When reflecting on the progress of this homestead, I can’t help but feel satisfied with the growth. I don’t feel it day-to-day, or even month-to-month, but when I look at the year in its entirety, I smile with the accomplishments. At times I have to remind myself that there was nothing here; it was just pasture when I began. Now I have buildings, a greenhouse, gardens…
I have resolved that 2020 is the year for finishing those unfinished projects. There are plenty. Like the bathroom tile that is about 80% done or the shed that needs to be painted.
January brought a little bit of snow providing a quiet morning that you only get on a snow day to reflect on the progress and see the possibilities to be. Also, some stunning photographs.
I can see this windmill from my front windows and it is always showing me which way the wind is blowing. It appears that I get strong winds from the north, and also strong winds from the southeast. Hence Project Bees slated for 2020. I need to move the beehives to a new bee yard and protected from this wild wind. They don’t like the wind.
My neighbor’s house with glowing Christmas lights and a rising sun. So peaceful. Newly planted crabapples, maples and birch trees all look beautiful in snow.
A sleeping garden and sleeping chickens. I plan to expand the garden out this year and fortify the chicken coop with wire at ground level to keep the burrowing mice out. I’m feeding a whole nest of field mice.
Unfortunately, this snow only lasted two days. I’m going to miss this view. A new neighbor will be building near those trees in 2020. But they plan to build a cute little farmhouse and that makes me smile. They are also animal lovers and have horses, goats, etc. So happy camper right here!
The lavender is sleeping under a blanket of snow. I’m looking forward to making row markers identifying the different types of lavender. Another planned project to finish with my girlfriends.
The new year is off to a good start and I’m looking forward to sharing more!
I wish! It’s so deceiving because the sun is out and all I want to do is get into the gardens but it’s still too cold for planting. I know it’s just around the corner because the daffodils are beginning to pop up and are just about to bloom. I planted about 300 daffodil bulbs in 2016 and then another 200 in 2017. I sort have forgotten all the places I planted so this will be a fun surprise.
So check this out! I didn’t come up with this one my own. Thank you, Pinterest!
I know, right?! I had to share. The perfect solution and re-use for a pallet. I trimmed off about a foot and a half off the top, painted it for fun, and then screwed it into the studs. Viola! I can’t even tell you how much space this saves. If you’re like me, you have the Sahara Desert of garden tools that somehow expands further and further out. No more trying to line up the holes on the tools with the nails on the wall, either. You know what I’m talking about. I think because I can just plop it into the pallet bin, it will remain tidy.
I still have the trimmed off piece and I think I’m going to paint it and use it on the workbench. I’ll come back and let you know what I come up with.
I’ve had some people ask questions in a garden group about growing loofah and I promised I’d share my experience. It seems like loofah should come from the ocean, right? Well, it’s actually from the cucumber family and grows on a vine with a beautiful yellow flower.
I was having trouble with the pollination of some gourds in my garden the previous year, so I pollinated these myself. It’s a very long growing season so start as soon as your frost ends. Since I am now in the Pacific Northwest, I think I’ll grow in my greenhouse for the heat.
Let the loofah dry on the vine until the outer membrane is brown.
The ribs in the membrane have a string-like thread running along the length. Pull the thread and remove the membrane. Some of the seeds will begin to fall out so have a cloth spread out to catch them.
Whack the gourd into a bucket and catch all the seeds. Yay! More loofah seeds to plant and share with your friends. Your friends are definitely going to want to plant when they see your amazing loofah.
Rinse the loofah well.
One of the most amazing things I’ve noticed is that this homegrown and unprocessed loofa doesn’t mildew like store bought. I cut up with a good pair of scissors and place a piece in every bathroom shower. Don’t forget to put a few in the kitchen to scrub pots and pans. If you are a soap maker, pour soap to harden inside slices of loofa. Search Pinterest for more uses of this wonderful garden sponge.
You will have plenty to last the year or two and enough to share with all your friends.
I am so happy with my garden loofah. I’m told one can eat the fruit when small, but I let them grow and dry out because I wanted to harvest the loofah! Growing even one loofah plant will produce a life-time supply of seeds.
