Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 12

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Every year’s garden is different. As soon as you think you have it figured out, the next year throws you for a loop.  This is why becoming a professional farmer can cause severe anxiety issues.  There is no control.  Over anything!  Here in our three community garden plots we are simply trying to feed ourselves for the summer.  And we are eating delicious food.  This year we may not see pumpkins (which is crazy to me, my farm was called Pumpkin Hollow Farm, for crying out loud!) but we will see for the first time ever sweet potatoes.  We have had lots of rain for Colorado and it shows.  So for starting with a plot that had sand and ant hills, with little amending to the soil, and two tons of hail thrown in, I’d say we’re looking pretty good this year.

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In season now are peas.  Glorious purple snow peas and crunchy snap peas.  A few thick pods of English peas are ready but I do believe that I am missing several vines of English peas.  The rabbit seems to know nothing of it.

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The collard greens are prolific and delicious young.  Crisp them in the oven with the snow and snap peas, some garlic, salt, and a good drizzle of olive oil for a farm to table side.  The tomatoes are setting on their vines as well.  Yesterday I did have a hankering for fried green tomatoes but they aren’t quite that big yet!

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The cabbages are growing their heads.  Now, there is a fine line in the high plains of Colorado, one week you could have happily growing cabbage and the next little black bugs will be sent by Mother Nature to take them out since they aren’t ready yet.  The clean up crew.  So, sometimes you can just harvest as is, without the finished head.  Chiffonade the leaves and stir fry.  With the snow and snap peas, of course!

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Some of the potatoes have flowered and some are yet to flower.  Potato flowers are amazingly beautiful.  They always surprise me in their lovely understated elegance.  I let the mustard, radish, and arugula plants go to seed.  I enjoy their flowers and they may reseed themselves, which is always a nice treat.

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The herbs have been prolific.  Waving California poppies, knee high cilantro in bloom, morning glories grasping for the trellis, volunteer borage with its star-like blooms.  Chamomile and its glorious scent, the first head of Calendula, roses.

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Lots of fresh lettuces, baby carrots, greens, young onions, and herbs await.  I am better after an hour in the garden.  My medicine.  Watching the water crystals from the sprayer bounce off the leaves of the great sunflowers, watching birds flit by, a lady bug lands on a nearby leaf.  I am in my element in a garden, wherever it may be.

3 Jars of Pickles (canning a little at a time and a pickle recipe)

There is nothing saying that canning has to take all day.  Preparation, a zillion jars, boxes of veggies, apron donned, friends over.  You are every bit as efficient if you are able to can a few things at a time on a whim.

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Do you remember my interns from a few years back?  Ethan and Stephanie would bring in a bunch of green beans every day.  And then some more at night sometimes.  I often prefer canned green beans and we could only eat so many fresh.  Now, I was accustomed to ordering two bushels of green beans from a farmer family of mine.  In a two day whirlwind I would put up enough green beans for winter so what was I going to do with all of my beans?

I wanted to teach the young interns to can so we put up a few jars.  It didn’t take any time at all and then every day we just canned a few more and pretty soon the entire larder was filled with that exceptional summer of green beans and I never did have to order green beans to put up!

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That summer changed my perception on canning.  If things are harvested today or are fresh right now and you are not going to eat them now, can them.  It all adds up.  Sunday I was perusing the farmers market tables taking in all the bounty and color (mind you the only thing in season in Colorado right now is asparagus and spinach, everything else got shipped in from California….) and saw the cutest, crispest looking little cucumbers.  I had never seen that particular varietal so I brought them home.  They just filled two 12 ounce jars and one pint jar.  That is three jars of pickles off my list of larder needs.

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Easy Pickles

Holding jar at an angle place cucumbers around the edges and in the center, finagling the puzzle until they all fit snug and are ends up (doesn’t matter which end).  Or slice into 1/2 rounds and place in jars.  There should be one inch head space still.

Fill clean jar of cucumbers 1/2 way up with vinegar (I used my friend, HotRod’s homemade malt vinegar).

Add 1 teaspoon each of dried dill (dill isn’t in season yet), mustard seeds, celery seeds, and sea salt.

Add a smidge of hot red pepper flakes if you wish.  Maybe a clove of garlic.  A half teaspoon of sugar.  Your choice.  It’s fun to play with flavors.  It doesn’t change the recipe.

Fill to 1/2 inch headspace with water.  Run a damp wash rag over the rim and then replace lids.

Place in a canning or stew pot of hot water.  Water level has to cover jars.  You can put a towel between the jars to keep from clinking.  Bring to boil and boil 5 minutes plus 1 minute for every 1000 feet above sea level.  So, I did 11 or 12 minutes.  Remove from pot and let sit on counter overnight.  You will hear that lovely “click”, a favorite sound among homesteaders.  The pickles are done in a few months.  Label date and contents.

NOTE: Pour boiling water from a kettle into jars to rinse them out.  Put lids in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.  That is all you need to do.  The whole idea is to have clean, hot jars.  That does the trick.

Happy Canning!

The Year Without Apricots

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This is a blissful time of year and we have been blessed with many delights of the season. The goldfinches have returned after a two year hiatus, glints of gold everywhere, beautiful blue birds, and cooing doves incant the air.  Our small farm is filled with birdsong from feathered creatures of all types.  Two years in a row now the weather is uncharacteristically cooler than usual, and though the tomatoes cry for more heat, everything else is lush and green.  Mornings with no markets are spent leisurely with a cup of coffee and a few chapters of reading before I wake Doug to milk.  Writing, reading, hoeing rows, watering with a cold glass of beer in hand, visiting with neighbors, friends, visitors to the farm.  Sitting under the canopy taking in the fresh smell of earth after a light rain and feeling the heat of summer on my skin.  It is an enchanting time.

Not yet into the throws of full time preserving, I can, dehydrate, or freeze as things come available.  It is time to dehydrate hordes of apricots for Doug’s favorite snacking.  I hide bags of them in the root cellar and ration them for knowledge that they would be enjoyed in a week if not.  To my dismay, the freeze on Mother’s Day wiped out a good portion of fruit from Colorado’s trees, apricots being one of them.  The organic farm at the market had some from Utah.  Said they were better anyway.  I doled out thirty dollars, a lot as we are still penny pinching this time of year, and took home the apricots.  They were unripe, tart, bitter.  I left them on the counter for a few days then dehydrated them.  They came out tart, bitter, disappointing.  Not only did I waste precious funds and time, but I have no apricots this year for Doug.

Lessons learned.  I cannot have everything I wish the moment I want it.  I am sure there are some apricots at the store from Peru but there is nothing like a local, freshly harvested piece of fruit.  The warm juices of summer penetrating the flesh of a small bit of sustenance.  A treat.  So this year we will be without.  But as nature does, if it misses one year, the next is sure to make up for it.  And next year, with patience, we shall dine on fresh apricots.  This year I should have waited.  Luckily the peaches survived.  They will arrive at market soon.