Preparing for winter

-Our friend the Polar Vortex is back.  It has brought an early winter to the mid-west and this week it is heading to the east coast.  Today as I write this it is 60 degrees outside, we know that this is not going to last long.  We have spent the last couple days trying to get the garden ready for the harsh freeze that is expected at the end of the week.  Currently, we have beets, cabbage, snow peas, turnips, lettuce, and broccoli in the ground. These veggies can tolerate cold temperatures but not the extreme colds and the frosts that are expected this week.  This is honestly our first year of trying to grow through the winter.  Normally, the only thing that we have in the ground is garlic and maybe onions.  We have tried to cover our raised beds in the past but we have found that heavy rains and snow would cause them to collapse.  This year we have tried a couple different types of row covers to see if we can find a system that works better. 
(I am sorry the pictures got all mixed up, but I am sure that you will able to tell which is which, sorry again)

The first is shaped like a tent and we have the plastic attached to a middle board and hanging down the sides.  It can be accessed from either side.  There are beets in this one, so we are mainly just trying to keep the snow and the hard frost off of the leaves.  Beets like the cooler temps and I think that it actually makes them sweeter.  We have a similar cover over the turnips and the lettuce, however I know that they need to be kept a little warmer than beets. 

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The second thing that we did was a thicker piece of plastic at an angle, this is over the broccoli and the carrots.  We also put this over an open bed and I am hoping to plant a batch of lettuce and spinach in that but I am not sure if it will germinate in the cold.  I feel like everything we do is an experiment. 

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We also have two beds that are under recycled windows.  This has been our most successful way of covering the beds in the past, but it is hard to lift them up without the snow falling in on the plants and I am always worried that the glass is going to break. But when we have used them in the spring to get an early start for the tomatoes, these always work the best! 

Last, we put our large plastic cover back on our bed of snow peas.   This is the cover that has had the largest problem with the snow in the past. For this cover I sowed pieces of vinyl together to make a slip cover for the raised beds.  We have tried this in the past to see if we can extend the tomato season and we needed something that was really tall. In the past, it has collapsed under the weight of rain and snow. This year we have put it on a bed that has more cross support pieces, I am hoping in the next week or so I can harvest these snow peas and pull up the plants, so it will not be exposed to much snow.   The problem is the kids are eating them before i can get them into the house.  I guess next year I have to figure out how to plant more snow peas next year. 

Right now we are still very much going through a learning process.  But I was once told my a good friend and mentor that the day you stop learning is the day you find a new job!  Between the kids and the garden I think that I will be learning for a very long time!!!

Sunday Summary

The realization that the cold weather is coming can not be denied anymore.  I contacted the local apple orchard and placed my winter order.  Next Wednesday, I will be picking up 6 bushels of apples.  We are hoping that will get us through the winter, but with the way my family eats apple I honestly am just hoping it will get us to Valentine`s Day. 
During the winter we try and not use the furnance except to take the chill off in the morning, so that I will get out of bed.  I am not a morning person, especially in the winter.  This week temps are suppose to be in the 20`s so it will be a good way to guage how much wood we are going to use a week.
Christmas is coming soon and I would like to give as many homemade presents as I can.  In the past I have done a gift or two for my husband and kids, but this year I would really like to do more.   I am excited but I am worried it is going to be a difficult year to try this.  My Lyme Disease has returned and my hands are not as strong as they once were.  I am hoping that as I take the medication my strength will come back.  No matter what we do, we will try and keep Christmas as simple as possible.  We are focusing on spending quality time with family. 

Around the farm things are also getting ready for winter.  We are done breeding rabbits for the year and will start breeding them again the first of Feburary.  Last year we lost two litters to the cold and we do not want to ever do that again. 
The chickens are finishing up their molt, and growing in nice down feathers to keep them warm this winter.  Their egg production is down, which is to be expected and it will probably stay down because of the cold weather we are getting. 

