Harvest Festival 2016

This has been an interesting year in the garden. In looking at the Harvest Festival 2015 post, I see a year that offered me what I would call the standard garden items. Not so this year. The problems began with a late frost that wiped out my grapes and pears. In fact, it nearly wiped out my apples as well, but I learned a curious lesson with the fruit this year because of the apples. All the outer apple trees had no fruit, but those in the center of the orchard did have some fruit. In other words, the trees on the outside protected those on the inside. I didn’t get a lot of fruit this year, but it isn’t a big deal because my larder is setup to provide multiple years’ worth of any particular item. The lesson I learned was not to prune too heavily when the weather is uncertain (as it was this year). In fact, the reason the apples survived as they did was because I didn’t have time to prune them much at all.

The garden also behaved quite oddly this year due to the weather. The Wisconsin winter was semi-mild this year without nearly as much snow as normal, so different bugs survived than normal. In addition, the weather was either hot or cold, without a lot of in between this summer. It has also been the fourth wettest summer on record. All these changes produced prodigious amounts of some insects that I don’t normally see and the vegetables didn’t produce as expected.

As an example of odd behavior, I normally have a hard time growing cauliflower. This year I grew huge cauliflower and one plant is attempting to grow a second head, which is something that never happens here. On the other hand, broccoli, a plant that always does well, didn’t even produce a head this year. All I got were some spikes that didn’t taste good (they were quite bitter). The rabbits didn’t even like them all that well. The cauliflower is usually plagued by all sorts of insects, but this year there was nary a bug to be seen. The point is that you need to grow a variety of vegetables because you can’t assume that old standbys will always produce as expected.

Two other examples of odd behavior are okra (which normally grows acceptably, but not great) and peppers (which often produce too well for their own good). This year I’m literally drowning in beautiful okra that gets pretty large without ever getting tough, but the peppers are literally rotting on the plant before they get large enough to pick. I’m not talking about a few peppers in just one location in the garden either—every pepper plant completely failed this year.

Location can be important and planting in multiple locations can help you get a crop even if other people are having problems (and I didn’t talk to a single gardener this year who didn’t have problems of one sort or another). One example in my case were potatoes. I planted six different varieties in six completely different locations in the garden. Five of those locations ended up not producing much of value. A combination of insects destroyed the plants and tubers. All I got for my efforts were rotting corpses where the potatoes should have been. The last area, with Pontiac Red potatoes, out produced any potato I’ve ever grown. The smallest potato I took out of this patch was a half pound and the largest was 1 ¼ pounds. I didn’t even find any of the usual smallish potatoes that I love to add to soup. The potatoes were incredibly crisp and flavorful. The odd thing is that this patch was in an area of the garden that doesn’t usually grow potatoes very well.

A few of my garden plantings didn’t seem to mind the weather or the bugs in the least. My peas did well, as did my carrots. I grew the carnival carrots again because the colors are so delightful and even canned, they come out multiple colors of orange, which dresses up the shelves. I also grew of mix of yellow wax and green beans this year. The two beans work well together canned. They have a nicer appearance than just yellow or just green beans in a can. However, because the two beans have slightly different tastes, you also get more flavorful meals out of the combination.

I still stand by the statement I made long ago when starting this blog, every year is both a good and a bad year. Because I planted a wide range of vegetables and ensured I didn’t plant all the vegetables in a single location in the garden, I ended up with more than enough vegetables to can or freeze. No, I didn’t get all of the vegetables that I had hoped to get, but I definitely won’t starve either. My larder is quite full at this point. Let me know your thoughts on ensuring a garden has a significant variety of items in it to ensure success at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Harvest Festival 2015

Harvest Festival is one of my favorite holidays of the year. What, you haven’t heard of Harvest Festival? Well, it happens each year sometime during September. The date isn’t precise because you just can’t hold Mother Nature to a specific time to make the majority of the fruits and vegetables ripe. That said, the harvest does happen every year and it’s a time to celebrate, even though it also means hard work. I’ve presented Harvest Festival in the past:

What made this Harvest Festival different is that I did the majority of the work on my own. There was lots to do, of course, and I plan to talk about some of the things I did in future posts. This year the Harvest Festival included getting some of my wood for the winter into the basement. My friend Braden helped me get the wood down there—it’s a big job even for two people. I now have five cords down there and two cords outside. Seven cords will take me through most winters, but I’ll cut another cord just in case things get extra cold. The wood you see in the picture is mostly slab wood, with about a cord of logs underneath.

