Summer Harvest Starts in Earnest

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sun, Aug 9, 2015 - 8:41am

gala apples

Mid-August is always a very busy time for us. Many things become ripe almost simultaneously:  pears, apples, honey figs, brown turkey figs, elderberries and grapes all come in at pretty much the same time. If it were not for the fact that the tomatoes and green beans temporarily stop their heavy fruiting due to midsummer heat, it we might lose some of our harvest.

Yesterday I picked/peeled/cored/sliced a bushel of apples. That was 6 hours of work. I also prepped enough fig jam for five half-pint jars; that had to sit overnight for the sugar to draw out the juice before I canned it today. The sliced apples were in a 5-gallon bucket of lemon water awaiting canning today, into quart jars, for pies. Right now they are simmering in the water bath canner on the front porch. (Note: we use an outdoor, propane-based turkey fryer cooker for canning. The instructions say the thing is "not for canning," but it's not for canning the way Q-tips are not supposed to go in your ears: everyone uses them. When we canned 27 pints of chicken broth in our pressure canner on it yesterday we just kept the flame low and watched the pressure gauge continuously. ) Later today I will pick and start on another bushel of apples.

Meanwhile the bushel of pears I picked two days ago is ripening indoors: we've learned to pick pears green and ripen them indoors, as it cuts down on spoilage. We're picking another bushel of pears later today, too. We've also learned to boil the pears, peel them (much easier then!) and can the slices.

The brown turkey figs come in a handful at a time and need to be processed as soon as I accumulate enough to make jam. The neighbor's honey figs--which they hate and we dry--come in all at once like the apples and need to be dehydrated en masse or we will lose them (checking those today). This August has been relatively wet and we will probably not be able to use the solar drying rack we made.

Elderberries are harvested for the year's tinctures and syrups.

The muscadine grapes come in daily, not as bunches but as individual grapes that you either pick or lose, and we've decided to use them to make vinegar. That's a new process to us, and I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile watering has been made easier with a traveling sprinkler for the flat areas and an oscillating one for the hilly spots. Weeding has been made easier with mulching. Bugs have been kept down by organic predators and healthy soil but we want to try diatomaceous earth as a deterrent for vine borers.

A harvest is work, and even on our small scale it's the sort of work that most people in developed nations are not familiar with. And, just like with growing things, stowing things  for the coming year has a learning curve.

32 Comments

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Turkey Fryer is to Canning as Q-Tips are to Ears

:D Thanks for the harried-harvest humor, Wendy!  And for the solemn recognition that stowing also requires time, energy, skill, practice.

jandeligans's picture
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Lazy gardener seeks simple preservation tips

Hi Wendy and All, I have been on my current 8 acre paradise in Northern NM now for my 3rd summer. Each year I intend to can and dehydrate and so far it's just not happening. I look at that pile of zuchinni or cherries and I just feel tired before even starting. I would like to know what are people's quickest and easiest preservation techniques?

I have one from past years that really works for me for tomatoes. I just wash them (only if needed), throw them in the blender at high speed and then freeze the resulting juice in freezer bags. Then all winter I use them in stews, chiles, and soups or even as just tomato juice. The flavor is great and I can just mix whatever I have available in there even tiny cherry tomatoes. The seeds and skin just disappear into the mix and you won't notice them. It substitutes for tomato sauce and tomato paste once you reduce it down some. They last one year that way before the flavor degrades. 

Last night I made a big batch of pureed zucchini soup with potatoes (unpeeled), vegetables of all sorts, onions, garlic, olive oil and chicken broth with basil and oregano. Cooked then pureed in the blender. Delicious. And then after cooling into the freezer bags. I am hoping this will preserve the good flavor and avoid the yucky texture change that frozen squash undergoes. The texture shouldn't matter since it is pureed. So it made me wonder why not just puree the veggies and bag it then make the soups in the winter? I don't know if it would have to be cooked first, I know some people shred zucchini and freeze it uncooked. Would zucchini like that be useful in soups?

And my apples aren't ready yet but when they are I plan to bury them in the ground in a garbage can "root cellar". I am way too lazy to peel or process them. So if anyone has simple but effective ways of saving food that are easy - I would love to hear it. Thanks! Jan

Tall's picture
Tall
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Busy time of year

I consider dehydrating easy, but it is not fast. You still have to wash and process. My understanding about freezing most veggies (other than peppers) is that they must be blanched to stop enzymatic activity and preserve flavor.