Loofah is part of the cucumber family with gourds and pumpkins. I know, crazy, right? A lot of people have told me they thought it was from the ocean. The vine is pretty and flowers profusely with yellow flowers. The male flowers in clusters that provide weeks of blooms per cluster.
The female flowers singularly and when pollinated, continues to produce the fruit.
Ants love the flowers and I just let them go about their business. They don’t affect the flowers, nor the fruit.
I planted in the spring and it grew up a post and across the gazebo; a long growing season. One plant produced three nice-sized fruits. There were a couple that did not get pollinated.
About two weeks ago, the fruit started to dry out on the vine. You want to pick the fruit when it’s dry, but not too dry. If will be easier to pull the skin off in one piece if it is not dried out completely. This one is brown, but a little soft, too.
Break off the end and begin peeling. The ribs are connected with a seriously strong string-like fiber. You could probably sew something together with that fiber! The skin peels off rather easily and you will see the seeds inside the fibrous membrane.
Check out how many seeds are inside each one. Just shake the loofah and the seeds will fall out at the ends.
I’ve been using loofah to exfoliate for years. Now that I have a nice supply of seeds, I will try out a piece of loofah at my kitchen sink because I’ve heard that it’s wonderful for cleaning dishes.
Several years ago I planted milkweed for the Monarchs to help on their migratory journey. Milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly. The Monarchs came.
No dot in the middle of the lower wing, so this is a girl.
I was so pleased when the butterflies laid eggs and hung out in my garden all summer; it was alive with activity.
The next year the milkweed self-sowed and popped up all over the garden. More Monarchs came. I registered my yard with the Monarch Waystation Program.
This year I have more Monarchs than every year before, counting at least 35 caterpillars this morning. I moved these guys to another milkweed plant. They devoured an entire plant and were left clinging to twigs. Luckily, milkweed recovers very quickly.
Relocating to milkweed that still has leaves.
This is the pupa. Isn’t it beautiful? The green is bright and there are little gold flecks and it looks like a gold thread has been sewn in near the top. (Click on photo to get a better view.)
Just before the Monarch butterfly emerges, the pupa turns clear and you can see the Monarch inside.
I watched how a caterpillar turns into a pupa and it was like a scene from a science fiction movie. I assumed they spun a little cocoon. Nope. The caterpillar splits open it’s back and this is inside. You have to see it for yourself! One year I put a milkweed plant in a pot with a tomato cage. I lined the cage with window screen to keep a caterpillar inside and took the pot to work to show everyone. The office, and even a few customers, gathered around to watch the show.
Just as fascinating is how the butterfly plops out with tiny wings and huge body. It takes about an hour for the wings to fill with fluid and expand large enough to carry the butterfly on its first flight.
Want to help the Monarchs? Want to bring butterflies to your garden? If you plant it, they will come. Find out more information about Monarch conservation at MonarchWatch.org.
“There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can.”
– Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic
If you walked into my house right now, you would smell the essence of fresh lavender. In June my lavender blooms. I may be lucky with a few more waves of blooming in my climate, but June reminds me of a summer vacation in 2002 where we stopped in Sequim, Washington on our way to Vancouver, Canada. I fell in love with lavender that day.
Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim, Washington (2002)
We filled our baskets with flowering lavender, sipped sweet lavender lemonade while rocking on a porch swing, and gazed upon the perfectly purple rows. My daughter said she never wanted to leave and my son (who was 14 at the time) said, “I’ve got to admit, this is a pretty cool place.” It was a perfect day.
Daughter and I harvesting our baskets of lavender. (2002)
The variety that I harvest at home for lavender wands and culinary purposes is English Lavender.
The stems are long and strong enough for crafts and arrangements. Daughter and I made wands today and even hubby learned how to make wands. Tutorial here.
After drying a few trays of lavender buds in the dehydrator, store in jars to give and use throughout the year in recipes like ice cream, lemonade and herbes de provence. Of course, you can always use it in homemade soaps and sachets.
Ahh, yes, the calming essence of lavender. Words cannot describe the taste of lavender. You just have to try it!
Pumpkin in the house!