John and Braden standing next to a huge pile of wood.
Getting the firewood stacked in the basement was a big job.

This year the apples ended up as chips for the most part. I also saved some for eating. The larder already has all applesauce, juice, pie filling, and odd assorted other apple products I could use. The remaining apples ended up with friends. I did make up pickled crab apples this year and did they ever turn out nice. I also made a crab apple vinaigrette salad dressing and canned it. The result is quite nice. For once, my pears let me down. The weather just wasn’t conducive to having a good pear crop. I did get enough pears for eating and a few for sharing as well.

Every year is good for something though and it was a banner squash year. The squash vines grew everywhere. At one point, the squash was chest high on me—I’ve never seen it grow like that.

 

A largish squash patch with chest high squash plants.
The squash grew like crazy this year!

The picture shows the squash about mid-summer. By the end of the summer they had grown into the garden (overwhelming the tomatoes) and into the grass. The squash also grew larger than normal. I ended up with a total of 700 pounds worth of squash (much of which has been preserved or distributed to friends). Here is some of the squash I harvested this year.

 

The squash patch produced three kinds of squash in abundance this year.
A cart full of squash.

The largish looking round green squash (one of which has a yellow patch on it) are a Japanese variety, the kabocha squash. So far, I’m finding that they’re a bit drier and sweeter than any of my other squash. I think I could make a really good pie with one and they’ll definitely work for cookies. Unlike most winter squash, you can eat the skin of a kabocha squash, making it a lot easier to prepare and it produces less waste. Given that I received these squash by accident, I plan to save some of the seeds for next year. The squash I was supposed to get was a buttercup squash. The two look similar, but are most definitely different (especially when it comes to the longer shelf life of the kabocha).

Canning season was busy this year. I’ve started filling in all the holes in the larder. For one thing, I was completely out of spaghetti sauce. Even though making homemade spaghetti sauce is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the effort because the result tastes so much better than what you get from the store. I also made a truly decadent toka plum and grape preserve and grape and pear juice. I’ve done hot water bath canning by myself before, but this was the first year I did pressure canning on my own. Let me just say that it all comes down to following the directions and not getting distracted. My two larder shelves are looking quite nice now (with Shelby on guard duty).

 

The larder contains two shelving units and a freezer.
A view of the larder from the front.

The right shelving unit contains mostly fruit products of various sorts and condiments. Yes, I even make my own ketchup and mustard. Of course, some of the squash also appear on the shelves, along with my cooking equipment and supplies. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of room to spare.

 

Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.
Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats. In years past I’ve canned venison, pork, and chicken. This year I thought I might try canning some rabbit as well. Canning the meat means that it’s already cooked and ready to eat whenever I need it. The meat isn’t susceptible to power outages and it lasts a lot longer than meat stored in the freezer. Even though canning meat can be time consuming and potentially dangerous when done incorrectly, I’ve never had any problem doing so.

 

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.
The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.

Harvest Festival 2015 has been a huge success. The point is that I have a large variety of different foods to eat this winter, which will make it easier to maintain my weight and keep myself healthy. I had a great deal of fun getting everything ready. There was the usual music, special drinks, and reminiscing about times past. What makes your harvest preparations joyful? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Appreciating the Value of Microclimates

There is probably something odd about your house and you might not be aware of it. In fact, there was something odd about my house and it took me a while to discover it. Houses create microclimates in the right conditions. Such is the case with my house. The thermometer on the back porch is often warmer in the fall months than the thermometer on the front porch. Given there is no sunlight hitting the back porch, the only explanation I originally came up with was that one thermometer was off. However, moving the thermometers around proved this assumption wrong. The temperature really was higher in the back where the sun didn’t hit. What I was seeing is the effect of a microclimate.

