Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preserving the Summer Harvest

Beautiful sauerkraut

What have you harvested this summer?  Overall, I am pleased with my harvest.  No gardener has a perfect year for every crop, and something always makes more than anyone can eat.
After canning 25 or so quarts of tomatoes, with some help from my mother who canned some tomatoes for me when I took a planned trip during the height of tomato season, I don’t plan to buy any canned tomatoes this winter. 

I canned green beans for the first time, and along with the canned beans my aunt gave me from her garden, we have plenty.  My lima beans are producing loads of beans, and I enlist my girls to help me shell them.  I blanch them and freeze them, and we will enjoy them all winter. 

Although my garlic wasn’t as productive this year as in previous years, I have enough to make it until the next garlic harvest.  In a month or two, it will be time to plant garlic again.  Most of my onions rotted.  Although I can grow green scallion onions year round, I have about given up on planting bulb onions for storage.  I could not resist planting some more bulb onion seeds I found, that are supposed to work in my climate, in the fall garden.  Mine have some sort of disease that causes them to rot.  If any of you have any suggestions on growing onions successfully, please let me know.

The okra is doing well, as usual, but the squash bugs and squash vine borers got my squash and zucchini.  I haven’t had nearly enough meals of fried squash this summer.  I suppose my arteries thank me.  I planted some squash seeds a couple of weeks ago in hopes that I can harvest some squash this fall.  I have lots of cantaloupes, watermelons, and cucumbers.

I harvested plenty of Irish potatoes, if I can only manage to eat them before they sprout eyes.  I wish our house had a root cellar or a basement for cool storage, but lacking that, I have them in a closet, covered with newspaper, on an air conditioning vent.  I must remember to remove them before I turn on the heat. I found this recipe for frozen hash browns, and used it to preserve some of my potatoes in the freezer.

Last winter, I made some sauerkraut from some cabbages I planted in the fall.  Sauerkraut is made of sliced cabbage and salt, and it sits in a cool (45-65 ° F) location for about 6 weeks while it ferments.  The garage was a great place for this process during the last mild winter, but lacking the aforementioned cellar, I had nowhere to place the sauerkraut I wanted to make from this spring’s cabbages.

Then I remembered our wine cooler, which keeps wine at 55°F.  I moved some wine bottles, set in the crock of sauerkraut, and it’s fermenting in the ideal conditions.  I made last winter’s sauerkraut from the traditional green cabbage; this spring the most prolific variety was red, and we will enjoy eating the glowing purple-red sauerkraut.
The wine cooler keeps sauerkraut and wine at a perfect temperature

Although preserving all this food is a lot of work, it’s worth it to reach into the pantry for some homegrown food instead of going to the store.  I do most of the work during a few summer months, and then we enjoy the peace of self-sufficiency the rest of the year.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Update on My Guineas

My guineas are finally doing something useful: sending out an alarm when some animal or person not usually in our yard approaches.  One night they began the alarm, the sound of which is hard to describe, and I looked out to see a deer walking up the neighbor's driveway.  The deer laid back its ears and looked nervously at the guineas, and as far as I know, went somewhere besides my yard for its dinner.

The guineas are not, as I had planned, roaming the yard and eating ticks.  They want to live with the chickens and won't use the nice home my husband built for them.    I only have two of the original six guineas left; a blacksnake killed three and one hung itself on a protruding nail inside the guinea house.

Mr. Cuteypants, the lavender guinea I rescued from the mouth of a blacksnake, described in this post.

The two guineas, Mr. Cuteypants and "the other one." My six-year-old daughter named Mr. Cuteypants.
Pearl Guinea, about 3 months old.  His/her (don't know yet) wattles will become bright red as he/she matures.
The guineas roost on the roof of the chicken tractor.  They are wild and won't let me catch them.  I guess they are safer on the roof of the chicken tractor than they would be in a tree; at least they are inside the electronet fencing.  Last night, some critter killed one of my laying hens, a Buff Orpington, and Mr. Cuteypants was missing.

We decided that the same critter that got the Buff Orpington did not get Mr. Cuteypants because there were no Mr. Cuteypants feathers all over the pen, unlike the snow flurry of Buff Orpington feathers.  It appears that the critter dug under the electronet fencing in some soft ground and entered the chicken tractor through some loose wire.  I moved the chickens this morning into a secure pen, and will make fortifications to the chicken tractor and I will move the fencing before I put them back.  The other guinea called for Mr. Cuteypants, and eventually he returned, unharmed.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Visit to Ohio

I enjoy visiting the Midwest, in the summer anyway.  My husband and I drove to northern Ohio for the wedding of a friend a few weeks ago and as I usually do when I travel, I sought out opportunities to explore the local gardens and farms. 

