Monday, September 15, 2014

The Un-Parsnips

This is not a parsnip.

It grew in a row, where I'm pretty darned sure I planted parsnips.  

I  watched them get bigger and bigger - especially this one.  And I was so happy because I was growing parsnips!   A new food to try!

And I planted a row of turnips on the other side of the bed so we could try those, too.

But when I was reading up on the best time to harvest parsnips, I noticed that the leaves on those pics did not look like the leaves on my parsnips.   And then I realized that the leaves on my parsnips looked an awful lot like the leaves on the new turnips I had planted.

Someone had obviously made a mistake somewhere along the line.   Or vandalized my planting.  

This is what I'm pretty sure happened:  Someone came along after I planted my parsnips and carefully pulled up every seed and replaced it with a turnip seed.   Yes.      

That must have been what happened. 

So I harvested my row of un-parsnips and sure enough, they are Boule d'Or turnips, just like my new row of them.   Quite lovely, if I do say so myself. 

We chopped them and roasted them with carrots, two ways.   Savory:  with garlic and olive oil.  Sweet:  with a little butter and generous amounts of brown sugar.    We roasted in the oven at about 300 for an hour and a half or so - until they were fork soft. 

I liked the sweet ones the best and will probably chop up a handful of candied ginger to roast with them next time.  Mmmmm.

Here's another recipe I just found for Turnip and Parsley Patties that sounds pretty tasty.  [Great blog, too!]  They're turnip fritters!

We'll also put some of them in pasties to freeze for winter dinners.   It's so exciting having a new veggie to try.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Late Summer Sonnet

It's late summer, the time when a gardener's heart turns to sonnets.

Yes, this is a poetry blog, too, and as you know, I am freakishly fond of sonnets. See the others here.

I can't help it. I love them.

It's ok if you don't like them though - I am no rural Shakespeare. That's for sure.

Rural Sonnet #4

Late summer bursts with color near my gates,
On roadside, hill and woods. The yellow blaze
Of daisies short and tall illuminates
The quiet edges of the woods when days
Grow hotter still and August sears. The grass
Blooms by the ironweed’s bright fuchsia knots
And bluing pools of mistflower as they mass
In lower spots beside orange touch-me-nots.
The golden rods of goldenrods sway high
Above lobelia’s lovely violet spires –
And asters’ paling pinks intensify
the almost hidden arum’s burning fires
‘Til jealous trees in autumn’s chilly nights
transform their own limbs into fiery brights.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

12 Month Gardening

We've been busy with the bees and the gardens here lately.   We've moved the hives closer to the house to a place at the end of the existing gardens where we will be putting in a berry patch.    It's so nice to have the bees closer!   Expect more details on that later this week.

What I want to talk about first is 12 month gardening.   

We grow food in our gardens for 12 months of the year.   When I posted last winter about veggies that like cold weather, one of my lovely readers cross posted it on Reddit.   I got lots of pageviews [Thank you!!] and some very interesting comments posted on reddit.  

A few people thought my list was ridiculous.   They assumed that I go out in January in the snow and plant my lettuce and radishes then.    There is a deep misunderstanding of how 12 month gardening works.  

Winter gardening is not going out in the dead of winter with your hoe and a packet of seeds and  then carving a row out of the frozen ground, then planting the seeds and expecting them to grow like they do in May.

No.   Definitely not.  

Winter gardening begins in early fall - September, here.   We prep the beds and get them planted and then cover them for the winter in hoop houses and cold frames.  This way we can harvest through the entire winter and then plant again as soon as our latitude gets enough sunshine in the spring.

It's as easy as you want it to be.   Put some straw mulch in there if you want to prevent weeds and water if it gets too warm. 

Here are some things to think about now for your winter garden:

1.  Good soil:  Fertilize with manure or something else before you plant things.   This is especially necessary if you've grown a crop in that bed already this year, as I do. 

2.  Choose appropriate winter veggies:   Don't plant corn, squash and tomatoes.   Do plant greens, radishes, fennel, carrots and other cold weather loving veg.

3.  Prepare appropriate covers:  I use a two layer system - a cold frame or hoop house on the outside with row covers or extra plastic on the inside.   It's like you being in a winter coat in a car in the sunshine.  Even when it's really cold out, you are going to be much warmer than the outside temp.   And that's warm enough for the right kind of vegetables.  

If you can get your hands on some double walled greenhouse 'glass' [it's really acrylic] or some recycled double paned windows, they'll work too.  