The temperature differential isn’t very large. On a really good day, it can be up to five degrees. It also doesn’t last indefinitely—the differential between front and back temperatures eventually evens out. The microclimate is formed by a combination of the house and the overhanging trees. It’s almost as if there is a kind of blanket over that area so that it stays cool longer in the summer and warm longer in the fall. The rate of temperature change is slower, which creates a condition favorable to certain kinds of growth.

An interesting part of the microclimate is that I just finished picking the last tomato, radish, and green pepper from my container garden on the 23rd. Yes, there had been several frosts before this time, but the microclimate kept the temperature at the back of the house just warm enough to prevent these container vegetables from freezing until this major frost. Everything in the main garden and the areas outside this little microclimate had died out for the winter long ago. So, microclimates can help you continue producing vegetables long after everyone else has stopped picking for the year.

The microclimate is also the reason that I think herbs do so well behind the house. Instead of suffering the extremes they would encounter in other areas of my property, the herbs are treated to a more or less constant temperature that makes them grow well. The constant temperature also reduces stress, so I have fewer pests and it seems to intensify the flavor of the herbs. In short, microclimates can improve whatever you’re growing as well as allow it to grown longer.

A lot of people have microclimates available to them, so they could grow items far into the fall. Good candidates are items that have a longer growing period after pollination (such as green peppers and tomatoes) and items that don’t require pollination (such as radishes). The items also need to be able to grow in a container so that you can move them as needed. To find these microclimates around your house, use thermometers to measure the temperature at a specific height above ground. Make sure every thermometer is at the same height or you won’t get a true reading. You may be surprised at what you find.

The best place to find a microclimate is an area that is sheltered somewhat like the area between my house and the woods. Look for overhanging trees. You could also check south facing areas of the house where the sun can provide a heating effect in the fall months to extend your growing season. Appreciating the value of your microclimates is one way to get more out of your investment in plants. Let me know about your microclimate experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Dealing with a Rainy Summer

It has been a rainy summer so far in Wisconsin. Thank goodness it hasn’t been the kind that sees lots of flooding, as we had in 2008 when the entire town flooded out and I was locked in the house for days at a time. No, this has been a lighter, steady sort of rainy summer. It has rained often enough that the young lad mowing my lawn has had to work hard just to find days to do it and sometimes needs to come back another day because it starts raining right in the middle of cutting the grass. However, the things that tell you most that this has been a really rainy summer are the mushrooms and the mosquitoes.

The mushrooms are interesting because they’re growing all over the place and are of such diversity that they’re simply fun to look at. I’ll often wander around in the early morning hours looking at mushrooms before the dogs get out there and rip them up (yes, Reese and Shelby can get quite frisky during their morning game of Frisbee). If I knew a bit more about mushrooms, this would be a year to stock the freezer. As it is, I’m only positive enough about button, morel, and puffball mushrooms to pick them for eating (and even then I’m extremely careful).

The mosquitoes are a bit more of a problem. There have been notices on the radio that many of them carry West Nile Virus, a disease I’d prefer not to get. So, I’ve stocked up on the usual remedies and make sure I spray myself before I go out to work in the flower beds or gardens. I’ve also been reading articles such as, “10 Signs You May Have West Nile Virus” so that I know what to look for.

The rains have had some interesting effects (other than the mushrooms) in my salad garden. The cherry tomatoes are already to the top of their cages and they’re producing blooms like crazy. At some point I’m going to be eating cherry tomatoes a bit more often than I might like. My plan is to collect enough up that I can dry them for later use. Dehydration is always a good way to preserve food for later use. Likewise, my green peppers are getting quite large. In fact, I picked my first green pepper (a tad small) the other day. The extra rain hasn’t seemed to affect the taste or quality of the peppers so far.

What I do worry about is my herbs. So far they’re growing like crazy, but I’m concerned that they won’t dry well and that they’ll lack some of the oils that they normally do. I tried some lime mint in tea the other day and it seemed a bit weak. The rest of the summer will determine just how the herbs do. I know they’ll definitely be usable, but it may require more of them to get the same effects as normal. Fortunately, none of the herbs seems to be rotting or having other problems so far.

