I didn’t intend to put up tomato sauce this year, but I had so many tomatoes, I had to find something to do with them!
to this!Pin It
I didn’t intend to put up tomato sauce this year, but I had so many tomatoes, I had to find something to do with them!
to this!Pin It
A few improvements to the veggie garden this spring:
We’ve tried everything to keep the birds out of our blueberries, with no luck – the word is out, and every season they pretty much decimate the harvest from our dozen our so blueberry plants. So, this year my friend and general contractor constructed this ingenious blueberry cage:
It spans the entire blueberry patch and covers it on all sides and across the top with sturdy deer fencing, spanned between pressure treated boards.
The door is on a hinge so that it swings shut behind you, and the deer fencing can be easily repaired if it gets torn or if the leaves or snow (not that we get much) weight it down on top. I’m so impressed with the design and the overall look of the structure!
We also capped the veggie beds (building instructions here) with pressure-treated boards, to give additional structure to the beds and to keep them from bowing out over time. Plus, it makes them look nicer, and gives me a place to lean or sit when planting, weeding, or harvesting from the beds.Pin It
Wow, we grow BIG tomatoes around here! I love garden-fresh tomatoes – my only problem is, I eat them as fast as they can ripen, so I end up having very few to make into sauce (even though we planted four large garden beds in tomatoes this year, totaling over 24 plants!)Pin It
I’ve been busy harvesting and then trying to find enough uses for our garden bounty around here! This week:
* I bought blackberries at the farmer’s market (we picked some, but it takes forever, and the ones at the market are so much bigger and juicier!) and put up blackberry jam using almost no sugar with Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin.
* I dug carrots, onions, and potatoes and used this recipe to make an oven-roasted vegetable medley.
* In a desperate attempt to use up our prolific zucchini, I’ve made this chocolate zucchini bread with applesauce (which makes it at least a little healthy, right?) and these zucchini parmesan sticks. I can’t take credit for the photos – they’re from the recipe pages – mine weren’t near as pretty, but definitely delicious!
Since we’ve just rebuilt the fence around our veggie garden (blogged here), I’ve been looking for a decorative way to top each of the new fence posts. I wanted something artistic and fun, but it couldn’t be too expensive, because I had over 20 posts to top!
Last week at the Silverton Arts Festival, I found the perfect solution: rusty birds 🙂 These cut-out shapes from naturally rusted metal are inexpensive but oh so cool. I bought a whole variety of shapes – nuthatches, robins, chickadees, wren, sparrows, cedar waxwings, etc. I also splurged on a couple of larger sizes to throw in the mix, including a meadowlark, a bluejay, and an owl.
We mounted them on sheets of flexible copper, to protect the cut ends of the fence posts from water and weather.
And, as the final touch, I bought a pileated woodpecker to grace the large post at the entry of the garden.
You can order these rusty birds online here. Check them out!
This is the first year I’ve tried these structures for my pole beans, and they’ve been wildly successful. Here’s what they looked like early this spring, when we finished building them:
And here’s what they look like now!
These plant produce at an unbelievable rate – I have to pick EVERY DAY, because they grow so quickly that in just one day, they go from the ideal size to too big. Even though I’m picking every day, I still am averaging a huge bowlful each time – here’s today’s crop:
Luckily, we don’t have any vacations planned for a while, so I can keep up with the production rate. This year I’m determined not to fall behind . . . every year I get lazy at some point and forget to pick for a few days, and then am so mad at myself because of all the beans that have grown to an ungainly, overblown size and are too tough to eat. What a waste of an entire growing season’s work and effort! This year, I’m vowing to keep on top of the harvest.
The good news is that beans are incredibly easy to preserve – just blanch and freeze, and I have enough bags full in the freezer to last us most of the winter. Another bit of good news for me is that the girls are getting old enough now to help pick. The down side: their quality control leaves much to be desired 🙂 I have to go behind them and get everything they miss, which kind of defeats the purpose of having them take care of the picking. However, I hope to train them up sufficiently so that sooner, rather than later, they can take over this part of the veggie gardening.
The tomatoes are finally starting to come on, too – the Sungolds are first, and we picked this entire bowl this afternoon! They’re so tasty and sweet that I doubt they’ll last until dinner . . .