I also spend the majority of my time in summer (most evenings, all weekends), watering, picking, processing, preserving. The tyranny of summer produce has not been exaggerated if you grow much food. 

My best suggestion for a no-work solution Jan, is just grow enough all year so that you can pick and eat as you go!

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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Easiest preservation?

I would almost guess that the easiest preservation would be CO2.  Get food-grade 5-gal buckets, put a scoop of dry ice in, and then pack in your dry grains.  Close it up, leaving a crack, and let the dry ice evaporate.  Tap once to burp, and then seal the bucket.

I strongly suspect that you should only do this with dry foods, lest you get botulin or other anaerobic toxic bacteria at work there.  However, maybe I'm wrong:  maybe the CO2 poisons everything.

So....  suppose you wanted to do it right, and with minimum tiredness.

I'd suggest an automatic slicer, followed by a rotisserie style solar dryer.  Make one if you can't buy one.  Slice the foods, dry the foods, and then pack in CO2. 

To beat the tiredness? Munch the veggies as you work. Probably you should devote one day to one food item per stage, from morning on.  Knock it out.    For example, on Monday, you start by taking the dried tomatoes, and piling them into your CO2 buckets.  Get them going, and then go over to the Zucchini, and slice it.  Place the slices on the rotisserie solar dryer.  Munch the slices as you go.  Go back to the tomatoes, burp them, and seal them.  Go back to carrots, and clean and sort them. 

Next canning day (two days later, when the zucchini is dry), you pack the zucchini, slice and dry the carrots, and sort and clean potatoes.

 

 

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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Be careful what you pickle

I can't help but share the feelings that I get when I review what we have canned and realize I might have forgotten an ingredient. DAMN!

But then, too many ingredients can cause issues, too.

Image result for canning cartoons

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
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Fermentation

There is a very enthusiatic fermentation group on Facebook. Be warned, they will swamp you with content. 

Fermenting was one of the ways of preserving food. Think beer, chocolate, cheese, kvas.

Daddio7's picture
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canning

My muscadines are the only things that produced this year. Every four days I pick about three quarts and freeze them. One more picking and I'll have enough for a batch of jam. I found a recipe where you puree the hulls and include them in the jam. I'm down to my last pint from last year, time for more.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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Muscadines

So are your muscadines the red? Or green? Are they bunched, like what is sold in stores (and which I suspect are really European grapes, not the American native)? Or are they the delicious solitary grape that grows all through the Great Dismal, rthe Rte 17 walking Park, and indeed all over the east coast?

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Muscadine grapes

You're right: any grapes in bunches are not muscadines. The individual grapes grow much larger than most bunched table grapes, though. Muscadine grapes and their green wild cousins, Scuppernogs, grow from Florida to Delaware so they were a new species to me when I moved to USDA zone 8 from zone 5. We have purple and bronze ones on a trellis on the slope by our driveway and bronze ones (and Concord grapes) on two fences in the back.

We have not been pruning the ones on the trellis yet, since they are fairly new. But you'll laugh: we prune the ones on the back fences with a chainsaw. They are so vigorous that seems to be the only way to tame them.

For those who've never tried this perennial food they have a lot going for them. Muscadines are, as I mentioned, vigorous. They can handle fairly deep cold (we had -5 F and they shrugged it off and 100+F summer temps. They seem to have no known diseases, too. They require a VERY sturdy trellis because the vines and fruit can get quite heavy. But they are just about as carefree a high-yield food as you can find. And they grow vertically, which is great for limited space!

But they are not like the grapes you get in the supermarket. They take some getting used to since the skins are kind tough and bitter; I've learned to discard the skins when juicing them. Most people squeeze the grape open,  pop the pulp into their mouths, spit out the seeds (they are NOT seedless), and discard the skins. However, if you want to use the whole fruit here's a really good recipe for Grape Hull Pie.

Nancie’s Muscadine Grape Hull Pie

Pastry for a double-crust pie

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 cups muscadine grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or cider vinegar or white vinegar

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits

 

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place bottom crust into a pie pan, with the edge of the piecrust hanging over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and stir with a fork to mix them well.

Holding it over a medium bowl, squeeze a grape with its stem end down, so that the pulp pops out and falls into the bowl. (If the pulp doesn’t pop right out with only a squeeze, cut the stem ends off the grapes and discard the ends. Then squeeze the grape and the pulp should pop right out.)  Set the hulls aside in a bowl, and place the grape pulp and juices into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook until the pulp has soften and begun to break down, so that the seeds can be easily separated, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl let cool until you can handle them. Work through the bowl of pulp, extracting and discarding the large round seeds.

