Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The garden is quickly maturing

Its hard to believe how quickly the garden is growing and maturing in just weeks.  The weather has been rather odd (to say the least) with swings into high humidity and cool nights with brisk winds and overcast skies.  So what does one do?  I planted more beet and carrot seeds a few weeks ago when the first cold front moved in and within hours, the rains fell.  It meant that I did not have to cover the garden against the typical heat of summer and helped to extend the time for lettuce (cool weather plant).  It also kept the tomatoes and peppers growing.  This weekend will be a tomato, pepper and onion harvest in time to make salsa.  I have already made relish from the pickling cucumbers that are now growing like crazy!!!

I had to make room for the new plantings of carrots and beets so I removed the two kale beds.  I gave one full garbage bag away and processed the other one to freeze for use in soups, stews etc.

Freezing and storing Kale

1.  Since I needed the Kale beds for other vegetables (I have some Kale plants in the lettuce bed), I simply pulled out all the plants and cut off the stalks just below the beginning of the leaf on each stalk.  If you want to keep your Kale bed, simply cut the plant a few inches above the ground and it will regrow.

2.  While you are prepping the Kale and rinsing it under cool water, put a large pot on to boil.  Putting the lid on will help to boil the water faster.

3.  You will only be blanching the kale - in other words, not fully cooking it but heating it up and stopping the cooking process to allow it to be able to be frozen for future use.  You can do this with spinach and Swiss chard (one of my friends uses Swiss chard as a wrap for cabbage rolls instead of cabbage).  Once the water is boiling, place the kale into the pot for 3 minutes (time this).

4.  Fill the sink with cold water while you are blanching the Kale - I always add lots of ice to immediately stop the cooking process.

5.  Use a serated spoon or sieve to remove the Kale and immediately put it into the cold water.  The Kale will be a bright green and limp.

6.  Use a salad spinner to try to remove as much water as possible.  I use this and I also use a number of layers of clean cotton dish towels to gently roll the kale in to remove the water.

7.  I use a Food Saver TM to evacuate air and to seal the bags.  The problem with using this method is that the remaining fluid in the Kale will be pulled out to the machine and will not allow for a proper seal. You can continue to use the vaccuum until most of the moisture is out and then use a paper towel to dry the inside of the bag to allow for a proper seal.  My mother used to use a ziplock freezer bag and insert a small straw at one end.  She would suck the air out using the straw and seal the bag up to the straw then quickly remove it while completing the zipper seal to the end.  This takes practice getting it right but it works great.  You do not want freezer burn on your produce so make sure you get as much air out as possible.

8.  Using your frozen Kale is easy.  You can boil the bag or leave it on the counter to thaw.  This will store well for about 6 months in your freezer and will get you through the winter until you can harvest your early spring Kale.

Tomatoes are just ripening

The tomatoes are just ripening on the vine and by the looks of it, I will be very busy after the long week end making salsa.  By then, the peppers and some onions will also be ready.  I am also a big fan of fresh salsa and will make some with my sister when she visits.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

jalapeƱo Peppers


Some Visitors to the Garden
These are just a few of hundreds of daily visitors to the garden.

Clearwing Sphinx Moth - This moth looks just like a bee.  It hovered and then landed on a leaf near our snowflake virbunum bush.  This moth's larvae will eat the leaves of a number of different bushes but according to what I have read, it is not a pest.

Common Red Soldier Beetle - this beetle was photographed on 'Hatties Pin Cushion' plant in my side yard.  They feed on aphids and slugs so you really want these in your garden.

Spiders - are in every garden and are beneficial by catching all kinds of bugs.  The one below was rescued from our pool with about a hundred little babies on its back.  What a neat experience watching these little ones collect themselves on the back of its Mom

Butterflies - these nector lovers provide beauty to a garden so provide them with colourful places to visit. The marigolds throughout the urban garden along with echinacea and other blooms attracts many varieties.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beetle bedlam and Canning!!!

