Monday, August 29, 2011

Pickled peppers

I’ve never pickled anything before.  I’ve been the recipient of many people’s pickling charities and some of them have been really good.  It’s like listening to music – I really like music but I’m not a musician. 

The six pepper plants I grew this year were all peaking in their pepper production.  It was time to pick peppers and pickle them.  I bought the equipment, vinegar, salt and the Ball Co. recipe book and also downloaded some recipes.   I wrote out some instructions the day before.  On Saturday I picked the peppers.  I got about 3 ½ pounds of peppers, half hot and half sweet.  The hot peppers are Red Hot Cherry and Hungarian Wax.  The sweet peppers are Marconi, Cubanelle and Pimento.
The peppers were cut, deseeded and sliced up.  The hot cherry peppers were the most work – I cut them like a pumpkin, removed the cap and scooped out the seeds with the end of a potato peeler.  After cutting the hot peppers I noticed that my nasal passages were free and clear, with a slight burning sensation, and that’s with mildly hot peppers.  Once cut the peppers were put in a dilute salt solution for the day.  I don’t know what this does except salt the pepper for flavor, but that’s what the recipe calls for.
At the end of the day I canned them.  The jars were taken from the dishwasher and filled, and the hot pickling solution ladled in and the lids put on.  I never scraped the sides to remove air bubbles (forgot), but did set the filled jar on the countertop with some authority.  The peppers filled six jars and there was just enough pickling solution to fill them with a little left over.   After boiling, the jars were set on a towel and in a few minutes each one emitted a small pop as the lid sealed.  It works!  I found it’s similar to setting up a reaction when I was a bench chemist.  I’d like to open a jar now but I know it’s better to wait a few weeks for the flavors to mingle. 
Now I’m thinking hot pickled okra, hot pickled carrots, dilly beans, the sky’s the limit.  It's a great new pickling world out there. 
I haven’t been tracking the fish harvest religiously.  On Saturday I caught a catfish and ate it for dinner with green beans and red potatoes.  Pan-fried fish reminds me of the lakes in northern Indiana and frying up a mess of fish, usually bluegill, perch and bass.  I’ve been averaging one fish a week from the pond this summer and there’s still plenty of fish left.  Here’s some picks when I was feeding the catfish a few days ago. 

  And this:
Today I removed more beans.  This year I planted bush beans as fillers in spots that open up in the beds.  I’ve found that a 3x4 patch with two rows of beans can produce a lot of beans.  I try to stagger plantings two to three weeks apart to maintain production.  This patch had Provider beans, which have been a really good bean, productive and tasty.  The bean beetles recently moved into the patch and were ruining most of the beans.  With damaged beans and few new flowers it was time to remove the plants before they became an incubator for beetles.  I cut them off at the base so the roots can continue to inoculate the soil with nitrogen fixing bacteria and put the plants in the compost bin.
The last remaining plants in the brassica bed are cauliflower, a Burpee’s variety called Summer Harvest.  They were doing great until the heat wave.  Nearly a month of continuous highs in the 90’s stopped their growth and burned the new leaves.  Somehow the plants survived.  When the weather cooled a few weeks ago they started growing again.  This plant produced an odd head with the leaves interspersed with the florets.  The cauliflower is a bit strong raw but it may be OK when cooked.  It’s amazing that a plant that was seeded the end of April and set into the beds in late May actually produced something.

Results for the week:   Eggplant 15 oz;  Tomato 4 lb, 11 oz;  Hot pepper 1 lb, 15 oz;  Sweet pepper 1 lb, 13 oz;  Snap bean 2 lb, 7 oz;  Cauliflower 12 oz;  Butternut squash 1 lb, 11 oz.  See Results tab for spreadsheet of yields for the year.   

