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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reflecting on planting methods

Well here I am with probably too much time on my hands and plenty of time to think. I was thinking today about how our garden did and things I learned and things to do a lil different. Maybe for simplicity sake I will just list them.
First- We planted tomatoes with no intention of staking them. It turned out just as well. We used 19-19-19 fertilizer on them when they were transplanted. Most folks say too much nitrogen will make all plant and no fruit. But with dense foliage on the plants it did prevent sun scald on the tomatoes. Thas a plus. If you are to have fruit you must first have a sturdy healthy plant. We transplanted as soon as we could get the ground dry enough to get in and for most people it was early and the plants made good deep strong roots to withstand dry spells. So I will do the same with tomatoes next time. Again we don't mulch or stake our plants. Might be a lil tough picking them sometimes but I had plenty of tomatoes. In fall in our area most tomatoes will produce more bloom and fruit, albeit small, once the weather starts to cool at night. So if you have a light crop, don't pull the plants. You might still get a few more later in fall.
Second-Potatoes need well drained soil that is slightly acidic. So wont be liming the area where taters are to be planted. We also used the 19-19-19 fertilizer on the taters. One section of the tater rows this year had all rotten taters. As we were digging I did notice that the soil had a different feel to it. It was heavier and had more moisture, thus the taters rotted. The best method for controlling Colorado potato beetles is the mash them with your fingers every 3 or 4 days till the plants are big enough they wont suffer damage. When our tater plants were too big to effectively be able to find the tater bugs then I sprayed with a bug poison. Success, we had a great tater crop for a change.
Third- Weed control is a must in a damp season. We let the weeds get ahead of us this year and with the rain we did have and all the weeds held too much moisture around the peppers and blight got those. Garden plants need air circulation or it does create a breeding ground for nasty disease.
Fourth- If you plant pole beans, stick the dang things. We planted some running beans and for some reason we never got the stakes put in for them to climb on and they crawled on the ground. Then add the morning glory and weed problem and the beans were losty in the all the mess. I prefer bush beans anyway. Personally prefer the Ky Wonder bush bean, good tender bean that fills out nicely and no strings to deal with.
Fifth- Watermelons need heat and light to ripen well and be sweet. It wont happen if they get over grown with morning glories and weeds either. I will be saving my coffee cans this next year. When I plant melons and they bloom and start making melons, I intend to fruit prune the plants and also cut the ends off the vines so each vine has no more than 2 melons. Each melon then will be elevated up on one of the empty coffee cans so it can do its thing. Our plan for melons, cushaws, and pumpkins next year is to put down black plastic and make a hole where ya want a plant so weeds cant take over and the melons will have the heat they need. Although in the weeds the cantaloupes did really well. We have eaten the last of those and now wait on the watermelons. Once the vines die back the cushaws will be ready to harvest and store. That is when the skins are mature on them and they will keep all winter in the cellar.Same with butternut squash.
Sixth- Cukes and peas must be trellised or ya never find them to harvest. Peas are really hard to see on the vines on a good day and add to that them laying on the ground. May as well not plant them. This we have learned. Cukes are the same way. You always miss a few and they turn yellow and ripen on the plant so the plant stops producing because it has accomplished its mission of making seeds and reproducing. That is the goal of all plants to reproduce and make seed, once that is done the plant is pretty much done too. So it is best to harvest ripe fruits as they are ready to keep the plants producing.
Seventh- If you raise heirloom varieties in your garden, by all means save your own seed. They will do better as time goes on as they will be acclimated to your soil conditions. As I was growing up we saved a lot of our own seeds and found this to be true. We have saved a lot of seeds this year from our garden so we wont need to buy seeds next year.
Hope this lil bit of info helps someone along the way. Just like to share things I have learned here at the school of hard knocks. So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Harvesting potatoes

