Tag Archives: farming

Fall Activities

To start off this post I want to send a great big Thank You to anyone reading this. My readership is growing and in the past few months the number of people who are following my blog has doubled. It’s still not a big number but it is very encouraging. Having followers is kind of like making new friends. Followers can visit our farm through many of the pictures I post and can keep up with what we are up to just by reading along. It’s always exciting when somebody hits the “like” button or I get hits off Facebook indicating that somebody liked my writing well enough to share it with their friends. Best of all is when someone takes the time to leave a comment.  It’s almost as good as having friends stop by for coffee and a chat. So again thank you to all those who are reading.

This is a quick update on some of our fall activities before we begin planting garlic this week. If you are interested in what we will be doing with garlic planting you can check out this page https://donteatitsoap.com/a-year-in-growing-garlic/ .

IMG_3325

My husband has been working on expanding our strawberry patch. He first weeded  them then cut and transplanted runners before mulching with straw. Since this picture was taken he has finished the center so there is now 7 full rows of strawberry plants. We are praying for a bountiful crop in 2018.

After finishing the strawberry patch he moved on to the asparagus bed. We added to the asparagus this spring so we now have around 100 plants. Over the past few days he has cut down the ferns that were dead leaving a few that were still green. With hands and knees in the dirt he weeded the areas directly around each plant. He then tilled in between the rows. Since I didn’t get a picture you’ll have to trust me when I say it looks beautiful. Straw will also be used to mulch the asparagus before winter sets in.

He has cleared out most of the garden since nearly everything is done producing. He cut corn stalks and gave some to friends and neighbors to use for fall decorations.

While he has been busy with all of the fall farming activities my time has been split more between the farm and the house. My activities at the farm were mostly preparing the prayer garden for winter.

IMG_3329

I gave it a good weeding, then I trimmed dead foliage and blossoms from most of the plants. I left any blossoms that were still open, as they were being used by bees and butterflies in search of food. I also dug out some Irises because they were spreading beyond where I wanted to go. I gave the dug up Iris bulbs to a neighbor who was happy to receive them.

At home I cooked up and froze pumpkins from our one volunteer pumpkin plant that produced this year. It was not a pie pumpkin but it made a fabulous pumpkin pie.  You can find my pumpkin pie recipe here https://donteatitsoap.com/2015/09/22/pumpkin/   I froze several packages of eggplant and I turned some of the strawberries, that I had froze in June, into jam. I also filtered the beeswax that had been tucked in the freezer after the our honey harvest.  Check out this post to see how I filter beeswax. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/06/06/filtering-bees-wax/

After several months of not making soap, I made two batches last week. The first one I made was Sweet Dandelion. Since it was such a big hit when I made it in the spring, I knew that I would want to make another batch so even though they were nearly done blossoming, in late June I walked the farm in search of dandelions. I was able to find enough to make a pot of dandelion tea and infused the rest in some sunflower oil. I froze the dandelion tea and I had both of my key ingredients ( tea and oil) last week when I was ready to make this soap.

The other soap I made was coffee soap. I am really looking forward to trying this soap because I used a new and (hopefully) improved method. I will post about it in the future, probably in six weeks or so when the soap is ready.

For now I must refocus on the task at hand – garlic planting, so until next time I wish you well.

It’s Been A Grape Year

In general I can’t say it was a great year for growing food. Some crops like squash failed to produce, and most, including strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, corn and melons yielded only a fraction of what we expected.  Despite the late spring frost that killed off all of the newly unfurling leaves, our grapes were one of the exceptions. So I can say it was a grape year.

IMG_3272

Our grape arbor was started in 2012. We put up the three posts and then transplanted some grape vines, that were growing in our back yard, in between the posts. We had purchased the hardware and the wire that we intended to use to support the vines, but with so many projects on our to-do list finishing the grape arbor did not become top priority until last spring. Each year as the vines grew we would stake them and/or fence them in attempts to keep them growing upward and prevent the deer from annihilating them. (notice the grape vine tied to a stake in the picture below) Each year we have harvested modest crops, some years better than others.

