Saturday, August 29, 2015

7 ways to preserve excess garden veggies

Eat garden vegetables and fruits ripe, raw, fresh, and within a couple minutes of picking. Make an effort to eat most of the foods you harvest in their natural state. With any excess garden vegetables and fruits, give away to family and friends, of course, and sell any at farmer's markets to make extra cash.
Usually I don't sell produce, and any excess fruits I have will be eaten fresh or given away to friends and family, but we also preserve much of what we harvest.
For example, we dehydrate, pickle, can, and freeze extra garden vegetables to preserve for eating later. This year was the first time ever making pickles and jelly, and both were a success.

1) Dehydrate tomatoes, squash, and other fruits. Dehydrating is a slow process, but it is a natural alternative to storing frozen or canned foods. "Drying foods, like freezing, does not stop the enzymatic action that causes fruit to mature and eventually decay; it only slows it down" (Chadwick, pg. 42, 2009). From Chadwick's book "The beginner's guide to preserving food at home", she will teach you much more about preserving foods with each method, give you examples on how to store every vegetables properly, and provide many helpful tips.

Before dehydrating tomatoes or squash, sprinkle a little salt and black pepper so that as these slices are drying, they are also absorbing the herbs and spices. Store in glass jars with air tight lid or other air tight container.
Years back when we had hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, we dehydrated several batches which we sliced, then added basil and black pepper on top to absorb the flavors as the tomatoes were drying. If you don't have a dehydrator, there are tips on how to naturally sun dry vegetables online. If you don't want to sun dry, freezing vegetables will be the next easiest and healthy way of preserving excess garden vegetables.

cucumbers I pickled
2) Pickle cucumbers and peppers.  Last year we pickled five quart jars of jalapeno peppers. This year wasn't a good year for peppers, but it was a really good year for cucumbers. I don't eat pickles, or anything pickled, but I thought it would nice to experiment and give away or sell jars of pickles. I pickled 8-10  cucumbers to make 5-6 pint jars using this recipe: 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1-2 tbsp of mustard seed, black pepper, 1/4 cup of fresh dill; bring mixture to a rolling boil while you're slicing cucumbers and placing them in sterilized jars. Start prepping canner, or boil 1 inch of water in a tall pot to can pint jars. Once you have placed all your sliced cucumbers in jars, add mixture to each jars, filling till cucumbers are covered, then put lids on jars and can in pot of water for 10 minutes. Then place in fridge to eat 24 hours later.

tomatoes I canned
3) Can beans, tomatoes, and corn. These are the most common garden vegetables to be canned. Beans are usually canned with the green outer shell. I prefer beans dehydrated or canned without the shell. Tomatoes are usually canned after boiling off outer skin. Canned tomatoes are perfect for adding to vegetable chili during the winter months. I made several quart jars of salsa with our garden tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and onions. With tomatoes I received from James' Aunt, I was able to can a few pint jars of tomatoes.

4) Freeze vegetables and berries, and other fruits. Freezing is my favorite way to preserve garden vegetables (and dehydrating) because it is the fastest method of food processing, and it gives you a product that is closest to fresh. This process maintains the natural color, fresh flavor, and high nutritive value of fresh garden vegetables.
The only downside to freezing vegetables is that you may run out of room in your freezer, or you may not have a fridge at all--which is why I have a solution for this in tip #7 in storing vegetables in a root cellar.
We foraged a lot of blackberries, raspberries, dewberries this year which is why we made so much jelly this year, but also we froze bags of berries to add to smoothies. When freezing berries or other fruits and veggies, tray freeze by spreading out all fruit and veggies evenly and separately, then freeze; and once frozen, pour the berries (or other fruits) into a plastic bag.
I froze all my fruits and vegetables without blanching, which will store fruits and vegetables for several months.
The yellow squash performed excellent this year, and there was no way we could have ate every squash we grew, so I chopped the yellow squash and put in plastic bags to store in the freezer. I ended up freezing 10 bags of yellow squash. Cooked yellow squash over rice was our dinner every night for two weeks, then I started to freeze the rest to make stir fry later in the year.

berries I made into jelly
5) Preserve berries, grapes, and other fruits into jam or jelly. I mentioned we forage lots of berries this year, and some of the berries were frozen for smoothies, but most of the berries were preserved into a jelly. The intent behind making the jelly was to sell and make some money on the side. Actually I haven't sold any, and I have ended up giving most of the jars of jelly away. But James and the siblings really like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so they are appreciating all the free jelly. I never ate jelly prior to making blackberry jelly this year for the first time, so I have been eating the jelly on toast.

