The Half-Assed Homesteader

Overambitious underachiever June 14, 2012

Filed under: pickling,Preserving,Uncategorized — halfasshomesteader @ 6:02 am
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I did it!  I officially finished my first year of grad school.  Monday, my first day off, was full-on relaxation day: had lunch at the food carts downtown, sat in the sun reading a trashy magazine for an hour, saw a movie, went to happy hour.  Tuesday, I ran approximately twelve thousand errands, did as much laundry as I possibly could, and that was basically it.  So by today, Wednesday, I was already beginning to feel this sensation of panic – “It’s been two days and I haven’t done anything in the yard or kitchen OH MY GOD SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER AND I AM WASTING IT”.  So, as is totally typical of me, I decided to do a week’s worth of projects in one day.  Project goals for the seven hours between dropping family off and picking them up:

  • Pickled asparagus
  • strawberry freezer jam
  • first attempt at homemade yogurt
  • first attempt at homemade white wine vinegar
  • first attempt at rhubarb drinking vinegar

Amazingly, I actually accomplished almost all this, plus I did some unexpected things, and nothing was an abysmal failure!  Although I would not be me if I had done everything according to plan…

I started with the asparagus pickling.  Part of the reason nothing every really works quite right for me is that I never do the same thing twice.  I really liked the pickled asparagus I made last summer, even though the recipe kind of bewildered me, so I decided I’d try it again and try not to screw it up this time.

Again, as last year, I bought the asparagus weeks ago, but at least this time there was no mold, it was actually really sturdy and pretty.  I felt sad salting it.

One of the reasons I don’t can or pickle as much as I’d like is that my canner is HUGE and just waiting for the water to boil takes more time than I usually want to devote.  I’m hoping to experiment this summer with some different equipment.  I saw this post about small batch canning the other day, and now I really want an asparagus pot, but for today I just ended up using a stockpot, which is really only slightly smaller than my canner. I definitely think it cut down on the timesuck though.

Of course, my canning rack didn’t fit in there, so I stole this awesome idea from Northwest Edible Life, and because my stockpot was pretty skinny I only needed to use a couple of random rings I had laying around.  Ingenuity!

So, of course, as the jars were sterilizing I started to put together the pickling liquid, and had nothing I was supposed to have, apart from the vinegar and sugar.  I used the same black mustard seed as last year instead of regular mustard seed, because it turned out fine.  Frustratingly, I could never find dill seed to use last year, found the unopened jar a week later, and then couldn’t find it again this year.  And totally forgot to buy an onion for it.  So…I ended up using the black mustard seed and then randomly throwing in some white peppercorns and juniper berries?  Because…they were the size and shape of what I wanted?  That truly was the extent of my reasoning.

I had counted out thirty asparagus and chopped them so they’d fit into the jar, and that was what I salted.  I packed them all in to the jar, poured the pickling liquid in, and was feeling all pleased…until I remembered that I had a whole other jar that was supposed to be full of asparagus.  So, in true half-assed fashion, I just snapped off the very ends of the chopped parts and dumped them into the jar, which actually filled it up.  So maybe…I just don’t know.  Is it supposed to be each asparagus cut in half or something?  I still find it bewildering.  And, I poured in the liquid and it came up only half way.  Again. Just like last year.  So, I processed it, and now I have one beautiful asparagus pickle jar, and one half full of weird choppy bits jar.  I will use them in salads I think.

I’ll leave my other adventures for tomorrow, but I have to say that I feel really happy and proud to be failing in my kitchen again.  My goal for the summer is to work on being more realistic about what I can do during the schoolyear, and to practice skills.  I want to get more into small-batch processing, and I’m working a lot from this book Make the Butter, Buy the Bread which I wish I’d written, about what is easy and worth it to make at home and what you should just admit is easier to pick up at the New Seasons.  I may have made several discoveries about that today…which I will share with you soon!

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Me versus the weeds… July 7, 2011

…and the bugs. And the fungus. And the sun. And maybe a little bit of laziness too.

I’ve worked hard on my garden this year, harder than I’ve ever worked on a garden in my life.  It might not show to the outside world, because there is a long way to go still, but I have to admit that I feel the best I’ve ever felt about this particular garden. That is why it is a particularly cruel twist of fate that I am having more problems with it than I’ve ever had.  Perhaps benign neglect truly is the best method after all.

First off, I have aphids.  I have never in my life as a home gardener had aphids.  As a professional horticulturist back in the day, I saw plenty of the teeny green bastards, but they have never invaded my home life until now, and I am pissed.  I first saw them on my Shasta daisies.  Yes, I know Shastas are a magnet for them, but they are also my favorite flower.  (Of course, I’d never grown them before and while I still love them, I have to admit that they are not worth all their unruly, floppy trouble.) I also saw some ladybugs, so I hoped that they would do their job and I left it alone.  Days later, I noticed that they’d moved over to my hellebores. I started to get a little more concerned, but because they were still only hitting ornamentals, and my vegetables are way in the back yard, I did what any good organic gardener would do, and hit them with a powerful stream of water and hoped for the best.  And then today, oh my goodness today, the saddest day.  The bastards found my broccoli and my cabbage.

