These last few weeks I had been feeling pretty satisfied with my progress in putting away the garden goodness for the winter. But there was still one thing nagging at me, well over a dozen things actually, tall leafy green things – the kale forest that stood so proudly in the garden. The best way to preserve it for winter is to can it, and since kale is a low-acid food it needs to be canned in the pressure canner. My husband had canned a half dozen jars of kale as an experiment last summer, and they made such delicious greens over the winter that we decided this was the way to go. After the frenzy of canning and freezing the last few weeks, my to do list had grown pretty short, and I could no longer ignore the kale staring me in the face every time I went up to the garden. The only thing preventing me from getting around to canning it was my fear of the pressure canner. Until now I’ve done all of my canning using a water bath canner, but that method can only be used for canning fruits and foods that are high in acid. I had been canning things like applesauce, jam, plum butter, tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa, chutneys, and pickles for several years using the water bath canner. But I couldn’t safely can the kale in the water bath canner, and the freezer was already reaching maximum capacity. It was finally time to take my canning game up a notch and get over my fear of the pressure canner.
It was a beautiful sunny weekend morning, the perfect day to set up my outdoor canning station on the back deck and get to work. I picked a big garden trug full of kale and began spraying the leaves with the garden hose to get any bugs off of them. Then I removed the tough inner rib and gave them a rough chop. As I worked, I soon had a curious audience of onlookers. Lil’ Red Rooster, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa all gathered around my work station gazing up at me as if to say “surely with this bounty of kale there was a treat to be had?” And indeed there was, I am a sucker for those feather-footed Little Ones. After blanching the kale and getting it packed in the jars, I was ready for the scary part. I fired up the propane burner and set the pressure canner on top of the burner. I watched anxiously. I began to have flashbacks of my college chemistry lab and a Bunsen burner mishap. The propane burner was blazing away. Loudly. In the interest of safety I thought perhaps it was time to put in a call to my husband to make sure I had the valve opened the proper amount. Good thing I did, as I was quickly, albeit calmly advised that it should not sound as loud as a jet engine, and I better turn it down pronto.
After another several minutes of watching anxiously, I put in another support call, this time to my mom-in-law, the canning master of the family. After a quick refresher course, I was feeling better about this whole undertaking. Now all I had to do was watch, wait, set the timer, oh and watch and wait some more. By lunch time I had finished, and I had 8 pint jars of kale to show for my efforts. I was strangely exhilarated, almost as if I had jumped out of an airplane or some similarly daring adventure sport that I would certainly never partake in. Pressure canning was enough excitement for me! A few days later I made a batch of marinara sauce in the pressure canner just to reconfirm what I had just learned, and now I am happy to say that pressure canning is not so scary after all and actually is kinda fun.
It’s been a fabulous summer in the garden this year, thanks to an early spring and record setting warm temperatures this summer. We had 27 days above 90 degrees, an all-time record for the Portland area. All of this hot weather has kept me busy in the garden, weeding, watering, and harvesting, but the fruits of my labor have made it all worthwhile. We’ve had such a bountiful garden this year that I have been putting food away for the winter for months. We have a 5-cubic foot freezer that we bought for storing the occasional purchase of a locally raised 1/2 pig or a 1/4 cow, but we did not make a large meat purchase this year so I have been filling up the freezer with fruits and veggies. Every once in a while someone will say they would like to see what’s in my pantry, so I thought I’d give you a peek into what we’ve put away for the winter.
The first things to ripen at the farm in the spring are of course the berries. We grow strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and besides turning some into jam I have also frozen several quarts of each for making desserts over the winter. The wild blackberries grow like, well weeds, all around the perimeter of the portion of the property that we try keep fairly well maintained, so I can’t help but pick several quarts of blackberries to freeze when they are staring me in the face every time I am out doing my chores. The rhubarb grew to new heights this year, with several garden visitors asking “is that rhubarb?!” due to its tremendous size. Due to the abundance of blackberries and rhubarb, I experimented with blackberry-rhubarb crisp recipes this summer. I came up with one that I like so much that I decided to freeze several quarts of pre-mixed and measured blackberries and rhubarb so that I can make it throughout the winter. I also made a delicious rhubarb-raspberry jam this year, and a rhubarb five-spice chutney as a special surprise to go along with the new five-spice chicken recipe I discovered that my husband is loving this year.