Beetles, other than the lady bug and soldier beetle (family of the fireflies) variety are never a good thing in your garden. Today, I went through all the squash/pumkin plants to find beetles....it didn't take long before I found the cucumber beetles in the male squash plants and the Japanese Beetle on the sunflower blooms!!!  In addition to these pests, this is the time to find leaf jumpers and insects like weavils and other such beetle-like insects that have a probiscus much like the sucking tube on a mosquito that are designed to suck the juices from leaves and young shoots. 

Keep a healthy garden by disuading mold and mildew growth by allowing distance, light and breezes to move between plants, planting companion plants and use other plants that lure away the pests that diminish your garden harvest.  I have learned to be very diligent and to pay close attention to leaf damage, wilt and yellowing of lower leaves and allowing the garden to dry between waterings.  Remove any yellow leaves and other matter that can be composted unless you see a pest like the leaf miner, which you will deposit in the garbage.

The Ontario government site indicates that Starlings love to eat the Japanese Beetle and it might explain why there were so many in my yard over the past few days.  Despite the bird feeder in the neighbor's yard, they were busy in my front and back grassed area.  When we were putting the garden in and I was going through the sod, any and all grubs were removed and physically crushed so as not to spread the problem.  Many of my neighbors were experiencing grub problems and purchased nematoids to combat them.  

Other items of interest include; just allowing the grass to dry up in the heat thereby baking the surface clay in a hard crust making it impossible for the grubs to feed on new grass shoots and roots, spraying with a concoction made of cola, beer, lemon soap and lemon scented ammonia and spraying the plants..... see below.

My neighbor's concoction is based on a recipe he received from a TV program many years ago....he has been spraying his lawn with the tobacco juice and soap...his lawn is enviable!!!  I just might try this recipe!!  Another great link for caring for your garden and specifically for ridding your garden of pests while attracting beneficial insects is....

Japanese Beetle photo courtesy of:  http://www.highmowingseeds.com/blog/controlling-japanese-beetles-in-the-home-garden/

I located two of these on a mature sunflower head.  I tapped them into a cup of oil and within a minute they were dead.  

Cucumber Beetles   
These Yellow and black striped beetles were found neatly nestled into the large orange flowers of the male squash plant.  These Beetles are not friends of the cucumber or squash patch.  I had to look inside the flower to find the beetles mating.  I used a jar filled with oil and tapped the flower over it.  Flower after flower was inspected for these pests.  This is a good example of a physical control of garden pests as long as there is due diligence in the morning and evening to find and remove them.
While I was out relieving the flowers of their pests, I was taking the opportunity to pollinate the female plants.  The female plants have the immature fruit formed just beneathe their bloom called an ovary.  I used a soft bristled brush to take pollen from the male and deposit it on the female plant.  It worked better removing the male stem and brushing it directly on the female parts within the flower.  There were a few 'fruits' that had formed but had expired because they were not pollinated.  Today, just as the flowers are opening....it is overcast and no flying bugs, other than the odd white cabbage moth which you don't want in your garden.  Missing this opportunity means no 'fruit' to pick.... just a lot of vines.  I will have to be diligent in pollinating the plants to get them to produce.... thankfully, I have a good mix of male and female flowers.  If I didn't, I would be asking my neighbor Sean across the street for help.  He has actively looked into how to pollinate and by the looks of it... he has done a good job!!  I have removed all of the fruit that did not get pollinated and placed them in the compost pile.  The flower petal and male stem can be eaten.... high in bioflavins, it is a true anti-oxidant.  You will know that you have properly pollinated all of the female receptors in its flower when the fruit beneath begins to grow rapidly thereafter.  At this point in maturity, it is hard to tell one squash variety from another as they all seem to have the same appearance.

Cucumber flowers are smaller and you will need a soft brush to pollinate these ones.  I tried removing the petals and polinating but both male and female parts are recessed into the flower base instead of protruding like the squash.

I found an interesting You Tube video with John.  Although he is a little quirky, he has some pretty great information....   

Another interesting page that shows the importance of timed planting, bees and know how 


I was picking out a beet from the garden and noted the size.... it was a signal that I should pick the large beets peeking above the surface of the soil and harvest them for canning.  Let's talk about preserving what you will need to start and some equipment/materials that I always have on hand.

