Colorful Bounty

The garden is looking… well, fallish.  Bob pulled out all the remaining bell peppers and tomato plants, and finished spreading the leaf mulch we got from the city mulching site.  Next we will sprinkle some BrixBlend Basalt from RockDustLocal.com.  This is to replenish minerals into the soil that are taken up by the plants that we eat.  Our backyard is construction clay, so it can use all the help we can give it!  That’s also the reason for the layers of leaf mulch as well as using the BTE (Back to Eden) no-till method, meaning: wood chips.  The wood chips can be seen still piled up.

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Normally, we would put the rock dust down before the leaf mulch, but… we got things done out of order this year.   I’m not fretting.  I’m fairly sure the leaf mulch will break down to soil compost over the winter anyway and the rock dust will filter through with successive rainfall.  No big deal.

After pulling out all the tomato plants, we ended up with about 3 pounds of green tomatoes of various sizes.  That is just far too much to fry and eat, though we love fried green tomatoes, too, we have had our fill lately.

So what to do with 3 lbs of green tomatoes?  I searched the net and found that we could make something yummy that we love to eat, Salsa Verde!

Since neither of us had ever made it before, we pretty much settled on the first recipe I came across.  Bob LOVES to do the canning, and he took over from there.  I spent the majority of that time at the grocery, something he hates doing. haha  Yikes, it was a serious madhouse yesterday!

By the time I arrived home with our goodies for the week, he was just about ready for me to taste test his handiwork.  Here is the basic recipe, but I’m pretty sure he added some vinegar and garlic powder, plus not quite as much cilantro as it called for, since I’m sensitive to its taste if overpowering.  He also compared the taste to his bottle Taco Bell Salsa Verde and declared it was close enough.  I LOVE that we will be getting away from an industrial-produced chemical poop-storm fast food condiment.  In fact, I think we may have enough to last us many, MANY years.  There are 9 half-pint jars in total.

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While we waited for the happy POP! sounds, we mused over some of the other things we’ve canned this year, our favorite being the Sweet Jalapeno Relish, which we haven’t opened to enjoy yet.  It was delicious on the stove, so we know it will be delicious when we’re ready to dig in.

Here’s our little pantry so far.

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The pantry is looking more colorful these days.

It may not look like a whole lot, but this cabinet is a good 18 inches deep and full all the way back, and there’s more on the kitchen table that hasn’t been stored away yet.

We have:

  • Sweet Jalapeno Relish
  • Bread & Butter Pickles (slices and spears)
  • Dill Pickles (slices)
  • Hot Dilly Beans
  • Green Beans (half-runners)
  • Pickled Beets
  • Potatoes (still have many more of those to can)
  • Sweet Banana Peppers (tried Bread & Butter and then a vinegar brine)
  • Okra & Onions
  • Grape Tomatoes Sauce
  • Cherry Tomatoes Sauce
  • Purple Cherokee Tomato Sauce

There’s probably others, I’m just not going to pull them all out at this point.

Over all, it’s been a colorful, bountiful harvest!  One day, in our next house, I’m putting a request in to have Bob build us a wall shelving system where we can display all the colors in rainbow fashion, even if that’s in a cellar somewhere.

For now, we are still waiting on the peas in the garden… they haven’t produced big time yet.  We have decided that if they don’t by this next weekend, they are probably stunted, as all the blooms are gone and we’re not seeing little peas producing.  I think we got less than 10 peas.  I’m going to put them in a salad and enjoy that tiny bit.  Next year, we will be sure to plant by the first of August instead of the 22nd.  No harm done, failures make for the best lessons!

 

 

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Fall Peas Please

We are trying!

As a last minute decision, I talked Bob into planting some fall peas, Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Peas.  I believe it was about August 22 when we planted, zone 6A.  It was at the very edge of seriously risking frost damage and most likely only getting one harvest instead of a few.  I’m a risk-taker, so I talked him into it. 😀

Bob had a grandpa who used to tell him that when he broke new ground for a garden he would have to “throw down the seeds and run” because they would grow that fast!  Our peas popped out of the ground within days!  They were super duper happy peas, which made us super duper happy, too.