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday August 22, 2011

What happened to my dehydrator?  My own personal dehydrator web page on Amazon claimed it should arrive on Monday.  I checked the status on Tuesday and it was in Cincinnati.  OK that’s not too far, should be here soon.  Then I checked the history.  It arrived at the FedEx hub in Indianapolis on Monday, then it went to Cincy.  I had a Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot moment.  The FedEx hub is on the SW outskirts of Indy, about 30 miles from my house as the crow flies.  Cincinnati is further away, a lot further.  

On Thursday the mail carrier shows up in my driveway.  He’s driving an old Taurus station wagon and I get the impression he never quite got back from Woodstock.  But a nice guy anyway, and he has the dehydrator.  I’m not going to try to figure out the journey, it’s here and it works.  I like this dehyrator.  It has a temperature control and thermostat, so the temperature can be tuned for herbs, vegetables or jerky.  I first dried some Brandywine tomatoes, a slicing tomato.  The dried tomatoes are good in an omelette.  

After the tomatoes I dried some sweet peppers.  The paprika peppers have been outstanding this year, large and abundant.  I bought the plant at the Bloomington farmers market.  There’s a Marconi on the left, two Cubanelles in the center and the paprikas at a right angle.  To give you an idea of their size those are 2x4's.  The paprikas were sliced in halves and the seeds removed, the larger peppers were quartered, before they went in the dehydrator.  Guess I’ll try to grind up the paprikas, or just cut them really fine, once they are dry. 

And here’s a pic of pimento peppers.  Beautiful heart-shaped peppers, sweet with a thick wall.  To me they are like the best bell pepper ever.  I like them with cucumbers and tomatoes and some Ranch dressing.  It’s been a great summer for peppers.  I’m going to try pickling some hot peppers soon, on a day when the windows can stay open.

Growing butternut squash and bean together on a trellis just did not work.  The squash plant was suppressed and the beans were hard to find in all that foliage.  I pulled the beans several weeks ago.  The squash had been setting flowers but the newly formed squash always died off, apparently because not enough nutrients were directed into them.  I’m sure they were pollinated because there is a healthy bumblebee population here.   Now that the squash bugs are mostly under control the plant has been setting new squash and they are growing.  So it looks like I’ll get some more butternuts if we don’t have an early frost.  Here's a green one alongside some mature butternuts. 

I picked two of the butternuts that were on a dead vine.  I'm thinking about drying the smaller one as a candy.  Time to do a little research on the Net.

Totals for the week:
Tomato 4 lb 15 oz;  Eggplant 1 lb 10 oz;  Hot pepper 6 oz;  Sweet pepper 4 lb 1 oz;
Snap Beans 2 lb 2 oz;  Okra 6 oz;  Butternut squash 4 lb 5 oz.    
Yearly total 146 lbs. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sweedey Hollow

Since the oppressive heat has broken I got the itch to do some hiking.  Tuesday I drove to Morgan-Monroe State Forest, about 20 miles from my house,  to hike the Low Gap Trail.  It’s a 10 mile loop trail through the Southern Indiana hill country.  It’s not as rugged as Brown or Jackson county, but there are some 200 to 300 foot climbs on the trail.  That may not seem like much to those who live near the Appalachians or out west, but there are few parts of the trail that are level, you are either climbing or descending, so it’s a good workout. 

The best part of the trail is the descent into Sweedey Hollow.  The trail drops down from a ridgeline then parallels a creek bed, crossing it several times.  Soon the walls of the hollow get closer and closer and some eye-catching rock formations appear.  The rocks in this area are sandstone with a strong grain.  They tend to break off in flat pieces into the stream bed.  Many of the larger rocks in the hillsides have lost their lower parts and now overhang the hillside.  I read that there are some endangered orchid species in the hollow.   
Here’s a pic of the stream bed through Sweedey Hollow, dry as a bone.  Most of the rocks are flat pieces of sandstone.  About four miles further the trail crosses another stream which has a very different geology. There the rocks are mostly round and there are a lot of geodes, although you have to get away from the trail to find any now.  Geodes look like big gray eggs, but break one open and it is hollow with crystal formations. 