In the aquaponics system, we have moved the some fish around.  The tilapia are now in our dining room in a 55 gallon tank.  They are growing and seem to be happy there at last count we think that we have between 45 and 50.  In the greenhouse, we have put the gold fish from the garden pond into the aquaponics system.  I hope I am not speaking too soon, but they seem to be doing great!  This is wonderful, but it still does not explain why the tilapia were dying in the system.  We have asked a fellow tilapia person to come out and help us, we are hoping they come in the next week or so. 
Well, the fire place is roaring, my tea is steeping and my favorite radio program is coming on, so I am going to find my crochet hook and relax.  I hope everyone had a good weekend!

A time for Puttin Up

As I type this I am watching a pressure canner gauge.  It is my job to make sure that the pressure gauge does not fall below 10.  Our canner is great if we need a pressure of 15, it regulates that for us, but the lower pressures we have regulate ourselves.  Personally, I hate this job.  I am a water bath canner girl, but my husband loves the pressure canner and I can’t can chicken stock without it.  It is safe to say we have a love, hate relationship.

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This week we have canned salsa, both hot and mild, as well as chicken stock.  I don’t know why but we always seem to start canning at 10 PM at night.  Anyway, our garden has been doing great.  I love making salsa with the tomatoes that I have grown and the peppers and the onions and the herbs.. it is just be best feeling.  I have learned how to make smaller batches and I am ok with canning more often to be able to can our own produce.  There is just something magical to me about being able to can food that you have grown or raised.

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This week has been a very busy week for us all over the homestead.  We have 100 new tilapia, which is very exciting.  We have a nursery in the house and the males and females are separated in the green house.  The last batch of tilapia had to be mail ordered, we are very thankful that this batch was from a local hatchery.  It was great to stoop sit in Baltimore City, hon, and talk fish.  That is just not something I get to do everyday.  The fish look wonderful and are doing great and we made a new contact in the fish world.  All and all I call that a win!

This was a rough rabbit week though, one of our 9 month old bucks was out in the run and broke his back.  We are not sure if he was spooked and jumped into the side of the run or if he got his toe caught in the bottom wire, either way he was a broke boy.  My husband did what needed to be done and he is in the freezer.  We are going to try and tan the hide in order to give him as much respect as possible.  We don’t want any of his life to go to waste.

OK on a up side we are transitioning into fall and winter planting.  As beds become empty we are adding new compost and replanting them with fall and winter crops.  So far we have planted a new set of snow peas, carrots, beats, turnips, radishes, lettuce, parsnips, cabbage, and broccoli.  Tomorrow I will be starting some “greens” to go into the float raft in the aquaponics system.

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The aquaponics system is doing great.  We have tomatoes growing out the top vents and we had to tie them up to the point that we can’t even stand up in the greenhouse, the tomato plants go from one wall to the other.  It really is just amazing to see so much growth in tomato plants in September.  It hope that we are able to continue the growth through the winter.  Our goal is by next spring we will have two aquaponics systems going in the green house so that we can have twice the blessings.

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2014. 1 Comment

Tomato Sauce

I think that I have finally found a recipe for tomato sauce that works for us and that I just love. I am honestly writing this post for me just as I am writing it for you. I have a very bad habit of tweeking a recipe to get it just the way I like it and then forgetting what I did. I am writing to down now for all the world to see so that I do not forget it.

As you know I do not have as much of a garden as I would like. I get a couple pounds of tomatoes a week but never 45 pounds like the Ball recipe calls for to make tomato sauce. I have created a recipe that uses just 6 pounds of tomatoes. I call it a recipe for normal people. It makes two quart jars of sauce. It is not as much sauce as the big recipes make, but it is the best way for me to preserve my harvest and enjoy tomato sauce year round.