The greens have been growing like crazy, and thankfully Sean has been helping out with keeping on top of the kale harvest which is especially productive this year. We have blanched and frozen quite a lot of kale and chard so far, and I’m also hoping to get around to canning some kale in the next couple of weeks. The broccoli also did well for the second year in a row, so I guess I’ve finally figured out how to grow it, and I was happy to have enough to put some in the freezer since it is one of my favorite vegetables. The potato harvest was a good one this year. I rotated crops this year and moved the potatoes into a bed that had lots of composted chicken manure, and they did very well. I harvested 30 pounds of Yukon gold and Red Lasoda. I also harvested about 20 pounds of red and yellow onions. The golden plum trees had a bumper crop this year. I picked a five gallon bucket in no time at all, I didn’t even need to use the fruit picking apparatus that Sean made for harvesting the ones high up in the tree. Since I still have some plum butter in the pantry from last year, I gave the plums to Sean for his beverage making endeavors.
This has been the best year for squash and cucumbers in recent memory. I’m growing zucchini, yellow crookneck, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata squash, and lemon cucumbers. I have managed to (barely) keep up with the zucchini by freezing about 12 pounds of diced and shredded zucchini for making curry zucchini soup and other tasty things over the winter. I’ve also frozen a bunch of zucchini fritters which are one of my favorite ways of dealing with excess zucchini. I also froze some crookneck squash for making a delicious scalloped crookneck squash, potato, and chèvre recipe that I discovered this summer. I harvested a small mountain of lemon cucumbers which I turned into about 20 pints of my famous garlic dill pickles. There are at least a dozen spaghetti squash ready to be picked, and since those don’t store as long as the other winter squash, I am planning to cook and freeze several of those. There are a lot of acorn, butternut, and delicata squash getting close to being ready to be picked, and I am seriously considering asking my husband to make me some sort of mini root-cellar so that I can store all of the potatoes, onions, and squash in a place that is the right temperature for storing them to maximize their storage life.
The tomatoes and basil have also had a good crop this year. I’ve roasted many batches of tomatoes, onions, and garlic and frozen them for making pasta sauce over the winter. I also made a few quarts of tomato soup, and with lots more tomatoes on the vine I will continue roasting and canning those for the next few weeks. As the nights are starting to get a bit chilly, I picked most of the basil and have put away 10 1/2-pints of pesto in the freezer.
There are a few other things in the garden not quite ready for harvest yet. The eggplant are coming along, and I’m hoping that we still have enough warm days for them to get a little bigger. There are dozens of anaheim chilis in various sizes on the pepper plants, and I’ll be picking and roasting those over the next few weeks. And of course there are dozens of leeks I need to do something with. I always get a bit carried away planting leeks and end up with way too many to eat. Thankfully they overwinter well, so I will be picking them to enjoy throughout the fall and well into the winter.
The pantry also has a few things that I canned a year or two ago or have been gifted by fellow canners that we are still working our way through – marinara sauce, apple sauce, turkey stock, peaches, plums, zucchini relish, chutneys, Summer Sweets including several kinds of jam, and our own honey (Honey Days). Now that I’ve made a list of all of the garden bounty that I’ve put away for the winter, I realize that my next project needs to be making an inventory of everything that we have in the freezer and on the shelves so that we can be sure to eat our way through it all over the winter!
It’s been a great summer at the farm this year, and I’ve been in a bit of relaxation mode the last few weeks. It’s that point in the summer when you realize that the projects you didn’t get to yet aren’t going to get done, so you may as well sit back and relax and enjoy the last few weeks of summer. But along with the recent cool nights came the realization that as bountiful as the garden was looking at the moment, the veggies were going to start looking a bit worse for wear if I didn’t get to harvesting them soon. I had already done a bit of harvesting over the last few weeks, so at least I didn’t have the whole garden to deal with. I had already made enough pesto to get us through the winter, frozen zucchini for soup and zucchini bread, and frozen a bunch of rhubarb in anticipation of making raspberry-rhubarb something or other in the depths of winter.
This weekend was reserved for harvesting and preserving the leeks, onions, chard, anaheim chilis and cucumbers. I planted a ton of leeks this year, around a hundred as I recall, and I think every last one of them survived to maturity. It would have taken me all day to deal with all of those leeks, not to mention using up the last of my precious freezer space, so I decided to harvest about 15 of the largest ones to sauté and freeze and leave the rest to harvest throughout the fall. The onions did the best they’ve ever done this year. I planted them from seed instead of sets like I usually do and I harvested around 60 onions, many of them three to four inches in diameter. I’m not sure where I’m going to store them yet, but I’m thinking of trying to store them in my garden shed. The chard also did well this year. Most of it is planted in pots in the greenhouse so I can leave that growing for a few more months. I decided to try something new this year and blanch and freeze a few meals worth of chard. I also blanched and froze the stems and maybe I’ll try throwing them in a pot of soup or beans and see how that works out.
