Taters

Tater Time!

Back in April, I wrote about potato planter bags. It’s been hard, but I’ve been patient, and today I got to harvest the first full bag of taters!  Since potatoes grow underground, you have to plant them and have faith they’re doing something. Last summer we weren’t terribly successful, which just added to the suspense this year.

As a recap, the best potatoes to plant are actual seed potatoes. Grocery store potatoes can be planted, but now many growers treat them with something to prevent eyes from growing. The eyes are where they new plants originate so, no eyes, no new plants. Each seed potato should have a few eyes. Cut the potato so each eye is on a separate piece, then plant each piece. I couldn’t remember, but Charlie said he cute each of our seed potatoes into four pieces, and each bag had just four pieces, or one potato, each.

Each planter bag started with the potatoes planted in just a few inches of soil. As the plants grow, the leaves and stalks are covered with more soil. The potatoes grow from the covered stalks. Once the plant stops growing and the leaves die, the potatoes are ready to be harvested. Some of our bags are ready, but some are still growing.

Potato bags

I’ve cheated and pulled out a few potatoes in the last few weeks. Today, I went for it, and emptied a bag of Yukon Gold. I tried to just dig straight from the bag, but that gets pretty cramped. We had an old tub out back, so I dumped the bag of soil into the tub. This gave me more room to move the soil around.

Potato dirt

At first, I was scraping the dirt away and looking carefully for any signs of life. I found a little worm, but that didn’t count. After a few layers of dirt were removed, potatoes started showing themselves.

peek a boo

I dug and dug, and felt like I was on an archaeological expedition. I didn’t want to miss any potatoes, and I didn’t want to slice into any of them with my little spade. The deeper I got, the more potatoes there were. Most of them were pretty good size, but some of them were teeny. They were like little potato beads.

Taters

I took them in and scrubbed them off. (A fingernail brush works well.) I was pretty happy with the outcome, especially since this started with four little potato pieces. See how cute the little ones are?

Clean

This crop may not have been as many as we were hoping for, but it was definitely more than we got last year. There is definitely enough to make something yummy. Grilled potatoes and onions is sounding good.

This is just the beginning. There are still 10 bags on the patio, of all different colors and varieties. I’ll be harvesting them over the next couple of weeks and coming up with fun ways to cook them.

This is one of those projects anyone can try, even if you have very limited space. And I have to say, I was super surprised at how much better really fresh potatoes taste than those you get at the store. If you missed the original potato planter bag post, you can find it here:

http://redmonwoods.com/2015/04/22/potato-planter-bags/

Cover

Sweet Pickle Relish

I LOVE sweet relish. When I have a hot dog, it’s relish only. A barbecue without relish is tremendously disappointing to me. I feel comfortable canning pickles, and I felt like it was time to tackle relish. But have you seen all the little diced pieces???

I didn’t have a food processor, and didn’t particularly want another appliance to figure out. This summer, I found a food processor attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It slices, it dices, it does it all! I love it. And it made dicing all the relish ingredients super-easy.

Here is the recipe from the Ball Blue Book. I had to make a couple of adjustments because I wanted it to be prettier. Yes, really. For the onions, I used half white onions, and half red onions. Then, instead of green peppers, I used orange. It’s REALLY pretty!

Recipe

Ingredients  Ingredients2

Pickling Salt

It’s a very easy recipe to follow, and it’s processed in a water bath. No pressure canner needed! When the veggies are done soaking in salt water, the best way to drain them is to line a sieve with cheesecloth so none of the little pieces go down the drain. While that drains, combine the other ingredients in a pot, bring it to a boil, then add the veggies and simmer.

In the pot  Simmering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simmer, then scoop your relish into the jars, close them up, and drop them in the canner. Process for 10 minutes, and you have relish. Easy-peasy.

When the relish is first canned, each of the individual flavors stands out, especially the onion. I thought of it as pickle salsa. Within just a couple of days, the flavors really start to blend together and become even more relishy. YUM!