Edited to add: per reader requests, I’m including some close-up shots of the teepee parts, in case you’d like to build some of your own. It’s winter here now, so the plants don’t look so good, but at least you can really see the construction! We’re currently working on creating a supply list and construction plans, so stay tuned 🙂Pin It
The garden is producing fast and furious now . . . this morning we harvested broccoli, onions, green beans, beets, carrots, tomatoes, and a huge bowl of sungold cherry tomatoes that have already been eaten:
Gladiolas, dahlias, a second blooming of delphinium, and sweet-smelling phlox are blooming faster than I can cut them, in glorious colors of pink, purple, orange and red:Pin It
As is so often the case, a particular crop comes on all at once, producing more than I could ever use. Right now, it’s broccoli – a perfect example of why learning different methods of preserving crops is such an important part of vegetable gardening! All of a sudden, all of my large and prolific broccoli plants – which until last week didn’t look like they were producing much more than gigantic leaves – have broccoli heads on them. Like many crops, it’s essential that you harvest broccoli right when it’s ready – when the heads are still tight – otherwise, it starts to go to flower (which is very pretty, but not particularly tasty).
So, my mom and I cut all of the broccoli heads that were ready to go, then cut them up into 1-1 1/2″ florets, dunked them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then immediately submerged them in ice water (to stop them from cooking) for another 2-3 minutes, and then into quart freezer bags. Preserving fresh garden produce doesn’t get any easier than this!
I think that my crop is so productive this year because of the new raised beds in the veggie garden – and the new, fresh soil in those beds. It makes all the work from earlier this spring worthwhile!
Finally, all of the new beds are in, the irrigation is adjusted, a load of new cedar chips is on the ground, and the beds are (mostly) planted – now we just need lots of sun and warm temperatures!Pin It
When we first moved into our home twelve years ago, I created a large fenced area for our veggie garden – 100′ x 50′ – and built raised beds out of 12″ boards and 4″x4″ corner posts for veggies and flowers. Even pressure treated wood doesn’t last forever, though, and by this spring, the beds were all but falling apart. On the spur of the moment, I decided to rebuild all of the beds before planting this spring.
The first step was to demo out all of the old beds – no small trick, since the dirt has to be shoveled out and set aside and the beds broken apart and disposed of. I decided on a different layout for the new beds, so all of the irrigation had to be rerouted, as well.
I wanted to build more durable, larger raised beds, so that they wouldn’t rot out quickly and I wouldn’t have to bend over so far. I decided to use pressure treated lumber for the frame and galvanized metal for the sides. I built 12 beds 4’x8′ and 2′ tall. For each bed, here are the supplies you’ll need:
* Six 8′ 2×4 boards (cut two of these boards in 4′ lengths, so you have four 4′ lengths and four 8′ lengths)
* Three sheets of 8’x2′ galvanized metal (these are available at Home Depot) (cut one sheet in half so you have two 8′ sheets and two 4′ sheets)
* One 12′ 4×4 post (cut into six two-foot pieces)
* One 12′ 2×4 board (or two 6′ 2×4 boards) (cut into eight pieces, each 16.5″ long)
* One 4’x8′ sheet of wire mesh
* Roofing screws
* Metal screws
Tools are, as I find for almost all projects, a key to making this project uncomplicated and professional-looking. You’ll need a chop saw (or something similar) to make all of the wood cuts, a rotary saw that’s designed for cutting metal to cut the galvanized sheets (we had to buy one at Home Depot, the cost was a little over $100), and a good drill with the right attachments for screwing in the wood and metal screws. Safety is also an important factor – you will definitely want safety glasses when using the saws, particularly the metal saw because it throws up little metal pieces, and we also used ear plugs when cutting the metal because of the screeching noise. One note: the Home Depot sign said that the metal sheets were 24″ wide, but when we got them home, they were at least 6″ wider (go figure), so we had to cut them lengthwise, as well as cut some of them in half.
1. Cut all of your materials to the dimensions listed above (see information on tools and safety).
2. Create the frames for the two long sides – lay down three 4×4 posts, approx 45″ apart. Place two of the 8′ 2x4s over the top and bottom of these posts. Use a square to make sure that your corners are all square; use the drill to screw in two wood screws per corner, and two each at the top and bottom of the middle 4×4. Repeat for the second long side.