Add the grape hulls to the saucepan, and continue cooking to soften the hulls, for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture. Pour the grape filling into the piecrust . (Do not overfill it. Reserve any excess and make a small pie in a custard cup, or cook just the fruit as a simple pudding to eat with cream.) Scatter the bits of butter over the pie filling, and cover with the top crust. Press hard all around the pie to seal up the crust. Crimp the edges or press them with the tines of a fork to seal it well. Make slits in the top of the pie so that juices can bubble up and steam can escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, so that any juices have somewhere to go besides the bottom of the stove.

Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until the filling is thickened and bubbling hot, and the crust is nicely browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel, and let it cool completely.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Dehydrated food storage

I save all of the silica gel packets and store my dehydrated foods with a silica packet each in quart canning jars. You're not supposed to reuse the lids to make a new canning seal, but you can use them as simple closures, as plain screw on lids. And you can keep an eye on things so you so not worry that the contents of a bucket have gone fuzzy or rotted. Plus, they're pretty.

Currently we have figs, sun-dried tomatoes, dehydrated blueberries, dehydrated jalapeno rings, dried cherries, croutons and spices stored that way. They sure look pretty.

Quart jars are the new Ziploc bags.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
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Muscadines

Nnnooooooooo!!!

Don't discard the Muscadine skins! That is where all the awesome flavor, all the complex intricacies are. That is what |akes Duplin Hattaras Red so good.

I'm not honestly sure what I'd do with them, maybe see if they could be dried and ground, but I'm sure there's a good use.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Still drowning in figs and grapes.

I have ten pounds of Concord grapes to make jam with later today, and more figs than I know what to do with: jam with some, dry others I guess.. We have enough okra for the year frozen, and tomatoes and basil are doing great. My experiment with fennel is doing well and we may add more next year. The pole lima beans did mot work as well as the bush type for us. We found that canning the incredibly prolific HOT banana peppers as if they were jalapenos works best. The transplanted sunchokes form my father-in-law all made it and are 4-ft tall and about to flower. New onion crop about to go in.

Tomorrow I will be making vinegar with the purple muscadine grape juice. Bronze muscadines not ready yet. Pears and apples are done. Green beans are taking a break and not flowering until things cool off a bit (they hate 100-degree-F weather). Experiment: we ordered black plastic mulch for the winter and to keep weeds down; we will cover that with the pine straw mulch to keep it from frying roots in hot weather

Kale is in. My husband did not sprat the cabbage with Bt while I was gone and you can tell; it's Swiss cheese. I have until November to bring that back to health.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
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Just watch out for wild (dog) fennel

I know you're an easterner, so watch out for dog fennel. It's highly poisonous... a kidney destroyer, IIRC.

Wild fennel is not to be messed with.

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Wendy, your gardening is inspirational!

At the same time, I find myself frustrated with the low productivity of my gardening efforts.  Not enough time/focus spent on it; still working full-time, a mom, etc excuses.  And apparently not enough practical knowledge yet to translate the time I do spend into enough successes to feel like I'm making good progress.  I try to keep my chin up -I know I've learned a lot.  But I also believe that the ultimate measure  sometime down the line won't be whether we are "further down the path than the majority of people".  It will be "are we far enough down the road to actually sustain our family" (ignoring for the moment the additional factors like everyone else who will need/want help as well).  Very stressful. 

Ok, reset.  One thing at a time, one thing at a time, one thing at a time...

 

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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Taking a cue from your post, Wendy...

Taking a cue from your post, Wendy, we went to the Chesapeake Rte 17 campground, rented canoes, and went out on the George Washington Canal.

Many of the black muscadines were ripe, and boy, are they delicious.

Thick black skin, filled with flavor; sweet inner pulp,3-6 seeds... but to my way of thinking, that is a wine grape beyond compare. I wouldn't suggest making it sweet with sugar, though. If you want more sugar, I'd mix with something else... watermelon, maybe. But I'd actually try for a wine without any additives.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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This is why I want a Christian Community garden

I happen to think God has an issue with us, and the best way to deal with it is to let people read the Bible and pray on it. So that's the Christian part, maybe the first hour.