This is a pic of a rock that had some nice lichen patterns.  The camera, or my camera skills, don’t do it justice.

This is a pic looking up at a rock formation that has lost the lower part and now has an overhang.  There are a number of formations like this in the hollow.

Before reaching the largest overhanging rock the batteries went dead in the camera.  There’s a large rock formation near the streambed with an overhang  about 100 feet long that you can walk under.  There are some large trees on the hillside directly above the overhang.  Makes me wonder when it will finally collapse – tomorrow, a hundred years from now, or not for another ten thousand years, you just don’t know. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15, 2011

The Nesco food dehydrator is supposed to arrive today.  This week there’s going to be a glut of peppers and tomatoes that are all ripening at once, so the dehydrator will be just in time.  I ordered the 700W model with an adjustable thermostat.   It costs a little more than the basic model but it has one more tray, adjustable heat and some extras that the basic model doesn’t have.  And it looks a lot more solid.  It’ll be fun to try it out – I’ll have to make some jerky later. 

Here’s a pic of the Giant Marconi peppers.  It’s my favorite sweet pepper, tangy and sweet.  I picked one yesterday and grilled it with eggplant and chicken.   This morning I picked the first pimento pepper, they are sweet and thick-walled and great with tomatoes and cucumber.

These are the paprika peppers, very large this year.  I bought the plant at the farmer’s market and will be back for another one next year.  These will go in the dehydrator.

And here’s the red hot cherry peppers.  I’ve read these are good for pickling.

Tomatoes are really coming on.  The brandywine especially are very good.  The ones in the picture are German Queen.  I’ll probably go back to raising at least one Supersonic F1  tomato next year.  It’s just been a very good robust plant for me that produces excellent tomatoes from mid July to fall.  And I’ll plant one heirloom, probably Cherokee Purple.   

The lavendar touch eggplant is about four feet tall.  Good thing the tomato plant on it’s north side is almost seven feet tall.  It has completely outgrown the fairytale eggplant that was seeded at the same time.  The fairytale plant is a little over a foot tall.  Probably the last year for that variety although it is good on the grill.
I put some produce in a cooler for the delivery person.  I know it’s a long trip to the middle of nowhere and it’s usually their last delivery of the day, so a little reward is in order. 
Weekly totals:
Tomato 8 lb 6 oz;  Okra 3 oz;  Eggplant 11 oz;  Sweet pepper 9 oz;  Hot pepper 11 oz;  Beans 8 oz 
The spreadsheet under the Results tab has been updated as well.    

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Logrolling, cutting pasture, catfish dinner, geeky calculations

The weather lately has been very nice.  A few days ago a cold front displaced the opressive heat and humidity that had blanketed the midwest for a month.  Friday morning the outside temperature was 58 degrees.  The weather was perfect for cutting the pasture out front – dry but not hot.  The Swisher brush cutter was hitched to the garden tractor and they were both gassed up.  It took about five hours of mowing (and several long breaks) to cut 3 acres of pasture. 

I let a neighbor who raises cattle take the first cut on the pasture for hay.  I’m not too keen on doing this often unless some fertility can be returned to the pasture.  Cutting hay removes a substantial amount of minerals and nitrogen.  After the first cut the hot weather settled in.  The heat and drought was really hard on the pasture grasses.  The grass stopped growing while the weeds did not.  Morning glory took over some large patches.  This mowing cut back the weeds and should stimulate the grass to grow.   The cooler weather and recent rains will hopefully give the grass the upper hand against the weeds.
Cutting pasture will wear you out.  The ground is not smooth, in fact it feels like riding a bucking horse sometimes.   Then there’s the noise of the motors, the hot sun, the tedium.  Glad I only have to do this a few times a year.