Did I mention that the weeds absolutely love the rain too? It seems as if I can’t pick them fast enough and the nearly constant rain causes them to grow quite large, quite fast. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep up well with everything except my personal garden, which is a little weedier than I’d like at the moment. Let me know your thoughts about rainy summers at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

After the First Frost

First frost is always a hectic time around here. The day before sees Rebecca and me running around trying to harvest everything that won’t survive the frost intact (such as tomatoes, okra, and eggplants). We had our first frost on Saturday, so we spent the day trying to get everything picked (after waiting until the last second for the plants to grow as much as possible.

On Sunday Rebecca and I went out to the garden to start picking the items that actually require a frost to taste good. This year we started with the squash and sweet potatoes. Despite the bad summer, we ended up with a nice assortment of both butternut and acorn squash.

SquashandSweetPotatoes01

It wasn’t our largest harvest, but it was a lot more than we expected considering we didn’t plant that many plants. We actually had squash growing up inside the tomato cages. The squash performed amazingly well this year. I wish we had planted more of them.

However, the big news for us was the sweet potatoes. We planted just one plant and expected to receive four or five standard sized sweet potatoes and a few smaller ones for our efforts. What we received instead was eight relatively large sweet potatoes and a wealth of smaller ones. The largest sweet potato is a monster that weighs nearly 7 pounds.

SquashandSweetPotatoes02

Yes, that really is just one sweet potato. It’s misshapen, but there is only one little crack in the surface and the potato is quite firm. I was expecting something around four pounds, so we were both surprised when we weighed it and the scale showed 6¾ pounds.

SquashandSweetPotatoes03

We’re planning to use this one sweet potato to feed our entire family during Thanksgiving this year. I’m not sure how we’d be able to use it otherwise. That’s one big potato.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year. This year we had great results with okra and squash. We’ll never forget this monster sweet potato though. What did well for you in your garden this year?  Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Potatoes, Buried Treasure

Arr matey! ‘Tis potato season and time to seek buried treasure! Potatoes really are a kind of buried treasure. For one thing, the dried stalk you see above ground only gives you a clue as to the location of the potatoes underneath—not a precise location. The potatoes might be all to one side or another of that stalk, or they might be centered beneath it. I use a garden fork to dig potatoes to reduce the risk of making one unusable. I usually start digging about a foot or a foot and a half from the stalk and move inward.

Unlike many people, we mulch our potatoes instead of creating hills for them. I’ve discussed the benefits of mulching in the Mulching Your Garden post. Using a little heavier mulch makes it possible to plant the potatoes and then basically forget them for the entire growing season. To harvest the potatoes, you simply move the mulch away in the fall and dig the thin layer of dirt from around each of the potatoes. Using the mulching technique seems to produce larger potatoes (or at least, larger quantities of potatoes) with less work and no watering. However, potatoes don’t create set amounts of output. There is an uncertainty factor that gives the potato the feel of buried treasure. One plant may produce a few large potatoes and another copious amounts of smaller (salad) potatoes.

Potatoes and tomatoes are both part of the nightshade family. This family contains a number of highly toxic plants. In fact, some varieties of potato are so odd that you’d hardly recognize them and a few varieties are eaten with clay because they’re not digestible otherwise. The varieties sold in the US are rather bland when compared with the unique diversity found in the Andes (amongst other places). The largest potato we’ve ever had weighed an impressive 1½ pounds, which is far below the 25 pound monster dug in Lebanon in 2008.

You can see the resemblance of potatoes and tomatoes in the leaves. In addition, potatoes will produce a tomato-like fruit. It really does look like a green cherry tomato, but the fruit is quite toxic and you should never eat it. The flowering spud looks pretty though and you should carefully look for the blossoms. They last, at most, two or three days. In other words, blink and you’ll miss the flowering completely.

Domestic potatoes are attacked in a number of ways. This year we lost a few to burrowing insects. The most devastating pests were millipedes who ate directly through the potato and left a rotting mess behind. Because of the drought this year, mice were a particular problem. They normally don’t bother the potatoes much, but this year they were looking for food and water—the potatoes provided both. Quackgrass was also a bit of a problem. We lost some potatoes when the quackgrass roots grew right through the tubers. Finally, some of the potatoes had scabs. The scab ruins the skin and makes it impossible to store the potato for any length of time (otherwise, the potato is perfectly edible as long as you cook it).

