Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

To-do List and Climate Change

In a typical year, putting the garden to bed for the winter has been a pretty straightforward task. Harvest the last of the vegetables, dump any containers into the garden to enhance the soil, spread compost, sit back and enjoy the late autumn rains. Oh, I forgot leaves. Rake leaves into the garden or compost bins.

The past few years have been different. Snow has come later – December, even after Christmas two years ago. The last frost, the one that finally kills off the annuals and freezes the allergens, has been later each year, too. Sometimes I’ve looked outside and wondered if I might still have fresh tomatoes if I hadn’t put the garden to bed already.

This year, I’m still cleaning up the tomato plants. It wasn’t a good year for tomatoes, anyway. But I put in a second planting of lettuces and another batch of peas. I’ve been able to cut several batches of lettuce in September, and the peas are growing well – now, in October. Green beans have been prolific, too. Every time I pick beans, I notice more blossoms that will be more beans if temperatures stay warm.

Herbs are doing well in their containers on the deck. I plan to bring them inside as the frost nears and see if they can adjust to growing indoors. My grow lights might help.

I have a few volunteer tomato plants, too. They turned up in a random part of the garden where I have never grown tomatoes. I tossed the smallest of those into the compost and transplanted the bigger ones into containers. I have no idea how they’ll do, but I might bring them inside, too.

I have no idea when the final killing frost will happen this autumn. I don’t know if this is the new normal of climate change, this late fall and delayed winter. Whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.

First World Problems, indeed.

It’s a bummer of a day when all of these happen.

I was talking to myself, and my self replied, “That’s a stupid question.”

I pulled up a batch of volunteer tomato plants because they came up in the area in which I want to plant tomatoes next year. I told myself, “It’s October!” in order not to feel guilty for failing to transplant them.

I’m still dizzy, cause unknown, and yesterday’s ER visit had limited success. Limited in that I mean the testing ruled out stroke or brain tumor, but didn’t find the cause of the dizziness. Stiff neck improved with medication, so that ruled out another angle that might have meant some really painful and icky testing. I’m relieved, at least, for crossing those possibilities off the list.

On the good side, I’m still able to laugh. I heard a Miami Dolphins coach talk about building a quality team, and then I saw Jay Cutler at starting quarterback. How could I not laugh?

But then I remembered that Jay Cutler has a job, and Colin Kaepernik doesn’t. That, my friends, is sad. It’s a First World Problem, indeed, but that doesn’t excuse the implicit racism in the situation.

This dizziness makes it hard to pick tomatoes and water plants. I use one tomato support for balance while I pick tomatoes with the other hand. But then I don’t have a hand to hold the container for the tomatoes. Tough life for a gardener, indeed.

Watering plants involves too much bending and turning for my dizzy head. It’s a bummer because the remaining tomatoes need water, the beans are still growing and need water, and the rain barrels are all relatively full.

Speaking of rain barrels, we have three. I filled out the application for a one-time credit on our water bill, and we received a note from the Powers That Be that they needed more information. They included an aerial shot of our house and asked us to indicate where the rain barrels were and how the barrels fit into the storm water flow. The picture was outdated, so Chuck put in a few updates (like the new garage and the second garden plot and the updated landscaping) and indicated all the necessary information. None of that information was mentioned on the application for the rain barrel credit in the first place.

And there you have it, readers. I’m grateful for MRI technology, and I hope my insurance considers the testing necessary. The ER doctor did. In the meantime, I’ll quietly recover, hopefully, from whatever illness inspired this post full of rants.

 

Top Ten List – in which Daisy is under the weather

Remember the Daisy Reality Show? It was the fictional creation of a reality show featuring yours truly, a television producer, and the producer’s bumbling assistant. Creating “Reality Show” posts lets me experiment with point of view and reassure myself that my life, in reality, is quite ordinary. Here’s a potential discussion between the producer and her assistant.

Producer: We won’t get much today. Daisy isn’t feeling well.

Assistant: Really? I hadn’t noticed. How can you tell? Give me one good way to tell that Daisy isn’t at her best!

Producer: I’ll do better than that.

  1. Daisy didn’t label or put away the applesauce she canned three days ago.
  2. The kitchen compost bucket is full.
  3. She stepped outside, said,”The container plants need watering,” and stepped inside without watering anything.
  4. The large hot water bath canner, full of water, still sits on the stove, taking up space.
  5. Daisy made coffee this morning and only drank half of what she brewed.
  6. Daisy ate popcorn for breakfast – stale popcorn, at that. Easy on the tummy, I guess.
  7. She didn’t empty the dishwasher, either. That’s one of her pet peeves; a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and a counter with piles of dirty dishes.
  8. The newspapers from the last two days are still in their (stupid, wasteful, plastic) delivery bags.
  9. Bunny didn’t get fed until quite late this morning, and the litter box still isn’t clean.
  10. And the biggest piece of evidence that Daisy might be ill: It’s Saturday, and she didn’t go to the downtown Farmers’ Market.