JarsI’ve said before, I don’t want to be responsible to anybody getting sick from canning. If you haven’t canned before, I would say purchase the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.” This book is easy to follow and explains all the processes to make sure you’re canning safely.

I made 6 jars of relish about a week ago, and I’m down to 3 jars already. Tori apologized for one of the jars going so fast. What I didn’t realize at the time was that particular jar only had about a tablespoon of relish left in it. She was eating the relish straight from the jar. Carly came to visit and had a taste, and there went another jar. She likes it straight from the jar, too.

I’ve been keeping an eye on our cucumbers in the garden, and I think I’m going to have enough for one more round of relish. I’ll have to hide it from the kids and ration it out over the winter.

You can find the Ball preserving book, as well as canning supplies, AND the Kitchen Aid food processor attachment at my Amazon store.  http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

Done

Pressure Canning, Take 1 – Green Beans

Nothing exploded! Before I try any of these new farm things, I research them to death. I don’t want to get into the middle of something and realize I’ve missed an important piece of information. Usually, by the time I take the leap, I’m pretty confident nothing serious will go wrong.

Pressure canning is a different thing, altogether. The more I researched the worse it got. If so many people are talking about exploding pressure canners, there must be something to it. Right? For this project I researched even more than usual. People who have been pressure canning for years have said over and over, if you follow the canner directions, you shouldn’t have any trouble. OK, well, I can follow directions, so time to take this on!

A few days ago, Charlie and I realized the green bean vines were loaded. So, today after animal chores, I picked 5 pounds of beans – and that was just the green beans growing outside the fence. There are even more inside the garden and I’ll get around to those.

Green bean vines  Fresh Picked

After picking the green beans, I then had to trim and cut them into 2 inch pieces. I got comfy on the couch and got to work. This part takes over an hour, and I’m thinking if I mess something up, this is a whole lot of work for nothing. Guess I better not mess up.

Ready to trim      Leftovers

Once the green beans were all trimmed, I had to boil the jars and lids. Since it takes forever for the darn pot to boil, I took a little break and shared the green bean bits with the animals. As usual, Spike was all over it. The chickens were willing to give them a try, but weren’t real fans.Snack time

Back to work! The jars, lids and green beans all get boiled. Then it’s time to put them all together. So far, so good. Up to this point, it’s just like regular canning. Every time I have to stop and wait for something to boil, I’m re-reading the pressure canner instructions. They seem pretty easy, but maybe I’m missing something really important.

Jar prep   Boiling Beans  LoadedI add the liquid, seal up the jars, and pop them into the canner. Based on the numbers in the canning book, I thought I would be canning 6 pints, but I ended up with 12. That made me feel even better. That’s a lot of green beans, done all at once.

The canner has a lid that slides into place, then there are 6 screws that tighten down to keep the lid on. The directions said to bring the pressure up to 10 pounds, so that’s what I did. Easy peasy. You put the little jiggly weight thingy on, and the pressure does what it’s supposed to do.  Every little noise I heard, I was expecting the whole thing to blow up. It never happened.

Ready for takeoff  Pressure on

Once the time was up, I let the canner pressure decrease by itself, just like the directions say. Taking the lid off was probably the scariest part. We had a family friend when I was a kid, and he opened an overheated car radiator. It blew up all over his face and burned him badly. I had images of this in my head as I unscrewed and turned the lid. Yeah, nothing. It opened. No problem.

I’m putting pressure canning into the “Way easier than I thought it would be” category. The entire process – from picking the beans to taking the jars out of the canner – took about 5 hours. Totally easy, and totally worth it. Now that I’ve conquered the pressure canner, I can’t wait to see what else I can can.