However, the rest of what you said, Pinecarr, ... gardens have to be maintained. Yet the poor have to take jobs when offered, and therefore can't maintain their gardens. For that reason, a community garden in which people work according to a plan with direction, but use their labor to bid on the produce, is a way to ensure that they and you both can get full value for their labor.

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I know what you mean

I know what you mean jandeligans!

A note about the apple storage - remember to wrap each apple in paper :-)

ask me how I know,...

cheers

Toni

pinecarr's picture
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Good idea

A community garden is a good idea, Michael.  Also, I have heard of local vegetable farms that "sell" shares of their output to others -e.g., so working people like me who don't have much time to garden still have a source of fresh produce.   Both sides benefit from the arrangement.   The reason I haven't pursued the latter approach to date is that I think it is as (or more) important to learn the skills associated with growing veggies as getting the veggies themselves. 

What I probably should do is apprentice myself to someone who already knows what they are doing and can teach me in exchange for labor!

 

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Good Idea

We have an acre market garden and we took in a family this year. We had a 10 year old show up every week at the farmers market and he was first in line at our booth, we finally put him behind the booth and put him to work. This spring he wanted to come down to our garden to help us out, we had a bit of a surprise for him, we offered him his own 50 foot row to grow in. In trade we would get 5% of his veggies. With out a moments hesitation he asked if he could have two rows and give us 10%. He now has three rows and he and his mom show up twice a week and help weed and harvest.

We adore him, and his mom has really been a god send helping us keep ahead of the weeds.

Check with your local farmers, there might indeed be a small internship available for you. Especially if you just won't go away.

Good luck!

Rob

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Michael_Rudmin
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Pinecar: the first of gardening

I'm going to suggest that the most critical part of gardening is food harvest and storage. Therefore, you should leave the rest aside while you learn to harvest and store food that is readily available.

That food you can buy at the market, or pick from public sources. I strongly suggest learning what wild foods are commonly available, and how to avoid poisoning yourself with them (many do have toxins, like the Taro, the lamb's quarters, the Cherry, and so on.)

Then once you have that, the rest won't be a waste.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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you cannot wholy rely on wild foods

While it's great to know what to eat that is growing wild, and I heartily recommend it it's a very good idea not to entirely depend on them. Not only will the obvious things get stripped, but they may be removed or damaged. One of our two sources for elderberries was sprayed with a defoliant this year, for example, so we got one.  Fruit and nut trees come down in storms. Ponds dry up (one near up had it's dam destroyed by a massive fallen oak.)

That being said foraging is a good backup. Study the food sources in your area: i was absolutely shocked that the people in the EMP "what if" novel "One Second After" never used acorns for flour, since that part of the world is full of oak trees (Cherokees mixed it with a bit of wood ash to cut the bitterness). Transplant things like cattails (for their tubers, etc.) to a local pond. Plant wild rice. Know what's edible. Do it now.

I see storm clouds on the horizon.

 

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sauerkraut

I offer a picture of my Sauerkraut. That is one big cabbage worth.  The Kimchi fermenter is new from Korea so I didn't want to buy more cabbage than the vessel could hold.  Red cabbage was not available. 

The shape of the fermenter suits the yacht. I have 3 more on the way. From

crazykoreanshopping.com. 

I made a mistake and flavored the kraut with coriander instead of dill. As you know, coriander tastes like liquerice and I thought  "Mmm. Liquerice flavored kraut? Adventurous. "

It is delicious. 

I'm on the last day of a 6 day fast but I sneak a teaspoon full of the juice when the pangs become unpleasant.  Very moreish. I'm sure cancer cells don't like sauerkraut, there being no sugar at all. 

 

pinecarr's picture
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Thanks all

More good suggestions Michael and robshelper.  And good advice, Wendy!

Michael, I have had similar thoughts about the need to focus on preservation skills with what time I do have.  I could have the best garden in the world, but if the veggies go bad as fast as the ones I buy at the store now, we're in deep trouble. 

Arthur, I hope your quip about cancer cells was generic...i.e., I hope you are ok.

 

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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In line with Kimchi and cancer

... watch out for any mold infection on your kimchi. Aspergillis Niger, black mold, seems to love kimchi, and it is infamous for causing cancer (liver? Pancreas? I forget which one right now).

Don't believe it when people say you can just scrape the surface mold off. With that particular product, It's all bad, if it's at all bad.

Likewise, Wendy, tannins are toxic. Going from acorns to flour isn't a simple matter, be it through geophagy or washing. Better to learn now, or assume it is not in your toolset later.