Next up on the to do list was roasting and freezing anaheim chilis. There’s nothing like grabbing a few farm fresh eggs and roasted chilis from the freezer and making some chili rellenos to lift your spirits in the middle of winter. I roasted and froze about 5 dozen chilis and there are still quite a few on the pepper plants for eating this summer and maybe making some roasted green chili salsa. Finally, it was time to make garlic dill cucumbers, one of my annual traditions. I made them with the usual lemon cucumbers, as well as a new variety of green cucumber I am growing this year, and just for the heck of it I made a couple of jars of pickled green beans. All in all it was a very productive weekend, and I’m even thinking of making a pie with the last of the fresh picked blueberries and some of our golden plums that no longer fit in the freezer after this weekend!
It’s been a great year for berries at the farm, and I think I’ve put about 15 quarts of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries in the freezer. With all that in the freezer plus the zucchini, rhubarb, and pesto I’ve been freezing I realized it was going to be tough to find room for the tomatoes, peppers, and leeks getting close to being harvested. It was time to turn to other methods of food preservation and good old fashioned gluttony to take care of the onslaught of blackberries and plums. I was encouraged by the results of my strawberry jam and mixed berry jam making efforts a couple of months ago (Summer Sweets), so I decided to try making plum butter and blackberry-rhubarb jam. I was also excited about being able to make something we can enjoy all winter for just the cost of sugar, canning lids, and the propane for the outdoor burner I use for the hot water canning. After making a dozen half-pints each of plum butter and blackberry-rhubarb jam, there were still more plums, blackberries, and rhubarb to be put to good use. I let Sean have the plums for his beverage-making purposes, and we’ve been indulging on cobblers and crumbles for the last several weeks. Life is pretty sweet these days!
It’s been a busy couple of days at the farm. Yesterday we inspected both of the bee hives to see how the ladies were doing. The new hive we split from the original hive back in April is doing very well (Hive Splitting Day). The bees had filled up the second hive box that we added when we split the hive so now it was time to put on a honey super for them to start storing extra honey in. As you may recall from Swarm Season, the original hive that we took the split from ended up swarming a month later. The population of that hive is noticeably smaller now. After the queen leaves with the swarm, it takes approximately 3 weeks for the hive to raise a new queen and for her to start laying eggs. Once she starts laying eggs, it takes approximately 6 weeks until those eggs will become foraging bees. So as you can see, it takes some time for the hive to rebuild its population after a swarm. In another couple of weeks I’ll expect to see the activity outside this hive increase as the newly hatched bees should be ready to leave the hive and start foraging. This hive still has a fair amount of honey from when its population was booming earlier this spring, and there are still a couple of months for the bees to continue storing honey for the winter so we decided to harvest one frame of honey (there are 10 frames in a honey super).
I used the crush and strain method to extract the honey which involves scraping the honey comb off the frame into a strainer made out of a mesh paint strainer hung in a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom that drains into a second 5-gallon bucket below. The honey and comb from the one frame we harvested weighed 2 pounds before straining and yielded 3 half pint jars of honey. Not too shabby for such a small harvest! Of course it’s an expensive first few jars of honey. Just like the joke that the first dozen eggs from your backyard hens costs $500, let’s just say that these jars of honey were also in the triple digits! But that’s okay, because I didn’t decide to start beekeeping to make money. I recently read an interesting article which listed the 10 principles of beekeeping backwards (i.e. beekeeping in a way that is more in harmony with natural bee processes and uses less intensive management techniques than the methods established by the forefathers of beekeeping). Three of the principals that struck a chord with me were:
That really sums it up for me. I did not get into beekeeping to maximize production and profit at the expense of the well-being of my bees, I got into it because I am truly interested in doing my small part to aid in the survival of this fascinating species.