Something needed to be done about the tall stump from the cherry tree.  At four feet in height it looked really bad.   The tree was felled last fall.  Since it had a large branch about two feet off the ground I had to make the felling cuts above the branch, about four feet high, leaving a very tall stump.  The way a tree supports a branch cantilevered to the side is to me an engineering feat.  The wood fibers of the branch integrate seamlessly into the main trunk to make an incredibly strong connection.  I took a picture of the stump last spring after cutting up most of the trunk for firewood.

For the logger cutting a tree for firewood,  branches are to be avoided.  The wood at the branch point is denser and harder than straight grain wood, and is nearly impossible to split.   That’s why I made the felling cuts above the branch.  Cherry wood is very hard and will quickly dull a chain, although it is easy to split.   I did not want the added difficulty of cutting through a branch when felling a tree nearly two feet in diameter.  
So I thought I might get some useful firewood from this stump, even though I wouldn’t be able to split all of it.  The cutting was tedious.  It’s not a wimpy chainsaw, but with a 20 inch bar I had to work around the stump.   After refilling the gas tank and resharpening the chain I finally cut all the way through the base.  The log just sat there in place.  I needed to push it over to cut it up.
The thought crossed my mind that the log could roll down the banks.  But how likely was that since it was not at all round?  The branch that had been cut off left a knob on one side that would surely keep it from rolling, wouldn’t it? 
I had just enough leverage to push this big beast over.  The log fell over and began to roll.  It rolled up to the knob and hesitated.  Then it rolled over.  It rolled completely around and came around again to the knob.  This time it hesitated longer.  Surely it will stop this time, I thought.  It rolled over again.  I realized that things were going south quickly.  The log rolled up to the knob again and hesitated again.  This time I got to the side of it and tried to exert some resistance.  I wasn’t about to stand in front of this thing, it would have flattened me.  The log rolled over the knob again.  Now it had reached the steep part of the bank.  Game over.  The log picked up speed and rolled straight into the pond, its final resting place. 
The stump looks much better if that’s a consolation.  The log can just be seen through the weeds at the shoreline.
And here’s a closeup.  That log is not going anywhere. 
So now I have a very large log in the water.  A nice platform for turtles to sun themselves.  But I got the germ of an idea to use this log:  build a small deck onto the log as a fishing platform.  The log will get waterlogged and not go anywhere and should last for years.   Being a geek I ran some calculations for the log’s mass.  At 22 inches average diameter and four feet long it has a volume of about 11.5 cubic feet.   I looked up the density of black cherry, and that works out to a little over 400 pounds.  It’s a good thing I did not try to jump in front of it to stop it.   
I’ve been trying to catch a catfish the last two days with no luck.  The fish were very wary.  I thought I’d try my  luck again today.  The hook was baited with the catfish bait, which has a most disagreeable odor.  And as a former bench chemist who has worked with some incredibly foul smelling sulfur compounds that is saying something.   The bobber was set at four foot depth.  I lobbed the lure into the middle of the pond and sat down and enjoyed the quiet. 
After about ten minutes a fish struck hard.   The hook was set.  I knew it was a nice fish right away.  The fish I’ve been catching lately have all been about 16 inches and I wanted one of the larger fish that are in there.  This one was 18 inches.  Two inches difference in length may not seem like much but keep in mind that the fish is larger in three dimensions.  So an 18 inch fish is almost 50% heavier than a 16 inch fish.  It made two really nice thick filets and the backbone was frozen for chowder. 
I coated the filets in Andy’s cajun breading and pan-fried them in canola oil.  Lemon parsley potatoes were prepared with Yukon Gold potatoes, butter and fresh curled parsley out of the garden.  And a side of tomatoes and cucumbers with a little shaved parmesan and salad dressing topped it off.   I had to buy a cucumber since my plants got bacterial wilt, but the bulk of the meal was sourced right here.   Almost a crime to eat this well.
Of course the head and entrails went into the compost bin.  I’ve found that fish heads in the compost bin literally disappear after a few days.   The compost pile has been getting fish offal about once a week since early June.  Should make for some rich compost with plenty of nitrogen next year.