We had a blind taste of pumpkin purée this evening with very surprising results.
1) Grocery store Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin purée
2) Libby’s canned pumpkin purée – 100% pumpkin with no additives
3) Homegrown Sugar Pie pumpkin purée
All three purées were similarly prepared. I baked both the homegrown and grocery store pumpkins and then processed and used an immersion blender for a smooth consistency. I did not add anything to the purées so it was just 100% pumpkin. Pumpkin is not a sweet squash, but a great addition to recipes.
First Place: Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin was the sweetest of the three and our favorite.
Second Place: Sugar Pie pumpkin. It was a close second behind the Jack-o-Lantern. This pumpkin was grown last year, processed and frozen until yesterday. It was good, but not quite as sweet as the Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin.
Third Place: Libby’s canned pumpkin. Bleh! Not nearly as good as the fresh pumpkin. Tasted a little like the can.
We did not try this year’s fresh homegrown Sugar Pie as I had already processed and froze it all.
I was sure the canned pumpkin was going to be the one to beat. Fresh pumpkin purée is easy to make and a favorite to use in recipes, but I was very surprised at the noticeable difference in taste. Easy to grow, but just as easy to use your Jack-o-Lantern after you’ve carved it for Halloween. We used a battery-powered candle inside the Jack-o-Lantern instead of a flamed candle. This keeps the pumpkin from “cooking” before I’m ready to process the whole thing. When carving your pumpkin, make sure you are thorough in removing the inside seeds and pulp and bake the next day because you don’t want fuzz to start to grow.
Halloween is here and I am busy with pumpkins! Homegrown sugar pie pumpkins have been refrigerated since ripening on the vine. I also bought a few large pumpkins from the grocery store for pumpkin seeds and roasting pumpkin to use later in the season.
Sugar Pie Pumpkin from the garden.
First up are the pumpkin seeds from the store-bought carving pumpkins.
This year I decided to look for a new pumpkin seed recipe; I searched through a lot of recipes. My family likes traditional roasted seeds so kicking it up with sweet or spicy isn’t an option. A few recipes call for boiling the seeds before roasting and this process seems to help with a nice, even salty flavor. Apparently, boiling also helps with digestion. The seeds were delicious, crunchy and gone before the night’s end.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Fresh pumpkin seeds
1. Carve your pumpkin, saving the seeds in one bowl and pulp in another bowl. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse well under water to remove all the remaining pulp.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2. Add seeds to a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. (For every 1 cup of seeds use 4 quarts of water and 3 Tablespoons of salt.) Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Drain the seeds and coat with 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Spread seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle salt over seeds. Roast seeds at 325 degrees until golden brown. Do not over bake and watch the seeds carefully so they do not burn.
Note from Whole Foods Market: “For spicy pumpkin seeds, mix 1/2 teaspoon each garlic salt, cumin, coriander and cardamom with seeds and oil before roasting. For sweet pumpkin seeds, mix 1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cloves and ginger and 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar with seeds and oil before roasting.”
Sugar Pie pumpkins are the preferred pumpkin for baking and I started growing my own last year. I freeze the pumpkin purée, but I’d like to try to pressure can it some day.
Fresh Pumpkin Purée
1. Break off the stem from the pumpkin. Slice each pumpkin in half from top to bottom with a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp into two separate bowls. Seeds will be saved for next year’s crop and pulp will go in the compost bin.
2. Place the pumpkins with cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° until soft, about an hour or more, depending on the size.
3. When pumpkins have cooled, scoop out all the flesh and place into a colander. Skins go into the composter. Let the flesh drain in the colander for an hour or two.
4. I like to put all of the purée into my Vitamix for a minute or two to get a really smooth texture.
5. Scoop pulp into a freezer bag or seal-a-meal. Label and freeze. Since recipes usually call for a 16-oz can, I like to freeze in two-cup increments.
Use the purée throughout the year, adding to soups, baked goods and smoothies. I have a wonderful pumpkin soup recipe that I’ll post later.
Golden Pumpkin Puree
After the Halloween festivities have died down, grab your Jack-O-Lanterns and process in your pressure cooker as follows:
Pressure Cooker, not to be confused with a pressure canner.
