Saturday, July 2, 2016

A new garden and canning season!

The garden takes up a lot of time.  I have eleven 4' by 10' raised beds, as well as a garden on my vacant lot about 60 yards away on Russell Ave.  The Russell garden is 1/2 asparagus, 1/4 strawberries, and 1/4 winter squash and zucchini, so there is not a lot of maintenance over there.  I do have to take a wagon load of buckets of water there to water the squash and zucchini.  The asparagus and strawberries do pretty well with just what it rains.

I had a pretty good asparagus crop.  Strawberries were okay; I need to plant more to replace the ones damaged by the fence installation.  The problem is, the fence cuts out most of the sunlight, so the plants grow a lot of leaves (searching for sun), but not a lot of berries.  I think I'll replant this summer (I have the plants but haven't planted them yet) and see what the crop looks like next year.

I have already harvested cherries from my dwarf cherry tree; the other tree is not quite ready.  I   don't use any spray on the cherries, and this year, about 1 in 10 cherries had a worm in it which ruins the cherry.  So as I was pitting about 4 pounds of cherries from that tree, I'd squeeze out the pit and open the cherry to see if it was okay.  The worms make the inside of the cherry black and nasty.  Every time I opened a bad one, I'd have to wash the nasty off my hands.  It took a long time to pit the cherries and freeze them!  I'm hoping the other cherry tree won't be as bad.  Last year, I didn't have a worm problem at all.

Yesterday, I picked the currant bush.  After processing the seeds and stems out, I was left with two quarts of juice, so I'll make that into currant jelly today or tomorrow, or freeze the juice for later.  Here's the bowl of currants before I sorted through them and took out the leaves.

Once I did that, I heated up the berries, then put them through a food mill to get rid of the seeds and stems.  Currant seeds are too big and hard to eat.  When I make raspberry jam, I leave the seeds in, but process them out to make raspberry jelly.

My big project yesterday was making turkey bratwurst.  My brother, Cliff, raised broad-breasted (BB) turkeys two years ago, and they got REALLY BIG but were pretty tasteless.  Last summer, I convinced him to try some heritage turkeys, Bourbon Reds.  I bought the birds and feed, and he and Rosa raised them, for a 8 to 4 split (I got 8, he got 4).  He thought I was crazy, because compared to the turkeys he raised the summer before, the Bourbon Reds grew at a snail's pace and only got about a third as big as the BB turkeys.  But after he tasted one, he said he'd never eat any other kind of turkey, and this summer we're splitting 22 Bourbon Reds.  We started out with 24, but two died in the first couple days, which is not uncommon.  Cliff and Rosa really didn't want to do turkeys again, because they had ordered 30 free-range, heritage chickens for meat.  So I said I'd raise the poults (baby turkeys) and help build a new turkey coop.  Little did I know how much trouble it would be to raise the poults!!

I thought I just had to get a box and feed and water them.  I didn't know that they had to be kept at an exact temperature for the first six weeks, very warm (95-100 degrees F the first week) and then gradually reducing the temperature week by week.  My plan was to keep them in the garage, which is really just a metal shed.  Due to a misunderstanding between Cliff and I, I had no box to keep them in.  I thought he was going to give me a box, but he just gave me heat lamps and feeders/waterers, and this was the night before I was going to pick them up.  So I went online looking for a large plastic bin and found a suitable one at Home Depot.  I had a board meeting that evening, and was going to go to Home Depot afterwards.  But my friend Allan said he had exactly what I was looking for, and I went to his house after the meeting and got the exact bin I was going to buy.  So here's the poults at day two, when they were just a week old:

What I didn't know about poults is they about double in size (it seems) every few days.  Within four days, I needed a new brooder box.  It was Memorial Day weekend, and I couldn't get ahold of Steve Berg, from Little Bend Heritage Turkeys in Chatfield, MN, to get a picture of his brooder box and dimensions, so I had to wing it.  I researched how big a box I would need for poults up to 8 weeks, and decided to build one 8 feet by 3 feet.  Handy with tools, but really having no idea what I was doing, I built this:

The handles at the bottom make it easy to carry.  I put three frames of hardware cloth on hinges on the top.  Problem was, this was way too big to keep at 95 degrees.  Also, I shouldn't have put the doors on top, because I didn't want to put the box on the floor, I had it on a table.  The garage itself wasn't working, because it would get cold at night, like 60 degrees, and then when the sun hit the room in the morning, it would spike up to 90 degrees.  I came home from church a few days after I had built it, and the temp in the box was 125 degrees.  Way too hot!  The poults liked the box, though, and were tearing around it trying to fly.
 The big box and garage were not working.  By this time, I had gotten ahold of Steve Berg, and he said the box was too big, I'd have too much trouble controlling the temp.  He sent me a photo of his brooder boxes, and the dimensions, 2' by 4'.  So I built a whole new box, 2' by 6'.  I added the extra 2' because he had a separate addition for food and water at the end of his.  Here are his:

Here's my new brooder box.  The front has two large hinged doors.