3. Lay one of the 8′ metal sheets on top of the completed long side frame – if you have a sharper cut edge (as we did, since we had to cut off some lengthwise), make sure that’s at what will be the bottom of your frame (it’s okay if this extends a little beyond the frame, because it will be in the ground). Line up the metal approx 1″ below what will be the top of the frame, so that the metal doesn’t come right up to the top of the wood (you don’t want any chance of cutting yourself on the sharp metal edge when you’re working in the veggie box). Use the drill to screw in the metal screws (four on the top, equally spaced, and the same on the bottom). Repeat for the second long side.
4. Have someone hold the two long sides on their ends, parallel to each other and approx 4′ apart (just as they will be when the box is finished), making sure that the length you designated as “bottom” is on the ground for both sides. Use the drill to attach the two 4′ 2x4s to the top and the bottom on each end of the frame (two screws in each corner).
5. Take four of your 16.5″ 2x4s and slide them into the gap between the metal and the end of the long frame on all four corners (this is necessary because otherwise there will be a gap here when the box is completed). If you need to trim them down a little in order to get them to slide into place, go ahead and do so. Use metal screws to attach the long ends of the metal to these “gap-fillers” (don’t worry that the gap-filler isn’t screwed to the wood frame, this won’t matter).
6. Take the remaining four 16.5-inch 2x4s – line them up on the inside of the 4×4 posts on each end of the frame (so that they cover the gap-fillers you just screwed in). Again, you may need to trim them down just a little bit in order to get them to fit between the top and bottom frame boards. Attach these by using a wood screw to screw these pieces into the gap fillers (this will cover the gaps that would otherwise exist between the frame and the short metal sides).
5. Slide the 4′ piece of galvanized metal on the inside of the box on the short end and push it into place (you may have to pound on it a little with your hand to get it to push in flush with the 2×4 frame – don’t worry, any dents can be pounded out afterwards). Remember to line up the top end about 1″ lower than the top of the bed. Screw in place with two metal screws on each side.
6. We just laid the 4’x8′ wire mesh sheet in the bottom of each box, but if you want, you could attach it with staples (you’d need to flip the box over to do this, and the wire mesh sheet would have to be slightly larger than 4’x8′ so that there was some overlap onto the edges of the box). You may not find this step necessary, but on our farm, as many pests (like voles) come up through the soil from underneath, as climb into the beds over the top!
The great thing about these beds is that they’re tall enough so that you can garden in them without bending over much. Also, their height keeps out some of the things that eat the crops (like rabbits), along we find that the mice and other rodents still climb right on up (sigh). You’ll need 64 cubic feet of soil to fill each bed; make sure that you purchase soil that is specifically meant for filling garden beds (NOT compost alone, or just mulch, or potting soil). Because we needed so much soil to fill all of our beds, we ordered it delivered from Valley Landscaping, a local company that had the perfect three-way blended topsoil (a mix of soil, compost, and sandy loam).
In addition to twelve 4’x8′ beds, we also built four 2’x8′ beds – they may look a little strange because they’re so narrow, but I set them approx six feet apart and then used 2x4s and 4’x8′ sheets of cattle fencing to build these trellises:
I can’t wait to grow climbing beans, peas, and other veggies on these trellises this summer – by the time they’re entirely covered with vines, it will make a tunnel of greenery!
The photo example I used as the inspiration for these boards had countersunk the 2×4 framing boards into the 4×4 posts – if you did that, you wouldn’t need the gap-filler boards in steps #5 and #6 (something we didn’t figure out until we got to those steps and had to think creatively to address the gaps we hadn’t anticipated!) However, making the cuts for the countersinking would be complicated – in my mind, more difficult than using the gap-filler boards. And, I don’t think that the extra framing does anything to detract from the box’s appearance.
My last step is going to be to using copper flashing to cover the tops of each of the 4×4 posts – this is both for appearance and practicality, as these exposed ends will rot out more quickly if they’re not protected.
If you’d like help building beds like these and you live in the Portland area, contact Casey Beatty with CMB Properties, LLC at (503) 310-0870.
ETA: In the spring of 2015, we capped the beds with 8″ boards to improve the appearance, eliminate any risk of the beds bowing out, and give us a nice place to lean while planting, weeding, or harvesting (see pics here).
ETA: In response to inquiries about how the metal and the pressure treated lumber is holding up, here’s how the boxes look this spring, five years later:
I recently completed letters “A” and “C” in the twelve-block hand embroidery series from Crabapple Hill Studio. Here’s the “C” block with some gorgeous real-life carrots I bought at the farmer’s market this weekend:
The carrot tops are all lazy daisy stitches – I definitely got better after this particular stitch after doing all of these, but it took a very long time.