And remember - cold frames don't have to be very big and they can tuck up nicely on the south side of your house.   That's just enough to plant a short row of radishes and some greens.

4.  Plant early enough so that you're still getting enough light for things to grow.  Once they get so big, they'll be fine all winter in the ground.   This is where the idea for root cellars came from.   I can plant until early October.  

5.  Watering:  In cold weather, the plants aren't respiring as heavily as when it's hot, so you don't have to water unless it's really warm in there.   If it's warm enough for you to be outside working comfortably, then check the cold frame and if it's dry, sprinkle it. 

6.  Weeds:  They'll grow too, so we use a thick layer of straw between rows.  Newspapers or cardboard work just as well.

We will likely be replacing our current hoop house structure [made with pvc] with a structure made with a 16' cattle panel.   The old one was fine....until we got loads of snow and it collapsed.   The new one should be a little more collapse proof.   I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Elaeagnus [Autumn Olive] Raspberry Jam

I'm shameless.  I saved the best for last. 

As you know, I've been doing a lot of new jams this year using the abundant elaeagnus [autumn olive] berries around here.  I'm happy to say that the family has loved every single one of them.  However, this one was truly a jam home-run.

I mixed the elaeagnus with red raspberries to see if it would be anything like the cran-raspberry stuff you get at the store.  [You can make jelly out of the cran-raspberry juice at the store by using this method here.  It's fabulous!]   It worked.  

Oh. My. Sweet. Buttered. Biscuits.

This jam.  

This Jam

Come to mama.   As soon as the first jar was emptied, someone opened a second [so it's a good thing I made 2 batches of this one!]

Elaeagnus [Autumn olive] Raspberry Jam

2 cups elaeagnus [autumn olive] pulp [for directions on getting the pulp, see this post]
2 cups red raspberries [fresh or frozen]
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin
2 - 3 cups sugar 

Combine elaeagnus, apple juice concentrate and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a hard boil [one that you can't stir down.] Boil one minute, stirring constantly.   Add sugar and stir well.  Bring to hard boil again stirring constantly.  Boil one minute.   Ladle into jars and cover with clean lids and rings.  Process for canning.

This jam is very acidic and is very safe for canning.  Makes about 5 cups.

Note:  I used 3 cups of sugar and it's pretty sweet.  If you want to use less sugar, I think you might be able to try it with only 2 cups.  Taste it before you do the final boil to see if you need more sugar and add to taste.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elaeagnus [Autumn Olive] Apple Jam

I've been experimenting with Elaeagnus [autumn olive] and other fruit in jam this year.   Since elaeagnus are a bit similar in flavor and tartness to cranberries, I knew I'd have to try an Elaeagnus Apple Jam.

It's heaven in a jar.  Everyone in the family loved it.  I'm thinking this would be a fabulous jam to use as a glaze on ham.   Or chicken.   Or those meatball thingies that you make in the slow cooker.   Yes!

To make it easier to make, I used apple juice concentrate from a can in this jam instead of fresh apples and since that stuff is pretty sweet, I cut the sugar down to 2 cups.  It's perfectly sweet-tart just like cran-apple juice.

Elaeagnus [Autumn olive] Apple Jam

2 cups elaeagnus [autumn olive] pulp [for directions on getting the pulp, see this post]
1 can apple juice concentrate
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin
2 cups sugar 

Combine elaeagnus, apple juice concentrate and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a hard boil [one that you can't stir down.] Boil one minute, stirring constantly.   Add sugar and stir well.  Bring to hard boil again stirring constantly.  Boil one minute.   Ladle into jars and cover with clean lids and rings.  Process for canning.

This jam is very acidic and is very safe for canning.  Makes about 5 cups.

If you don't want to use apple juice concentrate, you can use 2 cups of applesauce instead.   And if you want to use fresh apples, then peel and core 2 apples and cook them until soft.  Then make the jam. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Elaeagnus [Autumn Olive] Peach Jam

As I mentioned in my last post, it's elaeagnus season. [The common name is autumn olive, but there is nothing remotely olive-y about these.]  Pick them when they are dark red and softening up.  They should fall off the clusters easily when they are ripe.

This year I realized that elaeagnus are really the hoosier equivalent of cranberries in tartness and that they'd probably be pretty darn good in mixed fruit jams, just like cranberry juice is beloved in mixed fruit juices.   I decided to start there.

