Category Archives: Blueberries

The Garlic Is Harvested

The garlic harvest is complete and our new barn is serving it’s purpose.

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This photo is the loft area full of Chesnok Red garlic. Each bundle has 25 garlic bulbs. The other two varieties are hanging in the downstairs area. The garlic will hang for about three weeks before we begin clipping and cleaning it to prepare it for market.

Having the barn proved to be such a blessing. We were able to pace ourselves with the harvest. My husband primarily did the digging. He would dig one or two rows a day and move it into the barn. I mostly did the bundling. He pounded the nails into the rafters and hung the garlic and I tied the garlic nooses. Just kidding they weren’t really a noose, but I pre-tied loops in each end of the strings and the string was wrapped around a bunch of garlic then one loop was pulled through the other loop and the string would tighten around the garlic. The loop on the long end was used to hang the garlic from the nail.

At times, especially in the extreme heat, the work was grueling, but the process went pretty smoothly. We make a good team. ūüôā

Besides harvesting all that garlic over the past two weeks we have spent time picking both blueberries and currants. Both have produced great crops this year. This has been our largest blueberry crop so far (we have picked over 3 US dry gallons) and I have put most of them in the freezer to be used throughout the year in pancakes and banana bread, but as a special treat I decided to make a blueberry pie.

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When I was making this pie I realized that this was the first time I have ever made a blueberry pie. I will confess that¬†I used a¬†premade, store bought, crust but the pie was delicious and it didn’t last long.

The other thing that we’ve spent a lot of time doing over the last two weeks is watering the gardens. Rain has been very scarce here this summer. The first three weeks of June were completely dry, then¬†on June 24/25 when the rains finally came. Over those two days we probably had three or more inches of rain. While it made up for some of the deficit, all that rain at one time damaged some of our plants, specifically cabbages. We then went into a hot dry spell and our next rain fall did not come until July 16. That day our rainfall was probably less than an inch. We had a little bit more today and the forecast¬†is¬†for more tomorrow. Feel free to say a prayer that the forecast is correct. We are.

 

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Since the garlic was harvested and there was rain in the forecast my husband spent the day yesterday preparing the garlic field for next years crop. The garlic field has been tilled and seeded with rye grass as a cover crop.

Even though the garlic harvest is done I don’t expect our pace to slow down as there are so many things that need to be done. If we do get a good rainfall we can the spend more time weeding (always easier after the rain). The grass needs to be cut and my husband will be checking the bees and hopefully harvesting honey soon. The list is way longer than that and probably longer than I realize, but I’m sure you will read about some of it as time goes on.

I also hope to get back to posting more often and some of the posts I have planned include a second post about things we are harvesting (if you missed the first one you can find it here), a post about honey, and as I mentioned in a previous post I will be sharing my thoughts about natural skin care.

Thanks for reading and until next time – Be Well.

 

Pickin’ and Preserving

I just thought I would do a quick post about what we have harvested in the past week.

Strawberries РSince we began picking strawberries we have harvested nearly 50 quarts of strawberries. After I froze enough to keep us in homemade jam through the year we began offering them to family and friends. We have had a lack of rain so the berries are not big this year but they are delicious.  Due the dry conditions we are not certain that the plants will continue to produce berries much longer.

Garlic Scapes – Several people who visited the farm this week went home with some garlic scapes. We cut, bundled and delivered scapes to a local retailer and are having scapes for dinner tonight.

Oregano РIt was time to start picking oregano before it blossoms. Oregano is a very prolific herb that is spreading throughout, and making a nice ground cover in our prayer garden. Since I will not be ready to can spaghetti sauce for at least a month I will dry the herbs as I harvest them and they will keep well until I am ready to use them. When it flowers the bees are very attracted to it.

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I find that air drying herbs works well. I have a couple different methods for doing this. One is to tie the herbs in a bunch, like I have done with the oregano in the above picture, and hang then where they will get good air flow until the leaves completely dry. Once they are completely dry I remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container.

Basil – Basil is another herb that I use in my spaghetti sauce. It is an annual so we plant a few plant each year. It is not very large yet but picking some of it now will encourage it to grow more and discourage it from flowering too soon. Since the basil stems were pretty short I decided it was best to dry them on our drying screen (shown in the photo below).

The drying screen is simply made of a wooden frame with screen stapled together. The frame that we used actually came as packaging from a table that we had purchased. I saved it because I knew there was a better use for it the just throwing it away. The screen that we used was part of a roll of screen that I had picked up for a couple dollars at an estate sale.

Since the drying screen does not have legs I usually put a box under each end so there is good air flow all the way around. Depending on the temperature, leafy herbs will usually dry in a few days on the drying screen. They are then stored in air tight containers until we are ready to use them

Plantain Leaves –¬†¬†When¬†you see plantain you may think of¬†a fruit similar to a banana that grows on trees¬†(Musa paradisiaca) but¬†we can’t grow that here. Apparently plantain trees grow best in zones 8 through 11 and require 10-15 months with temperatures above freezing to bear fruit. That doesn’t happen in Michigan.