Unfortunately, it’s the wrong time of year to get a pumpkin from the garden to photograph with the “A” block:Pin It
This is the first year I’ve tried growing black beans, and I think it was very successful – the plants grew well, you don’t have to harvest them on a very specific time table (like green beans), and the production level was high. The only downside is that it took an awful lot of plants – and a lot of shelling – to produce only a little more than a quart of black beans!
I purchased the seeds online from Territorial Seed, then planted them like any other bush bean. But, instead of picking the pods, I wanted until the plants died and began to dry out, then pulled them up by the roots and lay them out to dry for another couple of days. After that, it was an easy project to shake the pods off the plants. Because I didn’t have too many, I shelled them by hand, working at it in front of the television for several nights.
That’s all there is to it – grow them, dry them, shell them, then store in an airtight container until you’re ready to cook them (I’ll probably slow cook them in a crock pot). Next year, I think it will be worth it to put several more garden beds into black bean production.
The age-old question – what to do with all that zucchini? I’ve tried a lot of different zucchini bread recipes, but this one is the best by far:
Preheat to 325 degrees
Grease and flour six 2” x 4” mini-loaf pans
Beat 3 eggs until light and foamy
Mix in 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 3 cups fresh grated zucchini (squeeze out water first)
Mix in 3 cups flour, 3 tlb unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, and ¼ tsp baking powder
Mix in ½ cup chocolate chips
Pour into loaf pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaves comes out clean, approx. 45 min
I like making the bread in the mini-loaf pans because I don’t have problems with how it bakes (in my oven, the large loaf pans get overdone around the edges, but still doughy in the middle) and they make for quick and easy gift-giving.Pin It
One of my biggest challenges in growing a large vegetable garden is to find ways to preserve the harvest so that we can enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables into the winter – and, find time to do the preserving! The great thing about green beans is that the process for preparing and freezing them is quick and easy.
The most important step is to pick them on time – once they start to grow, they grow big so quickly that if you don’t pick pretty much every other day, they get away from you and by the time you pick them, they’re too big and too tough. I let mine go too long this time, and had to toss all the really big ones in the compost, but I ended up with enough to freeze two quart bags full.
First, snap off the ends and cut (or I just snap) the beans into smaller pieces. Then, dump them into a large pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. This is called blanching – it destroys enzymes and bacteria that, over time, break down and destroy nutrients and change the color, flavor and texture of the beans during frozen storage.
Watch the time, because you don’t want to overcook the beans. Next, drain the hot water out by dumping the potful of beans into a colander, then immediately put the beans into ice water for 5 minutes (I clean out one side of the sink and fill it with cold water and ice cubes). This stops them from continuing to cook.
Finally, put the beans into quart or gallon-sized Ziploc bags – push as much air out as you can before sealing to prevent freezer burn.
The season’s first tomatoes have finally arrived in my garden . . . although the weather is really cooling down this week, which doesn’t give them the heat they need to keep ripening. I planted three beds of tomatoes this year, hoping for a bumper crop and a lot of leftovers for canning tomato sauce, but we had such a cool, wet spring – through June! – that I’m not sure how well they’re going to fare. That means it’s important to enjoy them while they’re here!
I went for variety this year – we’ve got red, gold, green striped, maroon, and even purple!Pin It
A beautiful example of some of the cutting flowers in the veggie garden beds:
Usually, I despise slugs in my garden, but these native banana slugs are honored guests at our house – and, notably, I only find them in the shady, forested areas, and NEVER in my vegetables!Pin It
We think of September as the start of fall, but it’s also one of the most active times all year in the garden – it seems like more crops are coming on (which means picking, canning, freezing, cooking and baking, and lots of eating!) this month than any time all summer. Of course, our wet spring this year may have contributed to a later harvest, too.
My favorite crop to harvest and eat is tomatoes – first come the cherry tomatoes (this huge bowl was the result of just one afternoon of picking!), including our favorite variety, Sun Gold. If I was to plant only one tomato plant, this would be it. When the larger tomatoes start coming on in force, I will make tomato sauce, using a fabulous recipe from a friend of mine. The great thing about this recipe is that you can use up all sorts of crops from your garden, and it really involves a minimum of work.
In a large roasting pan, drizzle olive oil all over the bottom to prevent sticking – then throw in anything from your garden that you’d like in your sauce. I use carrots, onions, zucchini, green peppers, garlic, oregano, thyme, basil, and a little bit of rosemary (I particularly like how the carrots give the sauce an orange-y “glow”).