Assistant: Oh.

More Stories than Successes – This Year’s Garden

“Now that’s a story.” Miss Franny Block, the librarian in Because of Winn-Dixie, would start out her stories like that. Opal, Amanda, and even the dog would settle in to listen.

My garden has been more successful in generating stories than in producing vegetables. I’ll let storyteller Grandma Daisy tell the tales.

Oh, yes, that was quite a year, 2017. Families worried about the potential for war. They worried about our president being, well, not all there. Gardening was an investment in feeding the family and it was cheaper than therapy, too. Well, that’s a different story. 

Everything was planted, and not much was coming up. Broccoli? Nowhere to be seen. Beans? They were okay. Peas? The vines looked good, but didn’t bear fruit. Other gardeners blamed the weather, so I joined in. 

I’d planted zucchini near the raspberry, but I didn’t realize how little sun would reach that spot. That zucchini finally sprouted after I cut off a few low-hanging branches from the neighbor’s tree. It’s okay, kiddos. It’s legal to trim a tree that hangs over your own yard, even if the roots are next door. But the zucchini. Since nothing was happening, I put in a few seeds near the tomatoes. Brilliant! I thought. The squash plant will provide ground cover. When it starts putting out blossoms and needs pollinating, the vines will be near the flowers and the peas will be done. No such luck, my dears. The variety of zucchini I’d planted wasn’t going to crawl along the ground. This was determined to reach for the sky, more bush-like than vine. 

I ended up transplanting two tomato plants that were getting swallowed up by the zucchini and putting them in a container on the deck, near the French doors. At least there I couldn’t forget to water them. 

Then there was the lettuce. The lettuce didn’t come up, either. I wondered if the seeds were bad or if the soil was drained of its nutrients from too many years of planting? No matter what, I needed to do something about it. I decided to plant more lettuce in a different section of the garden. 

And then I left the seeds out overnight. Remember? That about did me in. I scattered some seeds where the broccoli hadn’t grown, and then I tossed a layer of commercial topsoil over them. A little water, and life was good again. I also planted a few heads of lettuce started not from seed, but from the tails of lettuce from the store or the market. “Grow your own food from your kitchen scraps!” the video bragged, and where lettuce was concerned, it worked. 

I scattered a lot of the soaked and dried seeds (thank goodness for grow lights!), and not much happened. Dill? Nope. Parsley? It’ll have to reseed itself from the first patch. Spinach? We’ll see. I put it behind the garage in a partial sun area. There’s still hope. Maybe. 

But the best story of all is this: the pollinators were coming back. I saw three – 3! – round and fluffy honeybees circling the flowers in the front yard. I had planted more blooms than usual, hoping for just that result. 

Now that’s a story – or more than one. Lettuce, zucchini, transplanting tomatoes – soaking seeds, too. Grandma Daisy covered the major points. She didn’t finish the summer story because – well, because I don’t know the end yet. Stay tuned, readers. School starts soon, so I’ll be busy, but gardening is therapeutic. It helps me slow my mind and lower my blood pressure. I’m sure there will be more stories.

The Trouble with Pickles

Not Tribbles, but Pickles. The trouble with dill pickles, specifically: the pickles have to rest and, well, pickle in their jars for at least two weeks before they’re ready to eat. At that time, if the pickle recipe didn’t work or if I messed it up somehow, it’ll be too late to go to the farm markets and buy pickling cucumbers. They’ll be out of season. Meanwhile, I’ll just hope the new-to-me-recipe for dill pickles is successful.

The trouble with canned tomatoes (diced or chopped, in my kitchen) is that the preparation takes a long time and a lot of effort. Dig out the stem, blanch and peel, chop, and then pack tightly into a jar. All of that happens before I can even consider putting the liquid in the jars, checking the head space, and then actually processing in the hot water bath canner. On top of all this, I have to hope that I packed the tomatoes tightly enough to avoid the perfectly functional but perfectly ugly Fruit Float.

The trouble with bread and butter sweet pickles; my food processor cuts the pickles too thin, so I have to cut them by hand. The food processor just died, so I’m glad cutting the pickles by hand is my usual routine. This one is really no trouble at all.

The trouble with salsa is similar to the trouble with canned tomatoes. Last weekend I convinced Chuck to join in the preparation of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Since he is the main consumer of salsa in the house, it was only fair. Thoughtlessly rubbing his eye after dicing a jalapeno pepper? Well, that was only careless. Ouch.

The trouble with troubles in general? Not much, really. All of these problems are easily solved. All, that is, except the dill pickles. Two weeks from now, people, I will know if the new recipe is my go-to for dill pickles. Waiting…waiting…

The Continuing Saga of the Soil

In which Daisy discoveries the peas didn’t do well, but the beans? Stay tuned.