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Here they are, our little baby peas, so precious. ❤

As they grew, I couldn’t help but take picture after picture.

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I think they’re beautiful.

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The above photo was September 14th, a little shy of one month old.

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September 20th with the evening sun shining. 🙂

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October 5th, look how big they are!

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We had our first bloom that day. So proud! Maybe we can beat the frost! Maybe!!

And then, yeah… the frost came and it’s still coming!

First Frost was a few days ago, and here are our efforts to keep the frost off.  Of course, the plastic is pulled off here, but you get the gist.

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There are still tons and tons of blooms.  We have even eaten one or two peas, but the majority have not produced yet.  We are still crossing our fingers.  In many ways we are novices, so we learn by trying.  Like for instance, I learned that while growing seedlings in the garage under lights in the spring is pretty easy and fun, trying to grow them in the garage in the FALL is STUPID. lol  Even with a fan blowing, it was WAY TOO HOT and I lost pretty much all of those seedlings.

The garden is winding down, and we have no idea if the peas will make it or not.  But it’s been a fun summer gardening “together-together” – as we used to garden “together-apart”.  When we lived in different states, before we moved in together, we each had gardens we tended, separately.  I’m so grateful to have this soul by my side and our efforts combined towards the life we each envision for us, on a small farm, doing the gardening and farming, that we love.

Late Summer Joys

Late Summer has been super busy!  Between vacation to Cumberland Lake with the family and two trips to Bob’s hometown amid the Appalachians, just trying to keep up with work and garden harvests has been too much.  I haven’t had much time to even think about blogging much less find time to sit down and do it.

So it is with a grateful heart that I sit here this morning, with my second cup of tea and my fingers tapping away at this old familiar keyboard.

Where should I start?!?

Fishing of course. 😉

Fishing in Virginia is so much better than Ohio.  The day we went to Burke’s Garden, it was HOT.  That’s not a great day to fish. Still, we caught a handful between us, even if they were mostly bass that were too little to keep.

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After a while, I did what I’m known for doing… and that is wandering off in search of interesting things to photograph.  Check out this not-so-little mushroom.  I have no idea what kind it is, but it looks like some little bug has carved it’s top.

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All summer I have been seeing dragonfly after dragonfly. They’ve become a novelty.  I even see them on hot, hot summer days at work in the parking lot.  I guess the heat coming up form the asphalt below acts as a sort of water-looking mirage.  One day I counted at least 7 of them flying about!  They run back and forth, covering their territory over and over, looking for a meal.  Every once in a while another dragonfly comes around and off they go, zooming in twists and turns, each trying to chase the other off and win the territory.  I find them extremely difficult to photograph.  But at Burke’s Garden that day, I finally snapped one photo that I could zoom in on for a recognizable shot. 🙂

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While Bob was gone to Virginia spending time with his folks, the collards were due for another harvest.  I’d never done this before, but he left me with some verbal instructions. Plus, I’ve seen him do it a number of times.

After cutting the largest leaves from their stalks, I brought them inside and rinse each one, meticulously picking off egg sacks and any worms I found.

Tomatoes were also picked, but those I took to  Virginia on my return trip to pick him up.

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After washing and stacking, I cut each stem out and composted them.

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As this was done, I stacked the leaves up in a flat pile.  And when the pile was tall enough, I rolled it up tightly as shown below.

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Next I cut the roll of leaves length-wise.

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Then there was a couple long flat stacks which I chopped width-wise to create little pieces as shown below.

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After this point, I didn’t take anymore photos. But it’s just about done anyway.  I put the chopped collards in a salad spinner, rinsed them, spun them (love that part!), then vacuum sealed them and tossed them in the freezer.  It was the first time I’d used the vacuum sealer, too.  But overall, it was a job well done.

