Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rose hips, cider and pumpkins

We've had a couple of really hard frosts this week that have finished off a number of plants in the back yard. The good news is that autumns brings with it new things to forage.

Jess and I went out after some rose hips this week. In the past, we've gathered high-bush cranberries and chokecherries, but she was keen to try rose-hip jelly and dried rose hips for tea this year.

Picking was easy as the valley is lousy with various rose plants. We haven't done much with the berries so far but I promised to jelly this afternoon. I also cut a few to give the tea a try.

In the basement, the cidering continues. On the left we have a batch that just finished the first ferment. The carboy is picking up some colour from the walls, but it is fairly pulpy after racking it off from the primary.

The carboy on the right has finished the second ferment, been racked off (leaving behind much of the pulp and yeast) and is bulk aging. You can (sort of) see the more jewel-like quality of its colour after six weeks of fermenting and clarifying.

I learned a lot this year about cidering, including the need for slightly more apples to get full carboys. The bunch on the left is also much nicer, being a blend of apples (better bouquet). A bit of mixing is likely in order once the fermenting finishes. We may try to make vinegar out of some after bottling the rest.

The frost melted the squash patch on Friday morning so we hauled the one big (20lbs) pumpkin we got in to harden up some for a jack-o-lantern. We bought a couple of smaller pumpkins and processed them for muffins during the winter. I've also gotten my bread pans out. If the rain stops today, I plan to harvest the rest of the beets and work on the last remaining big bed. I'm also going to call for a tree removal estimate this week out front so we can finish the landscaping out there before the snow flies.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Potato harvest

The potato patch has pretty much died back and I'm keen to get the beds reorganized for next year so we went out last night to dig Russian blues.

Jess was excited as we got a good haul. The potatoes were, on average, smaller than the blue caribe and they grew in a more diffuse manner. I'm not sure we'd grow these again next year--I might like to try something a bit more traditional.

In any event, these are on the back deck hardening up a bit along prior to storage. Alongside are a bunch of sunflower heads I cut off last night. These are Himalayan giants and the stalks and heads live up to their name. I'm reaching up about seven feet in the photo below and we'll be saving some seed for next year.

Poking around out back I see some of the garlic we planted a few weeks ago is up. And the photo also suggests the bed needs a bit of weeding!

As we were hauling in the last of the tomatoes and goodly amount of beans, I noticed the butternut squash plant finally produced some fruit! This plant got hailed into oblivion this summer so I'm surprised it survive, let along fruited. I expect we're too late in the season to get anything other than a couple of novelty gourds from it.

I've spent the day over-roasting tomatoes and I'm hopeful we'll get a chance to go rosehip and crab apple picking this week. It also looks like the second batch for apple cider is finishing the first ferment so I will likely rack it off to a carboy this weekend.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Jasper community garden

I love community gardens and I got a chance to wander through the Jasper community garden this weekend. The Jasper garden is the work of the Jasper Local Food Society.

It is amazing to see such a diverse set of gardens in a location with such a short growing season. There are about 50 beds here and many folks have expanded beyond their bed by colonizing grassy areas between their bed and the fence. Some stuff struggled (corn, for example) but all of the usual suspects seemed to be doing quite well.

The fence is also impressive, keeping out the local elk population. An elf fence puts my own woes with slugs in context, doesn't it? :)

Even with snow dusting the peaks on Sunday morning, there were gardens full of frost hardy plants (as well as lots of tomatoes). Now back to my own potato digging!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Roasted roots with Russian blue

I pulled the first Russian blue potatoes out of the ground this afternoon (plats are dying off) and threw them into some roasted roots for dinner tonight. They are the mauve-ish chunks with the black skin, not the reddish beets. All told, a colourful dish all from the garden.

There is a tiny bit of scab on these so no luck using them as seed for next year. But the haul looks good so we'll eat well for the autumn. I've also canned some more salsa and brought the tomatoes on the window sill down to manageable numbers. Today was the first day it felt like fall and I'm now motivated to get moving on finishing up a few more beds.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cider, tomatoes, pumpkin and soil

It has been a busy week, capped off by a morning of cidering in the garage. I managed to press another four gallons and it is in the basement fermenting. Different apples yielded a much sweeter cider, with a higher specific gravity. I decided against killing the natural yeast but I did hit it with some store-bought yeast as well. Fingers crossed. Of course, apple cider vinegar is also nice... .

I did a small fruit pick this weekfor Operation Fruit Rescue and also turned 60 medium-sized paste tomatoes into five 500ml jars of tomatoes for the winter. Each time I make preserves I reminded how convenient it is to go to the store and but a flat of 26oz cans of whatever I want.

We dried a bunch of mint for tea and some chard and beet greens for smoothies this morning. I also brought myself to pick the final (and only) bell pepper of the summer (hail and slugs getting the rest). I see there are a few hot papers out there still.

The pumpkin patch will yield one pumpkin this year. But it is a big one (beach-ball sized) and bears the scars of eight hail storms. But no signs of rot and it is hardening up nicely.

The strawberry patch is also putting on a late-season push. The berries are not numerous but they are delicious.

And, as we harvest the veggies and open up the canopy, the marigolds are flowering again. These are brilliantly, almost impossibly orange amid the green, yellow and grays of the garden.