After harvesting the honey and thinking about my soon to be delicious breakfast toast, I was inspired to try making jam for the first time. I’ve been freezing strawberries and raspberries from this year’s garden, but I still had quite a stockpile of berries in the freezer from the last couple of years. I made a batch of strawberry jam and another batch of mixed berry jam with blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Instead of doing the hot water bath canning on the stove and getting the kitchen all heated up, Sean set up the outdoor propane burner so I could finish the canning on the back porch. Brilliant! A short time later I had 4 half pints of strawberry jam and 8 half pints of mixed berry jam ready for the pantry. After sampling some of the fruits of my labor over ice cream tonight, I was very pleased with the results so I’ll be adding jam making to my annual canning repertoire.
After last weekend’s mad dash to harvest and preserve as much of the tomato and basil crop as possible, this weekend it was time to harvest the rest of the warm season veggies before the torrential downpours and cooler temperatures did them in. I’ve never been one to let a little, or a lot, of rain stop me from getting out in the garden, and I certainly wasn’t going to let the predicted 3.5 inches of rain this weekend stop me from harvesting the last of the fruits of my labor! Although the tomato plants were looking quite sad, and tomatoes were splitting from all the rain, there were still lots of salvageable tomatoes. I’d already roasted many batches of tomatoes and made marinara sauce, so I decided to try making salsa. In retrospect, this was probably not the best activity to start off the weekend with since by the time I got done chopping and seeding the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, orange bell peppers, anaheim chilis, and jalapeños, heating the salsa, and canning it, I was wondering why I spent half the day making a measly 7 pints of salsa! I will never look at a container of salsa the same way again. We had some this morning with scrambled egg and black bean breakfast burritos and it was very tasty, so perhaps it was worth the effort after all.
Next on the to do list, more pesto, because there is no comparison between homemade pesto and store bought pesto, and I couldn’t let the last few basil plants in the garden go to waste. Then it was time for some serious harvesting, and it was still raining just like it had been all weekend. So I put on my rain gear and got to work. I pulled all the remaining onions, most of which were small to medium, and there were quite a few scallions too. I harvested all the eggplant, about 2 dozen in all, mostly on the small side so I decided to roast them for making baba ganoush. Then it was on to the anaheim chilis, and boy did I hit the jackpot this year! This year the chili pepper starts got off to a terrible start because I planted them too early and they got a bit stunted by the cool spring temperatures. Then they suffered a terrible slug attack by zillions of tiny slug babies that apparently don’t like beer since they didn’t seem at all interested in the beer traps I set out in vain. Anyway, it was touch and go for several weeks, and I waited anxiously to see if the peppers would recover. I even started another batch of seedlings in the greenhouse just in case, but as soon as the weather warmed up their survival instincts kicked in and I had the best crop ever. I harvested about 12 pounds of chilis today. Since the weather was too miserable for roasting them outside on the grill, I roasted pan upon pan in the broiler and froze dozens of chills for making chili rellenos this winter.
Since I just can’t bear to let any of our farm grown veggies go to waste, I made one more trip out to the garden to harvest the last few half ripe tomatoes to try to stretch out the summer tomato season a couple more weeks. I also picked a bunch of the big heirloom tomatoes that were splitting before they fully ripened and gave them to the hens and roosters, but I didn’t get a picture of that what with all of the rain and my hands gooey from hand feeding Sweet Pea her tomato treat. It’s been a rainy couple of weekends in the garden and lots of work putting veggies away for the winter, but it’s all worth it since I can tell it’s going to be a tasty winter indeed!
I had been feeling pretty good about keeping up with the garden’s bounty this year and was trying to get an early start on canning and freezing the extras. Then I took last weekend off from farming and went to the Pendleton Round-Up for a mini vacation, and all of a sudden I was buried in a mountain of tomatoes. I always plant several varieties of tomatoes ranging from small early maturing varieties to the late jumbo heirloom varieties in an effort to spread out the timing of the tomato onslaught, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just no use because when they come on, they come on with a vengeance! I spent the better part of the weekend alternately harvesting tomatoes, roasting tomatoes, making marinara, canning marinara, putting on my rain gear for another round of harvesting and canning, and finally feeding the overly ripe and reject tomatoes to the chickens. Everyone loves tomatoes after all. In between batches of marinara, I made and froze 3 pints of pesto, and harvested enough eggplant, zucchini, anaheim chilis, cucumbers, and kale to supply us with delicious garden fresh meals all week. Life is busy, but very good, at 5R Farm!
