Category Archives: Garden

Weekend loader-tractor-tiller rental

Mike’s parents sponsored the rental of a loader-tractor-tiller to work up our big garden, and to perform a few yearly chores that we don’t have the “tools” to do throughout the year. We are so grateful! 🙂

There are some things a large tractor just can’t do. And we don’t have a front loader, so this one we rent does some annual chores we save up for this annual rental… 🙂

Mike had scheduled it for earlier last week, but the forecast was for rain/storms, so we cancelled it. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though… Learned that since Monday was a holiday, we could rent it after 11am on Saturday, and have it until 9am on TUESDAY!! When you rent a tractor, it is for 8 hours of “use”. In the past, it has always been difficult to use all 8 of the hours when it has to be back the next day (without completely exhausting Mike), and we try to not purposely schedule extra work for Sundays. So, the additional day that came as a result of the holiday was so wonderful! Here are some pics of what got accomplished:

Tilling up the big garden…

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It’s a good thing the garden is ready for planting now – just had our plants delivered from Skipper’s Nursery! They started our plants for us last year, too. I’ll do a future post on those as we get them planted. So glad we have friends who are willing to barter with us! This saved me many hours of labor & frustrations since we just don’t have a good setup/location to grow our own plants. 🙂

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Next was the removal of the old satellite dish by our house. One of the best things we’ve ever done was cancel our TV. Did that almost 5 years ago. We have a DVD player, so that suffices for our media. I, for one don’t miss it AT ALL! I am soooo excited to finally have that ugly dish gone, lol! 🙂

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Next was the attempt to smooth out the dip at the end of our driveway. We have a scary driveway – in a low spot between two hills. A left turn is a “blind turn” – and a right turn is not quite as hazardous, but can be if you don’t wait long enough for cars to clear a low area. In other words, when you pull out of our driveway, rocks will SPIN, because you need to be accelerating quickly – hence a hole grows larger as the year goes by…

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Next stop, pulling up feed troughs that got buried this winter from hay-feedings… (Um – yeah – don’t do that! Much better to carry in bales or slices and place them in different spots. Laziness never produces a good ending…)

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Lol – the calves were VERY interested!

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This trough was a little trickier because there was no easy way to get into this side of the barnyard. Fortunately, overtop of the fence worked out fine. 🙂

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I got to help on this one, since Mike was on the other side of the fence…

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On to the milking barn next door. Time for the annual “clean out/scrape away” from the cow’s entrance…

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Next up was trying to fix Mike’s parents’ driveway. It washes out in spots, so this was an effort to patch it up for now. Mike’s brother got to “play” with the tractor, too… 🙂

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Next Mike headed across the road to begin the “end phase” of the last part of our EQIP grant. Can’t wait to be done with our contract – it’s been a l-o-n-g six years. This phase entails creating a filter area to catch the water from our milkhouse drain. When a road crew came through a few years ago to replace a culvert, we asked if they would bury a conduit for us. Thankfully, they agreed! Since our contract is up this summer, it’s time to wrap things up. 🙂

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These rocks by the milking barn have been causing water to leak into the corner of the barn. A better place for them is across the road, lining the trench… (Killing two birds with one stone ? Ha!) 🙂

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And back & forth they went…

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Can’t resist – “the three muskateers” or “pied piper” ? 🙂

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And last-but-not-least… A fun treat! Something Mike’s never had enough time to do, but has often talked about over the years, is to see if an old small brush hog would fit and work on this smaller tractor. This brush hog is leftover from when the farm was leased out as a Christmas tree farm. It has been in the way sat in the barn for years, without the right sized tractor to pull it… Mike & Ben were able to get it to attach & work!

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Oh my – this little cutter worked so well!! Mike was able to go around the entire perimeter of Gray Heaven – saved him HOURS of weed whipping fencelines!

And then he was able to clear more area around Mordor – something he’s wanted to do for a long time! 🙂

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Now that we know this mower works so well, no doubt we’ll add more paths to cut on our future to-do lists… 🙂

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Thank You, Lord, for this productive weekend!