In Holmes County, Ohio, just off I-77, a large community of Amish and Mennonites farm the beautiful soil.  The roads have wide shoulders for horses and buggies, and huge barns and farmhouses are scattered across the rolling hills among the cornfields. 
Ohio farm country

We drove past many Amish families going for a drive or an errand in town. Young boys carried a load of tiny calves in a wagon, and older couples drove alone.  The people looked happy, unconcerned as I guess they were with getting to work on time or about the latest Facebook status update.  Couples smiled at each other and chatted as they rode along in the buggy.

Some of our society’s ills might be solved if it was still normal, as it once was, for twelve-year-old boys to be trusted with real responsibilities like managing two thousand-pound draft horses well enough to get the horses, the load of calves, and the boys safely along public roads to deliver the calves to their destination.  I have no twelve-year-old boys, but if I did, I am sure I would not trust them with a team of horses on a public road.  Think of how proud of themselves those boys must have been when they accomplish that important errand for their father. 

Young boys delivering calves

The Amish have their problems, and some of their rules about the use of modern technologies don’t make a lot of sense to me, but I am not Amish. An Amish businessman can hire someone to drive him in a car to the airport, where he’ll fly somewhere to conduct business, and then he’ll return home by hired car to his home without electricity. Somehow it's okay because he doesn't own or drive the car.

Outside of Amish country, I noticed the beautiful flower gardens surrounding many homes.  The sun doesn’t scorch plants in Ohio the way it does here, and maybe people find more energy to work in their gardens than we do because the ground there is frozen for nearly six months out of the year.  It would be nice to take a vacation from battling weeds for six months every year!

We saw fields of corn, of course, and many wheat fields filled with golden grain.  I have become so used to the drought in South Carolina in recent years that I was shocked to see the environment grow drier as we drove north.  Based on the healthy green foliage of the weeds and fields, North Carolina and Virginia appeared to have received at least minimal amounts of rain, but many of Ohio’s fields were brown.  In some places, the corn had formed tassels, but in other fields, the shriveled plants were barely two feet tall.
The drought will reduce the yield of corn, and it will make corn prices, and consequently the prices of meat, milk, and ethanol, increase over the next year.  I read in The State paper recently that because of well-timed rainstorms and some cool nights in June here, SC will produce a bumper crop of corn, for which our farmers are thankful.
Dry pastures in Ohio

On all my trips, I seek out gardens and farms to explore.  I enjoy seeing how plants perform in different areas.  I should probably take a trip to the Midwest during the middle of winter so I’ll think more realistically about the area—my friend had to explain what a sign in Cleveland denoting a street an “Emergency Snow Route” meant—but I also like keeping my idealistic view of this gardening heaven, even though I saw it without adequate rainfall.

Friday, August 3, 2012

When Basil Flourishes, Make Pesto

In my garden, the basil is growing wildly.  Three tiny black seeds that I sowed in the April soil have turned into three enormous plants that are covered with leaves, and, because I have been tardy in picking the basil leaves before they bloomed, flowers.  Herbs have the best flavor before they bloom, but even with the blossoms, this basil will make wonderful pesto.   


I cut the plants off low to the ground, and they are already growing new leaves which I’ll make into another batch of pesto.  After I picked them in the morning, I let them sit in a sink of water for a while to give any critters time to leave the plants.


After I picked off the leaves, I washed them and spun them dry in my salad spinner.


I used one bulb, which means all the individual cloves of garlic on one of these bulbs, in the pesto.


Traditionalists will be horrified, but I use cashew nuts in my pesto instead of pine nuts.  They are easier to find, much cheaper, and their flavor is similar to pine nuts.  The above picture shows the garlic and cashews I am about to chop in the food processor.


I add parmesan cheese to the cashews and the garlic.  A food processor makes the entire process much easier. 


I add basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil to the cashews, garlic, and cheese in the food processor bowl.  I  blend it until it’s the consistency of a thick liquid, adding more oil if necessary, and tasting to make sure the flavors are correct.IMG_2219

Here’s the finished product, ready to go into the freezer. 

I don’t actually use a recipe to make pesto because I’ve made it so long that I don’t need one.  When I was learning to cook, I remember asking my mother for recipes and she’s say, “I don’t use one, I just put in “enough.”  She was kind enough to figure out recipes with me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could cook without a recipe.

Now that I’m an experienced cook, I understand that eventually, you cook something so many times that you no longer need a recipe.  For those of you who need a recipe,  here’s a good one from Simply  It suggests using walnuts in place of pine nuts.  For a true southern flavor, try collard greens and pecans.

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes

Add to shopping list

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Yield: Makes 1 cup.


If your garden lacks basil plants, make sure to add some next year.  If you want to make some pesto this year, ask neighbors or friends, or your favorite farmer at the market.  Someone surely has some overgrown basil plants they’d be happy to share, especially if you give them a sample of the finished product.