It’s Only Been A Week

It’s been just over a week since we planted our garden. We have had lots of growth and some death thus far.

IMG_5609Our strawberries are the only ones to have seen death. Out of all of the plants I put in, 2 have died. We specifically put so many in for this exact reason. It is still early, there may still be some loss, but as of now, the rest of them look like they are doing well. 

 

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IMG_5614Two of our 12 potatoes have busted through! There is evidence that at least 3 more will pop through in the coming days. This is the first year we are growing potatoes in this garden. I am excited to see how well they do.

IMG_5613Our mixed greens and leafy lettuce are flourishing. Fresh lettuce grows like weeds, and lasts FOREVER. We were giving it away last year because it lasts 3-4 weeks when stored properly. 

IMG_5612Our radish patch is doing quite well. We only planted in half of the area because we are going to rotate them out. So next week we will plant another 2 rows of radish, just in time for our first ones to be done in a few days time. They have a quick germination/maturity time. 
IMG_5611This is our singular bush cucumber plant. We planted 5 in the little plot. We’re hoping that by the end of the week we’ll have a few more. Mom wants to make pickles…even though she’s the only one that eats them.

IMG_5616I like to call this the “Mater Forest.” I feel like we have so much more than last year, and I know that once they really start growing up, it’s going to look like one as well. They haven’t had much vertical growth, but it’s still early. They’re more busy rooting that growing.

IMG_5610We planted about 8 sunflowers and 6 of them have already started popping! I took a shot of the two biggest ones. I will harvest the seeds in the fall and bake them! 

IMG_5608We are most excited for the green beans…ok….it might just be me. I LOVE green beans. I like them raw, I like them blanched, I like them sautéed in butter with garlic and onion, I like them fried. I haven’t met a green bean I didn’t like…except casserole. They are bursting forth in their little rows and I could not be more excited.

IMG_5618This little guy is not in our back garden, but I like it anyway. We planted 4 lavender plants in our front/side gardens this year. Lavender is not only pretty once it blooms, but it also smells good and is a natural bug repellent. It is also a perennial so we will not have to worry about having to replace it every year.

We are still waiting for the onion, peppers and carrots to pop. They should be showing up to the party in the very near future. The cosmos and zinnias that we planted around the vegetable garden are barely showing above the mulch. Our marigolds are thriving. Those 3 were planted as bee attractors and bug repellents.

From here out, I will post garden updates once the plants start producing or something super super exciting happens!

Happy planting!

Spring Gardening

In March, in the midst of a snow storm I spent the day planning our garden. This weekend, the snow has been gone for a few weeks, the sun has been shining and we were finally able to get stuff in the ground!

I had come up with beautiful plans and a beautiful layout, created with tons of research, love and care. screen-shot-2015-03-05-at-5-18-30-pmThen we got out there and my dad decided things needed more space. The really pretty garden layout that looked like the above, ended up looking like the below in reality. Which, is ok. It doesn’t look near as pretty in a chart like this, but it works. Sunflowers and cucumbers were added to the garden. The “walking path,” kinda disappeared for the most part, but there is plenty of space between plants so we’ll be just fine.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.26.29 AMWe also have an adorable little strawberry patch, I have claimed it as my own.10689423_10206003822511341_2734209453159910876_nAround the garden we planted marigolds, cosmos, and zinnias. Marigolds are natural (bad) bug-repellants, cosmos and zinnias are natural bee attractors. When you have a garden this big, with this much stuff in it, you want as many bees as you can get! 11206100_10206003822071330_2141622102369986064_n

11204480_10206003822311336_9176184884080786480_nWe have 24 tomato plants of 3 varieties, Roma, Celebrity and Brandywine. We planted red potatoes because we think they are better to cook/bake with. Mom wants to make pickles this fall so the cucumbers are small bush cucumbers. There are 15 strawberry plants in the box. I’m not sure that they’ll all make it, and if I do…well…if anybody would like some strawberry plants, hit me up. The rest of the garden is seeds, so I guess we will see in a few weeks how many of each we have!

Stay tuned for update posts and recipes throughout the summer!

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Snow Day Garden Planning

It is a winter wonderland right now. Seriously. We have over a foot of snow in our yard, a combination of the approximately 8 inches we got today plus what was already laying on the ground. My dad used our snow blower to created a doggy path in our back yard since our critters are a bit vertically challenged.

10437617_10206255174127735_8793836284818350200_nI am desperately looking forward to the days when our yard looks more like this-

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Last year was the first garden my parents did. This little plot is 8×10. This year, we are more than doubling that to a whopping 32×10. Yes, 32×10. That is 320 square feet of prime food growin ground. When you decide to grow a garden that big, you can not haphazardly throw plant in the ground. There is an art to this, a serious science. I have spent at least 3 hours researching, drawing, erasing and going back to the garden boards to plan out our vegetable garden this year. An excel spread sheet, and 2 tables later, I think I’ve got it!