TOOLS:  wide mouth funnel - fits perfectly in the canning jars, tongs with heat resistant handles, a magnetized wand for picking sealing lids out of boiling water and a depth measuring tool.  I have this kit and have used it for almost 10 years from Bernardin.  The snap lids and rings are used on many of today's modern glass canning jars.

The basics in my kitchen are comprised of items necessary for creating a great pickle.  The cheesecloth is used to help drain out excess water when I make relish.  Latex Gloves are a must have when pickling items like beets or if your hands will be constantly wet.  I will often use these inside rubber kitchen gloves to keep the heat of peeling hot beets from burning my hands.

I use the 'Basics' for making pickles.... the cheesecloth is for putting the pickling spice in and using an elastic to close the pouch with and for straining the excess brine out of the diced pickles or peppers used for relish and jellies.  Gloves are for protecting your hands from moisture and heat.


1. antique jar from Italy (brand unknown), 2. Le Parfait (1L jar made in France), 3. Bernardin (1L jar of which I have many), 4.  Antique jar (unknown), 5. Atlas jar (this one came from grocery store 'Classico Sauce'), 6 Mason (500mL - well known standard glass preserve jar), 7.  Fido (made in Italy) with a chalkboard sticker.

Preserving anything requires knowing how to get started.  Here is a great clip showing you the beginning essentials.

Le Parfait has a great site for helping you prepare for your first foray into canning or using jars with the spring clip.



1.  Get the essential tools out and make sure they are washed with soap and water and clean.  I have a stack of fresh clean cloths nearby which will be used for drying and to be placed on the counter where the cooling hot jars will rest. I also use my dining room table covered with cardboard and cloth to put the hot jars until they are cool and ready to store after pickling and hot-bathing.

2.  Get the Canner and jars prepared.  The hot bath method is applicable for both kinds of jars used and I use the stovetop canner to hot bath the preserves after canning.  The heat and timing are similar but always refer to your recipes and what they call for.  Follow all directions carefully and ensure you test seals.  Using the snap lids will let you know that the jar is sealed by making a 'snap' sound when the jar cools and the vacuum is formed.  Improperly sealed jars will allow the food to spoil.  Do not get discouraged if you have a preserve spoil..... I have had epic fails in the kitchen by foregoing hot bathing, not long enough or not submersed enough..... it takes practice and experience but once you get the hang of it and are organized, your garden produce will be preserved for those days in the winter when you need a little canned sunshine!!

 In the photo below is my stovetop canner with a demonstation bottle.  The insert will hold 7 bottles of varying sizes up off the bottom of the pot when it is properly seated in the boiling water.

The jars, when seated at the bottom, should have the water level at least a few inches above the tops. REMEMBER, the more jars you put into the pot, the higher the water level.  If you need to remove water, simply use a Pyrex measuring cup or if you need to add water, do so with hot water from a boiled kettle (I always have one of these on standby!!  It takes a long time to boil the water in a pot this size, so put it on the stove to boil while you pull together the ingredients you will need to make your canned goods.  I also put all the jars I need and extra ones in the dishwasher (no other dishes because of food particles on them) and put it on the sanitize setting.  Metal snap lids can be placed back to back in each of the cutlery sections and contained or put into the canner when it begins to boil (the magnetic wand is used to retrieve the lids in the boiling water).  Keep the jars in the dishwasher until they are ready to be used.... I use mine hot right off the rack.  This way I know they are sterile.  If you do not have a dishwasher.....after gently washing with soap and water,  rinse with hot water and put the jars in the canner.  They can stay in the hot water until they are ready to use.

3.  KEEP CLEAN  Keep a neat and tidy workstation at all times.  I have a double sink with one side filled with warm soapy water and the other one with a drying rack.  Dishes used for mixing and canning tools get sticky, messy and can stain the counter tops.  Just place all dirty dishes and utensils/tools in the sink and wash them when the jars are in the canner for hot-bathing.  I also have a wash cloth for wiping down surfaces.  Cleanliness in this environment will assure a good finished product free of contamination.

