July 29, 2014

A Slice of My Life: Lessons from the Blackberry Patch

I've picked more blackberries this year than ever before - it's been a really good year for them - and on my last trip there were still plenty of red ones on the canes, promising to ripen and provide more fruit should I want to go picking again.


As I leaned through the thorny canes in reach of the next ripe black-purple jewel, I enjoyed the cool breeze and listened to my neighbor's cows bawl to their calves. Birds sang in the woods behind me. My dog Cracker sprawled out nearby. What a great morning.

My mind replayed the Rules of Berry Picking, and I thought I'd share them with you today. They are also good Rules for Life.


1. Map out a path before you start. Before you start climbing into a thicket full of nasty thorns, look ahead and have a plan - also have a path in mind when you back out of the thicket.

2. Be aware of the dangers around you. Keep your eyes and your face safe, and keep thorns from catching in your hair and your clothing.

3. Ask for help when you're stuck.

4. Don't procrastinate. Yes, it's hot, but the peak of harvest waits for no woman.


5. Have patience. Berry picking isn't a sprint, neither is life. Take your time. Enjoy the experience.

6. Change your perspective. By looking up, and then down, you'll find berries that were hidden before. When you get to the end of the thicket, go back the way you came to spot berries you might have missed the first time.

7. Don't be greedy. Be willing to share with the wildlife.


8. Friends make work fun, and time go faster.

9. Sing loudly. It scares off the wildlife.

10. Life has both thorns and sour berries, just like a blackberry thicket. But in the end it's worth it.


This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a
simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at: 
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July 28, 2014

How to Freeze Corn

Hubby stopped one night on the way home from work and bought a bushel of sweet corn. We ate some, then I blanched and froze most of it on the cob.


Even though it takes up more room in the freezer, we prefer corn on the cob, but I also froze some as kernel corn to use when I make Mexican eggrolls and tortilla soup. Preserving kernel corn takes just one additional step: cutting the kernels off the cob.

Normally I pressure can most vegetables instead of freezing them, but I was doing a small amount of kernel corn and didn't want to haul out the pressure canner for just a couple of jars. Plus, by freezing it, I can use a small amount and return the rest of the bag to the freezer to use later.

Corn should be blanched to stop the action of enzymes that will destroy the nutrients and change the color, flavor and texture of frozen vegetables. Blanching is a simple treatment in boiling water. To blanch corn, bring a large kettle of water up to a rolling boil, add a couple of cleaned ears of corn (husks and silk removed), and boil for 7-11 minutes if you're freezing it on the cob, and for 4-6 minutes if you are removing the kernels from the ears before freezing. The length of time you blanch it depends on the size of the ears, more time for larger ears.


Begin timing when the water returns to a boil. This should happen pretty quickly; if it's taking several minutes or more to boil, reduce the number of ears you blanch at a time. I did 3-4 at once.


When the timer dings, remove the ears of corn and plunge them into a bowl or sink of ice water. As the ice melts, add more. Leave the corn in the ice water for the same amount of time as you blanched it.

Place the ears on a towel so the excess water will drain off. For corn on the cob, place ears in a zippered freezer bag or use a Foodsaver to vacuum-seal and keep the freshness in longer.


To cut the kernels off the cob, place the pointed end of the ear in the center of an angel food cake or bundt pan, and use a sharp knife to cut downwards and remove the kernels. The pan will catch them. Then package in meal-size portions in a zippered freezer bag or Foodsaver bag.


When I sealed the first bag of corn on the cob, my Foodsaver sucked up some of the liquid in the kernels. To prevent this, I put the bags in the freezer for a couple of hours, then sealed them. It worked perfectly. I didn't have that problem with the kernel corn.


This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a
simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at: 
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July 27, 2014

Silver Sunday and Being Thankful

I am thankful to the Lord, my God, for:

- a falling star
- cooling rain on a very hot day
- running water
- air conditioning
- the grass in the pasture still holding up in mid-July
Silver Sunday

I will send you rain in its season
and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.
Leviticus 26:4 (NIV)


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July 25, 2014

Friday Follow-Up

This week:

-- I don't like summer's heat, but I sure do enjoy harvesting summer produce from my garden. This week I picked plenty of slicing tomatoes, the first yellow pear and mortgage lifter tomatoes, the first sweet pepper and bell pepper. It's time to harvest all the onions and let them dry. The herbs are growing well and I need to prune those as well.

Yellow pear tomato. Notice those "gardener's fingernails".

-- I canned dill pickles and two batches of blackberry jam. For the first batch of jam, I de-seeded the berries by forcing them through a wire strainer. It worked, but it was quite a workout for my arm, and I got mostly juice. Cleaning the strainer wasn't fun. For the second batch, I used a food mill with a berry screen. It was much easier, and I got pulp as well as juice. Cleaning the berry screen wasn't fun, but the whole process was easier and had better results.