Yes, this is inside, not in the garage.  I couldn't control the temp in the garage.  Here are the poults a week before I took them out to Cliff's.  They are big.
Jeffrey Swainhart went out to Cliff's three full days last week, and we (Cliff, Rosa, Jeff, and I) built a brand-new turkey coop.  Will expand on this later. 
So anyway, I got off on a tangent about turkeys.  I spent most of yesterday grinding up turkey breasts from Cliff's BB turkeys from 2014, added five pounds of ground pork belly (uncut, uncured bacon) to 17 pounds of turkey breast (which was skinless, so no fat in it), and loads of garlic and spices.  Now I have 22 pounds of bratwurst meat ready to stuff.  Got to get going!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Winding up the canning season

I made ketchup today for the first time.  I used the recipe in "Putting Food By" and it turned out really well.  Quite spicy, not hot, but had cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and celery seed.  I didn't add any sugar or sweetener at all, and it was plenty sweet without any addition.  I started with 24 cups of tomatoes and ended up with 8 cups of ketchup.  The directions said to simmer until reduced by half.  I simmered all night and it had reduced by 2/3s, but it was the right consistency, so I left it as it was.  That's probably why is was sweet enough without added sugar.  If I get enough tomatoes, I may make another batch, but make it more like barbecue sauce.  I don't eat a whole lot of ketchup, but I do eat it on my homemade bratwurst and fried smelt.  I had been buying the Heinz reduced sugar ketchup, but it's expensive and only sold in 13 oz. bottles.  My homemade ketchup still probably has more carbs than I would like, but it all comes from the tomatoes and not added HFCS, sugar, or sucralose.  The spiciness turned out to be a good thing for my taste buds. 
I had already canned 60 pints of pickled string beans.  Sounds like a lot, but I eat a pint a week, mostly on salads, and I use the juice to make my own salad dressing.  This year I canned 30 pints of salsa, and 24 half-pints of pizza sauce.  I don't eat pizza crust anymore, but make my own pizza by baking Mama Lupa's low-carb tortillas in the oven, and then using that as the crust.  I eat those for breakfast a lot.  I made 5 quarts of dill pickles, and 7 pints of mini-dill pickles.  I had tried to make currant jelly this year, but it didn't set properly, probably because I used too little sugar.  But it is still very good as a syrup for ice cream or pancakes.  I even used it in making lamb bratwurst.  The recipe called for pomegranate juice, which was $10 a quart (for organic at the local food co-op).  I thought my own currant syrup would be a good substitute, and it was.  I still had 24 pints of plain canned tomatoes from last summer, so that should be enough to get me through until next summer.  Last summer I had tons of tomatoes and canned a lot of them.  I didn't make any pasta sauce this year because I still have enough from last year.  I'll eat things I canned for two years after I canned them without any worries.
I froze a lot of raspberries from my first crop a month ago.  My second crop isn't very big, and what is there is being consumed by yellow jackets.  Since I'm moderately allergic to bee stings, I haven't been fighting the hornets for the raspberries too aggressively.  Lucy, my dog, has been eating both the raspberries and the hornets.  I know she gets stung, but it doesn't stop her from snapping at the bees and hornets.  I was going to make some raspberry jam from my second crop, but I'm not sure I'll get enough.  I give the jam away and don't eat it myself because of the sugar content, so my brother-in-law will miss it, but I won't.  I'll use the frozen raspberries in smoothies.
The weeds took over a lot of the garden by mid-summer.  I just haven't kept up with the weeding.  I'm hoping a new friend I made, Billy, will help me out by working a couple days a week for me. 
I've been eating a lot of bratwurst this summer, and I ran out of sauerkraut!  After I made the last batch and it was done at the end of June, I was lazy and didn't get a new crock going until August.  I usually get about 5 quarts of sauerkraut from the crock, and I've never run out before, since it only takes 4-6 weeks to ferment.  But since I didn't make it, it didn't ferment.  I had to buy some from the grocery store a couple days ago to get me through the next two weeks, and the stuff I bought tasted terrible!!  And it was a good brand in the refrigerator section!  People have raved about my kraut, and I guess I've always taken it for granted because I don't eat any other.  But after tasting some commercial kraut, I really appreciate own.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A beautiful fall day