The plantain I am referring to is know as common plantain (plantago major) and common it is. It pops up seemly everywhere and you would probably recognize it even if you don’t know it’s name. Along with not knowing it’s name you may not be aware that plantain had many health benefits and is often included in list of the top weeds that we should be eating. Although we have not yet included plantain in our diet I have been harvesting it for medicinal purposes for several years. The following website includes a photo and information about plantains medicinal uses https://usesofherbs.com/plantain.

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Marshmallow Leaves On The Drying Screen

 

Marshmallow Leaves –¬†¬†If you are not familiar with the wonder benefits of the Marshmallow plant you can read about it here¬†https://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-marshmallow.html.

We have been growing marshmallow for several years now and in the fall I harvest some of the roots as I use it in my Hair Care soap. Last year I also harvested some of the leaves, dried them and stored them. I enjoyed marshmallow tea a few times and have begun harvesting and drying the leaves so I can replenish my herbal¬†“medicine cabinet”.

I actually started this post last week intending for it to be a short summery of our weeks efforts but as the time passes we are harvesting more and more produce. Before I wrap it up I will quickly add –

Blueberries –¬† We are picking fully ripened blueberries and not having to worry about the birds getting them first. If you aren’t sure why click here¬†to read about our blueberry patch update.

and last but not least

Currants – I have been waiting for months for these little berries to be ready. In my opinion they are a superfood and I intend on doing a separate post on them and how I am preserving them.

I am going to wrap up this post now before the list gets any longer. As I head to the farm to pick berries I wish you all a blessed day.

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Blueberry Patch Upgrade

If you read my recent post about how we work with nature on the farm you may recall that we have had problems with birds eating our blueberries. Birds have an unfair advantage over us as they can seemingly sit perched on the nearest tree branch or fence post and wait until the berry reaches the perfect degree of ripeness then swoop in and gobble it up. We on the other hand schedule blueberry picking in between all of the other chores that need to be done in a day and it seems if we leave a partially green berry to ripen for one more day the birds get it before we get back.

For the last few years we have used netting over the bushes to keep the birds from eating the fruits of our labor. Our methods have worked to some degree but for various reasons have been less than ideal.

For a couple years we just wrapped each bush with the netting. The problem with this is  that  every time we went to pick berries we had to unwrap each bush then rewrap it after we were finished. As you can imagine this was not very efficient.

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Last year we used a different approach. My husband put wooden stakes around the outside of the blueberry patch and covered the whole patch with netting.

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This was also largely effective, but again less than ideal as in order to pick blueberries we crawled under the net on our hands and knees. With both of these method an occasional bird might get in and steal a few berries, but we were able to harvest most of the berries for our own sustenance and enjoyment.

The netting that we have been using for these projects came in a large roll, maybe 150 feet long by 20 feet wide, (it’s hard to¬†tell because it is stretchy)¬†and was something that my husband found sitting along the roadside at a neighbors house waiting for the trash men to carry it away. He picked it up and brought it home thinking we would probably find some use for it. We have used it over and over for project like this.

This year we decided it was time to give the blueberry patch an upgrade. We needed a screened, fenced or netted structure to keep birds out but allow us in to pick berries (standing up).

We first thought that we would need to use chicken wire as fencing to get the grid small enough to keep the birds out, but when my husband went to the  farm store he discovered a plastic fence that he thought would work well. This fence had a small grid, was light weight, and more affordable than chicken wire.  He also bought 12 Р7 1/2 foot t-posts. He set the t-posts around the perimeter of the patch with each side having two corner posts and one post midway along the side. On one side he set an additional two posts about three feet apart where we wanted our entrance to be.

The plastic fence was light weight and easy for my husband to manage by himself. He started at the t-post to the left of our entrance he attached the fence to the t-post using zip ties. (They are so very handy.) He then rolled the fence to the left and attached it to the corner post again using zip ties. He continued rolling the fence and attaching it to each¬†t-post until he arrived back at the starting point. The plastic fence fit snuggly and looked very nice. When he was back at the final t-post he cut the fence leaving just a small amount to over lap. Instead of using zip ties to secure it at this point he clipped the fence to itself using clothes pins (also handy to have around). We can now enter the blueberry patch (standing up ūüôā ūüôā ) by unclipping the clothes pins and¬†opening up just a three foot section of fence.

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To keep birds from flying in through the top we used the same netting we have been using all along. Before draping the netting over the top my husband placed one taller t-post in the middle of the blueberry patch to¬†keep the net from sagging too much. He also wrapped the tops of the t-posts with duck tape, or maybe it was gorilla tape, I’m not sure, but it was to keep the metal t-post from snagging and ripping the netting.

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Once he had the netting draped over the t-posts and fencing, with at least a few inches of overlap on each side, he tied the netting to the fencing with string. He placed ties  wherever he noticed there might be a gap.