Pantry peek

We take our harvests and try to stretch it to feed us for one year. Rather than work to a certain “number”, we take whatever our harvest is & divide it by 12. Saves us a lot of stress – that fear of “not having enough”… It encourages us to be more content with what we have and plan our meals accordingly. 🙂

I do keep a record of each year’s total on the pantry shelves with a piece of masking tape – just so I have a ballpark idea of what we had the previous couple of years. Helps with knowing how many canning supplies I should invest in for the next season, too. And quite honestly, once we finish processing, I stop thinking about it & my brain can’t recall those numbers when someone asks. (This blog is actually helping to document tallies as well…) 🙂

Once the monthly breakdown is calculated, I mark each jar with the month it can be used in. It helps me to see at a glance what items I have “available” to use & plan our meals accordingly. Since we all cook here, it allows the current chef to assess his options from our pantry “grocery store”… And it keeps my boys from eating 22 quarts of dilly beans in 2 months, lol! 🙂

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I have yet to remember to weigh our potato harvests. While the kennebec potatoes we grow don’t last us a full year, we can usually go 6 months or so. Last season we started with 3 milk-crates of taters, and are now into our last crate. They are sprouting, but not soft.

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And Grandma’s special sweet potatoes are wrapped in newspapers & stored in a crate as well. I forgot to weigh these, too – but I do know we had 2 crates full. These taters last longer – I bet we go 9 months or so… 🙂

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dried beans

After touring a friend’s garden a few years ago, we were introduced to these soup beans.  LOVE THEM!  We normally grow Black Turtles, Vermont Cranberries, and Jacob’s Cattle.  Their colors are beautiful and look so pretty in a glass jar! The seeds are planted just like you would green bean seeds, only instead of harvesting them to eat like you would green beans (which you CAN do…), we leave them on the plants until the pods are dried and the plants are yellow/brown – early fall.  Once we harvest the dried pods, we simply remove the seeds from the pods. If they are really dry, the pods can “paper-cut” your fingers, so we try to not wait too long. [I was unable to find any pictures of them in this state, so perhaps this season I can take some & update this post…]

This is a GREAT chore that forces you to S-L-O-W down… I think that’s why I enjoy these beans so much.  They force me to SIT and “listen”…  Good therapy after a busy season of harvesting. 🙂

We do the best we can to sort out the imperfect seeds – ones that have sprouted or are cracked.  Usually, they are in the minority. (One year we did grow one type of seed: Painted Ponies, that had a lot of imperfect seeds, so we haven’t grown it again.)

Just to make sure there is no moisture in the beans before storing them in glass jars in our pantry, we dry them in our dehydrator overnight.

To hydrate the beans, the best thing to do is soak them overnight.  We like to use a mixture of water & whey. This actually makes the beans more digestible.  That being said, in reality, I don’t always have the forethought to do that.  Most of the time I want to use them in a recipe the same day.  So below is the method we use that is quicker and works for us.

My formula for determining how many beans to hydrate is:

1/2 pound of dried beans = 1 cup of dried beans = 3 cups of finished, hydrated beans

Place dried beans in a large pot and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove pot from the heat, add a lid, and allow it to sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans. Add fresh water to cover the beans for at least 2 inches.  Bring to a boil. Add a lid & lower the heat.  Allow the beans to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. (…taste testing the crunchiness of a bean every so often…) Also need to remove the lid & stir occasionally – will keep the foamy water from overflowing onto your stove-top.:)

**This procedure is about half the time most cookbooks say to prepare dried beans.  We learned that the age of the beans determines how long the hydrating will take…when we followed the cookbooks, our beans were MUSH, lol. (Kinda makes you wonder just how old the beans are that are on the store shelves! Not a big deal, though – it is a nice attribute that this is a food with a long shelf-life.) After experimenting with less & less boiling times, we came up with our above procedure.  I say all this so that it is understood that it may take longer to get older dried beans to desired softness. 🙂

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Last season we had 21 quarts of beans for our pantry, 11 quarts for next door, and many smaller jars we filled & gave away as Christmas gifts with our bean soup recipe. 🙂