The peas, those lovely little vines that filled the space in between the random flowers, didn’t bear fruit. They produced a few tiny pods, but no peas. I don’t know if it was soil troubles, a hot & dry spell, or other issues, but my garden produced no peas. I pulled the plants and set them on yet another section of garden that didn’t produce any produce. When they dry, I’ll  toss the whole pile in the compost.

Beans, however, are looking great! They’re bushy as bush beans can be, reaching for the sun with their lovely little leaves and producing flowers and actual green beans. Yum! I have enough beans in the freezer already, so everything I harvest will be supper. Or lunch. Or raw beans for a snack (oh, yeah, they’re that good).

Meanwhile, I made a few decisions. The area with the non-producing pea plants will be devoted to flowers next year. I’m seeing more pollinators, so I’d like to keep them happy. The sections that just didn’t grow are getting an infusion of organic matter (a.k.a. compost).

As for behind the garage, the raspberries are coming back, little by little. Chuck trimmed a tree that was overreaching its borders (at the edge of the next door lot), and that helped allow more light into this area. I spread lots of parsley seeds so the parsley plot can expand even as the raspberries try to take over. Last, but never least, some of the bulbs for walking onions were trying to sprout in the tray where they were stored. I dug two shallow trenches and tossed the bulbs in. If they don’t come up this season, they’re likely to bloom next spring.

And that’s the current status of the Backyard Garden, folks.

 

The Saga of the Soaked Seeds

in which Daisy decides she has nothing to lose and gets reckless in her planting

It was a wonderful night in June – good weather, nice breeze, rain in the forecast. The rain barrels were ready, and most of the garden was planted. I’d been filling in a few spots here and there, just to see how the combinations would work. Carrots, turnips, parsnips alongside the tomatoes; a few more peas near the flowers; beans galore. The sun was going down as Amigo and I went inside.

It was a good night for sleeping. Cool, a steady rain, nice breezes. I woke up refreshed and ready to check on my garden plots and pallet experiment. But when I looked outside, I saw something ominous on the picnic table: my basket of seed packets, soaked through. AAAAAUGH!!!

My first reaction was to try to fix it. Dry them out! Use the oven on super-low setting! Try the grow lights! Dry the seeds before they germinate all at once! Well, they dried, but I’m still not sure they’re viable.

Since some of my seed packets were more than a year or two old, I decided that this will be the year I throw them all away in the fall. I’ll start fresh with new seeds and no more hoarding. Well, maybe no more hoarding. Seeds don’t take up much space. In the meantime, I’ll play around with what’s left. There’s nothing to lose, after all. There are large sections of my garden that are only growing weeds, anyway. I might as well toss a few seeds here and a few more there.

So, readers, I’ll share the results with you soon. So far, parsnips are going nowhere, dill is hibernating (and the dill seeds didn’t get soaked with the rest, either). Lettuce looks promising, if the chipmunk will stay out of the way.

Predictions, anyone? Will the damaged seed stock be any good? What kind of results do you expect?

Skillet Green Beans

It’s transition time at the Farm Markets in my region – the transition between pea season and green bean season. I suppose I should include yellow beans and purple beans, too, but mainly I buy the green. This recipe turned up in my employer’s wellness newsletter. I wonder if it would work for the purple, without losing the color?

Simple Skillet Green Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake, or to taste

1.5 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and stir to coat the pepper in the oil. Add green beans and cook, stirring often until the beans are blistering and browning in areas, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and salt and cook, stirring constantly until the garlic is fragrant and browning, about 30 seconds. Add water and immediately cover. Cook covered until the beans are right green and crisp tender, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

With fresh green beans from the market, this sounds awesome. Readers, how about those yellow and purple beans? Any opinions?

Why Doesn’t my Garden Grow?

Three major section of my raised beds are growing nothing but weeds. I have a few theories, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m hoping to narrow down the possibilities so I can figure out what to do about the problem.

Suspect number one: poor seeds

  • The basket of seeds got soaked when I left it out overnight. I successfully dried the packages, but did I manage to destroy their viability?
  • I like to stock up during late season clearance sales. The seeds I used could have been old.

Suspect number two: feathered and furry creatures

  • Birds! I suspect cardinals in the demise of my butterfly garden seed mat.
  • Chipmunks! Or chipmunk! Darn thing slips through the tiniest gaps in the fencing, and I find holes all over.
  • Rabbits? Not likely this time. The wire fencing is pretty good.

Suspect number three: random environmental influences

  • Seeds planted too late
  • Weather – too hot
  • Weather – too cold
  • Weather – too wet
  • Poor soil – doubtful. Treating my soil with compost, etc., would take a number of posts. The green “walking” onions around the edges are growing beautifully, too.

Incidentally, the pallet garden and the various containers are doing very well. Herbs, mainly, along with a few leafy edibles and flowers, all thriving. The rest? I’ll keep trying to make it work. Promote growth. Plant something that comes up, already.

Readers, suggestions? I have a gauge for testing soil pH. I might try that. What else do you recommend?