It's easy to find cran-apple and cran-raspberry juice mixes at the store, so I put those combinations on my Mixed Fruit Elaeagnus Jam To Make list right away.  Then I saw a recipe for Cranberry Peach Jam somewhere [sorry, can't remember where...!] and thought I should try that one, too. 

And I did.   And it was marvelous.   The elaeagnus berries have a sort of spicy undertone and the finished jam has the flavor of a gently spiced peach jam with the extra oomph of the tart elaeagnus, too.   We loved it!

I mixed the elaeagnus half and half with the other fruit - you can adjust proportions as you wish.   One thing to remember - don't skimp on the sugar with elaeagnus.  It's tart!   I have found that using equal parts sugar and elaeagnus makes for an excellent jam.  I also add in half as much sugar as extra fruit for a jam that is sweet without being candy.   Here's what I did for the Elaeagnus Peach Jam.  

Elaeagnus [Autumn olive] Peach Jam

2 cups elaeagnus [autumn olive] pulp [for directions on getting the pulp, see this post]
2 cups chopped peaches
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin
3 cups sugar 

Combine elaeagnus, peaches and pectin in a large pot. Bring to a hard boil [one that you can't stir down.] Boil one minute, stirring constantly.   Add sugar and stir well.  Bring to hard boil again stirring constantly.  Boil one minute.   Ladle into jars and cover with clean lids and rings.  Process for canning.

This jam is very acidic and is very safe for canning.  Makes about 5 cups.

Stay tuned for the recipes for Elaeagnus Apple Jam and Elaeagnus Raspberry Jam later this week.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Autumn Olive Season

Our Elaeagnus [pronounced Elly Agnus] berries are ripening all over the place.   The ones at the top of the hill ripen faster than the ones in other places and it's a good year for them so the three of us grabbed buckets and spent a happy half hour harvesting. 

Really ripe berries will just fall off the clusters into your buckets.    Those are the sweetest ones. 

Once you get the berries, you can cook them up and sieve the seeds out [see link above] and then make fabulous stuff with the pulp.    Yum!

You need to know a couple of things about these berries.

1.  They're tart!   Don't skimp on the sugar.   If you're making up your own recipes, then you need enough sugar for the grey-ish juice to turn red.   If you don't have enough sugar, you'll still see sort of a gray juice hanging around near the top.   Add just enough sugar for that to go away.   I generally use as much sugar as I have elaeagnus pulp in the recipe. 

2.  They vary on how much pectin is in them from year to year.   The first year I made jam with them, I used pectin and it made a super hard jam.   The next year I didn't use pectin and it was perfect.   Last year I made jam with no pectin and it's still runny.   This year I used less pectin than normal and got a good jam, not too hard.     You can use a greater percentage of unripe berries to increase the pectin, but then you'd better use more sugar [see #1.]

Here's last year's recipe for Elaeagnus Orange Ginger Jam.  I have a recipe with pectin and a recipe without. 

I've been experimenting this year, so stay tuned for recipes for these awesome mixed fruit jams with elaeagnus, coming up in the next week. 

[UPDATE:   Here are the links to these recipes]

Elaeagnus (Autumn Olive) Peach Jam
Elaeagnus (Autumn Olive) Apple Jam
Elaeagnus (Autumn Olive) Raspberry Jam

They are all delicious combinations and have passed the family taste test with rave reviews.   Who knew these wild berries would be so versatile?!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Favorite Barbeque Sauce

I love barbeque sauce.   Sweet and sticky meat is the best meat of all.   I love it.

So I was thrilled when I got a slab of ribs for cheap...well, cheaper than usual... and wanted to have it with some homemade barbeque sauce and then Claire hopped on my Pinterest food board and found this recipe for Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce.   We tried it and loved it.  

Tip, via my fabulous sister:   Wrap the ribs in foil and cook them on low in your crockpot all day.   By dinnertime, the meat will be falling off the bones and all you have to do is slather it with sauce and pop it in the broiler to caramelize the sauce a bit. To. Die. For.  Or you can serve the sauce on the side.   Or both!     The same technique works for frozen chops as well.   Easy squeezy!

I love this sauce so much that I multiplied the recipe by a lot and canned it so we'd always have it on hand.   Here is the expanded recipe.  Enough for your own pantry and gifts as well.

