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. 😉

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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!