My small batch tomato sauce. Makes 2 quarts

6 pounds of Romas or San Marzano Tomatoes. (I grow San Marzanos and I love them and I am never going back to another variety.)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon of onion powder

1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder

1 tablespoon of mince onion

1 tablespoon of basil

1 tablespoon of molasses

2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 tsp of citric acid (This is per quart jar and it does not go in till you are ready to put the lids on to can them)

 

I wash my San Marzanos and I cut them in half, remove the core and any seeds that are there. The great thing about San Marzano is that there is very little seeds. They are a very dry tomato and there is not much “jelly” as my kids call it, on the inside. I put all the washed and sliced tomatoes in my stock pot.  I add all my seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer.  I start out at a low temp because I do not want any to burn on the bottom of the pan.  Once the tomatoes start to liquify I then increase the heat to about medium heat.  I let them simmer for about a half in hour.  Once all the tomatoes are soft I then use the immersion blender and create a perfectly smooth liquid.  Yes you read these instructions correctly. I do not take the skin off my tomatoes, I like the added texture, nutrition and it does not waste as much of my precious tomatoes.  Once it is blended I let it simmer till it reaches the thickness I like in a sauce.  I like my sauce to stick to my spoon so there are times it simmers for an hour.  There are times there is less moisture in the tomatoes and it only simmers for 1/2 an hour.  Either way you can simmer it till it is the thickness you like.  Place the sauce in two clean and warm quart jars, I put mine in the dishwasher, and add your acid, either from lemon juice or citric acid. Put your canning lids on and water bath can them for 40 minutes or pressure can them at 11psi for 15 min. (This is based on our altitude and the Presto Canner guide instructions.)

I hope that you enjoy this sauce as much as our family does.  There is just something special about opening a can of sauce that you made, I love it.  Enjoy the rest of your canning season!

 

Tomato Rot

Every year we learn new things, and this year is no different.  We have grown tomatoes in the past, but we have never had a problem with tomato rot.  Our garden is not very big, we have very little sun in our yard, as a result we have to plant our crops as close together as possible to save space.  That and I also have a problem throwing away seedlings, I plant everything even when I know I will be planting them too close together.  In the past, that has just caused me to have a garden that looks like a jungle, this year however, I think that me planting the tomato plants to close together has caused the tomatoes to get tomato rot. 

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I dont think that I can take all the blame though, we have had a very unusual spring for this area.  It was cooler than normal with  a lot of rain.  I honestly think that it was a combination of the two, no matter the cause now we had tomato rot and we had to figure out a way to save at least some of our crop.  I planted a couple different types of tomatoes all with a different purpose.  Our sauce tomatoes however, were the ones that were effected the most by the tomato rot, they are also the most expensive to replace if I were to buy them at a farmers market. 
Not knowing much about tomato rot, I did a little research and found that moisture and air flow had something to do with it.  Even though no one really knows the reason for tomato rot.  I decided to try and trim my plants as much as possible to increase air flow at least two feet off the soil.  We trimmed off all suckers as well as any limbs that had not started to produce any tomatoes.  We made sure all the plants were tied up and supported and clipped any limbs that were rubbing another limb.  At first you read that and you think oh, that does not sound like much work at all… well you would be very wrong. It took three adults 2 days to complete this simple task.  In the end I think that it was worth every second of effort.  We still lost some of or crop, but once we trimmed we noticed a drastic improvement.  Was it the act of us trimming or was it the weather warming up and the rain slowing down, I cant answer that, but I am happy to have my sauce tomatoes back and we have continued to produced a close to 10 pounds of tomatoes a week.  Not bad for our little plot of land. 

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Tattooing

I feel like I know you well enough to be frank with you… I HATE tattooing rabbits.  I am a strong enough woman to admit when there is something that I am just no good at, and tattooing is it!  We have tried a couple different types of tattooing kits.  We originally bought a squeeze tattooing tool.  It uses a pin type system, you punch the wholes in the ears and then put the tattoo ink in.  Well, when we got this little torture device I read the instructions.  It told me to squeeze the ear, and then put the ink on it, wait a few and wipe extra ink off.  Well, when I did that I did not get any ink left on the ear.  Then we tried putting the ink on first and then squeezing the ear, still we got nothing.  So then I tried to do it both ways, we put ink on first, squeezed and put the ink on again, this time we left the ink there for hours, still nothing.

