usually waits till very early spring/late winter to cut it back…The video I found said to cut it in the fall and then cover with 2″ compost and straw, so we’re heading into town tomorrow to pick some up from the co-op. It’s a 30-foot bed of 4-year-old asparagus and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to buy this place – I have to keep it alive!

I am hoping to use a raised bed hoop house over one bed {the one with black PVC pipe} and plant lettuce, spinach and kale inside. I have Napoli Carrots {Eliot Coleman’s favorite for winter growing} on the way. I ordered garlic sets {our playroom smells SO good} and onion sets to put in when the weather really cools off. Then I’ll broadcast some kind of cover crop over the remaining beds and keep my fingers crossed till spring comes. If we’re very very lucky we’ll have fresh food through the winter! If not, well…. c’est la vie! {OvO}