Friday, January 19, 2018

Preserves taste test, January 2018

It's been a while since I did a taste test!  How did my preserves shape up?

Small bag of dried peas

I soaked these overnight in water, then drained and cooked them--one batch plainly, to be served with steak pie, and another cooked into a stew.  The whole family really liked them both ways (the seven year old asked for seconds to go with his steak pie).  Result:  5*

Large jar of dried chard

I've never heard of anyone else drying chard or other leafy greens until I just decided to try it myself.  I air dried these on trays on top of my fridge--and a few got strung up and hung from my kitchen ceiling to dry.  The texture can be a little rubbery if the leaves are cooked whole, so I try to crumble them up and add to stews, casseroles, sauces, etc.  The flavor is just as good as fresh, I think.  It's a great way to use up mountains of chard during summer;  I cut off the stems and cook them, but put the leaves to dry.  Result:  5*

Large and medium jars of pickled rhubarb

These got lost in the back of the cupboard for pretty much a whole year--they were made in 2016 and eaten in late 2017.  They were really too sharp to eat plain, although they had good flavor (malt vinegar and random spices).  I added them to stews and stir fries, about a quarter cup per meal.  This helped me keep my no-buying veg pledge when fresh garden veg started to get thin in November!  They cooked up well, and I'd definitely preserve (and cook) them this way again.  Result:  5*

Dill and garlic pickled zuccini spears

All of the previous preserves were from 2016 (though I also dried chard in 2017).  This batch of zuccini pickles were from 2017, though from a friend's garden not my own.  Dill and garlic were from my garden, and I used white wine vinegar this time instead of malt.  The first jar, opened about a month after making, was still too sharp and not particularly enjoyable plain--it got cooked in a stir fry.  We opened a second jar about five months on, which was far better.  Good texture, and more mellow flavor.  I'm very happy with them.  Result:  5*

Small jar of apple jelly

I made this as a by-product of cider in 2017, by adding water to the dry pulp from juicing apples, cooking this and then straining the liquid.  The jelly in the jar is a little softer than I'd hoped, but not as runny as I'd feared;  I thought it might be like syrup, but luckily not.  While it has a nice apple flavor, it's really too sweet for my taste.  I guess that's jelly though.  Result:  3*.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It's hard work (sometimes)

The biggest obstacle for me in growing my own vegetables as opposed to buying is:


Some vegetables are easy to go from plant to plate:  runner beans, for instance.  I pick a handful, chop, and cook.  No problem, really.  To preserve them by salting or freezing, I do pretty much just that:  pick, chop, and salt/freeze (they say you should blanch veg before freezing, but I don't bother--I prefer to salt anyway as my freezer's tiny).

Other easy prep veg:  zuccini, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, flat leaf kale, rhubarb, and more of course.  The most they need is a bit of a rinse or a little soak.

Now take peas.  They're grown like runner beans, up supports in the Peas and Beans bed.  But picking them takes two hands plus some sort of bowl or other receptacle, so as a) not to tear down the plant and b) not accidently drop all the pods in the mud (sometimes I drop/tip/step on the bowl anyway).  I need way more than just a handful to make a meal for three, and even then I'm tired of searching the vines for hidden pods before I have enough.  Then it's into the house to shell them, patiently, pod by pod.  Then finally, I can cook them.  It can take me twenty minutes to harvest and prepare a family portion of peas--longer than it takes to actually cook them.

Other tedious to prep veg:  pretty much all root vegetables, purple sprouting broccoli (prep is easy but picking is a chore), cabbage during caterpillar season, and many more.

Why do I grow these labor intensive vegetables then?  A few reasons, really.
  1. The flavor is worth the effort.  For a family who eats a lot of carrots, I don't really like the storebought ones!  But I love our own grown ones, and the work of pulling and scrubbing them is a worthwhile tradeoff to me.  If only I could grow enough to store over winter.  If it were up to me we wouldn't buy them in the off season, but I'm outvoted two to one on this.  It's the same with many other roots, and to be honest we rarely buy potatoes during the off season because the taste is so disappointing after our own ones.
  2.  These are the only vegetables that will grow!  For instance, peas and purple sprouting broccoli are two veg that grow very well here during the "hungry gap", the period in spring to early summer when the winter crops are done but the main summer garden isn't producing yet.  Not a lot grows during this time, and yet I still want fresh garden veg.  I'm willing to put up with the hassle of harvesting and preparation if nothing else is available.
Once in a while all that scrubbing, peeling, wrestling with vines and stubborn tap roots (who knew spring onions could be so tenacious?), and maneuvering in the mud really gets me down.  It can double cooking time for me, when I already cook our meals from scratch.  It would be so easy if I could just reach in the fridge for a clean, neat little package, ready to heat up and eat. 

I try to remember why I do this:  not only the joy of eating tasty fresh food, but also for pride in my skills and self reliance.  There is a satisfaction in working hard at something for myself and my family, and if not always succeeding, at least perservering.  Yes it can be hard work, but whoever said that was a bad thing?  Convenience is all well and good, but some things are worth doing;  to me, this is worth doing.

Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 Goals revisited

 Here's what I managed from 2017's Plan:

1 Year Goals (Jan 2018)

  • Make/buy/obtain food dehydrator (I made a wood fired one, but haven't used or even tested it yet, so I'm not counting it)
  • Build an outdoor rocket stove
  • Reduce chicken feed to 20 kg (1 bag) per month (I managed to do this a few months of the year through sourcing free food elsewhere, but not consistently)
  • Erect a fence/wall in front garden and deep mulch front beds (the fence is up, and I partially deep mulched with used chicken bedding, but will have to keep adding to it during this year)
  • Extend self-sufficiency in vegetables by 1 month (5 months total)
5 Year Goals (Jan 2023)
  • Fully self-sufficient in vegetables and seasonal fruit
  • Raising/breeding meat and replacement layers (our broody bantam hen hatched one egg and raised an additional four chicks;  two are hens, but neither have begun laying!)
  • Greenhouse erected  
I set myself some fairly easy goals considering, and I still didn't achieve them all!  Oh well, I managed most of them.  I'll set out my new goals for 2018 and hopefully they won't be so difficult this year.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Grand total for garden food, 2017

Two big, leafy cabbages growing under glass
Spring cabbages in cold frame, Dec 2017
I know I've been looking forward to this!  From 1 Jan, to 31 Dec, 2017, I harvested from my garden:

201 lb, 11.5 oz vegetables

1643 eggs

Much fruit was also harvested, but mostly by number (e.g. 28 plums) rather than weight.  Weighed fruit (mixed berries and morello cherries) came in at just under 5 lb.  A few veg were also recorded by number, such as the garlic, pumpkins and squashes.

Last year's full total of vegetables was 86 lb.  I can't believe I more than doubled last year's total.  My chickens techically beat last year's total too, but in 2016 I only recorded egg amounts from May to December.  In all actuality, I think they really did lay more last year, but I don't have a record to prove it.

2017's highest producer was potatoes at over 45 lb, followed by chard at over 36 lb, then cabbage at over 19 lb. 

Can I beat these garden totals in 2018?  That's setting the bar pretty high--especially as I've mentioned previously that I'm not growing a full bed of potatoes this year.  I hope to at least match it, though. 

Look out for my next post, where I'll be going over 2017's goals to see what I achieved.

Friday, January 5, 2018

December 2017 garden notes

New growth from an artichoke plant, surrounded by light snow
Artichoke sprouting from the base, Dec 2017

Pulled up half the celery in December, half still in the ground mostly unfazed by frost and light snow.  The harvested plants filled up a drawer in the fridge and lasted us the rest of the month--very crisp and tasty.

Harvested half the remaining beets in ground at the same time as that celery:  about seven small roots.  Enough for two bites each--very tasty.  The rest of the beets are growing very close to the rest of the celery, so I left them for now (think they're as small or smaller than those harvested).

Seems like some of the garlic and shallots have sprouted;   I mulched them with leaves and garden debris early in the month and it's hard to tell.

Mulched 2017's Roots bed thickly with used chicken bedding (manure and straw), as it will be 2018's Misc bed.

Peas and beans

Broad beans growing slowly, some putting out their first leaves now.


Winter and spring cabbages and summer cauliflowers growing slowly;  a small amount of outer leaves harvested from the winter cabbages this month.

Had the half of the entire Brussels sprouts harvest for Christmas dinner:  small but tasty.  The remaining half are much smaller.

Mature kale and sprouting broccoli plants still growing strongly, but young kale seems to have disappeared:  probably renegade chickens.


Harvested the last two small pumpkins early in the month, grown in planters next to the house.

Leeks still growing, but none harvested.

Too cold now for winter lettuce, and chickens helped themselves to most of the miners lettuce, chard and arugula.

Gave up on forced chicory, although the plants are still alive with a little growth.

As mentioned in Roots above, generously mulched 2018's Misc bed with chicken bedding.


Finished off the last of the potatoes in storage--of the entire harvest, only had to throw out one bad/moldy potato, and the rest were still very tasty right to the last.


All fruit dormant now.  Lightly pruned Sparta apple tree.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes sprouting from the base--hope they survive the frosts and cold we've been having this winter.

Early in the month I put a stake next to each (now dormant) asparagus seedling to mark its position for future reference.

All other perennials dormant;  all herbs dormant too.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

December 2017 Food Totals

Close up of a small Brussels sprouts plant growing in the frost
A couple Brussels sprouts under there! Dec 2017

106.5 oz celery
58 oz potatoes
1.5 oz mizuna
3 oz beets
4.5 oz cabbage
2.5 oz Brussels sprouts

2 small pumpkins (unweighed)

Total: 176 oz, or 11 lb

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc. 


No fruit harvested in December


Total: 53 eggs from 10 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)


No preserves made in December


Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas break 2017

A patch of celery flopped over in the frost
Poor frosty celery--it perked up the next day with the thaw
After a productive gardening year, I'm taking my break with pride this Christmas.  I easily met my target of five months without buying vegetables, providing my family with plenty of good variety from the garden the entire time.  I've broken last year's record for food produced too;  I'll post the full year's total next month.

I can hardly believe it's that time again.  I'll be taking the rest of December off blogging:  and gardening too, no doubt--it's cold!  I'll be back here on 2 January, 2018, with the food totals for December but unlike this time last year, there are already a few things on the vegetable tally.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!