Done

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Potato Planter Bags

Potatoes don’t grow like other garden plants.  Seed potatoes are planted in fairly shallow soil, then more soil is added as the plant grows up. The potatoes grow off the roots and stem of the plant, under the dirt. Because of their weird growth style, people will often plant them in buckets or bags. That way, as the plant grows, it’s easy to add more soil. Deeper soil = more potatoes.

When Charlie told me he was ordering bags to plant potatoes in, I didn’t give it a thought. When they arrived, I realized I should have given it some thought. As so often happens now, my first thought was, “I could make those!”

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The first thing I noticed was that they were made of material very similar to our feed bags. I’ve already had practice making feed bag totes ( http://redmonwoods.com/2014/12/15/feed-bag-tote-bag/ ), and I figured I could put my stash to good use. Because I have a lot of them…

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I was a little worried they may not be big enough, but when I compared them to the potato bags, they’re actually quite a bit bigger.

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What you need:

  • Empty 50 lb. feed bag – the kind that is made of a sort of woven plastic-y material
  • Heavy duty thread
  • Heavy material needle
  • Scissors or Rotary cutter

The first step is to cut the bottom off the bag.

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Turn the bag inside out, smooth it out, and stitch across the bottom. I used a double seam to make it stronger. The seams are at 1/4″ and 1/2″ from the edge.

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This is my view while I work. I get distracted by it, so now you get to be distracted by it, too.

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This next step can be a little tricky, and it’s hard to explain. Hopefully, the picture helps. Fold the bottom corners so that the bottom seam lines up with the crease down the side. The bags measure 20″ across, so I am going to make my corner seam 5″ from the corner.

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Again, I did a double seam for strength. The black line is at my 5″ measurement, then the 2 seams are 1/4″ and 1/2″ from that line.

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While you’re at the machine, fold over the top edge 2/12″ and stitch it down. I only say 2 1/2″ because I didn’t want to fold the chick’s head in half, you can fold it over as much as you want. But 2 1/2″ seems to work well. No need to double stitch here.

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Charlie said handles would be helpful. The bags he purchased had little straps sewn onto the sides, which promptly broke the first time he tried to move the bags with soil in them. Along the piece I just folded over, I drew a line 4″ across, on each side of the bag. Feed bags have a fairly sharp seam down each side, so it’s really easy to figure out where to place the line.

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Now, I basically made a giant buttonhole. I had to redo this a couple of times because I tried to use my machine’s buttonhole setting, and it wasn’t big enough. With the machine set to a zig-zag stitch, just go around your line, with the edge of the presser foot running alongside the line. I wanted the stitching to go continuously around the line, for no other reason than I wanted it that way. Since I couldn’t turn the bag to go up the other side of the line, I put the machine in reverse and backed it up the line. (So, in the picture, I sewed down the right side, across the bottom, then backed up the left side, turning again to go across the top.)

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Back to the cutting table. Cut the corners off the bottom, and cut along the line inside the “giant buttonhole” to create the handle. (Yes, my hands got dirty with this project. I saw no reason to rinse out the bag since I was just going to be filling it with dirt.)

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Last step, cut some little holes in the bottom for drainage. The store-bought version has little round holes, but my little diamond shapes were easier to cut out.

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Ta da!!! Bags to plant potatoes in! They’re a little taller and even a little sturdier than the store-bought bags. Charlie’s excited because now we have a place to plant even more different kinds of potatoes. I guess I’ll be making a few more bags.

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Bonus: They only cost the price of the thread!

Double bonus: Feed bags recycled instead of thrown away!!

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Garden Cages – Keeping Critters Out

Ever since the strawberries and cantaloupe got nibbled away last year, Charlie has been researching different ways to save his garden from critters. He saw lots of different options, but nothing that was exactly what he was looking for.

We need to keep chickens, deer, rats, mice, birds and squirrels out, while still letting in sun and rain. The idea of netting made the most sense, but we have a pretty darn big garden. Charlie designed these awesome garden cages, using PVC, and they work great!