Monday, August 8, 2011

More spuds

The Red Pontiac potatoes in two of the cages looked finished.  I pulled up the fenceposts and removed the cages.  The Red Pontiacs in the third cage were putting out some healthy looking new shoots, so I’m going to leave them and see if I can get more production from those plants.  I carefully dug up the potatoes with a shovel and sliced only one.   I was hoping for more (just under nine pounds) but that’s OK, they are really nice looking potatoes, and nice sized.  And the Red Pontiacs are every bit as good as the Yukon Golds.   

Next year I’ll know how to plant potatoes.   I planted Red Pontiacs in three cages side by side and put Yukon Golds in front (south) of them in the beds.  That defeated the purpose of the cages, which was to give the plants more sunlight and air exposure.  The potatoes in the middle cage did the worst.  Next year I’ll plant four cages across a twelve foot bed.   That will leave about ten inches of space between each cage.  In front of the potatoes will go something short, like onion.  This is the remaining cage with some new growth showing on the stems.  I’ll leave it for a week to see what it does.

I’ve really been going after the squash bugs lately.  If I don’t stop them or at least suppress them there aren’t going to be any more butternuts. I cut off leaves that are yellowed and sickly and they go in the compost bin with their bug stowaways.   Every day I direct the growing shoots toward open spaces in the trellis.  The vines on the trellis look healthier than the vines on the ground, and get less bug pressure.  The squash bugs use the lower stems like roads to get to the leaves, and they use the dead foliage around the base as cover.  I removed the deitrus on the ground and have been alternating sprayings of Neem and pyrethrins, making sure I spray the lower stems.  It looks like I’m getting the upper hand – this morning only a few bugs were found.
The last broccoli of the season, variety Gypsy, was picked.  The lone Brussell’s sprout plant just died a few days ago.  Probably a casualty of the hot weather.  The cauliflower plants have a lot of burned foliage at the growing tip but hope springs eternal.   It was a good year for nice quality broccoli. 

Here’s a pic of the whole garden.  Lots of empty spaces now.  I’ll have to draw up the plans for next year soon.

Weekly totals:  Tomato 5 lb 7 oz;  Okra 3 oz;  Broccoli 1 lb 2 oz;  Eggplant 1 lb 4 oz;  
Red Long onions 1 lb 8 oz;  Yellow onions 6 oz;  Hot pepper 3 oz;  Sweet pepper 2 oz; 
Red Pontiac potatoes 8 lb 11 oz.  
There’s a JPEG snapshot of the spreadsheet with the weekly totals under the Results tab.  I think it’s readable if you click on the picture.  Closing in on 120 lbs for the year.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Second wind

There’s a lot of empty spaces in the beds now.  Yukon Gold potatoes and onions were in decline so they were pulled or dug up.  Cucumbers, summer squash and the acorn squash succumbed to bacterial wilt and had to be removed.  Of the cucurbits only a butternut squash has survived.  The last sets of cole crops are finishing up and chinese cabbage is the only variety I’ll plant for fall harvest – the beds don’t get enough sun in the fall to plant much of anything.    
This is the former onion bed, now mostly empty.  I planted 1/2 runner beans to replace the cucumbers that should be all over the trellis by now.  I haven’t decided if I’ll replant the rest of the bed yet.  There’s also an okra plant and oregano in the bed.
I planted two rows of Provider green beans in the space where the summer squash grew.  When I make a seed trench I first hoe in place, that is jab the hoe along the seed line to break up the soil without turning it over.  Then I pull the soil to one side with a trowel.  I plant beans about an inch and a half deep where the soil is less likely to dry out.  Large seeds like beans have enough energy stores to get to the surface from that depth.   I always add bacteria inoculum to help with the nitrogen fixing. 