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This is an excel spread sheet of all different fruits and vegetables we will be growing, whether in the main 32×10 garden, in a separate box, like our strawberries, or in our side garden, like the cucumbers. It features how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart to plant them, how many can be planted in a square foot, when to plant, companion planting info, soil info and sun preferences. Instead of having to search 18 different websites, I can simply pull this up and all of the info I need is right there in one spot!

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This is our 32×10 garden lay out. Below is the color key, black is walking space. It is a pain in the butt to harvest, weed and take care of a garden when you have no room to actually walk! What a travesty to have great plants and accidentally step and crush them! This helps aid this problem. Having it laid out also means no guessing when it comes to planting time. Each square will have 1-16 plants depending on what is being planted there. We LOVE canning homemade tomato sauce, and being able to harvest and freeze fresh green beans, carrots and peppers to use throughout the winter and spring. Nothing beats having fresh carrots and green beans in a good hearty pot of stew in the middle of December. We are also planting marigolds around the perimeter of the whole garden. There are numerous benefits of this, one of them being that they attract bees, which helps pollination, which in turn means lots of produce!

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 5.18.33 PMRight now, the wind is blowing and the snow is still kinda falling. By the end of the week it is supposed to bounce back up to the 40s and Spring will quickly be approaching. I still have our front flower gardens to plan and a few weeks before we’ll be able to till the ground and get our (organic/natural) soil additives in preparation for planting time mid-April. Though it seems so far away, like the snow may never stop and the ice will never melt, I know that in just a few short weeks I will have my toes in the dirt and seeds in the ground!

Homemade Tomato Sauce

There is something wonderful that happens when you harvest fruits and veggies from your garden that you have spent months loving and tending, bring them inside and turn them into yumminess. There’s something reassuring when you know exactly what was used to help make them grow. Last summer I had the joyful job of learning how to make my own mater sauce and can. For what ever reason I had this thought in my head that canning and turning tomatoes into sauce was this daunting task. It certainly wasn’t the herculean quest I thought it would be, but definitely a process.

I learned a few things.

1. You don’t necessarily have to do the whole water bath thing. Run the mason jars and lids through the dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle with heat dry and try to time it so that the dishwasher ends when the sauce is ready. As long as the jars/lids and the sauce are nice and hot, they should pop on their own without having to do the water bath mess. If the tops don’t pop then you might have to do some water bathing. I only had to do this for 1 of about 30 jars we did last year. You can also just put the jars and lids in boiling water, pull them and fill. Same concept, works just as well.

2. Avoid putting herbs/garlic/onions in with your sauce. As they sit in the sauce they can make it bitter and taste funny.

3. You don’t need anything but tomatoes if that be your desire.

4. The longer you cook the tomato puree, the thicker it gets and the more like tomato paste or marinara it becomes. There’s a sweet spot.

SO, now that that is all out of the way, time for the actual sauce making process.

Pluck your maters! I found that for about every 30 medium tomatoes I would get 2 quart jars of sauce. We used a combination of heirlooms and romas.

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Romas!

Phase I. Line up your work station. As much as I hate having an electric stove, the flat top can double as extra counter space now and again. Left to right I have a pot of boiling water on the far burner. Next to that on a cool part of the stove I have a bowl full of ice water. On the counter I have a bowl for scraps, my cutting board, and another bowl to put the processed tomatoes.

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1. To remove the skins, place a few in the boiling water for 10 seconds to a minute. Some skins break and start to release almost automatically. Some need a wee bit more time. Once you do it for a while you kind know what they feel like when the skin has separated, and obviously you can visibly see when it splits.

2. Place the maters in an ice bath so that they are cool enough to handle.

3. Peal the skins off of the maters and put the skins in bowl #1. With your hands or a knife split the tomato into smaller pieces/chunks. Remove as much of the seeds as you can now and throw them in your scraps bowl.

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4. The tomato chunks go into bowl two to await their next step.

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Repeat until all of the tomatoes you harvested have gone through this process. When you’re done, clean it all up but leave out your bowl of maters and your scrap bowl. Get out a large pitcher or another bowl and your blender. You are now ready for Phase II.

Fill your blender about 1/2 full of the tomato chunks and blend until smooth. Feel free to leave a few chunks if you’re into that kind of sauce. Pour your puree into your bowl/pitcher. Repeat until all of your chunks have been blended.

Place a big pot on a front burner of your stove on medium-low heat. Place a relatively fine sifter/screen over the top of your pot. Pour the tomato puree through and stir to help the sauce through the screens. This removes the seeds that are still there and any chunks. You can choose to reblend them for smooth sauce or pull them out, make sure they don’t have seeds stuck to them and throw them in the pot. This is the longest part of the whole process and would be much easier with a food mill. Which we haven’t invested in yet.

To the very runny, kinda pink, not very tomato-saucey stuff in your pot I add about 1 cup- 1 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar. Again, this depends on how much sauce you are making. I also added about 3 tablespoons or so of salt. I leave the pot on medium heat for about 3 hours. Check and stir every 20-30 minutes to avoid the bottom burning. This also helps you gauge about when to start your dishwasher if you are using that method.

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Again, the longer you cook it down, the thicker and more paste like it becomes. When I use a jar, I like to simmer it on the stove with a crushed garlic clove, fresh minced onion and herbs so I keep my sauce a bit on the thin side to accommodate for my cooking style.