Our 20′ × 20′ patch produced two bushels of potatoes this year (about 120 pounds). That’s down from the 3½ bushels we received four years ago in the same patch (we rotate our potatoes between three areas). Between the effects of the drought, the extreme heat this summer, and abundance of pathogens, I think we still did quite well. We managed to get a few really nice sized potatoes with a maximum size of 1 pound this year. Buried treasure indeed!

Do you grow potatoes? If so, how did your potatoes do this year? Do you ever encounter any special problems with them? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Timing Issues in the Garden

Timing can be everything when it comes to food. This summer we’re experiencing a number of timing issues, just as we do every other summer. The first timing issue is getting too much food to process at one time. We finally had success growing cantaloupe this summer and had planned for the fruit to grow at a rate that would allow us to harvest a little cantaloupe at a time. The squash vine borers that killed all three of our cantaloupe vines had a different idea. At first I thought that the cantaloupe was a complete loss because the cantaloupes weren’t full sized. However, after waiting for a while, we found that the cantaloupes ripened just fine on the vines—they’re just a little small. Unfortunately, they all ripened at the same time. We saved some for eating now, but Rebecca is busy pickling the rest so we can eat them during the winter. The point is that when you get an overflow of items, try to find a way to quickly preserve them of later use.

Before I get a number of e-mails about potentially swapping the cantaloupes with other people, the cantaloupes were indeed small and not quite as flavorful as we would have liked. Pickling them made up for these deficiencies. I only trade high quality items with other people because I expect them to do the same for me.

There are pesticides I could have used to prevent this problem, but Rebecca and I don’t believe in using pesticides except as an absolute last choice. In this case, we would have had to preemptively applied the pesticide in order to prevent the damage (one day the plants were fine, the next they were dead). We won’t do that because of the potential damage to the pollinators and the contamination of the food.

Meanwhile, some people have given up on their tomatoes this year because they simply didn’t want to grow in the combination of high heat and lack of water. With the short rainstorms we’ve had, the addition of lightning, and some good irrigation, our tomatoes are finally taking off. Yes, we’ll get the tomatoes late in the season, but the weather service is predicting a warm fall, so the choice to keep our tomatoes turned out to be a good one. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to happen for your plants. Unfortunately, it appears that a number of other items are also going to ripen late, so I foresee having to juggle more than the usual number of late season processing needs this year. In fact, we may have to ask for a little neighborly help to make everything work out right.

Our okra is producing slowly, but consistently this year. In fact, I think this will turn out to be one of the best years we’ve ever had. However, the slow intake of okra is causing us some problems because we had decided to pickle some of our okra this year and there isn’t enough okra at any given time to pickle. The solution for this problem is to gather the okra each day and freeze it. When we have enough okra to pickle, we’ll defrost the entire lot, and get the pickling done the same day. I’m thinking that we’ll notice a small loss in quality, but probably not enough for anyone else to notice.

Timing is an essential part of planning the garden, the harvest, and the food processing. Your garden is unlikely to know or care about your plans, however, so you have to remain flexible. When you encounter a problem of too much, too little, or not enough at the right time, think about solutions that will help you overcome these problems, rather than fret over a situation you can’t change anyway. Let me know about your garden timing issues at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Celebrating with Birthday Butter

Rebecca grows quite a few herbs. In fact, the majority of herbs used in our house come from Rebecca’s garden and not from the store. People have asked us in the past how to use these herbs. Of course, there are the mundane uses of savory herbs (such as sage) in meat dishes and sweet herbs (such as mint) in cakes and cookies. However, if you’re really interested in shaking things up, you mix the herbs in new and interesting combinations. That’s what I decided to do in making birthday butter.

