Archive for October, 2012

Double Covered Hoop Tunnel

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Carrots in Hoop Tunnel

I planted a bed of carrots and beets on August 12th.  Here are the carrots, eleven weeks later.  They’re doing great and we’re harvesting some fairly large ones, already.  The beets are doing just fine, too.   I’m hoping to keep the harvest going well past when the hard freezes set in by using a low hoop tunnel with two protective layers.

Hoop Tunnel

The outside frame of the tunnel is covered with clear poly sheeting.  Directly over the carrots and beets is a layer of agricultural fabric.   I saw a talk given by Elliot Coleman where he described how he uses similar systems to get carrots to grow through the winter in Maine.  All I want to do is get them to last into December.  We’ll see how it goes, but I think I’ll be happy with the results.  These hoop tunnels are easy to construct, and easy to set up, take down, and move around.  The basic instructions for setting up a hoop tunnel  are here.

Reallygoods Live up to Their Name

Friday, October 19th, 2012

It’s not often that I feel the need to shout to the world how great a product is, but I’ve wanted to do just that about Reallygoods for quite some time. I first encountered Reallygoods about a year and a half ago when Noel and I were on a road trip through central Wisconsin. Our longtime family friends, Chris and Steve McDiarmid, were the proprietors of a food and wine shop in the village of Coloma, and we decided we should take a quick break from our travels to stop in and say hello.

During our visit, I noticed a small stack of interesting looking nut bars loaded with coconut, macadamia nuts, raisins, and more. I decided I needed to grab a few for road snacks. Chris then told me how they had been making their raw “things” for family members for quite a while, and they were so popular that they started selling them in their shop. Noel and I grabbed a couple for ourselves, and we made sure we had an extra one to take back home to Judy.

Some miles down the road I took the wrapper off my “fruit and nut thing” and took a few bites. It was not what I expected. I mean, I expected to like it, but I certainly didn’t expect to LOVE it. I’ve had plenty of other raw fruit and nut bars before, and they’re usually… well, they’re usually just OK. Other raw fruit bars are often dense, chewy, and healthy-tasting – a decent snack to be sure, but not necessarily habit-forming. This was delicious and sweet but not overly so. It had a satisfying crunch, but there was still the right amount of chewiness. It was almost like a cookie. After a few more mouthfuls I turned to my dad and said, “Wow. This is really good!”

Through an amazing assertion of willpower on my part, the final “thing” managed to make it home to Judy. Surprising absolutely no one, she loved it, too.

We knew we wouldn’t make the hour and a half trip to Coloma very often, so we started ordering our snack things by the case. Last year, Judy ordered enough to make sure everyone in our extended family had a tasty stocking stuffer for the holidays.

Meanwhile, Chris and Steve knew they were onto something. They decided to shutter the doors to their wine shop and make a go of producing and selling Reallygoods, as they had come to be known. During that process, we were honored to be product testers while Chris and Steve perfected their recipe. Samples were sent to us with each new tweak. It was a rough gig.

Now, finally, Reallygoods are ready for market, and I can’t wait to see them on grocery store shelves everywhere. While we wait for that to happen, you can always order them online from the Reallygoods website. There’s even a monthly subscription plan for addicts like me.

Sauerkraut in a Quart Jar

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Finished Sauerkraut

It’s never too late to learn something new.  I’ve always wanted to try making my own sauerkraut or ‘fermented cabbage’ as they say now days.  I did try making it in a quart jar a couple of years ago but when I saw a little mold on top I threw it out and never tried again.  What I didn’t know at the time was that you could scrape the white mold off the top and the cabbage underneath the liquid was perfectly fine to eat.

Last spring I sat in on a fermentation workshop at Willy Street Coop in Madison, WI, with Mike Bieser of Fizzeology.  He showed the group how to prepare 6 lbs of vegetables – 90% of which must be cabbage and 10% can be other veggies & herbs, for a gallon size jar of fermented goodness.  Though I liked all his product types I had a particular fondness for the ‘Cortido’ which was flavored with a little lime juice, cilantro and oregano among other things, so I bought and brought home a jar of it.

I also came home with an empty gallon jar to start my own fermented cabbage and a smaller insert jar the size of a herring jar for pushing the vegetables below the liquid.  Rather than buying vegetables to fill the jar I chose to wait until our garden produced the necessary ingredients.

Before I got the chance to fill up the gallon jar, Noel & I attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, in September.  Another well-known fermentation expert, Sandor Ellix Katz, aka Sandorkraut, author of ‘Wild Fermentation’ was giving a talk on Fermentation, Culture and Coevolution.  Of course I had to attend – you can’t have too much information when trying the unknown!

While he was talking he shredded some green and red cabbage – about 2 lbs. for a quart jar – and massaged it by hand with about a teaspoon or so of salt.  After about 15-20 minutes of massaging he picked up a handful and squeezed it over the bowl.  When the juices run down like you’re wringing out laundry then it’s ready to pack in the sterilized jar.  He packed the cabbage down tightly and filled the jar to about ½” from the top, making sure that the liquid rose above the cabbage.

Massaging Cabbage

Okay, here’s where I start – with a picture of me squeezing my salt macerated home-grown cabbage.  After I packed it down into the jar I used a smaller jar, to push against the cabbage.  Anything clean and sterile that will keep it below the liquid can be used.  If the item is tall enough, i.e. a little higher than the top of the jar, the non-metallic cover, when screwed on, will push against the jar thus squeezing the mixture down.  When the cover is in place set the jar on the counter to let the cabbage ferment.  The warmer the temperature the faster it ferments.  Once a day loosen the cover to vent (or burp) the jar and let the gases escape.