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What you need:

PVC – 8 pieces for top and bottom (cut 6″ longer than sides of bed), 4 pieces for sides

90 degree Side Outlet Elbow

Snap Clamps (to hold netting to PVC)

Garden Netting

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Our raised beds measure 4′ x 5′, so Charlie cut 4 pieces of pvc to 4 1/2′, and 4 pieces to 5 1/2′. These will make up the top and bottom of the cage. He then cut 4 pieces to 30″ to make the vertical supports. (PVC pipe is sold in 10′ sections, so 5 pieces of pipe will make the cages for this size.)

Place the corner pieces at the ends of one length of PVC, then connect the other length to make the top and bottom frames

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Add the side supports, then connect the top to the bottom.

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Then, wrap the netting around the frame and use the Snap Clamps to attach the netting around the bottom of the frame.

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That’s all there is to it! You can make your cages any size you need. They’re lightweight and easy to move. When it’s time to harvest, the cages can be tipped up on their side to get to the goodies. After growing season they can be stacked out of the way. What we’re going to try early next spring, is wrapping the cages with plastic to make cold frames. If all goes well, it will extend our planting season by several weeks.

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Most of the supplies you need can be found at your local hardware store. Some of it is available at my Amazon Store.  http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Strawberry Gutters

After we planted everything last year, several friends sent us pictures of strawberries growing in gutters. In theory, it looked like a great idea. Unfortunately, we didn’t see one single picture that showed what, exactly, those gutters were attached to. This past winter we’ve given it lots of thought, looked around the property, and finally figured out how we were going to do it.

One option was to attach them to the side of the animal shelter. It’s wood, so it would be easy enough to attach the gutters. But it’s also where the chickens live, and we didn’t want them eating the berries before we got to them.

The next idea was to build some sort of frame to hang them on. What kind of frame, how would we build it, and how strong would it have to be to hold these gutters? And where would we put this frame that the dogs wouldn’t accidentally knock it over as they ran around? It would also have to be sturdy enough to withstand the occasional, but very strong, windstorm. Sounded like more work than we wanted to put into this little project.

The final idea was the winner! We would hang them on the side of the dog kennel. It’s 10 x 10 and made of chain link. If we got gutters and wire, it should be pretty easy to hang them. Except, any time I think that, it ends up being 10 times as hard as I thought it would be. Not this time! It ended up being my favorite kind of project: Super-easy! (OK, Charlie did all the work, but it was super-easy for him, too.)

First, he drilled holes in the plastic rain gutter. Some people have said their strawberries dry out quickly when using the gutters, but we are in Washington, and nothing much dries out. We figured it would be better to have drainage, and maybe have to use the hose from time to time, instead of having our berries drown. If you don’t have a drill, I imagine a hammer and nail would do the trick. Just pound in the nail, then pull it out again, until you have a row of holes.

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We got some wire at Lowe’s, and Charlie cut it into pieces equal to one time around the circle. Then, he simply twisted one end around the chain link, wrapped it around the gutter, then twisted the other end around the chain link. It took 3 pieces of wire per gutter. One piece at each end, and one in the middle. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any sagging. If we see any, we’ll just string up some more wire.

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Once the gutters were hung, Charlie filled them with soil. Then, he planted the strawberry starts. He fit 20 in each gutter.

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He had some netting left over from his garden cages, so he draped that over the gutters. We’re hoping that will keep birds away.

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Charlie installed a total of 4 gutters, 2 each on the 2 sunny sides of the kennel. That would be a total of 80 strawberry plants, but somewhere two plants got lost, so we get 78. That’s still a heck of a lot of strawberries if our little project works.

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I’ll keep you posted on our strawberry progress. If it’s something you want to try, it can be completed in an afternoon. The whole project took Charlie about 2 hours, and that includes hanging the gutters, mixing the soil, planting the berries and cleaning up. A chain link fence works really well. I think a wooden fence could work, as well. You’d just have to screw in some hooks to hold the wire, or loop the wire over the top of the fence boards. Either way, no separate frame needed, and that’s good news.