When we want to eat them, Bob thaws them and cooks them for well over an hour in  beef broth with a little bacon grease added in.  I’m sure he puts some seasonings in as well, but I’m not privy to that process.

And that’s enough for one blog post!  I have enough material from the past month to write a couple more, and hopefully I’ll find more time soon to do just that.  For now, I’m enjoying the cool fall air that came in with the fall equinox, right on time.  As of this morning, the air conditioner is cut off and the windows open.  Loving it!

Wishing you a joyful day wherever you’re at! ❤

Saving Seed

2018 seems to be my year of learning about seeds.  Have you seen this movie?


https://www.seedthemovie.com/

We watched it some time ago.  Here are some quotes from the movie’s website.

SEED: The Untold Story began with an article in National Geographic reported that up to 96% of the vegetable seeds available in 1903 have disappeared.

~*~*~*~*~

In our modern world, these precious gifts of nature are in grave danger. In less than a century of industrial agriculture, our once abundant seed diversity—painstakingly created by ancient farmers and gardeners over countless millennia—has been drastically winnowed down to a handful of mass-produced varieties. Under the spell of industrial “progress” and a lust for profit, our quaint family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses sowing genetically identical crops on a monstrous scale.

When you couple the loss of seed variety on this scale with how much monoculture agriculture depletes soil health, reducing produce minerals, society seems to have clearly gone down the wrong path.  Not only are the veggies we eat less healthful than 100 years ago, they are produced in fragile ecosystems.

If you are interested in checking out some of the wilder varieties of heirloom seeds available, check out Seed Savers Exchange.  I love browsing their beans and squash.  The varieties are so colorful and unique!

Really, I could go on and on about how backwards our food system is, but that’s not the focus of this post.

Today I want to show you how I’ve been saving my seeds!  They may be common seeds, frequently planted seeds, varieties that are widely available, but a budding gardener must start somewhere.  And in the future -you know… when we get to our farm– we will have much more space to grow unique heirloom plants.  (I assume I need that much space so that I can isolate the varieties to prevent cross pollination.)

The last two previous summers I grew some yellow cherry tomatoes that I bought from a home improvement garden center.  They are sooo delicious, the sweetest round little “garden candy” I’ve ever had.  And before that, I really didn’t like cherry tomatoes at all.  Of course, the only cherry tomatoes I had had before then was grocery store varieties.  If you’ve ever compared the taste of a home grown tomato to one from your local big box grocery store, you can understand why I didn’t care for them.  So I bought some yellow cherry tomato seedlings a couple years back, hoping they tasted different, better.  They did!

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Cherry tomatoes on left, and my sunset “yellow” (orange) tomatoes on right

Actually, they don’t look very yellow.  They get darker than that and, shown beside some regular cherry tomatoes that I got from the CSA program I was in back in 2016, they look orange.  I’ve since learned that these orange looking cherry tomatoes are called Sunset tomatoes.

Unfortunately we could not find any of these delicious “yellow cherry tomatoes” at the store this spring!  I walked away from store after store, greatly saddened.  Our only hope was to rely on volunteers.  And sure enough, like some Cherokee tomato plants that popped up in the garden last year from the 2016 season, we had 11 little seedlings volunteer this year, all our favorite sweet orange Sunset Cherry Tomato variety!**  I told Bob, “We are saving these seeds!”

Not all those volunteers made it.  Some were crowded and we had no place allotted to thin them out, so they had to compete for space.  Most grew between a new variety of little tomatoes we planted this year (since we couldn’t find the ones we wanted). Those are yellow “grape” tomatoes, rather than cherry sized.  They’re actually larger than the cherry size, and move oval.  When almost over-ripe, they’re quite sweet as well.  But nothing compares to those little Sunsets!

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Sunset Cherry and Yellow Grape tomatoes, mixed (& not washed!)

All summer we have waited and waited for these little dudes to ripen up!

Usually they are what I like to call “garden candy”, because they rarely make it into the kitchen.  Each evening while we walk the garden, admiring or discussing plant health, I pick a few, eat some and hand others to Bob.