6) Juice tomatoes, apples, and other fruits. Gardeners that can tomatoes usually also can tomato juice. Tomato juice is usually for vegetable soup or chili. Juice apples and other fruits harvested from the garden to drink fresh. Some gardeners like to make apple cider, cider vinegar, and hard cider with apple juice. Something I like to juice to drink fresh is watermelon rinds. Once you have eaten the watermelon, run the rinds through the juicer, and the juice will taste similar to the pink fruit itself. Fresh juice will store for several days in the fridge. Most people would encourage you to pasteurize juice to store for longer, but I hardly see this as necessary, and pasteurizing anything will denature vitamins and minerals.

7) Root cellar will store all your winter squash and root vegetables for weeks and months. Apples, grapefruit, and other citrus also store for a long time. A root cellar is cold enough to store vegetables without using a fridge, which saves you money on your electric bill.
Carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables store well when covered over with sand or sawdust in a container. Pumpkins, cushaw, butternut squash, and other winter squash need to be left in the sun to cure for up to 2 weeks before storing in a root cellar.
Almost every year of growing butternut, I have ended up harvesting over 10 fruits to eat on throughout the winter. I never need to put the squash in a fridge or root cellar, though. I almost always store the squash on a shelf in the kitchen, and eat all the squash within a couple months of picking from the vine.  My favorite recipe for winter squash is to saute with onions and carrots (with sugar) and serve over rice.

Remember to pick the best produce for storing, and any bruised or imperfect fruits should be eaten immediately. This includes using the freshest and best quality produce for canning, pickling, and preserving.
Although berries should be picked early in the morning, vegetables picked late in the afternoon or early in the evening will keep better. This is because the vegetables "have been manufacturing natural sugars and nutrients all day; once the sun goes down, they will use up part of these sugars and nutrients and are at their low ebb in the morning" (Chadwick, pg. 16, 2009).

Sunday, August 23, 2015

MASSIVE Cushaw fruits + Garden harvest photos

The cushaws seen in the photos were grown by my grandmother's friend. With these, I will use parts of the cushaw to eat and will also save the seeds to grow these fruits next year.

What we have harvested this week from the garden are additional cucumbers, beans, and some baby melons.

 With the neck of the cushaw, we bake it in the oven with a little sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. Also we made a pudding with the cushaw by boiling the cushaw in water, then blending the cooked cushaw with sugar (or dates and bananas) and spices. With the "pudding", you could use it as a filling for a pie. Make the pie crust out of coconut flour, almond flour, or oat flour.

golden honeydew and watermelons
cucumber, beans, tomato harvest on August 23rd

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Watermelon, Grape, & Strawberry harvest

In the last few days, we harvested watermelons, grapes, and strawberries.

august 16 2015 grape & watermelon harvest
August 13th carrot, cucumber, butternut, birdhouse gourd harvest

Charleston grey variety watermelon

strawberries, august 16th harvest

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Growing pineapples, figs, kiwis, tangerine, papaya, avocado in Zone 6 UPDATE (video)

A month or so ago I posted the video "Growing grapes, figs, & papaya in Zone 6", showing the progress on the grapes, figs, and papaya plants in the food forest garden. I received mixed criticism from those who KNOW you cannot grow papaya trees in this region. In response to the criticism, I am fully aware that the papaya trees, even avocado trees, that are growing up from the compost, may not produce any fruits, and may not survive inside the home during winter months. But, I am taking full precaution in growing tropical fruits in containers in a temperate climate.

papaya seedlings
I have already transplanted some papaya seedlings to containers, which they will grow in throughout the winter indoors. Then in the Spring, I will transplant them to larger containers, and I will do this for the next couple of years. At some point, I may experiment with these trees by growing them in an half underground greenhouse. But this will all be in the future.
There are so many papaya seedlings sprouting, that it seems a waste not to try and experiment!
As mentioned, I have avocado trees also growing up in compost piles similar to the Papaya seedlings. I will be transplanting these as well into containers, and take them inside before winter. I usually have a avocado tree sprouting in the compost every summer, and then I transplant it and it most usually dies indoors during the winter months. But I am going to take better care of these plants.

Besides avocados and papaya, another tropical fruit I am growing in containers are pineapples. With all the pineapples I buy from the store, I save the top to re grow in a container. I have never attempted this before, but I imagine other people have with success. Like the other tropical fruits, I have transplanted pineapple tops into containers where they will remain throughout the winter indoors. Then in the spring, I will transplant them into larger pots. Within the two to three years, I will have a new pineapple fruit. Hey! That will save my $4 from the store. Well, I don't see it that way. How I see it is, I am growing a food that would have otherwise been shipped across the border via fossil fuels and slave labor.