I decided that it was time to try something new, it had to be the device, there was no way I was this bad at tattooing.  We bought something called the rabbit tat.  This is a hand held tattoo pen that looks a lot like an electric tooth brush.  I was so excited to try it, finally, I would have tattooing success.  I tried the new tattoo pen today, and let me tell you how much it just did not work.  I followed the directions to a T and it still did not work.  I don’t know if it is me, or if maybe we have some bad ink. Can ink go bad?  We tried two different needles.  I tried 5 different rabbits… I am really starting to think it honestly is just me.  To my defense, my husband, did not have any luck either.

I don’t know what we are going to do.  I can not sell pedigree rabbits without them being tattooed.  I have to solve this problem.  I know some of you raise rabbits and I would love to have you give me suggestions.  What do you use?  What am I doing wrong? 

End of June Update

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Well things are continuing to grow.  Our tomato plants are 8 feet tall and my garden looks like an over grown jungle.  It is truly a magical thing, to think that a couple of months ago it was just dirt in raised beds, now it is a vegetable wonderland.

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This weekend we harvested 10 cucumbers, 2 pounds of beets, 2 pounds of green beans,  a couple of handfuls of blueberries that never made it in the house and some strawberries that also never made it out of the strawberry patch.  The down side of using children as garden assistants is sometimes they eat more than they bring in the house.  But I would rather have that then children that do not like to help in the garden.  My little girl not only eats all the berries, but also eats green beans and cucumbers fresh from the plants. We are not able to can the beets right now so I am going to boil them, slice them and freeze them.  I would much rather can them, but this works great too.

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Everything is continuing to grow.  The tomato plants are taking over, to the point that I am having to cut them back and pull tomato plants up and transplant them into the aquaponics system.  Our white beans are very close to being harvested, because they are a dry bean I have to pull the whole plant and hang it all to dry.  This was the first year that I planted drying beans and I learned that those should not be planted till much later in the season.  In fact, I have not planted my black beans or red beans yet because I want them to be able to dry on the vine.  The potato plants are starting to turn yellow, I look forward to harvesting fresh potatoes.  That is another thing that I would do differently next year.  I would plant potatoes in waves, so that I would have a more constant supply and have some ready right at the end of the season for the winter.  This is the first year we have planted sweet potatoes and they look great.  It is so much fun learning new things.  The carrots are also almost ready to be harvested, my husband and I always argue about carrots, I always want to pull them up to see how they are doing, and he wants me to leave them in the ground until fall… we will see who wins.

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Now that we have harvested all the beets, I did my second planting in the bed. My husband help me build a pallet trellis for butternut squash to grow up.  Under the pallets, I planted head lettuce, hoping that the shade from the butternut will keep them from bolting in the heat.  I also planted 2 more rows of beans, and a row of chard.  I am just starting to figure out how to do second plantings.  I really need to get better at it.  Every year life gets in the way, but I guess that is what makes it life.  I am looking forward to seeing how this bed turns out, I will post pictures.  Below is a picture of it now.

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In the aquaponics system the fish are growing great.  The new filter that we put in works great for keeping the water clean.  I am so frustrated though because the cabbage moths have found all my cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. I have been pulling cabbage worms off every day, but they are still doing a fair amount of damage.  With these  plants being the aquaponics system there is very little I can do to get rid of them.  I have thought about netting the plants, but my husband things that we are just going to have to grow these plants under row covers in the fall when the moths are not around.  We are lucky that these are the only major pest that we have in the garden.

This is a very busy time, I am enjoying the fresh veggies and having dirt under my nails.  Keep getting dirty!