Last spring after purchasing a couple more grape vines to plant in the grape arbor we decided it was time to finish this project. We wanted to give the grapes two wires to climb on. To hold the wire we used eye bolts. The eye bolts were screwed into each of the three posts at the same level. The wire was twisted around the eye bolt on one end, then ran through the eye bolt on the center post for support, then twisted around the eye bolt on the other end post. In theory if the wire starts to sag the eye bolt on either end can be tightened to provide added support.

IMG_1073

As with all of our crops this year the grapes did require watering, but the fact that they escaped the fate of the deer can only be counted as a gift from God. Our first harvest weighed in at about 20 lbs. I decided to turn this into juice.

IMG_3290In the past I have made grape juice according to these instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/grape_juice.html and while the juice has good flavor I always feel guilty about wasting the pulp, skin and seeds. Last year I canned the juice without allowing the sediment to settle out and found that the juice was thick and delicious. This year I decided to have even less waste. Here is what I did.

Wash grapes and remove them from the stem. I make a point to wash and inspect each individual grape because little spiders like to make their homes amongst these grapes and I sometimes find spider nests attached to them. These must go!

Put the grapes in a pan and mash them with a potato masher.

Add enough water to cover the grapes.

Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.

IMG_3267 I then ran the grapes through this food mill. I used the medium blade which filtered out seeds but turned the pulp and skin into juice. Pretty much the only thing that was not turned into juice were the seeds and judging from the crackling sound of grinding grape seed small particles of seed may have ended up as juice as well. I am ok with this. No, actually, I am very happy about this. You see the grape skin and seeds are said to be the healthiest part of the grape. https://www.livescience.com/54581-grapes-nutrition.html  After juicing the grapes in the food mill I proceeded to can the juice according to the NCHFP link above. I did not add any sweetener to the juice as my husband prefers the tartness of the natural juice and to sweeten my juice I add a bit of our raw honey before I drink it. This 20 pounds of grapes yielded 7 3/4 quarts of delicious, thick and healthy grape juice.

After harvesting the first 20 pounds of grapes there were still some grapes left on the vines. I wanted to experiment with making a wine without adding yeast and decided that using grapes was the way to go. I did an internet search and came across this recipe http://www.roughdraftfarmstead.com/2012/05/24/easy-homemade-wine-recipe/ .

I harvested the remaining grapes and while the recipe calls for “preferably unwashed fruit” I had to make sure there were no spiders or spider webs left behind and rinsing them under running water seems the best way to do this. After I rinsed the grapes and removed them from the stems I had about 5 lbs. of grapes. I decided to let them sit for a few hours in hopes of reclaiming some of the yeast that I had rinsed off.

The mashed fruit did not nearly fill up my two gallon crock so I decided to add enough water to just cover the fruit. I also added about 1 1/2 cups of our raw honey. I stirred the mixture and covered it with plastic wrap. I didn’t stir the mixture nearly as often as is recommended in the recipe but at least once a day. In a few days I could tell that fermentation was underway. The bubbling was not as apparent as when I have added yeast to make wine, but when I stirred the mixture the bubbles were there and it had the smell of alcohol. I also tasted the wine as it fermented by sipping whatever drops remained on the spoon after I stirred it. The grapes fermented in the crock for approximately two weeks before I had time to siphon the wine into a one-gallon bottle. I placed a balloon over the top of the bottle but after a couple days of the balloon not rising and no apparent bubbles I decided the fermentation was done. I could have transferred the wine into bottles and corked them but the wine seems to be disappearing (not evaporating) quickly enough that this would be a waste of time.

