For most of my life, I have taken one thing for granted more then anything else: Dirt. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent endless hours of my youth playing in dirt, ridding my bike through it, even wading through mud in our pond. I didn’t realize however, that all life on Earth is made at least partly from dirt. I didn’t understand until recently just how important, and Alive this stuff is.
A world of organisims, bugs, bacteria, and worms make their home in this loose mixture of minerals, sand and bio-mass. Plants emerge only when the soil is alive. Without life in the dirt, the recycle of life giving nutrients stops. When plants do not grow, the rain will carry away the soil, and leave behind a desert, as is happening in many places on our Earth.
I’ve been watching documentaries about how our world is changing, and I know I have a part in this process. I try to keep this blog away from ideological subjects, and away from my own beliefs, but this is one issue, I must discuss. Just typing or reading this blog is using energy, which may be causing changes half a world away. For this reason, I will set a goal. To help offset the amount of carbon I produce, I hope to make at least five barrels of Bio-Char this winter, and begin composting all of the paper I consume at home. I can then add this Bio-Char and composted plant fibers to the soil, hopefully improving it greatly for next years garden.
The garden has begun it’s slow transformation from a land of plenty, with rapidly growing plants to a shadow of it’s height in summer. Most of the plants are showing their fatigue for the year, and many have withered completely. Few plants flourish this time of year, and it seemed prudent to pick these root crops before the first frost. I picked a bag each of Turnips and Beets, a few nice size kohlrabies and some carrots. My niece picked the string beans, as she seems to be the only one who is not yet sick of them for the year.
As I was pulling up the turnips, I kept hearing comments about the beans. Some where shaped like funny letters, a J here, an I there. I’m surprised she didn’t lay them out in the soil and spell funny words.
Last year I took a pepper plant out of the greenhouse, and planted it in a small pot in my kitchen. The plant grew enough in the winter to set one pepper. This year, I’m trying a different approach. I found the largest Chablis Pepper plant in the garden, and planted it in a 5 gallon bucket. The stem on this giant plant was about an inch in width, and is starting to get a hardened bark on the stem, just like a tree. The plant is at least three feet tall, bucket and all, and looked pretty cool when it was moved indoors. There are at least ten small peppers on this plant, so I’m hopeful for fresh peppers after the frost descends on the garden.
After planting some store purchased garlic a few weeks ago, I had some reservations about whether it would actually grow. The price was far cheaper then those cloves listed in seed catalogs, so I thought it was worth a try. I’m as delighted to see it grow as I was this spring when the first onion stalks arose out of the ground. It’s one thing to know the seeds will grow, and quite another to Actually See it Happen. There was a problem though…
Before releasing these scratching fiends, I placed protective wire around all of the plants in the garden which I hoped to harvest later. I didn’t think that about the garlic which I planted next to my walkway. The chickens have learned that I come up the walkway before feeding them at night, and they have been waiting for me the last few days. When I spotted one of them digging in my garlic bed, I knew I had more work ahead of me.
I found some old wire, and covered the four tires that make up my garlic beds. I then placed some stakes in the ground to hold the wire in place. This should keep them away from the bulb of the plant, but I will need a new plan once the stalks grow taller then the wire.
I’ve decided to take a new approach with regards to my chickens. Up to this point, I’ve kept them in a chicken house, with a fenced in run. Since the garden is well picked over, It seemed appropriate to release them all.
They are now “free range” chickens, and they return to the chicken coop each night, which I then lock up. This protects them from foxes, bears, or any other danger of the night. Each morning I release them, to wander as they wish. I was surprised that they didn’t fly around to celebrate their freedom, but I did notice a few extra eggs the second day. I’ve fenced in the few crops which I hope to munch on later in the season.
After observing the chickens dig and peck for a while, I was off to my sisters farm for some more puppy pictures. She needed some good pictures, as the pups are for sale, and she was placing an ad for them.
After taking pictures, we started cooking up some food, most of which came out of the garden. It’s amazing just how little the whole family has spent on groceries this year, and we’ve been eating better then ever. Sandy got a steak and chopped it up with some veggies. We placed it all in an aluminum foil pouch, added some water, and placed it on a grate over an open fire.
Most garden veggies are great raw, however Kohlrabi is not one of them. I have learned a way to cook it which I really enjoy, diced with garlic and butter. Sandy and Davie have been cooking over an open fire before winter takes the option away, and I’ve learned quite a bit about eating healthy, delicious food from them. Did you know you can heat up a can of beans by simply removing the top of the can and the paper wrapper, then placing the whole can on a grate above a fire ? Simply stir occasionally to keep the beans from sticking.
We also cooked up some late season Zucchini to complete the menu. I don’t think I’ve had so many vitamins from a single meal that was totally delicious.
Tomato Jelly !? Sounds gross, but just like Zucchini pancakes, it’s something you have to try before passing judgment. I was quite reluctant to try it, but since then, I’ve been dieing for more. It actually tastes like Strawberry Jelly, due to the jello involved in its production. The recipe is very simple:
Recipe for Tomato Jelly
Start by blanching tomatoes, which helps remove the skin, then mash them in a bowl.
Add 5 cups mashed tomatoes to a pot, along with 4 cups of sugar.
Cook for 15 minutes on medium heat, then remove.
Add 1 box of Strawberry Jello (6 oz.), Stir well.
Pour into preheated canning jars, apply lid.
Preheated canning jars will help the lid seal, as well as sterilize the jar.
The last two years, have been brutal for grape production. I’m not sure if it is something I’m doing wrong or if the weather is too blame. Last year all of the grapes withered before they began to turn purple, and this year, there were not many actual grapes. I’m thankfull for the bunch above though, because it’s at least an improvement from last year. The vines have grown out of control on the trellis by the small creek, and I need to spend a day retraining them to grow up the trellis, rather then every other direction.
These vines were planted about five years ago. When they were placed in the ground, they were about the same size as the small plants I’ve been cloning the last two years. So I can expect five years of growth before the first grapes are produced from my little clones.
All in all, Even though there are few, they taste Great !
I’m not much of a spicy food eater, but some members of my family like their food served as if still on fire, so I grew some hot peppers for them. So far, five people have been daring enough to try these peppers. Two of my nieces tried them, even though I told them not too. I’ve seen kids run fast, but when they are in search of milk or bread, to calm the fire, they turn in superhero’s with gifts that rival those of Flash Gordon. I gave them a stern warning, and told them if they must try them to take a tiny bite. I bet they’ll give my advice more consideration in the future.
Nate and Davey also tried them, although they were prepared for the results. Nate surprisingly didn’t eat one whole, and Davie sampled one of each color, much to my sisters dismay. He then wiped his eye with the same hand that he used to pick the peppers, which resulted in me duping half a bottle of eye drops in his eye. I also sampled a small piece, and knew better then to try more. I was expecting a burn, but it moved far faster then I imagined. I’ll pass next time !
So kids: If an adult tells you something is hot, trusting them is sometimes better then finding out yourself. Adults: Keep your hands out of your eyes after picking these, it’s just a good policy.
Preserving Hot Peppers: The peppers in the dish above will sit in my kitchen, and I’ll stir them every once in a while. This should allow them to dry, at which point they can be ground up and added to spice up winter dishes. Maybe this winter after I’ve forgotten my lesson, I’ll try another.