The two most interesting fruits I have growing, Hardy Kiwis and Chicago Hardy Figs, are both hardy varieties so that I can grow them outdoors in my region. I have been growing these for the last couple of years, and I expect the kiwis to produce fruit next year. Fig trees/shrubs produce early in their stages of life, and figs are known to produce several flushes of fruits throughout the year in their native lands. The Chicago hardy fig trees I have growing, have over 10 big figs growing along the stem. Already I see the figs gaining a purple color to them. I hope they manage to ripen before the cold fall months. Last year I had one measly fig that had no time to grow, and of course it was already November by the time I noticed the fig.
When growing the Hardy Kiwis and Figs outdoors throughout the winter, I overwinter these plants with huge piles of leaf debris/mulch. You can see in my video last year where I overwintered the fig trees using a cage of mulch, here: Over wintering Chicago hardy fig trees.

You may remember back in January when I showed you these tangerine sprouts. Here they are now, in the picture below. These seedlings are tiny and have not grown quickly like other fruit trees.

Tangerine seedlings

I love tropical fruits, which is why I desperately attempt to grow these plants in a temperate climate. However, I favor sweet blueberries most of all, and I am glad I can grow them easily in my region. I have nearly 20 blueberry plants, and will continue to cover the property with blueberries. Other cold hardy fruits I grow are Peaches, Pears, Plums, Paw paws, and Cherry. These are some of my favorite fruits as well. I would love to start growing Rainer Cherries--they have an amazing flavor.
I have maybe 20 Paw paw trees growing, and continue to add paw paw trees from different locations to ensure pollination.
Anyone that is interested in growing cold hardy fruit trees and fruit bushes, I have made a list of those uncommon fruits for people living in colder climates: List of Uncommon Cold Hardy Fruit Trees (Gardening Zones 3-7. I am sure there are many other fruits to grow in cold climates, but I wanted to provide a list of fruits that would certainly be worth growing.

For a tour of the tropical fruit trees and seedlings growing, watch the video below.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

August garden harvest this week (cucumbers, butternut squash, pumpkin harvest)

It seems like every year there is a different vegetable that does so well, we couldn't possibly eat everything, and then the next year, that same vegetable may do horribly. For example, two years ago was my best year for Tomatoes because it was a dry year. This year the climate has been a wet summer, so the tomatoes have not flourished like they usually do.
But, this garden year we have harvested so many cucumbers in the last month, it is making up for the lack of tomatoes. Other fruits that are growing well thanks to the wet climate, are squashes and melons. Last week I showed you photos of the cantaloupes we harvested, which were delicious by the way. You can see the post here. I think the cantaloupes produced fast because of the Hugelkultur mounds but also because of the ample rainfall.

Today I wanted to show the garden harvests in the last week. We harvested over 20 cucumbers in one day, which you can see in the pictures below. Then we harvested more corn, butternut squash, zucchini, and pumpkins.

August 5th garden harvest

big cucumbers attributed to hugelkultur

August 7th harvest, non-gmo Corn, butternut squash, beans, zucchini, yellow squash

August 10th harvest, butternut squash, pumpkins, & apples

August 7th cucumber harvest & pumpkin

Sowing greens & root crops in August for Fall-Winter harvest

Last Wednesday through Friday, the 5th-7th of August, were good transplanting days, and also good days for planting root crops. I figured since it was time to sow greens as well, I planted greens in containers, such as Arugula, Endive, and Lettuce. I sowed pinto beans in the Hugelkultur beds.

Greens growing in containers

On the 7th, I transplanted some fruit trees from compost piles, Papaya and unidentified fruit tree were transplanted to containers. That day, I also sowed Spinach, Radish, Lettuce, Carrot, Arugula, and Peas in the Hugel beds. I planted carrot and radish seed around the Tomato plants because root crops are low feeders, and planted after a heavy feeder like Tomatoes, they will grow sufficient in relatively poor soil. I explain this more in my Crop rotation post. With the tiny amount of rain water I provided for them, the Arugula and radish and other seedlings, came up within two days.

Papaya growing in pots
According to the Farmer's Almanac, the 8th and 9th of August were bad days to plant seeds, but today and tomorrow (10th-11th) are good days to sow root crops. Yesterday, I planted some root crops, carrots and radishes, along with Spinach, Arugula, Lettuce, and Peas in the Hugel beds. I definitely wanted to get a variety of seeds out yesterday because there was a chance of rain.
Luckily it did rain a bit last night, so the seeds I planted will germinate and sprout up by Wednesday. That means, within the following three weeks, I will be harvesting salad greens, and I will do so up until the end of October.

If I get a chance today, I will sow additional Endive, Spinach, Arugula, and Lettuce, and some carrots and radish in containers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Late July to Early August Garden harvests (melons, gourds, corn)

This week we harvested many cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and some squash, zucchini, gourds, and cantaloupe. 

July 24th garden harvest

July 21st garden harvest

July 25th garden harvest

Non-GMO corn (Trucker's favorite & Bantham)
July 31st cantaloupe & cucumber harvest

cantaloupe garden harvest

cantaloupe garden harvest...very sweet