You don’t need to cut, peel, or slice any of this, but do cut off stems or any parts you don’t want to end up in the sauce. Then on the top of all this, put your whole tomatoes – skins still on, but take out the cores (stems) first. Pack the tomatoes in there tightly – they should be in a single layer, close together with sides touching.
Over the top, rub olive oil over the tomatoes (this keeps them from burning) and drizzle balsamic vinegar and kosher salt. Then put the roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees (convection if you have it) for 45-60 minutes. You’ll know when it’s done because the tomatoes will turn a lovely roasted brown on top, and your whole kitchen will smell like an Italian restaurant!
Dump the entire contents of the pan into a large pot on the stove, then use an immersion blender to get rid of all large pieces and chunks (you could also run it through a food processor in batches, but an immersion blender is simpler). Next, simmer the contents of the pot on low heat until you get it to the consistency you want. This will take several hours, at least; the longer you simmer it, the thicker the consistency will be, but of course as it cooks down, you are reducing the quantity. You can also add small cans of tomato paste to thicken.
When you get the consistency you like, you can freeze it in quart bags (this is the method I use) or can it in a hot water bath. The sauce is delicious almost anytime you need tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, or a topping for any kind of pasta.
Every year my green bean crop is prolific – my biggest problem is getting them harvested on time, you really need to pick almost every other day, otherwise they grow so big, so fast that they become tough and inedible. Once they’re harvested, preserving them is easy:
*chop off ends and chop (or just snap by hand) into bite-sized pieces
*boil in a huge pot of hot water for only 1-2 minutes
*strain out of the pot and into a bowl (or sink) full of cold water and ice cubes
*pack into quart-sized or gallon-sized freezer bags and freeze
This is called blanching green beans, and it fills my freezer with dinner-sized portions ready to be steamed and eaten for dinner all winter. I use the same method for freezing broccoli.
What to do with all the zucchini? I pop them in the food processor as quickly as I pick them, shred them up and put the shredded zucchini in quart-sized freezer bags. I keep them in the freezer until I’m ready to make zucchini bread (or use in frittatas), then just pull a bag out of the freezer. My zucchini bread recipe is simple:
4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 3/4 cup canola oil
3 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking soda, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini, 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional), 1 tsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients together – turn into two greased 9-inch bread pans (fill only 2/3 full) – bake at 350 degrees for approx. 50 minutes. Yum – nothing like warm zucchini bread on a cool fall morning!
Because my peach trees steadfastly refuse to produce any useable peaches, I bought two boxes (15-20 pounds) of peaches at the local farmers market and, with my stepmom’s help, got them all canned yesterday. I find that canning peaches takes a lot of set-up, but is pretty simple once you get moving. I typically do batches several weekends in a row, so that it’s not overwhelming.
First – Put peaches in boiling water for one minute to loosen skins
Second – Rub off skins, cut in half and remove pits (using freestone peaches makes this step easier), place in a bowl of water with ascorbic acid to set color
Third – Place peach halves in jars (wide-mouthed makes this job a lot easier!) that have been washed and sterilized – use large pieces if possible, but cut into quarters if necessary to fill up all of the available space and leave no gaps or holes
Fourth – Pour syrup into jars (I make a light syrup of 8 cups water to 2 cups sugar, heated on the stove)
Fifth – Run a knife along the inside of the jar to settle the peaches and push out air bubbles, then pour in a little more syrup until the level of the liquid is just 1/4 inch below the jar top
Sixth – Wipe off the top edge of the jar so that it is clean and dry (this will ensure a good seal) – take jar lids (heated to make the sealant sticky) and washed/sterilized screw tops – place the lid firmly on the jar and hold it down while screwing on the top, so that moisture isn’t allowed to push up under the lid and prevent a good seal.
Seventh – Place the jars in a hot water bath for 25 minutes (if they are quart-sized) after the water comes to a rolling boil.
The hot water bath is the time-consuming part, since mine can hold only seven jars – twice I had a jar break during the hot water bath, I suspect that I had the heat turned up too high. My peaches likely wouldn’t win any prizes at the fair – you can see how much gap there is between the bottom and the peaches (which means I didn’t pack them in tightly enough) – I’ll try harder to get them better packed with less room for the peaches to float to the top next weekend.Pin It