Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Small Garden- Big Harvest

    A few days ago I asked what everyone wanted to hear about and the response was widely about "Vertical Gardening" or gardening with limited space. When it comes to gardening with limited space the first question you need to ask yourself is what will you benefit most from planting.I have narrowed it down to a few great plants that don't have to use a lot of space but will produce plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for your table. 


    There are plenty more than just the few listed but based on my own experience these would be the least likely to disappoint while you get a feel for gardening. While you can grow just about any herb in a container some are more difficult than others but basil is super easy and very versatile in the kitchen. If you plan to follow some canning recipes of mine you'll be sure to want to plant some basil as we will be using it frequently. 

    Beans, Eggplant, Squash and Cucumber can be trellised, "vertical gardened", even when planted in a container. You will train the vines to grow up your make shift trellis. A good item to use to make a trellis would be vinyl lattice if you have any or wouldn't mind buying some. Here is an example of trellised vegetables: 

    As you can see these people use trellis' that are supported by the outdoor wall of their home. I like this tote idea as it would work well for those who don't have any yard to work with to plant directly into the ground. If you have totes you can't find lids for that would be an added bonus here as you wouldn't need to buy any. I would recommend drilling holes in the bottom for drainage if they are not going to be covered as these are. You can also purchase planting bags off from amazon that work well. We ordered a pack of 6 last year and used a few of them for basil, establishing berry plants and even potatoes. We did not have much luck in the potato department though. Here are ones similar to what we ordered: 

    While I was looking up these bags I also found that there is a company called EZ-GRO Garden that are American made products with this same material. (The EZ Gro containers are less expensive than buying totes and allow airflow to the roots of your plants for healthier growth resulting in a larger harvest) It is difficult to find the raised bed on their website however they can easily be located on Amazon.  https://www.amazon.com/Victory-Fabric-Raised-Garden-Feet/dp/B00CS8R11S/ref=sr_1_49?crid=1QAYCF85IFA5G&dchild=1&keywords=patio%2Bgarden%2Bplanter%2Bbox%2Bfor%2Bvegetables&qid=1589321366&sprefix=patio%2Bgarden%2Caps%2C181&sr=8-49&th=1

    Another idea I came across that would work well for anyone who does not have a yard to plant in but may just want some fresh herbs or small amounts of lettuce was this spice rack with coco peat liners :

    I would not recommend this for basil or dill as these herbs grow quite tall and become root bound easily but lettuce, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme and even chives would do well here. You can also find window sill baskets that you can line with peat or in the past I have found planters that fit on the edge of a porch railing that you could also plant in. 

     There are so many options to vertical garden and if you have Pinterest it is worth looking at for an evening to see which idea works best for you. Try searching, "vertical gardening", "urban gardening", "container gardening" or "limited space gardening" and see what might work for you. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Local Farm Fresh 2020 List


Greener Pastures located in Hampton NYoffering pork, chicken, turkey, eggs and more!   
Thorpe Homestead located in Charleston NY - offering whole farm raised chicken
Goats Galore located in Granville NY- hand made, farm raised goat milk soap          
Fuller Acres located in Fort Ann- Beef, Maple and Mushrooms!


Monahan Custom Cut Meats & Smokehouse  - located in South Glens Falls 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Canning For Beginners- Kitchen Gadgets Needs and Wants

Welcome back guys! It occurred to me this morning that some people may just be getting into canning and the recipes are the least of the worries right now if you don't have the proper tools to work with. With postal deliveries backed up I want to share with you the items you will need late summer or fall well in advance. In this post I'm going to go over my most used "kitchen gadgets", as my mother refers to them, and you can decide what you need and what you want. It has taken me about 10+ years to acquire the majority of my canning tools and very few have needed to be replaced along the way. 

