Sunday, September 30, 2012

Apples and garden bed improvements

Things have started to slow right down in the garden. We're still harvesting tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers but the rest of the plants have pretty much packed it in. We're expecting a hard frost in two or three days so that should leave us with only carrots (plus a window sill of tomatoes). I finally picked the apples this past week. The three we got this year drives the per-apple price somewhere below $25 each (!) and I will give the tree a gentle prune come spring. You  can see the hail damage everything took in August on the left-most apple.

Most of my efforts have been in improving the garden beds for next year. This year's potato bed (below) will have beans, onions, lettuces and more beans next year. It has been dug again (trying to fix years of neglect and compaction) and more leaves, bone meal and lime added. I think this is bed is pretty much left to be gently tilled on the top from now on.

This year's project (below) is also getting a second digging with more organize matter, bone meal, lime and some sheep manure added. The snaking bed on the foreground will be next year's potato bed. In behind, there is huge bed (block by the suckering shrub on the left). I'm thinking beets and yellow beans and perhaps celery. I finished all but about 5 linear feet of work on it today (the celery and cucumbers are still going).

On the south side of the house we have two smaller raised beds for cold frames. I have the wood for one frame cut and will cut the other tomorrow and screw them together. These are 2x4 (ish) and the glass I have should sit neatly on top. I'll be planting garlic in the left bed this fall and seeding carrots in the right bed come spring.

I have two others frames ready to go as well. These sit in the death bed, where even day-lilies and irises struggle. The glass nests into the raised frame and these will have lettuce and carrots next spring.

I have quite a bit of work to do on five raised beds in the back but that will have to wait for next weekend. I also have some more Christmas lights to put up, having strung lights in the big tree with Jess this week. Dinner tonight is borsch and baked potatoes--almost everything being from the garden.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

High-bush cranberry jelly

One of my to-do's this year was to make high-bush cranberry jelly. We went out Saturday down in the valley and picked a pail of these lovely berries.

Jess had quite a good time with chickadees landing on her hand to check out the berries that she offered them.

We also ran into a beaver swimming in the river just below where we were picking. I've run into these fellows on land but I've never seen one just hanging out in the current. We were far enough above to get a nice look-down shot.

Once home, we then boiled and crushed the berries and drained them to get some juice. Three litres of berries yielded about 1.5 litres of juice. This, in turn, yielded 1 litre of jelly. I don't usually put recipes up (as there are many better places online) but I had a hard time finding a high-bush cranberry jelly recipe that did not require pectin (I don't really care for the taste myself) so here it is.

Stem and wash berries. Simmer in pot (2 parts berries to 1 part water). Crush berries with potato masher as they simmer. A bit of citrus rind helps cut down the bad smell. Strain berries to extract juice.

Combine juice and sugar (2 parts berries to 1 part sugar). Cook over medium heat about 60 minutes until gel tests indicate it is ready. Jar it hot and hot-water bath for 10 minutes. I wonder if a tablespoon of lemon juice would have helped with the smell and accelerated the gelling?

The result was a brilliant red jelly that seemed to set up quite well. I included a fair number of immature berries in our pick (orange-coloured instead of deep red) to increase the pectin levels. It tastes and smells like cranberry jelly although the cooking process was a bit stinky. All told, this is something I would do again. Now back to putting the garden to bed for the winter.

Friday, September 21, 2012


With autumn advancing, we've been continuing the harvest. Sorry about the lack of photos--the camera went into the drink during a weekend canoe trip. A new camera has been purchased and I wanted to take some pictures of beans. I was inspired to plant some by Kevin Kossowan's harvest last year.

I think the clear winner this year were these red Mexican bush beans. They come out of the shell a lovely pink and then slowly darken as they dry towards the deeper red you'd see in a kidney bean. They are about half the size of a kidney bean. We have about half a litre dried and another third of a litre drying or still on the plant. I am keen to try them but I will admire them for awhile first.

We also planted some Ireland creek Anne beans. Meh. They are okay but I think I will try pinto beans next year instead. And we plants a bunch of painted lady beans (below). These are a large pole bean (lima sized) and took forever to set. Many are still too green to harvest and I'd like to see how they taste before deciding of they are worth doing again.

All told, we grew about two litres of beans in not very much space. I'm going to try to do some more next year (with fewer green beans!) as they are a good source of protein and they self-preserve. After cleaning potatoes and blanching carrots to freeze, this is a nice feature. After several hours of shucking, I will never look at a bag of beans the same way again. Next up: high bush cranberry jelly.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Potato harvest

This morning we decided to harvest the potato patch. All of the plants had basically died back. We likely could have left them in the ground another couple of weeks but there are many autumn projects awaiting attention so we decided to haul them out now when I had some time.

I dug and Jess picked and we had the bed (about 200 square feet) done in about 70 minutes. There were roughly 20 plants (a couple I'd dug earlier in the season), a mix of russet and blue caribe.

In the end, we had about 150lbs of potatoes. Not bad for $15 bucks worth of seed (so 10 cents a pound) and a bit of hoeing during the year. I keep thinking I should turn under more lawn to grow more potatoes--especially the useless 2000 square feet of boulevard grass on the south side of the house.

The russet were good sized and no sign of scab (which is good--I can then bring potatoes back to this bed in a couple of years). The blue caribe were crazy big. The picture below shows Jess (who is about five feet tall). Have a look at the potato closest to the camera in great-grandma's old steel tub.

We're also slowly harvesting the tomatoes (mostly for eating) and cucumbers and carrots. Each day I also go out and pull off the ripe bean pods and shuck them and leave them to dry. I think we'll do more beans next year.

We finally finished preserving the crab apples we picked down the lane. I made four jars of spiced crab apples (which turned out alright given this was my first try) and another three litres of crab apple jelly. About the only remaining canning I plan to do are high bush cranberry jelly--maybe this week if I can find the time.

I'm pretty chuffed that the only fruit we bought (u-picks) for canning this year were raspberries and strawberries. Swapping picking rights for future produce with the fellow down the lane was been quite useful (giving me an outlet for the seasonal glut from the garden).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crab apple jelly

The smell of crab apples as I was cycling down the lane last week took me back to my mother's epic crab apple jelly making in the 1970s. Our neighbour was more than happy to donate some of his apples and we made jelly this weekend.

I was surprised how pungent the juice was once we'd boiled the apples. The jelly itself was a snap compared to the work involved in jamming and we got just over two litres of jelly from a double recipe.

This still leaves us with quite a lot of crab apples so I think I will try to make some spiced crabs this evening. I always enjoy eating them but have never thought to make them. I also wonder about making some mint crab apple jelly since I expect the pint plant is about to pack it in for the year.

We made some late rhubarb jam the other day. The recipe called for baking the rhubarb and sugar in the over (to preserve the shape of the stalk) and then jar and process it. That did not set up very well and will likely end up on my oatmeal. We're also starting to blanch and freeze carrots (10 cups this afternoon) for stews this winter.