Personally I am not much of a wine drinker, and when I do imbibe I prefer a sweeter wine, so I am not the best person to judge this wine, but if you want my opinion I would say it is a “good” wine. It’s definitely not a “fine wine”  and in my opinion it is not nearly as delicious as the grape juice. My husband, who likes dry wine, is  enjoying it, and I have been drinking a glass now and then for it’s health benefits.   https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/health-benefits-of-red-wine/slide/9

I consider this experiment a success. I can indeed make wine without added yeast and I plan to experiment more with this process more in the future.

 

 

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

IMG_2573
Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.

IMG_3223

He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.

IMG_3225

I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.

IMG_3227

I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.

IMG_3233

When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

IMG_3293
Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two. https://www.todayshomeowner.com/scarecrows-in-the-garden/

A Year In Growing Garlic Part X

We are wrapping up 2016-2017 garlic season and at the same time preparing for the next planting so this will be my final post in this series. I’ll start where I left off. We began harvesting garlic in mid July and although we had stopped watering the garlic two weeks prior to that, as is recommended, the soil was saturated from the rains that finally came.

Though larger garlic producers may have other methods, harvesting garlic for us means digging each individual bulb by hand. My favorite tool for digging garlic is this shovel with a narrow blade, a short shaft and a D-grip. It is a comfortable height for digging the garlic and the long but narrow blade can get close to each bulb and dig deep enough to loosen the soil under the roots. We bought a second, similar shovel this spring so my husband, who did most of the digging, would have one as well.

IMG_1534

My husband and I started together digging the garlic but before we got our first hundred bulbs out of the ground I needed to shift gears. I began laying the garlic  on racks so that the bulbs were exposed to the air in order for the dirt to dry, while he continued digging.

IMG_3034

When we ran out of room on the racks my husband began tying the garlic in bundles and hanging them from the fence posts. They still had good air exposure this way.

IMG_3035

 

 

IMG_3036

and when we needed even more room he set up this system on the trailer hooked to the tractor which he could then park in the shade until we could get to them to brush and bundle them.

IMG_3039

The garlic coming out of the ground this year was very wet as the rains came just when we didn’t want them too. Once the dirt on the bulbs had dried it was time to remove it.

I have discovered that the easiest way to remove the dried dirt clumps from the roots and bulbs by hand is to wear garden gloves and just rub it off the bulb and roots. In the past years I would where cotton gloves and usually ended going through a several pair of them, ending up with hole in the right glove and a left glove that was still intact. (Yes I am right handed.) This year we used leather garden gloves and they held up much better.

After we rubbed off all of the dirt that was loose enough to come off we used twine to tie them into bundles of 10-25 bulbs so they could dry or cure. The garlic needs to cure in a dry, area with good air flow and out of direct sunlight for the next three weeks or so. The large bundles were hung from rafters to dry and smaller bundles were dried of shelves.

Since many factors contribute to how quickly the garlic will cure I would check different varieties, when I needed garlic for a meal, to see how they were coming along. To check them I would snip a bulb from its stem, clip the roots and peel it. When the bulb is cured all of the layers of peel inside should be completely dry and papery.

It was about three and a half weeks after we first began digging the garlic that some of the garlic was cured and I started the final cleaning. The finale cleaning prepares the garlic to be sold or stored. It involves clipping the dried leaves and stems as well as the roots. It also involves removing any dirt that still remains.

If you are growing garlic just for personal use there is really no hurry to do this. In fact leaving the stems and roots intact and even a little dirt on the bulbs, right up to the time you want to use it, will probably prolong the life of the garlic.

These are the tools I prefer to use for clipping and cleaning.

IMG_3291

On our first day of clipping and cleaning I was blessed to have my sister Jamie, and cousin Abby here to help. Abby is a farmer too and is always eager to help out if I say I need a hand, and while Jamie may not claim the title of farmer, she has done her share of farming related activities. Things such as growing her own vegetables and fruits, raising her own chickens and now she can add cleaning garlic to the list.

Working as a team seems much more efficient than each person doing their own pile of bulbs, so I clipped while Jamie and Abby cleaned. We all gabbed and the time flew by. I was even more grateful when they offered to come back to help one day the following week.