I was thinking that I should plant some nitrogen-fixing fall cover crop for the spaces that won’t be planted anymore this year.  Too late this year - I never ordered any.  I plant patches of snap beans about every two to three weeks in open bed spaces.  I think of them as something like a cover crop since beans are legumes, so they should improve fertility.  This patch of Provider beans is in the formerly known as brassica bed.  They are ready to produce very soon.  In the upper corner is a Gypsy broccoli with the last head of broccoli of the year.  The cauliflower plants that looked great a few weeks ago have really suffered in the heat wave.   I don't know if they will make heads. 
The patch of Dragon Langerie wax beans that were planted after spinach and lettuce were finished.  They weren’t producing much at this point and the foliage showed a lot of bug and disease damage.  Time for them to go.  I cut them off at the base so the roots could decompose in the soil.   The stems and leaves went in the compost bin.  There's still some swiss chard in this bed, also some carrot and herbs, cilantro that went to seed.  I found that I don't really like chard, but it looks nice, all those multicolored stems, so it'll probably go from here straight to the compost bin. That bed has done enough work for the year, it deserves a rest.
The butternut is starting to grow again and is setting more squash.  In June it produced six nice sized butternuts that are flesh colored now.  After that initial fruitset it stopped growing.  Don’t really know why, unless the wilt that got the other cucurbits stressed this plant but did not kill it.  The removal of the runner bean that shared the trellis may have helped the squash along.  Now it’s putting out some new vines and a lot of female flowers.   I’m hoping it will fill the space left by the defunct Acorn squash.
Two years ago the same butternut variety showed a similar growth pattern, resuming production in August.  After Labor Day I decided to remove any new squash that set, believing they couldn’t mature before the first frost.  That plant produced about twenty- five nice butternuts that lasted all winter, and I probably threw away as many immature fruits.  This year I’ll let the plant set fruit a little later into the fall.  I've noticed that the leaves on the trellis get less pressure from squash bugs.
The Red Pontiac potatoes in the cages have lost most of their foliage.  It looked like it was time to remove the cages and dig up the potatoes.  Then I noticed that some new foliage was emerging along the stems, so I left them for now.   Maybe the potatoes will get a second wind, like the squash, and put out some new foliage.  It’s worth waiting a little longer to see if I can get more production.  Anyone who thinks that home-grown potatoes are no different than store bought needs to raise a few potatoes.  They are way way better, and keep longer. 

The parsnips quietly process sunlight and CO2 and feed sugars into the roots, never asking for much other than some space of their own.  Once established their deep roots mean little demand for water or fertilizer.  I staked the four corners of the patch and ran a line of string around it to contain the foliage in the bed.  Some of the foliage is showing some stress from the heat and maybe some microbial pressure, but no bug problems at all so far.  I removed the dead and yellowed foliage this morning.   Parsnip is like the black box system that can’t be viewed until the process is complete.  You plant it in April and don’t know what you will get until winter.  But I think this patch is going to produce a lot of nice size sweet parsnips.    
That’s it – a lot of open spaces right now.  But the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are really producing.  No complaints.    

Monday, August 1, 2011

Short post today

Last week I dug up most of the onions.  The onions were leveled in mid-June when a storm passed through and a hard gust from the north mostly flattened them.  I thought they might grow out of it but most of them never did.  So a lot of them are small.  The Red Long onions took the weather the best.  I'll probably pull them up tomorrow.

Eggplant is producing now.  And I picked a 2 pound 1 oz Brandywine this morning, a monster.  Totals:
Green beans 0.88 lb;  Eggplant 2.94 lb;  Okra 0.31 lb;  Yellow onion 4.44 lb

Hot pepper 0.44 lb;  Sweet pepper 0.50 lb;  Tomato 3.75 lb
Recently I added a tab with the totals for the year so far.  Nearly a hundred pounds now, and the radishes were never included in the tally.  In a day or two I’ll post a garden update.  It has changed a lot in the last few weeks.