1. Cut up Jack-O-Lanterns into 4 to 5 inch chunks and place in your pressure cooker with one cup of water. Cook on High Pressure for 10 minutes. Release pressure, remove pumpkin and separate pulp from skin. We usually have a few pumpkins so it takes a few batches to cook it all. Process purée from nos. 3-5 above.
Last week was a week of corn. I froze corn – I canned corn kernels – I canned corn relish – I dehydrated corn. Five ears for $1.00 is a decent price for corn around here, so I filled my bag. Forty ears of corn for $8.00 produced 4 quarts of frozen corn kernels, 8 pints of pressure canned corn kernels, 6 pints of water bath canned corn relish and 1 pint of dehydrated corn. What a cost savings! I think next year I’ll put up more corn relish for family and friends because visitors are threatening to walk off with a jar or two.
By the way, here’s an awesome Pinterest tip: Cut corn from the cob by placing the ear of corn in the center of a bundt pan and run a knife down the cob. The kernels collect in the bundt pan. Works like a charm.
Want to bump up a hamburger or hotdog? This is the relish.
1. Get your water bath canner going with hot water and add your canning jars. Start another small saucepan with hot water for the seals. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove the silks and rinse. Cut kernels from cobs.
2. In a large stainless-steel heavy pot, combine 8 cups of corn kernels and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 4 to 5 minutes or until corn is nearly tender. Drain.
3. In the same pot, combine corn, celery, sweet peppers, and onion. Stir in vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickling salt, celery seeds, and turmeric. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 3 tablespoons water. Add to corn mixture. Over medium heat, stir until mixture is slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir for 2 minutes more.
5. Remove hot jars. Ladle hot relish into canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids, finger-tight.
6. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner and cool on a dish towel.
Corn Kernels Frozen
1. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove silks and rinse.
2. Blanch the corn cobs in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the corn and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
3. When cooled, cut kernels from cob.
4. Place corn kernels in freezer bags or Seal-A-Meal (corn will freeze in a solid chunk). If you want loose corn kernels, then spread out on a baking sheet and freeze. After frozen, remove from baking sheet, Seal-A-Meal in bags and label.
Raw Pack Corn Kernels Pressure Canned
6-8 pint canning jars
1. Start a large pot of water to boil. Add pint jars to pot to get hot.
2. Remove husks from corn. Scrub with a stiff brush to remove silks and rinse.
3. Cut kernels from cob. Scrape the cob to get the inner part of the kernels for a creamed corn.
4. Remove pint jars from hot water. Add cut kernels. Pour boiling water over the corn, leaving 1 inch headspace. Add seals and rings.
5. Follow your pressure canner instructions for processing. My canning instructions recommend processing the corn-filled pint jars for 55 minutes at 10 lbs. of pressure.
Corn Kernels Dehydrated
1. Start a large pot of water to boil.
2. Remove husks from corn. Scrub to remove silks and rinse.
3. Blanch the corn cobs in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the corn and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
4. When cooled, cut kernels from cob.
5. Spread corn kernels on a sheet in your dehydrator. Follow your dehydrator’s instruction manual for dehydrating vegetables. I have an Excalibur Dehydrator so I set on vegetable setting, 125° for 6-10 hours. Corn should be brittle.
There are just some things you have to know if you live in California. Making a decent salsa is one. Whether it’s a chunky tomato salsa, green salsa, or mango salsa, I don’t think it matters. It’s all good! Today I’m sharing our favorite chunky red tomato salsa recipe.
As you can see, I used a variety of garden heirlooms for this batch. Use whatever you have on hand.
10 Roma tomatoes, chopped*
6 tomatillos, steamed, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 chili peppers, seeded and chopped**
15 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Juice of one lime
salt, to taste
1 can tomato paste
Combine all ingredients in bowl. Remove about 2-3 cups from bowl and pulse in blender until pureed. Add mixture back to bowl. This adds a nice smooth texture; not too chunky and not too watery. You may want to add a bit more salt to taste. Refrigerate and stir before serving.
Makes about 1/2 gallon.