While I won’t be surprised to see a¬†determined bird finds it’s¬†way in now and then, at least we should be able to efficiently¬†and comfortably harvest most of the crop. We will keep this fence up year round and hope that it will last for many years – at least until the blueberry bushes out grow it. ūüôā

 

A Berry Good Year

Strawberries aren’t the only berry that we have an abundance of this year. Home grown cherries, blueberries, and currants have also found their way into our diets.

Although our cherry tree suffered quite a large fruit drop, and we split the crop about 50/50 with the robins in the neighborhood, I was able to harvest enough to make a cherry crisp and¬†today’s dessert, a¬†cherry pie.

Once our blueberries started to ripen they were disappearing faster than we could pick them. The robins have an advantage of being able to sit on the fence and wait until each berry turns just the right shade and then pluck it from their stem and enjoy it as a meal. We on the other hand show up once a day to pick whatever berries might be ripe, then save them in the refrigerator or freezer until we have enough for a meal. Thus we decided early on that netting the bushes would be necessary if we wanted to harvest any blueberries.

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My husband pulled out this roll of netting that he found in somebodies trash a couple years ago. Last year we were happy to have this stored away, when we found it necessary to net the entire squash bed to save them from the deer. We have since fenced in the field gardens, so the deer eating squash, pumpkins, corn, etc. is not a concern. Cutting up the netting to protect our blueberries was a no-brainer.

The blueberry bushes are small enough that we could drape the netting over the whole bush.

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Even as I wrapped the bushes these thieving little robins attempted to steal our bounty.  Although it appears that this bird is trapped under the net, it is really sitting on the outside on the opposite side of the bush. IMG_1523

Since netting the bushes, we have picked and frozen nearly 4 quarts of blueberries and they are still coming on. There will be blueberry pancakes this year.

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Unlike the robins that seemed to be deterred by the netting, there are a couple of these little birds that keep going at it. They are pretty clever, as they can find a small opening and are not afraid to go in under the net. I’m not sure what type of bird it is but I think it looks like a female Orchard Oriole. http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/564/_/Orchard_Oriole.aspx

You might not think of a couple quarts of cherries or blueberries as being an abundance but where the term really applies is currants.

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Right now we have two red and one white currant bushes that we are harvesting. We have harvested an estimated 12-15 lbs. Currants are not a very popular fruit in our area and I suspect the following reasons. Currants are very tart. Although they are very productive, they are a chore to pick. They are very seedy, and they are a chore to clean.

I also think that people are unaware of the nutrition they offer, http://www.livestrong.com/article/444249-what-are-the-benefits-of-red-currant/¬†¬†¬† most notable their vitamin C content, and I think that people don’t know what to do with them.

IMG_1554Since the currant wine I made last year was a hit, I started with making wine with white currants and strawberries.

I then made juice with the rest of the white currants and put it in the freezer. I have  also been making juice with the red currants that we have picked, but rather than cook the currants before mashing and straining the juice, I put the raw currants in my Nutri-bullet, blended them up, then strained them. (the chickens love the remaining seeds and pulp) I did this because heat kills the precious vitamin C. I sweeten this juice with honey and we have been enjoying this with our breakfast.

I also made a batch of currant jelly.

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Currants have enough pectin that it is not necessary to add any when making jelly. I ended up with 5 1/2 pints (or so I thought). When you make jelly, that does not require pectin added, testing the jelly for doneness can be tricky. Using a candy thermometer is not an accurate measure, as I found out. 24 hours after I made this jelly it still had not set up. I let it boil for quite a while after it reached 220 F  on the thermometer because it did not appear to be sheeting on the spoon yet, but I was also afraid of it burning.

So a few days later I poured all of the (almost) jelly back in the pan and cooked it down some more. This time I left the candy thermometer in the drawer and decided to use the spoon test,¬†and watch for the jelly to “sheet” off the spoon.

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After I got it to a boil I started doing the spoon test. It was coming off the spoon it drops.

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As it boiled it became thicker and darker in color. It was still dropping from the spoon and I was still concerned about it burning or getting too sticky. So I was continually raising the spoon and letting it drop off. Doing this with my right hand and trying to snap pictures with my left (just as it was dropping from the spoon) was a bit of a challenge.

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At this point the drops were getting wider, more “sheet-like” so I let it go for a couple more minutes and then decided it was ready. I put it into jars, put the lids¬†and rings on and gave it¬†a 5 minute water bath.

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I ended up with 4 pints. After 24 hours they were much more jelly-like. I do think they could have cooked even longer though. I guess I should have follow the advice of one of the blogs I read that said,” when you think it’s ready, keep cooking it.”

I have certainly learned that there it an art to making jelly. I say¬†“Kudos” to anyone who has mastered it, and while our jelly slides off ¬†our PB&J sandwiches this year I will affirm my vow to get it better next year.