The weather did cooperate here today with no rain. Beautiful weather here, not like the east coast with the hurricane. God bless those folks in the path of hurricane Irene. Much destruction from what the news is showing. But we got an early start and got our potatoes dug. I think we all here were pleasantly surprised with how well they did. We only planted 2 rows of Kennebecs about 150 ft long and 1 row about 75 ft of Red Pontiacs. I was very happy with the fact that they were all really big, in all total maybe a half bushel was considered small and would be a pain to peel if ya chose to. I plan to serve more taters with the peel on as that retains more of the nutrients that lay just under the skin.  We got 15 bushels total. About 12 of the Kennebecs and 3 of the Red Pontiacs. A bushel of potatoes weigh 60 lb per bushel so we had roughly 900 lb of taters and cash out lay was maybe $35. Not bad at all in my way of thinking. We have a special plow that goes on the tractor 3 point hitch to dig the taters with which beats all to hell the old way of using a tater fork and lots of back breaking work. The tractor drives up the row and IF the driver is watching his stuff the plow will be in the middle of the row and break it open and taters can be picked up behind the tractor. This is the way we did it. There are places in the one end of the garden where the taters were that I noticed the ground was very heavy clay like soil and ALL the taters in that lil section of the row had rotted. Maybe a 6 ft section. This is the place where my dad alas had his tater patch and raised a lot of taters. We did go back to the old original way of planting this year too. It was Jason's idea. For some reason we had got to putting in the fertilizer and mixing it in the bottom of the row by dragging a chain thru the row. Then drop the potato pieces and cover it all over with dirt. This year we dropped the taters about 1 ft apart in the trench we made with the tiller, I dropped about 3 tablespoons full of 19-19-19 fertilizer between each hill of taters and covered them over as usual.  This method seemed to have resulted in more good size taters for us. Some times the old ways are still the best. So from now on I think this is how we will plant taters. After we got them dug we took them to Jason's house and poured them out on the floor of an outbuilding to dry for a few weeks till the weather cools and then they will be put in our bins and stored in the cellar. I am so thankful we have enough taters to keep us supplied well till next summer. I couldn't help but make a big kettle of potato soup fer lunch today after we got them all dug. Really tasty with red taters, peel left on cubed up with lots of onion and garlic in there. Yummy!
My big plans were to get my old laying flock butchered off tomorrow but I really don't think that is going to happen. My arthritis is flaring really bad, especially in my wrist. I really don't think I could pluck a chicken if I was real hungry. Jason had agreed to do all the cutting up of the chickens if we could pluck em. Hopefully next weekend my joints will feel better. I think I will dig out my splint for my arm and just splint my right wrist (its the worst) and give em a rest for a few days and see if that will help some. I think maybe the past 6 weeks or so of all the prepping stuff and canning has caught up with my body.
I need to brag just a lil bit. My youngest son Rob is now a proud home owner. He bought his first house in Elko Nevada this past week and he and Amoy  are moving in this weekend. They are beyond excited. And we are so happy for them. We are really proud of his accomplishments this past year. After college he landed a good job, already got a promotion, and now at the age of 25 has a house of his own, all in less than a year. We sure do wish them lots of success and happiness in the years to come. Kinda makes me a proud momma.
So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nice weather but fall is in the air

The past few days have been so nice, not really too hot, cools down nice in the evenings. Perfect weather for working outside and getting things in order for fall and winter. But dang it does seem early. None the less, we managed to get the plastic from around the green house and cleaned up down there and got my bench covered to protect it from wet weather. We took a huge trash bag to the trash bin after all that. Then Rodger got the tractor and bucket and hauled some dirt to fill in a low spot in the yard on top of the sewer drain lines. The dirt settled and we are just not getting to put more dirt in to level it up. If only the chickens don't find the fresh dirt and make a mess of it. He also hauled away all the dead plants and debris that I had pulled out of the herb bed and had scattered about. I hope tomorrow I can get more of the ground cherries picked up and husked out to dry. I had some that I put in the dehydrator this morning and they are drying nicely. They have a wonderful sweet flavor dried. They will look like lil golden raisins. A good addition to oatmeal or cold cereal.  If we don't get more rain this week and its dry this weekend we plan to dig our taters on Saturday and then if we have the energy left I want to butcher off the old laying flock on Sunday. That will give me all day Monday to can up the meat. They are older and will only be good for soups, dumplins and if I can the breast separate those can be used for salad or sandwiches. Not much else happening here for now. So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The garden is all but done

