Last Night, We Had Our First Frost

Combs Canyon in August

I woke up to frosty cold temperatures this morning. I knew it was coming. That’s why yesterday evening, I harvested 6 more okras and 3 impossibly small jalapeños. Folks, I’m calling it. The gardening season is over.

A few weekends ago, we had put away the tomato containers and pulled up the smaller okra plants and bell pepper plants. We left the 3 big okra plants and the jalapeño plant because they were still blooming and producing. I also made the decision to leave in my zucchini plants. They were planted late and I had hopes of getting at least one small zuke from them. This weekend we’ll probably pull up these lingering plants.

The last of the cherry tomatoes.

I started recording my harvest this year. My hope is that I can be a better garden planner–actually put in the right number of plants so I get enough cucumbers, peppers or okras at once to pickle. I just spent some quality time with my calculator and now I have the totals for our 2017 garden.

I bet there’s an app for this, but there’s something satisfying about a physical chart.

Cherry Tomatoes (5 plants): 1,457 (a little less than 300 of these were picked green, but are ripening in a brown paper bag on our counter)

Yellow Squash (2 plants): 10

Bell Peppers (3 plants): 2

Okra (6 plants): 93

Pickling Cucumbers (4 plants): 84

Jalapeños (1 plant): 18


Lessons Learned, Ideas for Next Year & Thoughts:

+I’m so glad we only planted cherry tomatoes this year. I’m trying to convince my husband that we need another container (2 plants) of cherry tomatoes so that we can have a surplus and then I can be the “tomato lady” of the neighborhood. I’d sell fresh-picked pints of tomatoes and even deliver them. Who wouldn’t want to buy homegrown tomatoes from a neighbor? Not much tastes better!

+I’m planting zucchini earlier.

+No more bell peppers. These did not do well at all. I have some seeds for lunchbox peppers, which may do better since they’re a smaller pepper. I may try those next year before I decide to not bother with peppers altogether.

+Half of my okra plants were powerhouses. I saved the insert-thingy from them so I can remember the variety. I’m going to hold out for that particular variety next year.

+While I never harvested enough okras at once to pickle them (my dream) I have a bunch in my freezer and I’ve already made a batch of gumbo!

+Ditto with pickling cucumbers. I never had enough at once to pickle, but we pretty much ate these as we harvested. They’re really tasty. Next year, I’ll plant more and have something ready to replace them once they’re done.

+My first batch of jalapeños I made into refrigerator pickles. They were so good! I did the same thing with my second harvest and they were unbearably hot. What? I like spicy, but I don’t like food so hot that I can’t enjoy it. What to do? I just may put in another jalapeño plant next year because this year’s did so well and I really want pickled slices! Maybe I’ll figure out how to “tame” them.

Overall, this year’s garden was successful. If I didn’t get a good yield, I at least learned a lot and have notes for next year.



Peaches, Again

Peaches 2017

Almost a year ago, I canned peaches. I explained that my family has come to expect peaches at Christmas. Maybe they’re being polite, or maybe there is something special about peaches canned at the peak of the season. (I hope it’s the latter.)

Saturday, I had a kid-free afternoon, so I made a run for it. I was determined to find the most perfect peaches and can them. I put a mess of jars in the dishwasher and set it to run while I was out. The first store had peaches that were too crunchy. They had good flavor and were priced right, but definitely were not ready for canning. I went to another store. Same thing, except they cost twice as much. I decided to go to the sprawling specialty grocery store about 20 miles down the interstate. Why not? I had the time!

I struck out again. So, I returned to the first store (isn’t this always the case?), and bought about 30 peaches. I’d let them sit on my counter until they were ready. Yesterday was the day.

Canning, if you’ve ever done it, is a production. You need to block off 5 to 6 hours. Once you start, you can’t set it aside and pick it up later. You need to wear good shoes and put on good music.

The first thing I did was fill my big pot (“corn pot” it’s called in my family as it’s perfect for boiling several ears at once) with water and start to heat it. Last year, my pot never seemed to boil. Lesson learned. Then, I heated a smaller, big pot of water so that I could blanch my peaches in order to remove the skin. Next, I put peaches into the boiling water for a bit and then dropped them into a bowl of ice water. As things tend to go, I didn’t have my peaches in the boiling water for long enough. About half the skin slipped off. The other half came off with the help of a peeler. (Another note to add to my recipe-instructions.)

Taking a quick bath.

I cut the peaches in half before peeling. Last year I wrote a note that doing this makes cutting them easier since the skin acts as a no-slip grip. Peeled peaches are slippery! I popped out the pits and cut the halves in half.

Pretty Peaches

Into pint jars went the peach quarters. This proved to be difficult. I used regular-mouth jars. My hands couldn’t fit far enough in to ensure proper peach position on the bottom. (Another note to add: try using wide-mouth jars.) Some of the quarters I cut into eighths so they would fit better and so that I could get more into each jar.

Onto the syrup. A lot of sugar and a lot of water and some “Fruit-Fresh” to help preserve the orange color. Up to this point, I was able to keep my kitchen fairly tidy. But, despite having a special canning funnel, ladling syrup into the jars is always a mess. The morning after, I found a sticky corner on my kitchen floor.

Finally, what it’s all about: canning! Boiling the jars! For 25-minute intervals (I had a few batches), I was able to clean up the kitchen and, yes, sit down and relax while I waited.

