Let’s do this like a Band-Aid

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything that it keeps getting harder and harder to actually post something. Like a phone call or a text message that you keep meaning to return and keep meaning to return until so much time has passed that you’re more embarrassed to return the call or text than you are to just forget it.

So let’s just do this as quickly, briefly, and painlessly as possible, just like taking off a bandage. Let’s get an update out there and then I’ll be able to work on longer posts without the guilt.

Here’s a quick picture recap of what we’ve been up to lately:

Building and filling a new raspberry bed -an ordeal which deserves an enormous post of its own!

Taking our second annual (we hope!) trip to Hilton Head and introducing Itty Bitty to the joys of the pool

Getting to be such a big girl! 6 months old tomorrow!!

Sister love in Hilton Head

Getting the garden ready for spring

Practicing bike skills

Spending quality time with Daddy looking for grubs

First tutu! I die from cuteness.

As you can see, we’ve been pretty busy. But a garden update is forthcoming. As are ones on the girls, because they’ve been up to some pretty awesome stuff lately.

And now that I’ve taken the first step and finally posted something, hopefully the next post won’t be quite so daunting.

Garden Planning is under way!

Because what better way to spend a day like this

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So cold!

than doing this!

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Dreaming of sunshine

I am very lucky that the DreadBrewer derives such pleasure from cataloging and comparing and cross referencing to make sure that we are going to have an awesome garden come spring. And all I have to do is provide some of the sweat equity when it gets warmer to reap the rewards of his diligence. Though the beer that usually accompanies the arduous task of garden planning makes the experience less onerous, I’m sure…

I did help out this year by making a spreadsheet of what cultivars we grew for the last three years, where we got the seeds, and how many we ordered. I like stuff like that. Poring over garden catalogs and debating whether we should grow Procraft versus Carolina Wonder peppers or hard neck versus soft neck garlic is not my cup of tea. (The answer is we are going to grow both peppers. And we are probably only going to grow hard neck garlic from now on, in case you were wondering.) If it were up to me, I would probably choose what we grew based on how pretty the pictures are, which means that we would order everything from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds because their catalog is gorgeous.)

It makes it a little easier to cope with snow and temps in the 20s when I know that seed starting will begin in a few short weeks and we’ll be planting out in the garden sooner than I think. I am really looking forward to getting out in the sunshine and getting my hands dirty. Because dreaming of and planning for our 2017 garden is all well and good, but actually being able to get out there and do it is awesome.

Building A Produce Storage Rack

Over the long Labor Day weekend, the DreadBrewer and I were able to conquer one of the garden projects that has been on our To Do list for far too long: building a produce storage rack.

Until now, we’ve had to store our onion, garlic, and shallot crops in bins and boxes in the guest bathroom, not to mention the fact that our tub was totally full of onions. Not only did this present a problem if we had guests who had the crazy notion that they would perhaps like a semi-usable bathroom in which to brush their teeth, but it also seriously shortened the self life of our root crops due to lack of air circulation. We ran the vent fan fairly frequently to try and keep some of the moisture out of there, but we still lost about 25% of our harvest due to rot.

Pre-Rack 1

Yeah, I’d consider these less than ideal storage conditions

I looked into all sorts of storage possibilities in an attempt to find something that would help us preserve our harvest. The easiest option would’ve probably been just to buy a ton of panty hose and string the bundles up from the shower curtain rod, but panty hose are actually kind of expensive when you think about the fact that you use them once and then cut them up. I tried to find something we could purchase and use, but again, everything was more money than we wanted to spend. Finally I found these plans from Ana White that looked awesomeThe plans only called for unfinished pine, which is pretty cheap, and were labeled as intermediate, which should be well within our capabilities, so DB and I decided that we would build our own food storage rack.

I have to say that the girls were so good while we were putting the rack together. They waited patiently in the morning for us to make the sides so we could go out and play in the yard.

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They put Curious George to shame

They waited patiently in the afternoon for us to put the frame together so we could go out and play in the kiddie pool.

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Look at these paragons of patience

I didn’t get a picture of it, but they entertained themselves with baby dolls and play dough while we built the shelves. All in all, they were champs while we worked at this. We also couldn’t have done it without my mother-in-law coming over and reading them books while we cut the 108 pieces (!!!) needed to build the rack.

Rack 1

Very pregnant BrewsterMama, hard at work

We finally finished the rack at lunch time on Sunday and everyone in the house was pretty darn excited.

Rack 3

I think she’s almost as proud as we are!

The original plan was to put it in the guest bathroom but the stupid doorway is smaller than a standard doorway and we couldn’t get the rack through, at least not without dissassembling the front supports (which involve wood glue, finishing nails, and screws) and then reassembling it in place. So plan B has it in the spare bedroom for the moment until we decide where to put it for the duration. (I would like to point out that when we were confronted with the fact that the rack would not go through the door as planned, the DreadBrewer just laughed and moved on. I was tempted to throw a complete and utter shit fit and would have totally understood if he had done the same. I was very impressed with his poise.)

Rack 4

SO much better than a tub full of onions,

As soon as conditions outside cool down to less than 80 degrees, which makes it cooler than what we keep our thermostat set at, our plan is to move the rack out to the garage and reclaim the spare bedroom for Wally.

For anyone who is interested in perhaps building a produce storage rack of his or her own, a few things that the DreadBrewer and I learned along the way.