This summer has seemed to be so short or maybe it is just me. Seems like only yesterday we were plowing and hoeing in the garden and now it is all but done. Not much left in there except the okra, melons, cushaws, and some winter squash. The potatoes will be dug this weekend if we don't get rain. The sweet potatoes will go till late September as well as the pepper plants. Today I spent in the summer kitchen slicing and loading the dehydrators for drying into onions flakes. I have about 2 quarts already done and both dryers loaded again. I have a few tomatoes to eat on for a few more days then they are all gone for the season.  The rest of the day I have been cleaning up and dead heading the plants in the herb bed. Still need to get in there with the weed eater and cut the mints back. As soon as the onions are dry in the dehydrators I want to dry more herbs. I also got the onion bed in back weeded as well as the asparagus and new strawberries. My leeks are in the bed with the new strawberry plants and they look great. I do need to take m friend Rosie's advice and mulch the leeks deep to make nice white stalks. I was so happy to see Rosie and her hubby Sam last Friday when they stopped by on their way home from visiting his mom in a neighboring county. We invited them to spend the night but they kinda wanted to get home as they had promised their daughter who was taking care of things on their farm while they got a couple days away. But was really nice to get to see them.
We had rain this past weekend so we didn't do much outside. Seems kinda odd to be able to just stay inside on weekends. Not much happening here to write about at this time. So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It never ends, just slows down

Seems the to-do list never ends. On the farm there is always things that need attention, sometimes all at once. I had a break today from tomatoes and went to the doc for script refills. Got home in time to fix supper, eat and head to the garden. We picked another couple buckets of tomatoes, I cut some okra, Rodger dug some taters, we picked another ripe cantaloupe, pulled some squash off to feed to the hogs. While I was picking tomatoes I pulled some that had just blushed and were mostly green to chop and freeze to use as fried green tomatoes this winter. Got back to the house and got the green maters chopped and in the freezer. The okra is washed and ready to be sliced. The cantaloupe is perfectly ripe and so sweet.

When I finally got this melon cut up it filled a large lidded bowl and will keep us happy all week. More seeds saved too. When I am in the summer kitchen the chickens think they are due treats and peels from what ever I am doing at the time.So they hang out with me.

This is just a small part of the flock, the rest are occupied with something else. Soon or later chickens find all your hiding places that you have planted tasty plants in too. They have wondered as far as the other end of the house to the driveway where I had a tomato plant for seed. Lucky for me I had already gotten the ones off that I wanted to save seed from. They have discovered the corn crib at the far end of the drive too. They know that they can find treats there. For me chickens are so relaxing to watch. They stay so busy exploring and eating. Not to mention they do fertilize the grass as they go. Guess thas the downside to letting em run loose.
I think tomorrow my day will be filled with chopping and drying onions and slicing and drying tomatoes. I'm sure I will find other things to do to fill in my spare time.
Till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Making it easy on myself for a while

I am getting a lil bored with doing tomato products now. I have been at it for near 2 weeks. Still got a ways to go tho. I went to the nursing home to visit mom for a while today and took her some fresh maters and cantaloupe that I had cut last night. Gosh it was so dang good. This is what it looked like before we cut it. Not to mention I have 3 more at the house just like it.

This thing was 12 inches long, really ripe and sweet. I think I will try freezing a few containers of cantaloupe again this year to enjoy this winter. Easy to do, just peel melon and pack in freezer box or container and cover with light sugar syrup. Freeze and when ready to serve allow to only partially thaw out. Really good.
I haven't done anything with tomatoes today. I worked a lil bit in my herb bed and got the sage cut again and in the dehydrator. Then cut the ground cherry plants back some so I could pick the ripe ones up off the ground. I got a 2 gallon bucket full of them in the husk. I finally got them husked out and ready to make ground cherry and orange jam. There are still thousands of them still on the ground that I may get later and try dehydrating some to see how they are. I'm sure they would be good in bread or muffins, or even in cereal.
When I went to visit mom I stopped by the dollar store to pick up some jar flats all to be told they didn't have any and would not be getting any more this season. Dang it! So I stopped at the grocery store and paid double for 3 dozen cause I need them badly. They also had Mrs Wages pizza sauce mix and I picked up 2 packs of that and one for salsa. I can make pizza sauce from scratch but with all the tomatoes I have to do this will save me a good deal of time and standing in the summer kitchen on my feet. The older I get the more I appreciate being able to cut corners anywhere I can. So pizza sauce and salsa will be my projects for tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow evening I can get the ground cherry and orange jam made. If I can remember to ask Rodger to bring home 3 oranges.
Last evening when we picked tomatoes we picked off all our sweet corn that we had left on the stalks to dry for seed. So those are neatly hanging in the outbuilding to dry real good and then get shelled off and put in the freezer. After we found the cayenne pepper plants I picked those off as well and have them in one of my drying boxes to dry and then grind em up to use as seasoning. It will take a good deal of hot pepper flakes to make all the sausage this fall when we butcher hogs.
Nothing else happening here so I need to go do laundry so we all got clean drawers this week again. Till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Still up to my ears in tomatoes