Why hadn't I used the food mill before? We bought it two years ago, but the clamp isn't wide enough for my formica counters. My dining table is even thicker than the countertop. This time I resorted to using a very wide board of the correct thickness (it was a shelf to a computer desk at one time), and setting it on the edge of the table. It wiggles and moves though, of course, and it would have been easier to use with another person to help. I felt rather like an octopus, trying to hold the contraption in place on the table, push down the berries into the hopper, and turn the handle, but I made it work.

-- The chickens love summer and canning season - they get all the trimmings and seeds and cantalope rinds and waste.

-- We are in the throes of the summer heat and humidity, but it didn't hit until the end of July, so I'm not complaining too much. I'm slowly working at refencing the back goat pen that goes out into the woods. I can only work for an hour or so in the morning before it gets too hot, so it's slow-going.

-- Next Wednesday I'll be guest-posting at Cultivate Nourishing's series called Homestead Kitchen Tours. Yes, I cleaned the kitchen for the occasion.


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My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a
simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at: 
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July 23, 2014

In the Veggie Garden

I thought I'd show you how the vegetable garden is doing. After getting a late start this year - several late frosts, a broken tiller, realizing we had to fence the garden against our dogs - it's finally starting to look pretty good.

I've mulched the paths between the beds with paper feed sacks and cardboard, topped with old hay. It's doing a decent job of keeping weeds down in the pathways, although I need to add another layer now that it has been packed down over time. The veggie beds themselves are not mulched, and I do have to weed those quite often. I've said before that this must be the best stand of bermuda grass we have on the whole place. It's a never-ending chore keeping those runners and roots under control.


After I officially gave up on the carrot seeds I'd planted a month earlier, they finally began to sprout. A week later I counted ten tiny little carrot plants, from two packets of carrot seeds. A week after that I was weeding and couldn't find a single carrot seedling. I wonder if the grasshoppers ate them, or if something else is responsible. I am officially giving up on carrots, at least for this year. I'm going to plant turnips in the empty bed.

The grasshoppers feasted on the beans. I planted three kinds: yellow bush beans, kidney beans, and green beans. They looked so good for awhile and each plant had 4-6 leaves, then they ceased to exist. I guess beans were my catch crop this year - planted to feed the grasshoppers so they'd leave the other plants alone, at least for awhile.

Yellow pear tomatoes, a cherry tomato variety

Sixteen tomato plants have survived and thrived. For the two of us, that will be plenty of tomatoes to eat fresh and to can. There are oroma paste, yellow pear, homestead, mortgage lifter and one remaining Arkansas traveler. They are all loaded with fruit, with the exception of the Arkansas traveler which is weeks behind the others in development. I picked the first ripe tomatoes two weeks ago. The oroma paste tomatoes are fighting blossom end rot, so I've been amending the soil around those plants.

Homestead tomatoes

I found a huge tomato horn worm on one of the homestead plants the other day. I dropped it into the chicken run and watched Samson the rooster slurp it up.

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes

There are onions planted between the tomato plants and pepper plants, as well as the white onion bed in the garden, and yellow and purple onions in galvanized tubs. The tops of the white onion plants in the garden have been eaten off. I thought the culprit was a rabbit or a squirrel, but one hot afternoon I was outside and realized that the onion tops were covered with grasshoppers. I could put flour or whatever on the onion-tops, but then the grasshoppers might simply move and attack the leaves of other plants. Onions can grow with bitten-off tops, I think; so far they're doing ok.


I also planted four kinds of peppers: jepeto sweet peppers, bell, one paprika, and one cayenne. The rest of the cayenne and paprika plants were victims of the nibbling dog, and I was lucky to save one plant of each kind.


This is the cayenne pepper plant. There is a little light-green pepper right in the center, and several other flowers as well. The white on the leaves is flour to deter the grasshoppers. I am still looking for a better solution to the invasion, but this has worked to a point.


All of the peppers have flowers on them, there are several green peppers, and there's a sweet pepper ready to pick.


The beets are growing well. Canned beets and Harvard beets are in our future. I planted more seeds in the places that the first seeds didn't sprout.


I planted sunflower seeds; some of them sprouted but they too have disappeared under the grasshoppers' onslaught. This is a huge plant that I transplanted into the garden when it was about three feet tall, now it towers way over my head. My guess is that it's nine or ten feet tall now. I love the cheery flowers. This isn't a variety that is grown for food, it's just a wild sunflower. My goats would sure love to eat the big plant if I'd let them though.


The lettuce and yellow and purple onions were planted in tubs near the herb garden. The lettuce is finished and I harvested it all last month, and am deciding what to plant in that space next. There was a volunteer purple basil plant growing with the onions but the grasshoppers devoured that too.


My germination rate was very poor this year. I'm hoping to carve out more space in the house to start seedlings next spring, both to get a jump on the season and to get around the poor germination rate. A greenhouse is on my wish list, but I know it won't happen soon - and maybe what I need instead is a screen house to keep grasshoppers out. I'm also planning to use floating row covers over the tender crops as grasshopper-prevention.

How does your garden grow?


You might also enjoy:
The New Herb Garden
The Herb Garden in June
The Herb Garden in July


This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


~~~~~

My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a
simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at: 
Facebook | Pinterest | Bloglovin | Subscribe via email