canning adventures year 2

Sooo my garden actually worked out this year! Last year the only thing that was (marginally) successful were my peppers, but this year almost everything has been going fantastically. I’m very excited because I hope that by canning, I can enjoy these garden-fresh vegetables all through the winter. 🙂

I currently have 3 raised beds, plus a variety of container peppers and a single tomato plant. In my raised beds, I grew radishes while the cucumbers were growing and between the peppers. This was a bit of risk for such a novice gardener, but it worked great and I had enough radishes to enjoy them on sandwiches and to can five 1/2 pints!

The salad I made from the radish greens and arugula I also grew. 🙂

Now that it’s the middle of summer, my cucumbers have really taken off! I love growing cucumbers, because they’re so ridiculously easy to grow and keep alive. I’ve been enjoying picking a few for sandwiches every so often, and trying to time it so I have plenty to harvest in a single day for pickling. So far I’ve canned 5 pints of bread and butter pickles, but I have many many more still on the vine to pickle soon!

I make the sandwiches by mixing a bit of garlic, salt, and fresh thyme into cream cheese and then layering the cucumber slices on top. It’s not fancy, but it’s very good and refreshing for lunch.

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The best, of course, is how fancy my pickles all look lined up. 😀 I love the bright color from the radishes, hopefully they taste as good as they look! After more cucumbers, next up will be taqueria pickles. Or if anyone has a favorite canning recipe they want to share? I’m definitely going to have more cucumbers than I know what to do with!

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gardening journal

I know it’s still snowing in many places, but here we’ve had crocuses blooming for weeks now, so of course I’m thinking about gardening. 🙂

Last year I started a gardening journal, and I’m finally getting to the point where I can look to what I wrote last year to compare to my observations this year—it’s very rewarding! It’s also reassuring, especially in regards to my stairwell peppers plants. Last year I was so worried my jalapeño was dying, but now I can look back and see they’re actually doing a little better than last winter.

For my journal, I use a midori traveller’s notebook, which has a simple leather cover and replaceable notebooks. I got the passport size, because it fits in my back pocket. 🙂

I also got a cute mini printer for Christmas this year, the hp sprocket. It seems a little silly to print photos for a handwritten journal, when, after all, I could just add them to this blog, but I enjoy physical objects and flipping through books.

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You can see my indoor plants featured in this page spread. I just bought them in January, but my pothos has already grown! I would love for it to get all vine-y like some I have seen. I’ve been lucky so far in that my dog is not at all interested in eating them, but I suppose if he does I can put them up above my windows.

I hope this has helped everyone get excited for Spring!

first canning attempt!

Okay, so first let me admit something—I am terrified of canning. While it fits perfectly with all of my favorite things—good food, gardening, cheapness, self-reliance—I made the mistake of reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, in which the villain famously murders someone with a deliberately unsafe batch of canned beans. Add this to my general fear of the glass jars exploding, and I decided canning might be one diy-step too far for me.

But this summer, as my pepper plants produced more and more and more peppers, I began to do some actual research on canning practices. I quickly learned that yes, it can be dangerous, but mostly for low-acid food items that have to be pressure canned. While I’m sure you can poison yourself with pickles and jam, it turns out that if you follow approved recipes, the East of Eden murder weapon (ie, botulism ) is unlikely.

So last night I enlisted my dad, and we canned pickled peppers! This is a mix of jalapeños, banana peppers, serranos, and cayenne peppers. Good thing my family likes spicy foods?

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I got 5 pints from 4 pepper plants, so I figure that’s pretty good. Next year I think I will grow a lot more banana peppers and jalapeños—my dad said he used to eat the banana peppers fresh, so it would be nice to have some to eat and pickle as well.

I do still have my habañeros, which I plan on making in the jam in the next few weeks. I’m just waiting for them to turn a nice bright red, so the jam is prettier. 😉

garden re-do

I used to dream of having a beautiful vegetable garden, and going outside to pick herbs before dinner—but as a child, my parents were both way too busy to bother with our yard, so we mostly had grass, weeds, and daisies. A decade or so of total neglect later, and we usually don’t call it a yard anymore—it’s the jungle. 😉

Last summer I decided to do something about it. I had nothing to do except read before my PhD program started, and I though a nice way to thank my parents for having me home rent-free would be to re-do their yard. I’m not sure they thought it a very nice gift at the time, since it involved way too many trips to Home Depot and gardening centers, but now they’re actually quite happy to have a better looking front yard!

This is what I started with:

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Yeah, that was once a garden bed. You can see I meant “a decade of neglect” quite literally. 😉

I recruited my sister and we dug up both this bed and the other front one by hand, just to get rid of as much of the grass and weeds as we could (we did save those irises). One of the hard parts of re-building a garden for my parents is trying to make one that allows them to do the absolute minimum of work, while still appealing to their taste. Because of that, I decided to add a small retaining wall, which I thought would define the borders of the garden better and make it more obvious when grass encroached.

This is the finished (if very new) garden:

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Look, you can see our absurdly hardy azalea again! 😉 I found some rocks in the back garden-jungle (which I will be tackling this summer…) and used them to take up some space. I cut the bed a bit short and added a row of herb pots along the side, which my parents both loved. Most herbs don’t survive our WI winters anyway, and I thought this way they would be both more identifiable and more manageable—no mint going out of control. My mom is already looking forward to replacing them this spring. 🙂

The garden looks a bit sparse in this picture, but once I get back in town, I’ll see which of those perennials survived and plant some more to liven things up! I’m excited to finish the rest of it, hence sharing this post. 🙂 And if anyone has any tips for a beginning gardener, let me know!