Eating fresh local produce is one of the best things about summer, and it’s especially rewarding when it comes straight from your own garden! Although it’s still early in the summer, and the queen of the summer garden, the tomato has yet to make an appearance, there are lots of delicious fruits and veggies to be enjoyed at this time of year. We enjoyed the first artichokes we’ve grown ourselves – two varieties, Green Globe and Violetta. Better still, there are about 20 more artichokes still growing in the garden! The menu also included grilled leeks with marinara from last season’s tomatoes, and kale salad – it’s delicious with olive oil, rice wine vinegar, and romano cheese. The main course was pork blade steak from a small family farm in the Columbia Gorge where we buy a 1/2 pig every year. We’ve been spoiled by lots of farm fresh berries this year, but we’re not sick of them yet, so dessert was strawberry and blueberry cobbler. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I have a confession to make. I love the idea of growing squash and storing it over the winter. There are so many beautiful colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from, and the long storage life makes it the perfect crop for someone like me who is trying to be more self-sufficient. But when it comes down to preparing it, my enthusiasm dwindles, and more than one squash has turned moldy in the basement waiting for me to get inspired to cook it. Perhaps it’s the fact that the skin of winter squash is so tough that I’m afraid I’m going to cut my finger off trying to cut the darn thing in half! Or perhaps it’s that I always forget to cook the squash the day before I was planning to come home from work and whip up that delicious sounding squash recipe that takes two hours to prepare if you haven’t remembered to pre-cook the squash. Whatever the reason for my lack of follow-through, I have renewed my determination to do a better job of eating locally grown vegetables that are in season, and that means eating more squash.
This year I grew hubbard squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash, and spaghetti squash, and I also stocked up on acorn squash from the farmers market. My one tried and true squash recipe is butternut squash stuffed with sausage and apples, which is quite good, but I only feel like eating it a couple times during squash season. Over the years I’ve tried several recipes for squash gratin recipes and squash stuffed with various tasty sounding fillings, but none of them have earned repeat recipe status. In order to be successful in this undertaking, I am going to need some new squash recipes to inspire me. I’ve done some recipe research on the internet, and I have found several promising prospects:
If anyone has a favorite winter squash recipe that they would like to share, I’ve love to hear about it, so please send me a message on the contact page and let me know!
I’ve been getting into canning more and more over the last few years, and this year we put away more food for the winter than ever before. Two of my old standbys that I’ve been making for several years are lemon cucumber garlic dill pickles and roasted tomatoes, so of course I made several batches of those. I made applesauce from the trees at the farm again this year, and since the apples are red skinned the applesauce turns out a very pretty shade of pink. I went a little overboard while shopping for tomato starts last spring, so I ended up with 14 tomato plants in the garden this year. We’ve had tons of tomatoes in all sizes and colors, and I’ve put up 18 quarts of tomato sauce. There’s lots of fruit from the farm in the freezer ready to be made into pies or tarts this winter: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and golden plums. Sean pitched in and did his share of canning too. He brought home about 40 pounds of tuna from a fishing trip this summer and spent a day and a half canning several dozen pints and half pints of tuna. Fresh canned tuna is so much better than canned tuna from the store, and it is excellent in salads since it’s in nice big pieces.
We’ve also got a small stockpile of potatoes, onions, and garlic in storage in the basement. This was my first year growing potatoes, and I didn’t spend much effort on them and it shows. We had a very small harvest despite what I’ve heard about 2 pounds of seed potatoes yielding 50 pounds of potatoes. Next year I am going to have Sean build me a wooden potato box to grow them in, and I’ll fill it with composted chicken manure which I’m sure will yield much better results. The onions were on the small side this year since I planted them pretty late, so I will have to get them in earlier next year. Nonetheless, we still have several dozen onions in storage, as well as a few dozen leeks which are still in the ground. The garlic patch yielded about 4 dozen cloves of garlic which is just about right. They grew very well in the repurposed hot tub herb garden, so I will plant them there again this fall.
We’re fortunate to have family and friends that also can, and they do an excellent job with jams, chutneys, and relishes so I haven’t had to learn how to make those myself yet. I would like to experiment with pickling more vegetables – beans, asparagus, peppers, and cabbage to name a few. Since we’ll be growing all of those veggies in the garden next year, learning how to pickle them is definitely on the top of the list so we can add them to the pantry next year. I did not get around to making and freezing pesto this year, and I’m regretting it already. I froze about a dozen half pints of pesto last year, and it was so nice to have it to add to meals throughout the winter. I’m not sure what I’ll use to spice things up this winter, I just may have to try my luck with pickling winter vegetables. Darn, just when I thought my to do list was getting shorter….