Robin's Favorite Barbeque Sauce

7 1/2 cups brown sugar
6 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
3 rounded tablespoons mustard powder
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons paprika [smoked paprika is really good, too!]
3 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder  or 1 entire head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon onion powder  or 2 onions, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together in a large pot and bring to boil.   Ladle into clean jars; cover with lids and rings and process for canning. 

Makes 8 pints of sauce.  Perfect for giving as gifts. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Here is a pic of one of our local cattle deer.  It was very surprising to see her up between the studio and house since we don't tolerate them anywhere near the garden or house and the dog mostly keeps the deer far away from the buildings.  She munched her way across the yard and since she was making good time and it looked like she was a nursing mother, I left her alone.   Claire and I watched from the studio and Lily and Eric watched from the house, where Lily got the pics. 

She was munching on grass tops and wildflowers.   I wish deer ate ragweed and poison ivy.  Notice the ginormous ragweed she's standing behind.  I'd feel better about deer if they ate that kind of stuff instead of my flowers and veggies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Toad and Snake

You never know what interesting things you'll see out here.   We went outside the other morning and the cat was staring at this toad.  

On closer inspection, we noticed that a garter snake has taken up residence under these rocks and was attempting to eat the toad.  

That's quite a mouthful.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Old Locks

Life has been a little wild around here this summer.   Eric is building.   I'm weaving.   The youngest has discovered programming.  The oldest is starting college.   We've been canning and gardening and then canning some more.    I've been planning and making decisions and buying a lot of building supplies.

We've had a bit of fun tracking down old doors and things.  I scored some nice old doors that we don't have to strip at all and some that we do.  I found some nice old glass knobs at a salvage place and I've learned a bunch of stuff about old door hardware.   I've also gotten lots of practice stripping 100 years of old paint, varnish and shellac off of old doors.

Cleaned up and ready to re-install
I disassembled my first antique lock, then promptly broke a piece while cleaning the bug nests out of it, then jiggered a replacement piece out of an old picture hanger and made it work again.  I've used these pics in case anyone else wants to know what the insides are supposed to look like. 

I cleaned it all up and oiled it and now it's as good as new.   All it needs is a skeleton key. We'll use it on one of the new old doors in the addition.

It was nice to have a new puzzle to work on and I must say that working on it made me think of my dad a lot.   There's something about the smell of wd-40.  He'd have gotten a kick out of the whole process.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Tomatoes Mean Spaghetti Sauce

Confession:  Our tomatoes are just so-so this year.   So I went to a local place [Reeves Greenhouses, just north of Worthington, In] and got 100 lbs of canning tomatoes.    They were nice ones, too!    I got the boxes of small ones because frankly, I don't care what size they are and I figured those would be the hardest for them to get rid of, so I was happy to take them off their hands.    I paid $10 for 25 lb box, which I thought was a good deal given that I didn't have to grow them or pick them.   I canned 3 boxes and each box netted 14 quarts of plain canned tomatoes.   The final box I saved back to make sauces with.    This year we're making regular spaghetti sauce and Tomato Jam, Claire's favorite ketchup of all time. [Links below].

As it looks like a good year for tomatoes in general, I always advise to get as much as you can afford, can them quickly and easily and then decide what to do with them later.   Plain canned tomatoes are one of the most versatile and healthy things we can store.   And they taste way better than what you get at the store.

I am a lazy tomato canner.   I core them and cut them into big hunks and squash them into jars.   No peeling.   Then I follow the directions from the Ball Blue Book [link in the book list on the sidebar] for canning fresh pack quarts. [1 tsp salt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fill with hot water, process 45 minutes in boiling water bath.]  Easy squeezy.

Here are some things I do with my beautiful jars of tomatoes:
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Tomato Jam [It's glorified ketchup, but the best darn ketchup you've ever had.]
  • Minestrone or a variation thereof.
  • Tomasqua [great for a glut of summer squash along with the tomatoes]
  • Spaghetti Sauce [below.]

Robin's Spaghetti Sauce
  • garlic
  • onions
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • canned tomatoes
  • salt
  • dried basil, oregano, thyme and parsley.

Here's my approach to spaghetti sauce.  It's not really a recipe, but more of a process.  I don't measure.  It's always fantastic. It's always easy.   In fact, Claire has taken over making this sauce and hers is even better.   [She won't tell me her secret.]