When I refer to clipping I am talking about removing both the leaf end of the garlic and the root end from the bulb. At the leaf end I usually cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the top of the bulb being carful not to clip the tips of any of the cloves. On the root end I clip as close to the bulb as possible but some of the roots still remain. It is my understanding that any garlic that is imported into the United States must have the entire root plate removed but garlic that is grown in the US can be sold with roots still attached. I am not sure why this is but since it is easier to just clip the roots down that is what we do.

As for the final cleaning we start by brushing each bulb with the scrub brush. Sometimes this is sufficient to remove the dirt and make the bulb look presentable. Sometimes the outer wrapper is dirt stained and one layer needs to be removed. Our goal is to get the bulb as clean as possible while keeping much of the outer wrapper in tact.

While cleaning the bulb I also give them a quick inspection for quality and sort them by size. To inspect the bulb I feel for firmness. Each outer clove should be firm. I also look for bulbs that may have been accidently sliced or dented while being dug and bulbs that do not have the outer wrapper in tact. Any bulb that does not pass inspection is set aside along with the very small bulbs. These will be used in my kitchen or dehydrated for powder. For sorting by size I am first looking for next years seed. Approximately the largest 15% of this years crop will be saved to replant in October.

Since we don’t punch a time clock I really don’t know how many hours my husband and I put into clipping and cleaning the 5000+ bulbs we grew this year, but I can say it was a long and monotonous process and I am thrilled that it is done.

I hope you have enjoyed following us through this year in growing garlic and if you haven’t been following along but would like to find out what you have missed you can find the whole series here https://donteatitsoap.com/a-year-in-growing-garlic/ . If you have any garlic related questions or comments be sure to leave them in the comments section below and I will be happy to respond.

I will conclude this post by responding to some of the things people have said or asked about growing garlic.

Comment: “Garlic is easy to grow.”

My Response: We have had much success in growing garlic but since I have had many people tell me that they tried growing it without success I am not sure that it is so easy. I do agree that given the right planting time, the right weather and soil conditions and the proper TLC garlic is easy to grow, but this seems as if it could apply to most crops.

I do find that people who make this statement are growing garlic only for personal use, and as a garlic farmer I need to add that while each step in the garlic growing process is easy enough that it could be performed by a 10 or 12 year old, growing 1000’s of garlic bulbs becomes both time and labor intensive.

Comment: I didn’t know that there were different kinds of garlic.

Response: I’ve read that there are as many as 600 different varieties.

Comment: I like the ones with the red coloring.

Response: There are many different varieties that have red or purple coloring on the skin. My varieties may be different then ones you have had before.

Question: “Does garlic really keep vampires away?”

My Response: – “I assume that it does since our farm and home are completely vampire free,” or if garlic is present at the time of questioning I say, “look around, do you see any vampires?”

Additional Statement: “No vampires  were harmed in the growing of this garlic.” I guess I just needed to satisfy any potential readers who belong to Vampire Rights Coalitions and such.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Coming Soon…

This is a busy time of year for us. We are wrapping up our garlic season https://donteatitsoap.com/a-year-in-growing-garlic/ and I will be putting up the final post in that series soon. I have created this page that links to all the posts in that series and added it to the menu at the top of my home page so you can read through them at your leisure.

It is also harvest season and along with harvesting food comes preserving it, so I will be writing several pieces on what we are harvesting and how we are preserving it. Check out the pictures below for a sneak peak at what’s coming up.

I will share how we will enjoy this years apple crop.

IMG_3225

Some different methods for making tomato sauce,

IMG_3268

VS

IMG_1688

What I am doing with our beautiful grapes this year,

IMG_3270

And a write about wildlife on the farm – friend or foe.

IMG_3283

To make sure you don’t miss out on these or any future posts you can sign up at the bottom of this page to follow along via email and if you like what you read don’t forget to share it with your friends.