HOW TO SAVE TOMATO SEED

To save their seeds, cut each open and scoop out the watery, seedy pulp.

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Seeding the yellow grape tomatoes

Then use a strainer and wash off as much of the pulp as you can while running some cool water over it.

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Most of the pulp goes down the drain while the seeds can’t pass through the strainer.

After that, place the rinsed seeds in a little bowl and cover with some water.

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Make sure if you have more than one type of seed, that you label them.  Because if you’re like me, it’s guaranteed in a day or two you’ll come back and cannot remember which is which!

Set these bowls out of the way somewhere for a day or two and let them ferment a bit.  The fermenting further removes pulp residue which might make the seeds go bad in storage.

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After a day or two of fermenting (I waited just one day for some and three for another because, you know, out of sight, out of mind.  It’s not an exact science.)  Just rinse them again through the strainer, then set out on a paper towel to dry for another day or two.

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Make sure you spread them around as flat as you can on the paper towel. They’ll stick together for the most part, but the more you can separate them now, the less you’ll have to separate later.

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After they’re good and dry, it’s time to pull them off the paper towel (they’ll be stuck), separate them, then store in some container.  They’re best stored in a cool dark place over the winter.  I place mine in extra seed saving packets that Sow True Seed sends me with each order I’ve made from them.  Be sure to mark them with the year for future reference.

Here’s my latest order – for my fall garden!  Notice their little note and extra empty seed packets. 🙂  Love this company!

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Sow True Seed

And yes, we are going to grow more collards this fall. Mmm hmm!

Saving seeds is just what farmers do.  In days of old, honestly not too long ago, seed saving was just a part of the entire process.  Who would want the expense of buying seeds every single year?  That just didn’t make any sense.  Seed was always saved!  And this is how we intend to do it as well, like days of old.  And once we get to our farm land, I will probably go a little crazy with fancy varieties of squash and beans.  🙂

**Sorry for being confusing on the name of these little yellow cherry tomato plants.  The store sold them as “Yellow Cherry Tomato” and it turns out they’re actually called “Sunset Cherry Tomato”.

No Slowing Down on the Weekend

It’s full on harvest season, and this weekend we stayed busy processing produce from our garden. We also took time out on Friday evening for a little R&R in the form of a date night – dinner & strolling the Front Street Art Studios, which we sometimes like to do. Bob is rather creative himself, though lately he’s thrown his focus into the garden. After all, it’s what’s we signed up for this time of year.

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late bloomer bell pepper

First things first: We FINALLY have a bell pepper growing! Usually these dudes should have been prolific by now, but we suspect too much rain earlier this season stunted them. That, or it’s just the nature of a first year BTE (no-till) garden that some plants struggle, and for us, that has been the bell peppers. I’m really thinking about getting a soil test done. In general, things are going well in our BTE garden, but I’m super curious. It’s in my nature to want to compare and contrast. So soil testing is in the back of my mind and probably will make it to an official To Do List soon.

2018-08-04 Harvest

beans, cukes, and collards

Sunday Bob was up before me (he likes to let me sleep in on weekends if I can), and out in the garden harvesting another round of collards. After meandering into the kitchen all sleepy-eyed, I found him taking pictures of, among other things, his not-a-single-bug-bitten collards. He’s mighty proud of those collards, always. This year he used netting to keep the cabbage loopers off, which has worked quite well. Also pictured are some cukes, one of which must have been hiding because it got a pretty big. We’re not sure how that one will taste. The last big cuke we harvested was quite bitter and we composted it. The beans in this photo were harvested just before and just after we returned from Vacation.

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bean in jars

Bob received a fancy pressure canner for Christmas from his mother and father and finally gave it a try Saturday. We have a glass top stove, so he has been leery of putting that much weight on it. But turns out, it did just fine. I believe he said he did 7 quarts of beans. As with most gardening and homesteading tasks, there’s a learning curve. While waiting for the beans to seal (pop!), the lids buckled under pressure. After a call to his father, Bob learned he shouldn’t have tightened the rings down so hard. And it’s best not to pack too many beans in each quart because they swell a little as they take on water during processing, which could put pressure on the seals as well. BUT, when his father made the same mistake years ago, it turned out alright. His beans still stayed fresh in their jars for years. We will keep an occasional eye on them, though.