Birthday butter was actually created for Rebecca’s birthday. I used it for her breakfast. I spread the birthday butter on a bagel, but it tastes just fine on toast, crumpets, English muffins, or any other sort of bread. In this case, I filled the holes in the center of the bagel halves with cherry tomatoes to dress it up a bit. The result is an interesting mix of savory and sweet that is a delight to the palette. Here’s the birthday butter recipe:

1/2 cup Butter, Smart Balance, or Margarine
2 tsp Sugar or Splenda
2 tsp Rubbed Sage
1 tsp Mint Leaves
1 tsp Lemon Juice

Cream the butter in a bowl. Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl. Mix together until blended. The lemon juice will have a tendency to separate from the rest of the mixture, so remixing is needed if you store the unused portion.

I found that butter works far better for this recipe than margarine does. We’ve actually tried something new, Smart Balance Buttery Sticks with Omega 3 Fatty Acids. This product is half butter and half margarine. It cooks extremely well and tastes much like butter does. However, it significantly reduces the amount of cholesterol you receive and the Omega 3 fatty acids are actually good for you.  I’m not sure how this recipe would work using other alternative sweeteners, but the results with Splenda are quite good.

The kind of mint you use has a big impact on the taste of birthday butter. Try various mint varieties out to see for yourself. The original version uses spearmint, but peppermint or even wintergreen would probably work just fine. For something unusual, try orange or lime mint.

The best way to get the ingredients to mix properly is to use a mixer. However, I’ve been able to get them to mix just fine using a fork. The point is, this butter blend has a wonderful taste and is a great way to start the day. How do you use your herbs? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Green Tomatoes

One of the advantages of growing your own tomatoes is that you can pick them when they’re ripe—when the taste and nutritional value is at its peak. During the summer months you avoid “strip mined” tomatoes by picking selectively from the vine. However, the end of the season arrives all too soon and you’re faced with a wealth of green tomatoes. You have to do something with these tomatoes before a major frost or risk losing them. Tomato plants can keep producing new tomatoes right up to harvest.

It’s possible to use green tomatoes directly. For example, fried green tomatoes is a favorite of mine (albeit, not particularly nutritious depending on which recipe you use). Pickled tomatoes also look very interesting; although, I must admit not fixing them personally. The pickled tomatoes that I’ve tried have been delicious. In fact, there are many more ways to fix green tomatoes than you might initially think. However, even with all of these recipes, green tomatoes aren’t the epicurean delight that some people want.

Fortunately, you can ripen the tomatoes even after they’ve left the vine. I’ve tried a number of methods and found most of them lacking. For example, some books recommend pulling the entire plant out of the ground and hanging it in your garage. This method assumes that your garage won’t get to the freezing point before the tomatoes are ripe. Using this method can also result in a lot of spoilage from mold. It does have the advantage of producing tomatoes that taste almost as good as if they were vine ripened outside.

There are also methods that rely on placing the tomatoes in a jar with a banana peel (a technique I haven’t tried) and placing them in a paper bag. My parents would often ripen a few remaining tomatoes by placing them in the window sill. Unfortunately, most modern homes lack window sills and the method does have problems in that the tomatoes can ripen unevenly. The best method I’ve found for ripening a lot of green tomatoes is to place them on newspaper as shown here.

GreenTomatoes

I use the regular newspaper pagesnot the shiny advertisement pages. The shiny pages have ink that could contain heavy metals. Regular newspaper pages tend to use soy ink today (although, you should check with your newspaper to be certain). Because the tomatoes sit on the newspaper for up to two weeks, you don’t want them to absorb any toxic chemicals. The newspaper emits ethylene gas, which is what ripens the tomatoes. The plant uses the same gas to ripen the tomatoes on the vine.

Make sure your tomatoes are out of the sunlight. Placing them in sunlight can cause uneven ripening and rot in some cases.

The tomatoes shouldn’t touch each other. Any place one tomato touches another is apt to start rotting before the tomato is ripe.

Check your tomatoes each morning. Tomatoes ripen mainly at night. If you wait until the end of the day, you could miss that peak of tomato ripeness that you desire. (There is strong evidence to suggest that night temperatures affect how a tomato reacts. For example, plants mainly set fruit when the nighttime temperature is in the 59° to 68°F range.)

When you ripen your tomatoes using this technique, they tend to ripen evenly and you’ll lose fewer of them to rot. The tomatoes don’t quite have that fresh picked taste (they still taste better than the strip mined tomatoes from the store), but they’ll work great for canning purposes where the taste difference isn’t quite as noticeable.