1.  Slice up some onions and garlic and saute them in olive oil and butter until transparent.
2.  Open a couple of jars of tomatoes or tomasqua and dump it in with the onions.
3.  Cook it down, down, down until it's the consistency you want. 
4.  Add dried oregano [plenty], salt [to taste], basil [plenty], thyme [generous pinch], and parsley [generous pinch].  Stir it well.
5.   Grind it all up in the blender to pulverize the skins and vegetable chunks.   My crew prefers smooth sauce.

For canning:  put into clean jars and cover with clean lids and rings.  Process according to instructions in the Ball Blue Book [link in the book list on the sidebar] or another reputable canning instruction source.

If you want to make a meat sauce, then cook up some ground beef or sausage until it's crumbly and crispy, then add it to the sauce.    [Note:  I do not can meat sauce.]  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wood Stacks

In anticipation of our new wood stove, I bought three face cords of firewood from a local guy who delivers.  

Can I just say how much I love people who aren't afraid to work?   Who are friendly and knowledgeable?  Who chop firewood and Bring It To My House So I Don't Have To?    I love all you guys!

Lee Franklin brought us a very generous three cords and managed to back in and drop it as close as possible to where we stacked it, saving us many steps since we had planned to have it dropped further down the hill and walk it to the stacks.   Thank you, Lee!   

All of our planning brought up a lot of questions about wood and stacking wood and measuring wood, etc.   Here are some links to great information about firewood.  Hopefully you'll find something to help you, too.

How much wood is in a cord?   Here's a page from that tells you all about it.   We got face cords, which is enough 18" long pieces of wood to fill a rack that is 8' long and 4' high.   I'm hoping that 5 of those will get us through the winter.   [We had some wood stacked already in addition to the new stuff.]

What's the best way to stack wood?  Everyone has an opinion about that.   Here are some interesting links all about it.
  • Cornell University recommends stacking it off the ground and covering with something other than a tarp.  No more than 2 layers deep [across].  We're doing it this way.   
  • Stihl [the chainsaw guys] has an interesting section on stacking and shows three ways to do it, including the Shaker round stacks.
  • Mother Earth News has a long article about stacking wood.
What kind of wood is good to burn?
  • is a great resource and has a handy dandy chart of the types of wood they recommend burning.   Note:  The important thing is to know how much heat you're likely to get out of one type of wood or another.   Hard woods give lots of heat.  Soft woods don't, but they're easier to control for things like cooking.
How do you cover the stacks?  Ideally, you put your wood in a wood shed.   We don't have a wood shed and if we did, it would be home to mice, snakes and wasps.   No fun.   Our wood piles are out in the open and we covered them with assorted scraps of metal roofing, plywood, old broken toboggans.   Some folks say to use tarps, but where we are, that keeps the wet in and encourages mold.   If we need to, we can fold a tarp and put it across the top, but not cover the whole stack.   

We stacked our wood with plenty of holes between the logs and we also oriented our stacks so the prevailing winds blow through the wood.   We put 4 feet between stacks so it's easy to get the mower between them and plenty of air circulation. These little things can help encourage the wood to dry here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

New Wood Stove

Made in the USA to be one of the greenest stoves in America, the Encore® FlexBurn™ is unlike any other wood stove on the market today. It adapts to your lifestyle, so you can choose to operate in catalytic or non-catalytic mode.I finally decided on a wood stove.    This is the one I bought.  Vermont Castings, Encore.  [photo from their site]

Yes, it was expensive. But I got a discount for buying in July.   I went with the enamel finish because we live on a gravel road and have you ever tried dusting one of the plain cast iron ones?    I have.  Never again.  So we went with the more expensive, but ultimately easier to clean and therefore less stressful enamel.

It's a flex burn, which means we can do a super efficient catalytic burn or just a plain old burn.  Either way, it's a pretty efficient stove so we could go with the smaller size of the Encore instead of the Defiant.    I chose the brown, with a matte black chimney.    It will go against slate tile about the same colors as the mat below the stove above. 

With the money I saved from the summer purchase, I was able to get a heat activated fan that sits on the stove, a nice galvanized wood holder and a nice tool set, as well as a second ash pan so we can leave one to cool completely before we need to dump it.  

Why this stove?   I haunted forums and read dozens and dozens of reviews.   There are much cheaper stoves out there and some of them are very good.   I wanted to make this decision one time.   Everyone that I read loved this stove and it received the highest marks in consumer testing.  Also, I like the way it looks.  

Still a lot of construction to go so it will be Halloween before install.   I'll keep you updated.
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