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pickle jars

Earlier this week, more bread and butter pickles were canned. If we have an apocalypse, we are going to be pickle eating survivors. lol

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jar cabinet

Speaking of stashes… we have a growing stash of canned veggies from this year alone. We have another shelf or two from previous years, which we are slowly eating up.

While Bob canned beans on Saturday, it was grocery shopping day for me. There was a trip to the Little Red Barn for eggs, Aldis for dairy/meat, Dollar Tree for zip lock bags, and Meijer for the balance. That just about does me in for the day!

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keto cookies

After sleeping in and watching Bob finish up freeze-packing the collards, I got to work in the kitchen making some low-carb treats for my daughter and I who are on Keto together. These are some almond flour based chocolate chip cookies, 1 net carb each. One batch I baked a little too long and they ended up looking a little toasty, but taste just like the 2nd batch which came out much nicer looking. The 2nd batch is pictured. Ashley said, “They’re good mom.” I like a Keto-win. 🙂

I also made some strawberry cheesecake fat bombs, but didn’t take a picture. However, after several hours in the freezer out the the garage, they still weren’t completely frozen, so I called over Bob to investigate the freezer situation. It turns out the freezer was all frozen up inside and he had move (STUFF) everything into the house freezer while defrosting the garage freezer. Fun. That is my worst fear about relying on freezers for preserving food. If it loses power, all those goodies that took a whole season to grow can go to waste! I’m so glad we caught it in time.

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chunked tomatoes

Don’t those look yummy?!?

Snacks weren’t the only thing on our To Do List yesterday. We also made our first attempt at homemade ketchup. I was aiming to make it keto-friendly, but that didn’t quite work out. It turns out Heinz does a better job at lower carb than we did, even though I used Swerve sugar replacement. Oh well. It was really fun working in the kitchen with Bob processing our home-grown Cherokee tomatoes. Several were splitting from too much rain and were ready enough anyway. So we cut them from their branches, weighed them (3 lbs) and made a half batch of Mrs. Wages Ketchup. The package did NOT say how to separate the seeds, so after blanching, we ran the smashed tomatoes through a strainer and that worked pretty well even though it was a bit labor intensive.

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ketchup jars, 2 are blue glass, so darker looking

Three pounds of tomatoes made 4 half pints of ketchup. We decided on half-pints because I didn’t want to have fresh ketchup last too long in the fridge and spoil. And since it came out as 5 carbs to Heinz’s 4 carbs per tablespoon… I am thinking about converting the half-pint I left uncanned into a BBQ sauce. I have not been able to find a low carb red BBQ sauce yet. A 5 carb BBQ sauce would be awesome. I just need to figure out how to spice it up into an acceptable BBQ flavor without adding any more carbs.

And that was our busy weekend! And although it was busy, it was very satisfying “work”, especially with my guy by my side. I love that guy so much! So bonus pic of today is: Bob in the kitchen, washing beans at the sink.

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Bob in kitchen

 

Sunday, Meal Making Day

Updates: Added, photos & some notes of meals after being made.

The morning is slipping away towards afternoon, and here I sit still, with the backdoor open to let the not yet too warm air waft in.  The birds are chirping and the breeze gently swaying through our neighbor’s maple tree branches.

My tea is long gone, but here still I sit… wondering what will I do with my day?

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My cuke stash 😀

There’s a couple cucumbers ready to pick again today, one of which is really FAT.  And this is my chance!  Bob has been pickling everything!  It’s time to get my hands into the mix.  I’m the newbie, and I am discovering I need to take what I can get and run with it.