  • The purchase list on the building plans calls for 14 1x3x8 boards; this is wrong and we learned this one the hard way. You need 18. There are at least two comments on the plan’s website pointing this out but the website author has yet to update the purchase list. (Perhaps 4 years hasn’t been enough time to figure out how to fix the list?)
  • The purchase list also recommends that you buy pocket hole screws, as well as regular 2″ screws for the project. You don’t need pocket hole screws. (I never even knew these existed and they’re stupidly expensive, in my opinion.) Had we used them, we would have used a max of 4. Instead, we used 2″ straight finishing nails and the end result looks and functions just as well. The regular screws work perfectly fine wherever you need to screw two pieces of wood together.
  • Read all the way through the directions before you even start cutting the wood. The X-braces are very confusing to make if you try to do it based off just the cut list and easy to mess up, which we learned the hard way as well. If you read the step for assembling the sides, which includes a diagram with measurements, it is much, much clearer how to cut your 2x2s.
  • Plan on spending about $150 on supplies and about 5 hours total assembling this project. We were lucky enough to have a cut saw, a nail gun, and two electric drills at our disposal, as well as a couple of exceedingly patient little girls, a star mother-in-law, and two reasonably savvy workers. If you’re trying to do this on your own, you will certainly need clamps or somesuch set up to help you with holding things and it will most likely take you longer.

Depending on how ambitious DB gets with garlic and onion planting next year, we may actually need to build another rack to store everything. It would be interesting to tweak the plans a bit, maybe make the rack thinner and taller. (Then at least we would know it could get through the bathroom door, right?) Regardless of whether or not we end up building another rack, I am inordinately proud of the one we made. Not bad work for one weekend, eh?

 

Preserving the harvest

This is actually just a braggy post to show off some of the ways the DreadBrewer and I have been working to preserve – or even just use up quickly – the abundant harvest from our garden.

I am so pleased with our pressure cooker – it’s not exactly fast but it’s so nice to be able to can things from the garden that we couldn’t previously preserve. In addition to the green beans we canned last weekend, we made up a batch of 6 pints of caramelized carrots this weekend.

Productive 7.17.16

Also pictured is a quadruple batch of our pesto (which we freeze, rather than heat process) and a batch of banana walnut muffins for the week (which we didn’t grow, but I’m proud of our productivity regardless).

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The girls had a good time watching me and DB work like dogs in the kitchen while they enjoyed a leisurely dinner.

I also made an enormous batch of my world-famous salsa, which means we are no longer drowning in tomatoes, merely keeping our heads above water… barely…

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And in a fit of adventurousness, we decided that we would try making a batch of okra pickles. “Everyone” says that even people who don’t care for okra like okra pickles. For these, we used a hot water bath to process them, as pickles don’t typically need pressure processing.

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It irritates me to no end that it seems like we pack our jars so full that they couldn’t possibly hold another okra or carrot or green bean and then, after processing, the veg floats up to the top and there is, like, another inch or two of space that we could’ve used. Any suggestions on how to avoid the dreaded dead space?

Next weekend I think we’re going to try our hands at canning tomatoes and beets. So it’s a good thing we’re going to work tomorrow, because I think we’ll both need a few days to recoup our strength.

First Foray Into Pressure Canning

I doubt anyone but me remembers, but 2 summers ago – when I was home on maternity leave with BIT and bored out of my mind, as infants are terrible conversationalists – I tried my hand at canning some of our produce in an attempt to extend the harvest. However, I was limited by the fact that we didn’t have a pressure cooker – meaning I could only can high acid foods, like salsa – and that we only had a 3 gallon pot – meaning I could only process about 4 pint jars at a time.

Last year, we didn’t even bother trying to can things, other than a few jars of pickled jalapenos.

But this year we are canning for real. Because the DreadBrewer got me the pressure cookers to beat all pressure cookers last Christmas. In typical DB fashion, he purchased the highest rated (and probably most expensive) one he could find. Naturally it also happens to be enormous and required that we purchase a separate burner in order to prevent our glass cooktop from cracking under the weight of the behemoth when filled with water and jars and food.

Canning 1

Yep, it’s big. I know you’re jealous. 

For our first foray into pressure canning, we decided to go with something fairly straightforward and made a batch of green beans.

Canning 2

Pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen

We cleaned and snapped every single viable bean that we had left and got enough to fill 8 pint jars, which I feel like is a pretty respectable amount. If we had found the time and energy to do this when our beans had first started producing, I’m pretty sure we would’ve ended up with at least 25 jars but live and learn, right?

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Yummy!

Everything with the pressure cooker went exactly according to the directions and all of the seals sucked down within half an hour of getting them out to cool. I didn’t think I could cram any more beans into each jar, but there’s definitely some space at the bottom after the beans floated up during processing. So maybe with our next batch I can try to fill them even fuller.

I think the next thing that we’re going to can are tomatoes, just halved and packed in water. There’s an awful lot of work involved trying to can tomatoes as tomato sauce and I’m not super interested in an awful lot of work at this point. I made a huge batch of homemade salsa fresca today, so it will probably be a few days before we get enough tomatoes to make canning worthwhile. I also want to try doing something with some peppers, if our pepper plants strap on a pair and start producing, and possibly something with okra. Though if we can okra, then I believe it’s mainly good for soups and stews and neither DB nor I are big fans of stewed okra. Maybe we would like our stewed okra? And if we are inundated with figs by our exceedingly generous neighbors again this year, I found a recipe for brandied figs that sounds like it would be amazing Christmas gifts in half-pint jars.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that the DreadBrewer was right to buy me an enormous pressure cooker because I’m planning on putting it to good use. I take back all the times I tried to get him to return it in exchange for a smaller one. Though I’m still not sure where we’re going to store the damn thing…