The end of October and it's sunny and mid-60s.  Lucy and I are headed out for our daily walk, over to and around Wirth Lake, about 3 miles total.  She loves going for walks, and jumps up on the back door as soon as she sees me with her leash.  This morning, she was eating the last of the raspberries off the bushes.  Not only did she eat the ones within reach, but would jump up and grab the high canes with her mouth, pull them down, and strip the raspberries off of those also.  Whenever I go out picking the raspberries, she's a step ahead of me trying to eat the ripe ones before I can pick them.  It was a good year for my raspberries.  I had a good crop in August, then another one in late September, and they're still going.  I froze a lot of them; also made some raspberry jam.  This year I made some fantastic currant jelly (lots of work for not much jelly) from my current bushes.  I didn't get very many strawberries, though.  I had my fence put in late June, just when they were starting to ripen, and the workers pretty much destroyed my bed putting in the fence.  I was expecting that to happen, so I ordered new strawberry plants, and replanted the bed for next year.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Updated Photos

Been a long time since I've written on the house. A lot has been done on the outside now. The cistern has been hooked up the past two summers, and I use a shallow well pump to pump out the water to use in the garden. I have a total of 11 raised beds to grow vegetables in. Three are on the south side; two of those have asparagus in them. The other 8 are in the back yard, where I rotate vegetables. All the raised beds are 4' by 10' and made of black plastic lumber. A local Minnesota company, Bedford Technologies, makes the lumber out of plastic milk jugs.

Building the raised beds on the south side; spring, 2010

 Raised beds 2011, after sidewalks were put in.
Here are the eight beds in the back yard.  At this point, I hadn't put any pathways in.

Alex putting in landscaping timbers in the front yard.  The front yard once had a small hill in front, which I took out to expose the basement windows in front.  The front yard overall is higher than the sidewalk, so I needed to have some sort of wall. 


Friday, July 30, 2010

Long Overdue Update

Wow, it's been 3 1/2 months since I've written on my blog. I just got worn out from working full-time, taking care of my mom, and trying to finish things up around the house, especially the landscaping. There were just so many things left undone when we moved in.
One of the biggest things holding me up has been the damned cistern. I couldn't fill in the hole over it until I had connected the drain pipes from the south roof. Alex and I dug out trenches for the tubes in early May. Then it rained and rained, and rained so much that the trenches, which were dug in hard-as-a-rock clay, collapsed. I had temporarily set the tubes in the trenches to catch the rainwater, but hadn't glued them together because it started raining when I was ready to do that. Then it rained every weekend for six weeks or so. The picture below shows the trench I dug from the downspout to the cistern. Alex is working on the area where the overflow tube is going to go from the cistern along the south side of the house to the front yard rain garden (one of the last things which will be finished).
Alex got about halfway, working with a pickax before the rains came.

I bought two peach trees from McKay Nursery in Wisconsin. This is called the McKay peach tree and it's meant for zone 4. I had to use a post hole digger to dig holes to put them in, to loosen up the dirt so the roots would be able to spread out. The tree in the foreground never got any green on it, and I think it's dead. The one near the porch is thriving, though.

My goal for the summer of 2010 was to get all my perennials in, both fruit, vegetables, and flowers. I wanted to get the yard landscaped, all the raised beds in, and put a living fence put along the driveway to block out Olson Memorial Highway. I wanted to get walkways put in, especially the one from the front sidewalk to the front door, the porch built, and the patio and pergola done. Oh, and put in the living roof on the main house and the porch roof. And I wanted to be sure to have a full vegetable garden so I could do my canning this year. Also, I scheduled about 7 quite large social events at the house. Did I mention that I work full-time in a demanding job and I take care of my mom, who lives with me?
I got two asparagus beds put in. I planted strawberries along the retaining wall, and they should produce a good crop next year. I did get a garden in, but it hasn't been doing too well because it rains every weekend I have time to work in it. So the weeds totally took over and nearly drowned out everything.
I have four or five rhubarb plants, and quite a few raspberry plants, and a couple blueberry plants, all holding space in the back garden, awaiting transplant to a permanent location. I plan on putting them in some raised beds in the back, if I ever get the cistern hole filled in. I have about six or so grape vines, waiting for the pergola to be put in, so they can climb up it. I have about 8 lilac trees growing in pots, waiting for the front to be landscaped. My friend Jan gave me two great hostas about three months ago, but they are still in pots.
The cistern is still making a mess of the back yard because there's still a hole there messing everything up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pictures of Inside; back temp ramp completed