Refiningcotten posted a recipe for Spicy Cukes that I really want to try.  I just need to figure out how to make my own Chili Lime seasoning instead of driving all the way across town to a Trader Joe’s.

Update: The fat cuke was bitter!  Now I know!  I used the skinnier one.  Here’s the result of my using fresh ingredients instead of the spice from Trader Joe’s (except for chili pepper -used powdered).  It was pretty good.  

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Refiningcotten’s Spicy Cukes

Also on my list of things to do today, is making another batch of this wonderful shrimp alfredo dish, made with some zucchini left over from what I picked up at the farmer’s market last weekend.  I make at least one main dish for me and one for my daughter each weekend for us to take to work for lunches all week.  We’re losing weight together and this helps us always have at least something on hand to reach for instead of all the wrong stuff.  We’re 6 weeks in and meal prep has really been key.  She’s about to turn 19 at the end of the month and so this has also been a God-send for helping to teach her not only to cook, but to cook from whole foods.  I never thought I’d see the day! Struggling parents everywhere can rejoice in my personal victory. lol

Update: Even with a group effort, we could NOT find my Veggetti Spiralizer. 😦  So I used my mandolin which made wider strips of zucchini.  I just made sure to steam them a bit longer after all was combined.

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Last week we made low-carb lasagna. It’s delish!  Even Bob is loving it!  I really love making our meals ourselves like this.  I didn’t make the sauce from scratch, but one day… I will.

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BBQ woes… on left: Stubb’s, on right, a North Alabama white bbq sauce (low carb)

In fact, last night was the second dinner lately that I really wished I had a good homemade BBQ sauce recipe that I can make low, low carb somehow.  I have been searching stores high and low for a red low carb bbq sauce that actually tastes good and doesn’t have bad for you sugar substitutes.  It’s been underwhelming. So, the plan is to make my own, though as of yet I have no recipes to go by.

I want to make my own ketchup, too.  Unfortunately, we did not plant any roma tomatoes this year. So, I will have to pick some organic ones up wherever I can find them.  I might have to go conventional. We’ll see.  But next year, roma tomatoes are going into our garden, no doubt.  Eventually I want to make large batches of the BBQ sauce and ketchup and can it, for the sake of convenience.

As a random little bit of sharing at the end of this post, totally unrelated.. have a look at the fruits of our no-till garden, a cute little mushroom (inedible!).  Fungus in the garden is a great sign of soil health.  And since this is our first year employing the no-till method, I’m super stoked to find a variety of mushrooms from time to time.  Here’s one from this morning.

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Our First Garlic Harvest

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It’s my seventh year gardening, and I’m still learning new things, like how to grow and cure garlic.  Technically, this is my second year attempting garlic.  But between you and me, last year’s effort was a complete flop.  I had no idea that the cloves were supposed to be separated when planted!  That’s the kind of flop I’m capable of.  But this year…  I did much better.

This is German Red garlic, a hardneck variety.  Hardnecks grow a center shaft that would produce a flower if left alone.  But instead, that’s harvested to be eaten in late spring/early summer.  We froze many of ours to use as needed.  The rest of the garlic plant continues to mature even after the scape is harvested.  We use our scapes in scrambled eggs or anything that calls for a garlicy-onion type flavor.  They are delicious!

Once the bottom leaves on the garlic plants die back, it’s time to dig up the garlic and cure it.  We hung ours with twine and paperclips of all things, right under the eave of our house.  This is suburbia here.  We’re not on a farm, yet.  Those guys need to hang there to air out for about 4-6 weeks.  So far, it’s rained at least once, and they stayed nice and dry.

As happy as I am with this year’s garlic harvest, many of our 26 garlic bulbs were noticeably smaller than store bought garlic. I think where I had them planted near my shed prevented them from getting enough water to grow larger.  Next time I’ll plant them somewhere else, or be sure to water more frequently.  Fortunately, some were large!  The largest and healthiest ones are the bulbs we’ll use to replant more garlic this fall for next season.  The rest will be tasty no matter their size.  Mmmm.