I still have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Monday was spaghetti sauce, Tuesday was 8 quarts of  barbecue sauce, Wednesday was 15 pints of  taco sauce, today I made 15 pints of diced tomatoes and canned those. And still have tomatoes waiting to be made into something and more tomatoes in the garden. I was so happy today when I went in the cellar and found a big crate of canning jars that I didn't know I had. So now I can can more mater stuff. This evening I have okra to slice and freeze to fry or use in gumbo or soup later. I think maybe tomorrow I will take some time off tomatoes and get some sage cut for drying and some other herbs that I am low on. With this arthritis my hands and wrist are giving me fits. I'm sure its not from over use or anything like that.
It is hard to believe how nice the weather has been today. The sun was shining and it was actually pleasant outside. Not too hot and its supposed to get down around 56 tonight. Now that I can handle. The weekend is going to be nice as well. So maybe I can get some things done that have been put off with all the canning. My herb bed is an overgrown mess right now. All the plants in there need to be dead headed and raked up. Some herbs are still producing and those I will be cutting to dry. My lil Mexican cukes are still producing and they need to be picked as well. So many things to do and seems so lil time. Still think I need to clone me.
Till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Life's lil ups and downs, making spaghetti sauce

And goodness knows I have my share of ups and downs this time of year. Woke up far too early this morning. Didn't sleep well last night. I cant drink coffee late like I used to. I guess that is because I haven't had Mt Dew in the house in nearly a month now. And I drink my 2 cups of coffee in the mornings and then drink water, Gatorade or lemonade the rest of the day till bedtime. I drank a cup of coffee last evening while we were working up the rest of those tomatoes and just was restless last night. Makes ya feel like crap the next day too. But none the less I got up early and had to get started in on the pasta sauce I had cooking down in the crock pot. Went out to check on that and it still seemed watery. I decided to take another approach in making sketti sauce. We had made 2 huge stock pots of tomato puree last evening and I was intending to drain the excess water off top the puree to make it quicker to cook down. But to my surprise there was not any on there. I did a lil experiment when we did the last tomatoes. I usually wash them well, core, cut in chunks then run thru the Squeezo strainer for juice or puree. Most of the clear liquid in homemade tomato juice come from the liquid in the seed pockets. So when I cut the tomatoes up last evening I squeezed them a lil after I cut off the tops and got most of the seeds out. This made for a much thicker juice and took a lot less time to cook down to a good consistency for sauce. This is my "recipe" for spaghetti sauce or more like method to my madness. Remove about 1 quart of puree from the container you are using to use later. I use the puree that is thick and add finely chopped onions to suit me, finely chopped bell peppers, garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano and basil so the puree taste lightly seasoned. Note I say lightly seasoned because the herbs and such sometimes increase in potency when processed in a pressure canner. Let this mix simmer for a few minutes and taste. If it has a strong acid bite, add a lil brown sugar and taste as you add. Once the sauce taste like you want it too let it simmer while you make the thickening. At this point I added the sauce I had cooked in the crock pot to the kettle of puree and just mixed it in. I almost swear tomatoes vary from one season to the next depending on rainfall, heat and all kinds of things. So I cheat and add a lil cornstarch to the mix so it tightens the sauce up but not make it thick. Use the quart of puree you reserved (this depends on the size of kettle you are using)(I was making 20 plus quarts of sauce) and add cornstarch in the amount you think it would take to thicken you kettle of sauce and then slowly add a small amount of this slurry to the simmering puree. When the sauce has tightened up a good bit and is a consistency you like let it simmer while you brown your burger to add in. I used 5 lb of deer and beef burger for the 22 quarts of sauce I made today. Once the burger is brown add it to the puree. Now that you have the sauce made you can ladle it into jar, put lids on and process in pressure canner. (refer to the ball blue book for processing times for your area). I finally got done with all this about 3:30 this evening. Had a total of 21 quarts of canned spaghetti sauce and 1 quart for supper. It was really good.
This afternoon we got a good thunderstorm here. No damage , just plenty of rain. My poor Luna is so scared of storms. She was right beside me when I was outside before the rain came and when I opened the door to go in the summer kitchen she darted in beside me, which she never does, and went to the back corner and laid down. Her pitiful eyes begging me not to make her go out. Needless to say she stayed right there till the storm was over and then she willingly went out the door and on about her business.
It was far to muddy to pick tomatoes this evening so that is a task for tomorrow. Not much else happening here, so till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