Okay, the first picture below shows the living room before, then the third below shows current. The picture below shows the "before" view from the living room to the kitchen. The fifth picture down shows the current view.
Front bedroom/office. My sister was visiting, and we were doing things around the house.
Current view of kitchen from the living room through the dining room.
Mom's setting the table for a family get together.
The back deck at the start of the project. It rained the night before, so it's just mud. We're putting together pipes in the foreground for the railing.
My brother Cliff and sister-in-law Rosa. Cliff is sawing off a piece of cement that was in the way of where the pavers would go. I laid fabric on top of the soil, then we put some rock on top of that.
Then I put more fabric on top, so I could put sand on top of that. The stacks of pavers are VAST pavers, made of recycled tires. They look like bricks, but are very light. You buy them in 1 foot square grids, at $7.99 a square foot. Even though they are made here in Minneapolis, you have to buy them through a dealer like Natural Built Home, which is where I bought mine from. I just laid them down the way they came, but later I'll pull the bricks out of the grid and mix the colors up and lay them in a pattern that I've made up. These are permeable pavers, so my ramp is just temporary as built. I needed to get something in ASAP for my mom. The step off the deck (without a railing) was just not good for her. Later, I'll pick up the brick grids, and dig down 12-18" and put in a proper drainage base with a permanent edging.
Below is the sand on top of the top layer of fabric, ready for the pavers.
Half done! Everyone is taking a break.
Finished with the railing installed. Safe for Mom, and now my friend Teddy can come and visit me.
It only took the three of us five hours to put this in, so it wasn't too bad. It will take a lot longer to dig it out and put the proper base in, though.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hot Water Problems

I have a super-duper high efficiency on-demand hot water heater that is a backup to the solar hot water. After it was hooked up, but before we moved in, sometimes the hot water didn't work at all. It turns out there was some problem with the gas line being too short, so gas pressure didn't build up, so it didn't always work. Or something like that. So Steve Carlyle of O.C. Mechanical added a loop in the gas line to make it longer. Then it worked fine. Then, a couple weeks ago, my morning shower was warm, but not hot. That continued, so I emailed Steve, but he was out of town. I talked to him when he got back and he came over to look at it, but couldn't find anything wrong. Then I figured out the luke-warm showers started about the same time I installed a Waterpik Ecoflow Showerhead. I like Waterpiks and always have had one in every place I've lived. I like being able to hold the showerhead and rinse off more easily.
There were two problems with this Ecoflow, though. Number one, the shower spigot was way up near the ceiling, and when I installed it, I could barely reach it standing on my tiptoes. When I complained to Jeffrey (who is like 6'6" or something) that the plumber was an idiot for doing that, he admitted he had marked the spot for the spigot. Well, I've shrunk to 5'51/2" now, and I'd try to put the showerhead back in the holder, and wouldn't quite make it and twice if fell and banged on the tub, and the third time it fell and hit me on the head. The next day I went to Home Depot and bought and extender. I bought it right before I had a dinner party, and put it somewhere to get it out of sight, and then I lost it. But I found it tonight. Oh, the second thing that was wrong with the Ecoflow was that it said on the package it had a "pause" button. I like that, because, being green, I don't like to waste water. So I like to turn off the water while I wash my hair and lather up. If the water's on, it washes everything off while you're trying to lather up. Anyway, the pause button lowered the flow considerably, but didn't shut it off. Pause means stop temporarily to me. When I read the fine print, it never said it stopped the flow. It tapped danced around what the pause button really did. So when I bought the extender, I also bought a real pause button to hook on it. Then I figured out the third thing that was wrong. It was so "lowflow" that it wasn't triggering the water heater to come on. So I was getting the heat from the storage tanks, which has been about 104 degrees early in the morning, but the water heater wasn't kicking in. That's why the showers were warm, but not hot.
So tonight, I took out the Ecoflow, seen here below (see how close it is to the ceiling!)
and put back the Delta lowflow with an extender and the stop button. I'll get a different Waterpik that's not so lowflow. So I have this beautiful Waterpik Ecoflow I can't use. I'll give it to my sister Cathy; I remember the last time I visited her, she had such a lowflow contraption that it took five minutes just to get wet.
Then another problem with the hot water is that I keep the tank capped at 110 degrees. This is lower than even the LEED certification requires (120). But my mom doesn't want the water really hot because she's afraid she'll burn herself, that's why I keep it at 110. When the storage tanks are hotter than 110, though, the hot water heater won't kick on, it just lets the hot water pick up heat from the storage tanks, which are getting up to 160 degrees now in the afternoon, on a sunny day. They'll get even hotter as the sun gets hotter. So that's a problem. I need to let the tanks get hot so the heat lasts all night, which it has been doing. I'll need to talk to IPS and Steve of O.C. Mechanical to see if there is a fix for that.