4.  ORGANIZE FOR EASE OF CANNING.....I have a counter next to the stove.  I place my cooking pot on the burner next to the counter.  I will use this burner to prepare the recipe to be canned so I can ladle the product directly into a jar placed next to it (I use a wooden cutting board covered with a cloth to catch spills).  The jars will still be hot from the dishwasher - place the funnel into the jar and use a steel ladle to ladle the contents of the pot carefully into the jar.  Once you have filled the jar according to the recipe's directions (use the measuring stick), place a sealer lid on the jar and tighten using a ring.  You only need to hand tight and not man-handle the snap lid sealing ring.  ALWAY USE THE TONGS WHEN MOVING HOT JARS.  THE CONTENTS OF THE POT WILL CAUSE PAINFUL BURNS IF SPILLED.  Part jar can be place in the fridge and used within a few days.  Do not try to hot bath a part jar... it will not work.

5.  HOT BATHING - each recipe is different but I will hot bath my jars almost always.  Lesson learned on those recipes that did not get a hot bath....lots of tears when you find most of a large batch has spoiled.  Make sure the water is boiling when the jars go in and continue to boil throughout the process.  Pressure canner timings are different, always follow directions.  Le Parfait uses a pressure canner and will have those canning times.

6.  COOLING OFF - make sure you do not put your jars in a cold spot or where there is a draft. The process will be prematurely halted and a good vacuum may not form due to a buildup of condensation inside the jar and on the rubber seal.  I place the hot jars on top of cloth covered cardboard on my dining room table in the dark.  Do not tighten the ring - it will loosen up with the cooling process. As the jar cools, you will hear a snapping or popping sound.  This is the lid being pulled into the jar and creating that vaccuum as air escapes around the seal.  You will notice that the lid is now concave and cannot be pushed in.   Be patient!!  It is a very slow process, so allow it to do it on its own time.  

7.  COOLED Those jars that did not seal (double check by trying to lift the lid).  if you cannot lift the lid without prying, the jar is sealed.  If the jar did not seal, you can try to hot bath it again... make sure the water covers the top of the jar, is boiling and stays for the entire time indicated on the recipe.

7.  STORAGE - I store my jars in a pantry with doors that close and keep them in the dark.  Some people remove the rings (they will loosen as the jar cools) but I choose to leave them on.  You can store the jars upside down to keep the top of the product covered in liquid.

DO NOT REUSE THE SNAP LIDS.  The seals for the snap lids are thin and designed for one use.  A friend of mine tries to get multiple uses but lost a large batch and has not done that since.  Seals for the clamped lids can be used over again until it begins to show wear and tear or become stiff and unpliable.  You will save yourself a lot of grief if you inspect carefully before using.  You can re-use the rings as they are only used to hold the lids down and do not come in contact with the canning product.  You can purchase just the seals.


After!!!  I can eat these beauties in about 48 hours.  Recipe thanks to Jean Pare 'Company's Coming Preserves'.  I highly recommend this preserve book for those just starting out and for those who love to add to a basic recipe.  
I always like to support our Canadian Authors so I will not be posting her recipes on my blog.  I have, however added or changed to accomodate my tastes from her basic recipes of which I will share.  I think of this book as my bible and write all my amendments and observations on the page.  I still love paper!!

As we go along over the next few months, I will document the steps using pictures and tips written on the pictures so you can see and read what is going on.  Now would be a good time to pull together your shopping list.

1.  Buy the tools or borrow from a friend if you are not sure canning is for you
2.  Buy the book or borrow one from the library or internet
3.  Buy jars or yard sale or friends - they come in many sizes, shapes and styles and are available almost everywhere.  My first jars were given to me.
3.  Canning pot - my mother in law gave me this one - post on FB or Twitter or Kijiji to see if there is anyone looking to 'donate' or sell
4.  Labels - make your own, purchase some - blackboard or paper stickers 
5.  Big cooking pot or dutch oven or deep frying pan to cook in
6.  Apron - make, borrow or mcguiver one to protect your clothes
7.  Oven mitts, kitchen gloves, cloths 
..... any anything else.... like a good friend and possibly a glass of wine while chatting over processing your harvest!!!

Next week.... another look through the garden to see what's in and what's not!!  A few pics of gardens from friends....