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Root Cellar

We are building two root cellars this fall - one for squash and potatoes, one for apples (and other crops that give off ethylene gas, which would spoil potatoes).  At 7,600 ft elevation in the Rocky Mountains (Zone 3), we have a very short growing season.  Our hope is to store enough winter root vegetables to feed many families if/when TSHTF. 

Root-cellaring is a great alternative to investing time & money into canning and freezing supplies.  As others have mentioned, just be sure the fruits and vegetables are blemish-free.  (Eat, can, or freeze any fruits/veg that are blemished.)  And inspect them regularly throughout the winter. 

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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See if...

See if a local segmental bridge job was erected near you. If so, see if the precaster has any rejected segments. If you can get it to your place, and unload it off the truck --- and with some creativity, that shouldn't be hard --- then you could get a serious root cellar rather cheaply. Other options might include burying a conex.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
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root cellars are not an option for some

If we lived  in the western part of our state, near the Appalachians, a root cellar would be on my list. Sadly, root cellars are not an option for some of us. Areas with high water tables like Florida and our part of SC (absolutely NO ONE has a basement here) might try sun drying. It's hot enough. We are sun-drying tomatoes, figs and peppers.

 

Bytesmiths's picture
Bytesmiths
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Root cellars are ALWAYS an option!

 

Sadly, root cellars are not an option for some of us... with high water tables

You can build your root cellar above ground!

"Earth bag" construction lends itself well. Fill bags with clay, stack them in a circle, offset half-a-bag and repeat in a smaller circle, driving rebar through them now and then, resulting in a "bee hive" dome. Pile soil up around the sides.

Another high-water technique is to buy a new cement septic tank, cut a doorway in it, and pile earth up around and over it. These guys are built for high side-loads.

With either technique, consider putting your above-ground root cellar on top of a small mound of earth, to improve drainage — sort of a "root non-cellar."

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I saw this thread a few weeks

I saw this thread a few weeks ago and I thought I would do another quick video (of my 0.2 acre suburban lot).  My video in the spring is linked here.

 

 

I am getting lots of squash, grapes, peppers, raspberries and peaches.  The peach trees in the video started and chest high sticks in the fall of 2012.  So just shy of three years later I am getting lots of peaches.

When I made this video, I found a video (April 2015) I meant to post about my watering system for my square foot garden beds (works great).  I thought I would share that as well

 

 

Thanks for watching

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Great garden video, Sterling!

Your "yard" is hiding all kinds off good-stuff!  What growing zone do you live in, if you don't mind sharing?  Love all the peaches on your peach tree!

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Sterling Cornaby
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My Zone

I am in zone 6.  

I am glad that you liked the video, I will make it a point to post one every so often since it seems useful for a few of you.  

Also I am in Utah which means watering is an absolute must  in the summers.  I will save bunches of details on that.   It is really getting more fun as I work at gardening, even with some of the failures; for example I had to replant my squash/zucchini 3-5 times because of a wet spring with slugs coming out.  

One really nice local resource for gardening information is Caleb Warnock-http://www.mcssl.com/store/calebwarnock.   The few times I have interacted with him has been very helpful.  I have been to a few of his classes and bought a bunch of seeds from him as well.

I also highly suggest getting Caleb's yogurt culture.  The steps are:

  • Pore whole milk into a 'dirty' jar that has the culture in it (basically the jar of yogurt you just used up without cleaning the jar out)
  • leave on counter top over night/24 hours (longer makes it a bit firmer)
  • eat it (put in fridge after sitting out over night/24 hours)

I got off but I have this yogurt, with peaches (or raspberries), and granola for breakfast 3-4 times a week lately and it is really good.

 

Additionally, I have been trying to get in 'sync' with eating at least one item from my garden every meal for the past two months.  I will say that it is a really fun but really hard  as well.  My natural tenancy has been to go to the fridge or the pantry for snacks or meals--- I am trying to change that habit to the garden and snack on raspberries, tomatoes, and peaches (that is what I have a lot of right now).  Changing these habits is quite tricky to do.

And one last item, I am no where near feeding myself exclusively from this, but I can say I might be feeding my family between 10% to 15% from my garden over August this year. I was at near 0% three years ago so.  

I thought that I would just list a bunch of random thoughts I am having on gardening!

Thank you

Sterling

 

 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Great job Sterling!

Everything looks great Sterling, you are getting a good jump on it! Your planning will pay you back in spades.

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