First and foremost you are going to need to buy canning jars. You can find them almost anywhere but thanks to the Farm House Decor rage they never really go on sale anymore. Facebook marketplace is a great place to cash in on mason jars, a lot of people buy them for weddings as decor and then want to get rid of them because their special day has come and gone. Try not to pay more than $1 per jar especially if you are driving any stretch to pick them up. I have found decent priced jars at Target in the past and the only reason I had gone to Target was because I had gift cards I don't typically go there for anything. You can also let your family know this is something you would like to get into and maybe request them as gifts for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. A useful gift is the best gift. There are plenty of sizes of mason jars out there but my most used are pints and quarts. I try to stay away from the cute jelly jars because they're a little more expensive and contain fewer jars.I'm not saying I don't have them, because I do. Some canned goods you'll want to store smaller amounts of to keep them a little fresher and some you will want to gift. I love using my smaller half pint jars to put apple butter in to gift for Christmas. 

Apple Butter in half pint jars

Next you will need a large stock pot to do a water bath canning method in. You can certainly get one of the pressurized canners but I had one once years ago and paid somewhere around $150 for it and didn't even use it once and I am not sure where it is today. I didn't use it because I heard horror stories of them blowing up on the stove top and destroying kitchens literally taking stoves out because of the pressure buildup inside. I wish I was able to find it because I would sell it to someone more daring then myself. Anyway, I use a regular large stock pot and I have never had a problem with it. It takes a little longer than one of those pressurized canners but at least I won't blow up the kitchen. My husband just bought me a new stock pot this Christmas off of amazon for $35 (it was on my wish list). My old one was starting to actually wear out on the bottom from the coils on the stove top. Make sure when you buy one that it is safe for your stove top as well. I haven't run into this problem but a few reviews I was reading said certain pots shouldn't be used on glass top stoves because of the heat displacement. Here is the link to a stock pot similar to ours I can't find the exact one we have but ours came with a canning rack as well which honestly is only a want you can put a dish cloth in the bottom of your water bath to keep the cans from clanking off the bottom of the pot just be sure to keep an eye on it. You will want to have something similar to this for making sauce as well I have a Pioneer Woman stock pot (gifted to me for Christmas by my mother in law) for my sauce and typically have this and that on the stove top at the same time. One for processing the other for cooking. I like Granite-Ware brand as it is made in the USA :  

You will also need canning tools for removing your cans from the water bath. I like this kit because it has everything in it. I received it as a gift 10 years ago and still have most of the pieces. The magnetic ended stick is to remove your sterilized lids from the pot I like using it because it saves me from dumping out the already boiling water to retrieve them.You may be thinking "well I will just use tongs to get those out", I thought that too once and burnt my hands pretty bad, if you weren't thinking this you're simply smarter than I am. The silicone covered clamp is how you will remove the cans from the water bath if you don't have the canning rack or maybe even with the canning rack in sometimes I still opt to remove with the clamp. ( I tend to do multiple different recipes at once and some don't need to be in as long as others for processing) There is also a little jar top swipe (I'm making some of these names up because I don't know the real name it's just what they're used for) this you will use to scrape the inside of the top of the jar before putting the lid on to make sure the proper amount of "head space" is there for the processing. The funnel is such a great tool to have it makes ladling the your goodies into jars soooo much easier, I get very frustrated when my funnel is misplaced. Here is the link for that also made in the USA: 

This kit has a few more tools but it is cheaper than the Ball Brand with just the items I talked about so you're getting more tools for less money.

This wraps up the basics as far as I can think right now to get you started. So now we can talk about those wants which may actually be needs depending on how serious you get about preserving your own food. 

One gadget I have that I really enjoy and use for more than just canning is our food saver. This is a vacuum sealer for just about anything. We use it a lot for fresh caught fish and during hunting season to freeze duck, deer and anything else we manage to harvest. Even if you don't hunt it's worth its weight in gold for sealing food from the grocery store. I bulk purchase meat when it is buy one get one and use the sealer to break the packages up into meal size bags for our family. I also use the sealer for some vegetables like green beans and corn. You can absolutely can these items but you will save space in your canning cupboard by freezing them flat and keeping them in the freezer and honestly the green beans always seem fresher when they aren't stored in brine and keep their fresh crunch. My father bought ours for us (this is where requesting tools as gifts comes in handy) it's a bit pricey and you can certainly make do without it and use the ziplock bag method so you make the right choice for you. Here is what we have :

Unfortunately this product is made in China, along with the bags that go with it, but you can use any vacuum sealer bags with the machine. There is a company that makes vacuum sealers for food based in the US called Amerivacs and here is there page- https://vacuumsealersunlimited.com/amerivacs/ I have no experience with their equipment but I want to give you guys as much access to American made products as possible. 