These late nights are tough

We have been keeping late night for a week or so now and it sure do get old. It takes a while to go thru 10 bushels of tomatoes and knowing there is more waiting to be picked is getting kinda depressing. Well not really, I do enjoy lots of tomato products. We just came in the house from running about 4 gallons of juice with the tomatoes that have been picked for a few days. I will let it sit overnight and let the clear liquid come to the top of the kettles and drain that off. That should make it faster to cook down into spaghetti sauce. We use a bunch of spaghetti sauce over the year so I hope to be able to make a good deal of it. With a few additions the sauce can also be used in lasagna. I want to make some salsa this year also. I made some a few years ago and it was good. It is just a lil more time consuming to make than juice due to the fact you need to peel the tomatoes and chop them then add other ingredients and cook and jar it up. So maybe in a couple days I can do that.
I have been letting my young chickens run out during the day and they are out back of the summer kitchen. I have a big pan out there where I can put tomato peels and such for them to enjoy. I didn't have any treats for them in the pan earlier to day and they took it upon themselves to enjoy my Brandywine tomatoes that were growing out back near the house. So up goes another temporary fence. Sneaky lil varmints. I was really surprised to find that when it got dark they had all went back into the chicken house with me having to chase them in there. As long as they behave they will be allowed to run out. So far so good, but I do know chickens get brave and wonder farther from their house every day.
Not much else happening here right now. So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seeing red!

No I'm not mad, just seeing lots of red in the tomato patch this year. We picked 7 - 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes this evening and only picked about 2/3 of the patch. We will get the rest tomorrow. I ran out of containers. I see lots of spaghetti sauce in my future. And maybe some salsa, tomato sauce, juice and no telling what else. I think this will be a good year for us and tomatoes. So I am a happy lil camper up to my eyeballs in maters.
Just thought ya might like to see a pic of some of our heirloom variety cantaloupes we have this year. I sure do hope they ripen and don't rot. They are huge melons.

There are several of them in the patch too. I do hope to save more seed from these melons cause they are a variety that i was tole originated here locally, cant be certain on that tho. None the less, they are wonderful sweet melons and enough to feed the whole party. Not much else happening here. So till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another day on the homestead

Another hot day here on the farm. I got an early start on working up the tomatoes that we picked last night. I decided to make juice with the really ripe ones and then turn that into veggie soup to can. I ended up canning 10 quarts and 1 pint of wonderful vegetable soup. Rodger likes to have veggie soup if I'm gone so he don't have to cook much. And if I am home in winter we usually heat up a jar of soup on Saturday and eat on it all weekend. At least we get our veggies in that way. I think now I have enough canned to last till next season. Dang it is hard to believe we are this far along in summer and headed into fall. Seems like only yesterday I started getting stuff from the garden to can. We went thru the sweet corn last night and picked off the last of it and Rodger mowed it down. That will make it easier to get in and pick tomatoes too. My green beans are almost done producing now and I did get lots canned to do us. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen in large numbers. We picked 3 - 5 gallon buckets last night. We gave some to the fellow that came to get the rest of the sweet corn. I made several phone calls while I was waiting on Rodger to get back with the tractor trying to find someone who could come get corn and finally after about half hour an lots of calls found a taker. So he got a bonus bucket of tomatoes too.  Sad when you cant give garden produce away. But its all done now.
This evening after work we got a chance to finish the landscaping stuff I had started over the weekend. We got the weed barrier down where the flower bed in back of the house was and got the gravel put on it. It does look neater back there but I know I will miss my flowers blooming in summer. We got plastic put over the soil in the bed near the drive that I am gonna use for fall garden stuff. It is black plastic and should produce enough heat to kill out most of the flower roots and weed seeds left behind. It might make it a lil easier to keep weeded. I guess my next project will be to dead-head the herb beds. The different mints have bloomed and fallen over and look pretty shabby right now. I should have some free time tomorrow and get more herbs cut and dried for later use. Probably next tomatoes will be turned into pasta sauce and canned and I will need the basil and some others from the bed. Will cut herbs if it don't rain, but they are predicting rain for tomorrow. We shall see.
Till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.