So, how do you prefer your tomatoesred or green? Do you have other tricks you use to get a good result from ripening your tomatoes? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 3)

Anyone can create work, but it takes some effort to create fun at times. It wasn’t very long after we started becoming self-sufficient that I discovered there would be a time each year where I’d need to work full time at helping Rebecca preserve the food from our orchard and garden. Of course, most people turn such events into work. After all, you’re working relatively long hours lifting heavy things in high temperatures and humidity. This is coupled with the repetitive motions needed to peel fruit and mixed with a bit of boredom waiting for things to happen—at least, that’s what happens if you’re most people. We’ve turned the event into Harvest Festivala party of sorts that we have every year. It has turned into my second favorite week of the year, right behind Christmas week, which will always remain my favorite.

So, what makes this week so special? Well, it starts out with some special mugs and music. We use festive mugs during Harvest Festival that we don’t really use any other time of the year, except when we’re performing other food preservation tasks. In short, these mugs are special. The music is similarly special. Yes, we do listen to some of it at other times, but the collection as a whole is reserved for Harvest Festival. Rebecca also sets the mood with scented candles that give the house a warm feeling.

HarvestFestival01

There are also times where we’re waiting for something to happen. We could probably get other work done, but we’re already working pretty hard, so some fun is in order. Rebecca and I play an interesting sort of Backgammon called Acey-Ducey that I learned while in the Navy. It’s easy to learn and a lot of fun to play. The games are short, so you can play a number of them quickly. Because the game is a mix of skill and chance, no one has the corner on winning. Of course, we have to drink some apple cider while we’re playing.

HarvestFestival02

The festival begins by picking the fruit from our trees. In fact, the entire first day is spent outside at the fruit trees. Some of the fruit is quite high, so I have to use a fruit picker to get it.

HarvestFestival03

After the fruits and vegetables are in the house (or at least enough to get started), we’ll start processing it. Just how we accomplish that task depends on what we’re making at the time. Rebecca started this year with pear-sauce (think applesauce made with pears). We also made pear chunks, applesauce, apple chips, apple rings, apple jam, and a host of other fruit-related confections for the larder.

HarvestFestival04

Our “kids” get involved with Harvest Festival too. The dogs are especially fond of apple spaghetti, which is the long streamer of peel that comes off of the apple. Here’s Shelby enjoying some apple spaghetti.

HarvestFestival05

The kids are known to do all sorts of cute things during Harvest Festival. Sometimes they’ll sit with us; other times they’ll make strange noises or grab attention in some other way. Smucker decided that he was going to be extra cute to get snack from us.

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Bubba has decided that he really likes Reese’s kennel, which has Reese confused, but us laughing. We found Bubba in the kennel quite a few times during Harvest Festival.

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Because the stove is being used to process food, we don’t have any place to cook—at least, not in the house. I try to barbecue each day during Harvest Festival so we have special food as well. Normally, we don’t get any beef, but I decided to make some really thick and juicy burgers for us one day. There is also plenty of nibbling going on with all of the available fruit. Although we keep some fruit for fresh eating, I think we eat the most fresh fruit during Harvest Festival, which makes the week quite special for that reason alone.

The result of all our work is jar upon jar of food for the larder. One of my favorites this year is the pear chunks. Rebecca makes regular, minted, and spiced. They’re all different colors to make them easy to find on the shelves.

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This year we processed 500 pounds of fruit, 480 pounds of tomatoes, 72 pounds of chicken, too many zucchinis to count, and a variety of other items all in one week. The result is that our larder is looking pretty nice (this is just half of the shelveswe also have two freezers and dry storage areas).

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There is still more to process in the garden. The beans are drying at this point. We’ll also be digging potatoes soon. I’m sure the zucchinis will produce a little more and the winter squash needs to be picked. However, Harvest Festival is our big push for the season and we have a lot of fun getting the food from our gardens and orchards to the larder. If you’re planning on a self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll probably find a similar need for a “big push” week at some point during the season, depending on what you grow. Let me know if you have any question at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.