Another item we use quite a bit but is not required- just makes life a little easier- is our food processor. My husband uses this when pureeing hot sauce and I use it to puree tomato soup (both recipes I will share with you when we make them this year). You don't need it, a hand mixer will sometimes do the trick for what you are working with, we just happen to make a lot of different things and it comes in handy especially when I make green tomato salsa at the end of the growing season. We have a Hamilton Beach food processor my mother bought me one year for Christmas like this (American Made): 

The last tool I will tell you about that you may want to consider purchasing is the backbone of my gadget arsenal. It is called the Squeezo and I use it all of the time when processing tomatoes for sauces and soups and if you are interested in making your own wine I would also highly recommend.Again you don't need it there are ways around using it they are just so time consuming. I know because I used to do it the old way by blanching my fruits and coring them myself. It wasn't until about 4 or 5 years ago I found out about this machine and I have never looked back. It is worth every single penny. Here it is:

Now I can not find anything that says this is made in the US but it does state it can only be shipped within the US and not internationally which sounds promising. Guys....I LOVE this machine. I personally have the Victorio brand of this same product but can't seem to find it online today. This cuts my time down on processing anything tomato related to minutes versus an entire days worth of work and here are some photos to show you why:

The large white funnel on top is where you put the tomatoes in. I cut them if they're too big to for the opening into the mill. You use the red plunger to help push them through and use the hand crank to work the internal parts of the mill. The first few cranks can sometimes be a little tough until the juice lubes up the parts but then its smooth sailing. 

Your paste will come down the slide into whatever dish you put under it to catch the pulp. This is what you will use for your sauce etc

The seeds, stem and skin come out of this funnel here. When you are all done you can put what is in this bucket back through the mill again and I typically get another cup or two of pulp/paste to use. I learned this trick last year from someone else's blog. 

You can use this for making apple sauce as well but I don't mind peeling, coring and boiling my apples as I have a few other little gadgets to make that easier as well (I will introduce you to those when making apple sauce) so if you are looking for a multi-purpose machine and plan to make enough sauces to get you through until the next summer this is ideal. It also comes in handy for milling up fruits for wine (we'll get there when we get there) 

That's all for today! If you have any questions just ask! Remember beginners are my favorite students because I can teach you my way :) 


Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Buzz About Pollinators

A bumblebee on our cherry blossoms today

As I sat here at my desk wondering what to write about today I was looking out at our Montmorency Cherry Tree and saw all sorts of pollinators checking out our beautiful blossoms. It struck me, what better to write about than bees? Our unsung heroes of all things beautiful and yummy. The media is doing quite a bit of harm to our little winged friends right now with the news of the infamous "murder hornet" so I figure we should really take a moment to stop and help those who are helping us. If it weren't for bees we wouldn't have the fruits, vegetables and berries that we do. Here are a few facts regarding bees:

*Bees can visit up to 5,000 flowers in one day.

*An average size bee colony will collect up to 100 pounds of pollen in a single season- that's right fellow allergy suffers they are collecting that dreadful death dust and taking it away to create our antidote-local honey.

*The main crops that bees pollinate are apples (among most other fruiting trees), blueberries, pumpkins and watermelon. Without bees we will not have these fruits and vegetables without manual pollination which no one really has time for and I won't even bore you with the details of how it is done.

*The projected life expectancy of the human race without bees is FOUR YEARS

So how can we help?

Plant flowering perennials in your yard. Perennials that I often see pollinators on in our yard other than our fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetable garden are lungwort, peony, chives (herb), veronica bush, butterfly bush, black eyed susans, sedum and spirea. You don't have to be a master gardener to keep these plants looking beautiful. Plant them once and enjoy them for years to come, you can even propagate them later on to add them to another part of your property or gift to a friend. 