A big bowl of salsa.
* Roma tomatoes are a firm paste tomato and make a nice salsa. However, If you are using a variety of tomatoes, such as heirlooms, you may want to add more or less to the blender to get a preferred consistency.
** Depending on heat desired, use a variety of chilies (jalapenos, serranos, yellows), with or without seeds.
Basil is one of my favorite herbs. The smell alone sends me into a zen-like state. Did you know that you can grow basil from cuttings? You will want to pinch back your basil to keep it bushy, so why not use that pinch and start a new plant? I used to pinch it back at just the tops when it began to flower. However, a few years ago I learned from a hydroponics farmer that for a fuller plant, you actually want to pinch the stems lower, just above the node. So when you pinch it back you have a nice little cutting to root and grow into another beautiful basil plant. I don’t know about you, but the more basil, the better!
This basil top fell off the plant on the way home from the nursery. See the little roots forming?
Here’s some tips if you can’t use all your basil at once:
Freeze your fresh basil and you’ll have basil all winter. Use the frozen basil in your soups. Add with some strawberries to infuse an otherwise boring glass of water. Add frozen basil to smoothies.
Make a batch of pesto and freeze the extra pesto in ice cube trays.
Speaking of pesto, here’s the pesto recipe we use at our house. Use homegrown basil and parsley for the freshest taste.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, firmly packed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil or enough for desired texture
Place all ingredients except oil in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With processor running, pour oil into mixture. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.
We use pesto a lot.
Spread on sourdough baguette slices and put under the broiler until just bubbly.
Spread onto pizza dough with chicken and sliced mozzarella slices for a delicious chicken pesto pizza.
Add to a pot of hot pasta for a light and delicious quick dinner.
This was a good year for our little pomegranate tree.
It was also a good year for the birds that discovered the little pomegranate tree.
Thankfully I was able to steal away from the birds enough pomegranates for a few batches of jelly.
I usually use a simple recipe from a lovely book called, The Glass Pantry, by Georgeanne Brennan. This book would make a wonderful gift for any friend who enjoys canning; the photographs are gorgeous. However, this year I tried a new recipe that seemed to set a little better. Here’s the recipe with a few of my modifications.
4 cups of pomegranate juice
1 package of dry fruit pectin
1/3 cup bottled lemon juice
5 cups of sugar
1. Cut pomegranates in half. Squeeze each half in your juicer. Place juice in large jar and save mash in a large bowl. I like to use a food press to get every drop of juice. Hang a jelly bag over a bowl. Strain all the juice through the jelly bag. Let the strained juice sit overnight in the refrigerator. Toss the mash in your composter.
2. The next morning, you will notice a separation of juice and dregs. I don’t use the dregs in my jelly. Start your water bath canner heating up your water. I have to use bottled or spring water because our tap water is very hard. The hard water will give my canning jars a terrible white film. Start warming up another small saucepan of water for the lids.
2. Pour 4 cups of juice into a stainless steel, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the pectin and lemon juice and stir for several minutes to dissolve the pectin thoroughly. Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
3. Add the sugar and continue to stir constantly until the mixture is a rolling boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then begin to test for jell point. Alternatively, use a candy thermometer. Jelly is done when it reaches 220°.
4. Remove from heat. Ladle or pour hot jelly into prepared hot jelly jars to 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with damp cloth. Cover with lids and then the rings, finger tight.
5. Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and enjoy the pop of the jar lids. Label, remove rings and store jars in a cool, dark place.
Pomegranate jelly in the cupboard makes me very happy.
Just getting around to sharing the zucchini relish recipe we use. It’s a wonderful recipe and tastes like pickle relish so we use it on hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. In fact, now we don’t buy pickle relish from the grocery store.
4 to 4 1/2 lb. zucchini squash
2 medium onions
1 sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cut up vegetables and grind in food chopper using course blade. Add salt; cover and refrigerate overnight. Rinse well in cold water and drain well.
In 4 to 5 quart kettle, combine vegetable mixture and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring often. Ladle hot mixture into hot, clean pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s directions. Wipe jar rim. Adjust lid. Process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Start timing when water returns to a boil.