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A Tale of Two Pumpkins

Last fall, I bought some mini pumpkins and gourds for decoration. When we were done with them, we tossed them in the backyard, figuring birds or critters would bust them open and enjoy the seeds.

Those pumpkins survived rain, snow, and freezing temperatures, and were still intact come springtime. When Charlie started tilling beds for planting, he blew right through those pumpkins. The exploded and seeds went everywhere. Fortunately, we were planting squash and pumpkins in that bed, so we just left the pumpkin shrapnel to see what would happen.  Soon, we had this crazy, mixed patch of mini gourds and pumpkins.

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I’ve cooked fresh pumpkin for pies before, but not these little guys. Since I had no idea how well they would cook, and since I add pumpkin to the dogs food, I decided to try to cook and freeze these for the dog food. Here’s how:

1) Cut the tops off

2) Put the pumpkins in a baking pan, with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and cover pan with foil0923141005

3) Bake at 350 until soft (It took mine 1 hour)

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4) Allow pumpkins to cool, then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff

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5) Scoop pumpkin into bowl and mash0923141214

6) Measure into Ziploc bags and freeze.

Super easy, and I ended up with 6 cups of pumpkin, which gets mixed into 6 weeks’ worth of dog food.

Bonus: The chickens loved the pumpkin guts and came running when they saw me with treats. Spike didn’t like the goop, but he can’t be left out of anything.0923141221

Extra Bonus: Some of the pumpkins were more gourd-like, and when I scooped them out, I had little pumpkin bowls left over. (If I’d paid more attention, I could have matched up the lids) I’ll have to take them to Carly for crafts with the babies.0923141212

crookneck squash

What’s Wrong With My Pumpkins?

I grew up in the desert, where all that grows is cacti and tumbleweeds. OK, lots of stuff grows, but not gardens. Nothing like Washington!

Last spring, being a brand new transplant, I was so excited to start my first garden. Charlie and I spent hours in different nurseries, carefully selecting what we wanted – and what we thought would grow. We didn’t read articles, or books, or even the internet. We didn’t know if different things should or shouldn’t be planted together. Had never heard of blight, or whatever mysterious garden funk kills off plants. We didn’t care. We were planting a garden! If we could buy a plant, or seeds, and put them in the ground, they would grow. Right?

pumpkin tab

What we bought

We got patty pan squash because I liked the name and thought they were cute. They’re still my favorite. We also purchased cucumber, tomato, cantaloupe and pumpkin plants. We hoed, tilled, and fenced off a little area. I stuck those little plants in the ground and waited.

Before long everything flowered. Soon, we had loads of patty pans. We had little green tomatoes, the beginning of cucumbers, a couple of cantaloupe, and a good start on pumpkins. Then, everything died except the patty pans and pumpkins. We’ve since learned that we had chosen some pretty temperamental plants.

The patty pans grew and grew and grew, but the pumpkins were being weird. They started out round, but then got longer. I had no idea that was how they grew. I  checked them every day. They kept getting longer, but wouldn’t “inflate.” They turned orange and started growing bumps. That’s when I realized we must have gotten “ugly pumpkins.” I figure they were mislabeled at the nursery, and went back to waiting for them to inflate.

I waited and watched. I asked people why my pumpkins wouldn’t inflate. I told them I had never known pumpkins grew that way. I always thought they started round and just got bigger. Nobody  could tell me why my pumpkins were being so weird. They were stumped!

Then the fair came to town! We visited all the animal and agricultural displays. We learned so much and got so many ideas for new projects. One of the booths had master gardeners. This was my chance to talk to the experts and finally learn what was going on with my pumpkins. While telling them what was happening, I remembered I had taken a picture on my phone just that morning. They took one look at my picture and started laughing. Turns out my pumpkins that refused to inflate were actually crookneck squash! Oh

crookneck squash

What we got

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