I don't often see many bees at my hummingbird feeders but I like to keep the nectar fresh and available anyway so there is enough to go around as hummingbirds are also pollinators requiring significant amounts of nectar as well. In our yard there is no need for competition for food and no one goes hungry. ***Be sure to make your own nectar as well for the hummingbirds as the red dye in store bought nectar's are harmful and quite honestly you're paying too much. 4 parts water- 1 part sugar, bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes, let it cool and fill your feeders. It is that simple. I promise even though it is not red they will still come and it will not harm them like the red dyes.***

What most of us don't typically think of when it comes to bees is access to water. Bees don't only collect pollen and nectar they also need fresh water. Not only because they are working so hard and are thirsty just like us but because it is detrimental to the health of the hive and quality of the honey. Humidity in the hive is used to control the temperature and to dilute honey that has started to crystallize to turn it back to liquid, or in some cases when it has dried completely to sugar, to dissolve the sugar away to make room for new honey. Not only that but the "nurse bees" need water to dilute the food secreted from their heads when feeding the larvae and queen so they can raise the next generation of pollinators.

But how do we water bees? I've read a few different ways to do this safely so the bees don't drown. Most recently I read that you can fill a 5 gallon pail and throw a few wine corks in to allow the bees a place to land and drink without falling in. I suppose if you have an apiary (your own bee colony) that this would suffice. However I don't love the idea of our blue Lowes bucket with wine corks floating in it in the center of our meticulously cared to flower bed. So you know that bird bath you might have that the birds simply don't appreciate or use nearly enough? (At least mine never do) Or an old ceramic planter bottom with no holes in it?  Well that will make the perfect pollinator waterer. Simply add a bag of colored marbles or glass stones to the bottom and fill the water to just about the top of the rocks/ marbles and the bees and butterflies will land and sip the water from between the rocks! And its quite cute to look at! I haven't made  one yet but it's on my to do list this summer. Here's a picture of what they look like:

This photo has been borrowed for the good of bees from Pinterest.

You don't have to spend a ton of time tending your yard or caring for each individual pollinator. A few plants and freshening up water and nectar once a week and you will have a huge impact on your surrounding bee colonies!! Take care everyone.

Yours Truly,

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Farm Fresh Eggs- Are They All They're Cracked Up To Be?

A few days ago I had a conversation with my mother about why I needed to keep my new chickens I sent for at her house in my old horse barn (I can't have them where we live). My mother isn't a fan of chickens because I had a rooster when I was younger that just didn't see eye to eye with her and left some pretty terrible soft ball size bruises on her legs any time she got near him. So thanks to him my case was a bit tougher to sell.

If you are going to purchase food to consume you want it to be the most nutritional right? What if I told you that by buying commercially raised eggs you're shorting yourself? Here's why.

Commercially raised eggs are sold by the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of chickens all cooped up together eating one generic food source with limited room to roam. Your are only getting as much nutrition as they are.

On the other hand farm fresh eggs hold a much higher nutritional value. Most people selling farm fresh eggs allow their chickens to free range. Not only because it means less time cleaning the coop but chickens are a great pest control. All the while they are out in the sun soaking up all sorts of vitamins and minerals from their environment. Farm fresh eggs have been proven to have less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more vitamin A,E and D, more omega-3 fatty acid and more beta carotene. Beta -what? Beta carotene is a fancy word to tell you that the yolk is more orangey yellow in appearance and is a visible sign that the egg has more vitamin A  present. Vitamin A helps build a strong and healthy immune system and we could all use that right now.

Here is a photo of a side by side comparison I took one day while making breakfast and you can really see the difference.

So next time you see a sign out for farm fresh eggs take a minute to stop and pick up a dozen or two. Now is as good a time as any to start supporting your locals selling goods! And on the up and up it's better for you too!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

All Things Spring

Its the most wonderful time of the year!!! For me anyway. I LOVE spring and all of the new life, be it plants or animals it's just such a beautiful and enjoyable season as it melts away all of the bone chilling weather.