The best part is pulling the jars out and waiting, waiting, waiting to hear the unmistakable POP! of the lids sealing. I overfilled my jars. Juice oozed out of the jars onto the towels after I pulled them out. I processed 19 pint jars. One jar did not seal. I put it into my fridge. I think the other 18 are going to be okay, though.

I find that after I can, I tend to marvel at the jars.

In the middle of winter, there will be peaches that taste like summer. That’s worth driving around to 3 different stores. Worth waiting a few days. Worth the 6 hours of work in the kitchen.

Tips & Tricks: Compost

Have you ever discovered a technique that makes you feel like a genius even though you didn’t create it? Or at least, once you start doing it and realize how much easier it makes your life, you ask yourself why you didn’t start doing it earlier? I have!

I know freezing your food scraps for composting isn’t anything new, but I started doing it this year and every time I put another banana peel or cucumber end or apple core into the grocery bag in my freezer, I feel like I’m somehow beating the system.

Banana peels! Eggshells! Cherries past their prime!

My compost bin is nothing fancy. The top is hard to get off. Although, raccoons figured it out, prompting me to keep a big ol’ rock on it. Worse, it’s at the bottom of what I call our “canyon,” which is at the back of our backyard.

You can sorta-kinda see the compost bin sitting there in the shadows at the edge of the woods.

This picture is deceiving. It’s a steep hill and such a pain to walk down just to deposit an apple core. Not too mention mosquitoes and the possibility of snakes (I’ve seen one before). I don’t like going down there. And, I’ve done the counter-top compost container to hold scraps. Blech. As if I need a pot of mold sitting on my counter.

I am a lazy composter. I don’t bother with making sure my ratios are right–adding enough “brown stuff.” And, I rarely turn it. I let Ricky Raccoon and his family do that. See, they chewed through a vent near the bottom and every time I add, they come along and scoop whatever their creepy little paws can out of it.

Raccoon Aftermath

I feel like I’m somewhat co-existing with these creatures. Because they get compost scraps, they don’t come up the canyon. (Although, we had a teen-aged raccoon in our garbage can twice this summer, prompting us to put a big ol’ rock on top of THAT.) They end up “mixing” my compost because when I make my journeys down the canyon, I’m always sure to use a shovel to scoop up all the debris they’ve scattered.

Anyway, because I’m now freezing my food scraps, I only head down to the bin once a week. Maybe every week and a half. It’s wonderful! Why didn’t I do this sooner?!

Jalapeños from Garden to Jar

On a whim, I added a jalapeño plant to my garden. I figured I couldn’t go wrong since I love spicy foods. This past week, I had 4 gorgeous jalapeños ready to be picked.

Jalapenos 01
Four beauties all in a row.

I mean, my crappy phone pics taken with range hood lighting just don’t do the deep, lustrous green color of these peppers justice.

The problem with just having one plant is that I’ll never get enough to do anything significant with. I doubt I’m going to make poppers with just 1 or 2 or 4 jalapeños. And, that’ll never be enough to can.

That’s why this year I’m doing this:

Garden Chart 01.JPG
Garden Chart

I’m recording how much I’m harvesting this year. It should give me a good idea of how many plants I need if I want to can the produce.

I digress, though, back to the jalapeños. I did find this recipe from Simply Scratch for refrigerator jalapeño slice pickles. It looked easy enough and it didn’t make a gallon of pickling juice, so I was in.

Jalapenos 02
I didn’t do anything crazy to increase the heat like roll them and I wore kitchen prep gloves, because I’m not a fool.
Jalapenos 03
Warming everything up.

Let me tell you how much I love garlic. I love the smell of fresh garlic. Maybe next year my garden will be all jalapeños and garlic. I was concerned about the amount of sugar, though. I didn’t want these to be sweet. But, in the end there’s just a little hint of sweetness that is perfect!

Jalapenos 04
Into the jar they go!
Jalapenos 05
It’s a good thing my older sister cans and sends us jams and jellies for Christmas. This half pint jar that originally held her creation was the perfect size.

My 4 peppers didn’t even fill a half pint jar! It may or may not be because I taste-tested a couple of rings while they were soaking in the warm juice. These are so good. I am so happy with how they turned out! They’ll be perfect for topping pizzas, adding to tacos, or shoot, just for snacking.

I’ve never done refrigerator pickles of any sorts, but I’m adding this recipe to my repertoire for when I don’t have too much of anything to do a big batch of canning. I love growing pickling cucumbers and I already have visions of doing spicy pickle slices. Mmmmmm!

Peachy Keen

Do you have 5 hours? No, not to read this post, but to can your own peaches? That’s about how long it took me to can 8 pint jars of juicy peaches. Of course, there was the requisite kitchen cleaning that took about half an hour.

I have family who have requested canned peaches for Christmas. Not that we grow the best peaches in Ohio, but that here at Combs Canyon, we can them like no one else. This was my first attempt at canning. My husband is a natural and I tend to do more prep work. Having time off mid-week has its perks, though. I haven’t popped open the jar only half-filled with the straggling slices, so I do not know yet if they taste okay. The hardest part is finding good peaches. You can’t preserve them into deliciousness.

That said, enjoy the pictures I took along the way and happy weekend!