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The beginning of the cooking process

When the sauce is ready, my mom, dad and I tag teamed to make the process quick. I laid down a dishtowel on the counter. Mom pre-washed the brand new jars and lids. Dad boiled the jars, rings and lids because I think it is easier than the dishwasher for small batches. Dad pulled them, I fill with sauce, screw the tops on and repeat until the sauce is gone or I don’t have enough for a jar and have to put them in freezer containers. If the jar tops haven’t popped in about an hour, you should submerge it in boiling water to make sure that happens.

This particular batch took about 3 hours to cook down to the consistency that we wanted. We got 5 24oz jars! 😀

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Mom is obviously SUPER excited that she FINALLY has sauce from her garden tomatoes!

Babies! And Not Just the Chickens!

We have lots of “little” things around the gardens this week! I can assure you I am NOT growing one myself. Just wanted to clarify so that my mother doesn’t have a heart attack. 🙂 We are hitting that point in the summer where everything is really starting to grow. We have more than just green beans and strawberries coming in! Though, let’s face it, nobody is complaining about either of those things!

First, we’ll check in with the strawberries! They are due for another shoot cut off and bury day in the very near future! They are producing like crazy and it’s wonderful! I love going outside to pick breakfast FRESH every morning!

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Next, the mater plants. It’s like a forest. We have beautiful baby green tomatoes! By the time I get back from my mission trip the first week in August they will be ripe and ready to turn into SAUCE! 😀

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Baby watermelons are the cutest. They’re just adorable. Our watermelon plants are monsters this year and I have a feeling we will have some monster melons to go with them!

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We trimmed the pumpkin back a TON so that the main plant, some choice leaves and the blooms have been left. This helps ensure that the good stuff can go towards making PUMPKINS! 😀

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We’ve got fuzzy little sprouts on a number of our corn plants. Whether or not we get some real ears this year will be the real question! They’re growing like weeds and looking good so we’re hoping we get SOMETHING from them!

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Last, but certainly not least- the ACTUAL babies! THE CHICKENS! I don’t think I can quite call them babies anymore being that they have all of their big girl feathers. They aren’t quite laying yet but we should be getting our first eggs by the end of August! They also, after well over a month, have figured out that they can roost all together in a row on the hockey stick, seen in the first photo in the top right corner. They have all turned gorgeous shades of red, mahogany and brown. Women pay big bucks to have their hair dyed the colors of these girls. Their combs are turning red and their beaks are getting darker. They have totally made friends with Miller, through the fence of course.

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The gardens are producing, growing, and taking over. There is something humbling, earthing, and beautiful about being able to go outside and get fresh fruit for breakfast and fresh green beans for dinner.

Jeremiah 29:5 “ Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;”

New Additions

Eric had a brilliant idea. Our girls love roosting together in a row and the balusters we set up aren’t too long. So he put an old hockey stick for them. GENIUS! Of course they weren’t hanging out on it when I went out to take pictures.

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Our gardens have some new additions as well! We have our first baby beans starting to burst through!

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Eric’s tomato plant was the first of them to have a mater bud.

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And the strawberries are coming in strong!

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I plucked a few before work. I meant to take pictures of them but uhhh oops! They were delicious!

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Blooms Away!

The plants are a blooming! A few weeks ago Eric and I got our plants and seeds in the ground!

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Back when the maters, onion, taters, and peppers were just wittle baby sprouts!

The beds had been thoroughly limed, sanded, peat mossed and turned. We tilled and limed the beds in the fall so that the lime could soak into the ground. We limed again in March so that it could get into the ground enough that it wouldn’t burn the plants. PA soil is naturally not very acidic and needs some help. We added in the peat moss and sand at this time as well. It keeps the ground loose for the roots to grow into and adds nutrients. After we planted the tomatoes we added epsom salt around the bases to help them out a bit. They LOVE it. Once they really get going Eric found a natural pesticide somewhere that worked wonderfully last year.

We lay down a breathable, water penetrating plastic between and around the plants so we don’t have to weed. We hate weeding.

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The strawberry patch kicking butt! The big bright huge green one in the center is our all-star from last season.

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So. Many. Green Bean. Plants.

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Wide view of the first garden. The far section is a few rows of corn.

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Onions….not quite sure what we’re going to do with all of them but they’re coming in tall and strong! New addition from last year.

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Our potato plants have exploded and done way better than we could have hoped and expected. These are another new addition and I’m praying the taters under ground are just as big and awesome as the plants above.

Eric and I are in competition this year as to who can grow the better tomato plant and the better tomatoes. I post mine and he puts his in cages. Obviously my way is better. I will keep you updated as to who is in the lead and the most successful throughout the summer.

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Mater plants. The ones with the white are Eric’s. The ones in the back are mine.

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Wide view of the second garden with the pumpkin, watermelon plants and pepper plants.

The potatoes have just started blooming so hopefully by the end of next week we’ll be digging them up! Our strawberry plants have been producing like crazy already this year. Everything else will take most of the summer to maturate.