I know what you’re saying, because I’m saying it too.  How did it get so out of control??? I don’t know.  I’m ashamed.  Today was the first day I’ve really put some quality time in out in the veg patch, and I was mostly happy with what I found, but this was a total shock.  This is my cabbage.  One of the poor things was so overcome it just flopped down and died.  I thought it wilted due to my 3 year olds ineffective watering, but it was the aphids, sucking out all its sweet cabbage bloods.

Another depressing discovery?

This beautiful, apparently perfectly formed head of broccoli.  My incredible child was so excited about this that she immediately started shoving florets into her mouth, barefoot in the midst of the garden.  At which point I thought…oh God the aphids.  Who knows how many she ate?  Ugh.  Barely on the leaves, they were concentrated deep in the florets, where you could barely see them, and where they are proving nearly impossible to remove. After several passes of individual florets under my kitchen sink sprayer, they are currently soaking in a bowl of cold water, but I have little hope.  Honestly, if I can’t get all the aphids out I’m going to eat the damn things myself, because I grew this broccoli and I refuse to give it the chickens.

…and the fungus.  My very, very poorly espaliered apple trees (more on these someday, I am sure) have finally *FINALLY* put fruit on.  I was ebullient when I discovered the petite little apples growing on one of the trees.  At the beginning of the year, I had said, If they don’t give me some dang apples this year I am ripping them out of the ground.  But I didn’t really want to.  So, of course, bitter fate again, along with their tiny apples they’ve also developed powdery mildew. Thus far I’ve taken the extremely effective tactic of ignoring it, but it’s getting worse, so soon I’m going to have to pick off all the infected material and chuck it and see what happens.  Obviously, I should have already done that, but that would not be my style.  Again, lazy.  I almost kind of sort of don’t want it to work though, because I’ve read that cow’s milk can treat it, and I think that would be kind of fun to experiment with.

…and the sun.  After a very long, wet, cold, dreary, downright interminable spring, it would appear that summer has finally decided to show up in Portland. I still have one foot in dreary and the sudden increase in watering needs has resulted in the death of my lovely hanging basket, my cheerful back porch Gerber daisies, two of the lettuces in my little mesclun pot, and the crippling of my nasturtium basket.  You will be missed, friends.

…but…the weeds!  I actually have a handle on the weeds, somewhat, this year, for the first time ever.  Which is part of why I’m feeling that weird pride feeling that I don’t often experience.  And this entire long-winded post has really been kind of a way for me to tell you about some things that I’ve been using that have kind of been rocking my world.  My weed treatment strategy kind of sounds like the recipe for a tasty snack, which I think is a good sign: salt, boiling water, vinegar, corn gluten.  (And a circle hoe too, but that sounds less delicious.)

*My driveway, the driveway from hell, is covered in a thin layer of gravel over dirt.  Thus, it is constantly besieged by weeds, too many weeds to handweed, and too annoying to hoe. Sometimes, honestly?  I mow it. I have dreams of this lovely permeable driveway interplanted with fleur de lawn, but that’s a major project that I am not sure will ever happen.  In the meantime, this year I decided to demolish the weeds with horticultural vinegar, and it worked, pretty well at least.  I did it when the weeds were tall and I wasn’t able to get the roots of everything, but over the couple of weeks since I did it the driveway has started looking browner and browner.  I mowed it last week and I am going to re-vinegar it, and I think I may finally tasty sweet tangy pickley success.

*I also put down corn gluten after the vinegar, and I’m not seeing any new seedlings yet.  That may be the corn gluten, or it may be that I’ve completely demolished the soil.  More corn gluten experiments to come.

*Salt and boiling water are my new best friends.  A week ago, I ran some little trials out in my front walkway on the dandelions that love to push up through the cracks.  1/4 of the plants got no treatment.  1/4 got just boiling water.  1/4 got just salt.  1/4 got both. Obviously the control just sat there happy as larks. The plain salt did nothing at first, but a week later they are pretty much withered away.  The boiling water immediately shrank and looked terrified, and were out the door about two days later.  But the salt/boiling water combo, wow!  It was like time-lapse how quickly they wilted, shrank, withered, turned brown and basically disappeared.  It was unbelievable.  I did some more tonight on the patio and here are the results:

And then, the magic happens:

Okay, so it hadn’t actually turned brown or crispy yet, but this was literally seconds after I scalded it, and I am willing to bet that by tomorrow it will be a crumbly delight.

Finally, just because, my beautiful first ripe strawberry – saved so that Hazel could discover, pick and eat it herself.  Pure 3 year old joy.