I know a picture of dirt is dorky, but I was putting three raised beds behind the garage down for the winter. They need a bit of bone meal and lime still, but the till of the soil is crazy good. You can stick you hand in up to your wrist before it starts to get difficult. This bed will have sugar beets next year.

I see we have another batch of tomatoes ripening on the window sill and the last of the zucchini (euthanized the plants--enough already!) so maybe I'll make salsa. Jenn made the entire dinner from our garden (roasted roots, salad) excepting some leftover biscuits I made Thursday night.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sunflowers, muffins and potatoes

I've started to cut down some of the larger sunflower heads to dry for seed next year (and to fill the feeders this winter). The birds are already pulling the seeds out which nicely shows how the flowers die off and the seeds drop out.

Jenn and Jess baked this weekend, with the back raspberries giving these muffins a dark colour. A friend has kindly donated a second chest freezer, thereby alleviating the fall freezer space crunch. I'm thinking about putting this one in the garage. If we only run it from September to March, it shouldn't add to much to the electrical bill (the unheated and insulation-free garage is cold!). It is just starting to spin up so I'll move some apples out there shortly.

It is hard to convey the size of some of Jess' potatoes. I decided to can the bigger ones and here they are against a quart (1 litre) jar for scale.

Pressure canning went well but I did have a couple of lid failures (unusual). I was careful about the jars and not over filling them. Perhaps the lids were duds. Or it was just a freak accident. Anyhow, we'll be having potatoes the next few nights to use the failed jars up.

Now off to suss out some more apples.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Garlic in, potatoes out

Before the rain drove us inside for the afternoon, Jess and I puttered for a couple of hours. She put in four heads of garlic for next year. There were two white (regular and German) and two red (Maxican and Russian?) and, since they will likely poop out in mid-July, we tried to plan ahead and put them in a spot where we could get a late crop of beets off. 

You can see the last of the potato patch behind her--these fellows still need a couple of weeks of growth and then we'll yank them out and extend the rows the full length of the bed for next year. I did quite a lot of digging last night in a different bed and can certainly feel it this morning!

We also harvested the last of the blue caribe potatoes this afternoon as well as some feral russets. The ones that overwintered in the garden produced some big ass potatoes. The one Jessica is hold is about the size of a commercial sweet potato and, even quartered, would likely be more than you'd want on your plate. 

I was thinking of canning these big ones (since they will tricky to fit into my storage space). The tiny ones I'm going to plunk in the front yard and see what happens over the winter.

We also picked some more beans, which we need to shell tonight, right after we figure out how to get the beet seeds off the stems (these have been drying in my office for a week). While we turned potatoes into salad for dinner, I hauled out the food dryer to replicate Sherri's idea for winter smoothies.

I was surprised how quickly these dried out and also how little space they took up once I crushed them. I also pulled half the celery. The slugs made a mess of the stalks (hopefully the other half is in better shape) but the leaves (leafs?) I blanched and frozen for soup stock later on. I think I'll cider next weekend so I will have some room open up in the freezer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Beans, sauerkraut and carrot soup

The Mexican bush beans are starting to dry out and we harvested the early ones last night. Most could still use a few days of drying in the window. It is exciting to collect our own seed each year. The scarlet runner beans are are a ways from harvest but it should be impressive when it happens--the one plant we have has dozens of pods, each nine to twelve inches long!

Joining the beans on the window ledges are many, many paste tomatoes (about half shown below). Most I have hauled in green to keep them from the slugs. The gradual reddening of the window sill bodes well for a canning spree next week. And I'm hopeful to get a second batch of cider started next weekend as well, having racked off the first batch this week.

I'm also trying a second batch of sauerkraut in the cupboard after I was inattentive with the first batch.

I'm continuing to spend a lot of time in the yard getting the beds reorganized and ready for next year. Fortunately Jessica is picking up the slack in the kitchen. Yesterday she made carrot soup exclusively with stuff from the garden (and a small bit of ginger). This weekend I'm thinking another batch of borscht and perhaps drying some beet leaves.

We'll be doing a bit more work this weekend as we slowly lift the potatoes and empty the carrot beds. Jenn blanched and froze a dozen cups last weekend but we're tight on freezer space until I move the cidering apples out next week. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Salsa, borscht and sauerkraut

After a couple of days of apple sauce and apple butter and apple cider, we decided to do something that had no apples in it! Although, after last nights OFRE pick, the back deck is again awash in apples and there are still small piles of apples on ever surface in the kitchen.

A look in the zucchini patch meant more zucchini salsa, about half of which I pressure canned for later. Jenn also made borscht while I tried my hand at sauerkraut. Assuming I have the gas (...), I will also try some fermented coleslaw this afternoon.

We received a gift of cherry tomatoes so most of these were oven-roasted yesterday while other things were underway on the stove-top.

The pantry (well, the closet in my office) is starting to look like it is in pretty good shape. I have a bunch of tomatoes ripened that we'll can later in the year. Plus potatoes and carrots for the basement cold room.

The next major challenge will be figuring out how to make sugar out of the sugar beets. But that can wait a couple of weeks while I deal with the apples on the deck.