After about 4 days the ferment can be ready to eat.  Taste it and see what you think, making sure to pack remaining cabbage down below the liquid.  You can refrigerate it at this point or continue to let it ferment more at room temperature.  It will get more acidic and sour and softer the longer it is not refrigerated.  It’s all a matter of experimentation and taste!




Year Old Sweet Potatoes for Dinner

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Year Old Sweet Potatoes

Continuing the discussion of sweet potatoes which I started  with a post about my harvest a couple days ago, these are the last two sweet potatoes from the 2011 harvest.  Sweet potatoes, when stored properly, last a long time.  We’ve frequently kept them well over a year.  Getting a crop to last that long without having to freeze or can makes sweet potatoes ideal for the home grower.

Our storage method is simple.  Lay out the sweet potatoes to dry for two weeks.  We spread them out on the kitchen floor under the kitchen table.  After drying, wrap the large and medium sized tubers individually in newspaper.  Use up the small,  stringy, and damaged tubers first.  They will not store well.  It’s smart to save the bigger ones for last.  Store the wrapped  potatoes in a cool dry place.  We keep ours in a cooler area of our heated basement.

Baked Sweet Potato

Judy baked the two potatoes on a cookie sheet for an hour at 400o.  Served with butter, they were delicious.

Best Sweet Potato Harvest Ever!

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Six Pounds From One Plant

With frost forecast for later this week and knowing that I would be out of town, I decided to harvest my sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes cannot tolerate frost, so I did not want to take a chance on losing any of my crop.

Sweet Potatoes Ready to Harvest

I had previously put a clear plastic cover over the bed as we had some nippy temperatures a week ago.  The leaves under the plastic were already showing black from the previous frost and wilting badly, so I didn’t think I would lose anything by pulling the plants out, now.

Vines Cut Off Using Pruning Loppers

I figured out several seasons ago that the easiest approach to harvesting is to remove all the vines at once.  I cut them off using pruning loppers.  It’s then very easy to lift off the protective black plastic and start harvesting.

A Plastic Ring Protects the Vines

I knew a good harvest was in store when I saw several big spuds protruding from the soil.  The plastic ring in the picture is placed around the sweet potato start when it is first planted in late May.  The ring protects the start from wind and insect damage and also keeps the black plastic cover from accidentally covering up or damaging the start.  It also makes it very easy to water the small plants.  I think it’s a great aid to getting the plants established without problems.

Using the CobraHead to Help Harvest

Sweet Potatoes are exceptionally delicate when they are first harvested.  It’s easy to snap them in half and even easier to accidentally  scar their skin with digging tools.  I use a garden fork to loosen up the soil around them, but the final dig out is accomplished with the CobraHead.  These potatoes are growing in really hard clay and even though I’ve worked in a lot of straw and compost to soften it up, it still packs tight.  The CobraHead lets me dig around and under the plants to get them loose with a minimal amount of damage.

A Bountiful Harvest That Will Last A Year

Here is most of the harvest.  The yield was over 82 pounds of good, usable sweet potatoes.  That’s over a 4.5 pound per plant average yield.  I had one plant that weighed over seven pounds.  I read online that the agricultural average is 2.5 pounds per plant on the high side, so we did okay.

I’ve since moved all these potatoes onto the kitchen floor where they are laid out on newspapers to dry.  After two weeks of drying, we’ll wrap each larger and medium sized spud in newspaper and store it in the basement.  We use the little ones up first.  We’ve easily gotten sweet potatoes to last a year in storage.  Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious plants one can eat.  Growing a crop that lasts a year in easy storage conditions, is good to eat, and is good for you makes a lot of sense for the home grower.

Salted Sunflower Seeds

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Mammoth Sunflowers

I grew a half dozen Grey Stripe Mammoth sunflowers this year and decided to save some seed for snacks.  These monster  plants are not the tallest sunflowers one can grow, but they are tall enough, and the mature seed heads are well over a foot across.  This seed came from Botanical Interests.  Mammoth Grey Stripe is an old, open pollinated variety, so I can save a few of these to grow again, next year.

Ripe Sunflower Seed Head

The seeds were just starting to let go from the heads and become food for the birds when I cut them all off with pruning loppers.

Removing the Seeds is Easy

Removing the seeds was easily done by rubbing them out with a gloved hand.  I just let them fall into a five gallon bucket to collect them.

Sorting the Seeds

We got over a gallon of seeds from the six large heads.  I did a little online research, but I didn’t find any reference as to a quick and easy way to separate the good seeds from the ones not worth saving and the debris from the flower head.  I ended up dumping about a pint of seeds at a time onto a cookie sheet and just hand picking out the good seeds while moving all the chaff and bad seeds to the other side of the sheet.  It was a little time consuming, but not that  hard.  Judy and I each took turns sorting a pile of seeds to break up the monotony.

Soaking in a Salt Bath

We salted and oven dried most of the seeds.  The method cited online in several sources calls for soaking the seeds in a solution of a cup of salt to a gallon of water.  We soaked them overnight, stirring them frequently, and dried them on cookie sheets in the oven at 200o for about four hours.

Dried Sunflower Seeds

Here is the finished product.  A gallon of seeds, lightly salted.  We’ll have snacks for several months to come and we’ll have plenty to give away, too.