The first thing my husband and I like to do to shake off the winter blues is start our seeds. Tomatoes and peppers are always first as they take the longest to get ready to be planted outdoors. Quite honestly we have yet to have any luck starting peppers, they always seem to pop right up and then pitter out before it's time to go outdoors or get too leggy. This year we really nailed it with the tomatoes and MAYBE even the peppers and I think it has a lot to do with keeping the light above the seedlings correctly. We really struggled with the seedlings becoming too leggy as they reached for the light and couldn't quite get the light hooked up so it was easily adjusted or secured well enough so we felt that it wouldn't be a safety hazard. When we finally had those two issues sorted out...well we left the light on to long a few too many times and the plants just dried up a bit. This was all until I finally made a fantastic purchase with an adjustable plant light that actually has THREE light settings for plants. I really didn't understand why it was so important to have different color lights for seedlings so in good fashion I read all about it- it's kind of what I do best.

The three light settings are as follows- red, blue or red and blue.

 Red helps plants that you want to produce fruit or vegetables yield a higher crop. Did you know that there is actually red weed guards you can roll out in between your tomato plants that help your plant produce more fruit simply because tomatoes love the color red? I didn't either until last summer. I haven't tried it yet but if I ever do I will be sure to write about it.

Blue helps your flowers. So if your starting lavender or petunias for instance you would want the blue light setting on to help create those beautiful blooms your looking for. I also recently used it on an Easter Cactus I was having trouble getting to bloom again and sure enough it worked, not to mention my Orchid loves it when it has trouble sending up another flowering stem.

And as you have probably guessed the red and blue is for a little bit of both if you have an assortment of seeds starting like I do but I have noticed it seems to work better to have only one color on at a time.

One of my favorite features though is the timer! Never again will we leave the light on too long! Just kidding, sometimes I forget to hit the timer button. Any who, there are three timed settings- 3,6 and 12 hours. I like to put it on for 3 hours in the evenings to get the plants to straighten back out if they've started leaning toward the window.

I can't forget to mention the adjust-ability of the light that is so important to keep the light just above the plants so they don't get that leggy look and start to fall over.

Here's the link to the light a purchased off of amazon : https://www.amazon.com/BriteLabs-Spectrum-Adjustable-Gooseneck-Dimmable/dp/B07D9HWHY6/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=brite+light+gooseneck+plant+light&qid=1588730417&sr=8-5

We started our tomatoes, peppers, shasta daisy and lavender back in late February/ early March :
As you can see now they're doing rather well and hopefully make it to the garden with out any mishaps. I think my husband thinks it's a past time of mine to start seeds only to end up buying started plants from a green house.


Shasta Daisy and Lavender
Moving outdoors, my rock star of a husband, has already turned the garden soil three times with his new little machine called the "Earthquake" that he purchased at our local Tractor Supply Co. In the garden we have directly sewn radish, carrots, kale and beets. Any root can be planted before the last frost and as it turns out kale actually prefers to be cold so it doesn't get leggy.

Here are our four rows of goodies we have planted in our enclosed garden bed, as you can see they have not sprouted yet but they will.(The pitiful looking plants outside the bed are left to right- goji berry, 2 honey berry and a blueberry. The blueberry actually looks okay as it is from last year but our new additions are a little sad from their postal trip.)

What I am most excited to see do well this year is our strawberry bed! Last summer I bought one June-Bearing strawberry plant not knowing much at all in the ways of berries. To my disappointment the name says it all. The plant only bears fruit in the month of June. To make matters worse I only saw two berries on it that were doing really well until the chipmunks ate them. Luckily for me my wonderful sister in law and her husband gifted us a few ever-bearing strawberry plants later in the summer that wintered really well in our strawberry bed! And as I type this my husband is finishing up the cover so Chip and Dale can no longer commandeer our harvest. I'm too excited to wait for the paint to dry to share a picture of the bed with the cover on but I promise there will be more about strawberries when it's time to harvest some for short cakes, strawberry rhubarb wine (that's right ladies and gentlemen we will be talking about making your very own wine here) and of course strawberry spinach salad with peppercorn dressing that my mother loves so much.

I look forward to sharing every single one of my recipes with you and all of the kitchen gadgets I have acquired over the years. I will do my very best to post the most accurate information available to us all and the most ad-free links I can find for products I personally use in my own home. As always questions are welcomed and even encouraged! As the weather warms up and I am able to start projects I will be sure to post step-by-step how to's. For now I hope you enjoyed my intro to spring.