Processing carrots and celery

The carrots that aren’t eaten fresh, we blanch, chop, & freeze. Once they have drained well, we throw them in a big gallon bag. They don’t freeze into a solid clump, so we just scoop out whatever we need for our recipes for the year. I think last season we had 8 full gallon sized bags of carrots. 🙂

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Celery has really been a fun plant for us. Once the plants are established, we just cut off a few stalks as we need them during the summer. Plants just keep growing up more stalks! At the end of the season, we cut off what’s left. We just wash, chop, and freeze it. I suppose we could blanch it, but we never have. Just like the carrots, it goes into one gallon freezer bags. I think we had about 8 bags last season. 🙂

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our salsa recipe

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This amount fills our 12 cup food processor.

10 squeezed, meaty-type tomatoes (like Romas) that are about the size of baseballs **note below
2-4 hot peppers
2 cups sweet onions, chunked (I just kinda guess by the size of the onion)
1 cup tightly packed cilantro
1 t sea salt
3 T raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 t coarse black pepper

Layer above ingredients in the order listed into food processor. Pulse until desired texture is reached. Dump into large bowl and repeat. (We like BIG BATCHES of salsa, lol!) 🙂

We are alway taste testing while we go, so I should probably state that the above recipe is just a “base”. I’m sure we throw in a-little-more-of-this, and a-little-more-of-that, so it’s never exactly the same. 🙂

**Here’s how I prepare my tomatoes: I remove the skins & core, but leave them whole. I put one in my hands, hold it over the sink core-cut-side down, and gently squeeze the tomato so most of the seeds & water are pressed out. After 3 batches of squeezing, it is not uncommon for hands to cramp up, lol… 🙂

Processing tomatoes

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Despite the drought last year, we were blessed with a bountiful harvest – including tomatoes. 🙂

Here’s a snapshot of what we do with our maters. It is a true family effort – or I don’t know how I could do all.

When we first started doing this, I was COMPLETELY AMAZED at how many tomatoes it takes to create the same amount of tomato based products we used to buy from the store. We realized that we COULD NOT grow enough to provide the same “loot” in our pantry for one year. Because of that realization, we’ve scaled back on how much of it we eat, and we do our best to find healthier tomato sauces that we buy limited quantities of for our homemade pizzas. Thus reducing the amount of money we need to spend off-farm. This way, our energy goes toward the less time-consuming efforts like water bath canning whole tomatoes, juice, and our version of v(egetable)-8. We do make several canners full of tomato sauce, but can them in pints & they are treated like “gold”, lol. (I think last season furnished 10 pints for our pantry…) Normally, we focus on canning the whole tomatoes + juice for both ourselves and Mike’s parents, and his mom cooks down & cans the tomato sauce for all of us. (Group efforts are soooo nice!) LOTS of hours of stirring while it cooks down to the desired thickness, makes me feel a little protective of tomato sauce…and being SUPER conscious of not wasting it. These are good lessons that we are thankful to have learned. 🙂

The biggest bulk of our maters are canned as whole tomatoes. (We are big soup/stew eaters, and we like a marinara sauce once in awhile, too. Whole tomatoes are perfect for those recipes.) Once the maters have been washed, we drop them in boiling water until the skin breaks – usually not more than one minute. Then we plunge them into ice water for quick cooling. The boys like this job & usually bicker over whose turn it is.

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My “station” is usually as the “skinner/chunker”. None of my boys like the messiness of this part, so by default, the job is mine. I don’t mind, though…my hands might be yucky, but I can still bark orders pretty good, lol… 🙂

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Mike is usually the “floater” and “jar-stufferer”. 🙂

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Last season we canned 48 quarts of whole tomatoes for our pantry and about half that for mom & dad next door. 🙂

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When we are making juice/sauce & our v(egetable)-8, we don’t remove the skins. Just chunk the veggies so they fit into the juice attachment for our mixer, and it separates the seeds/skins for us. This is another task the boys don’t mind doing. 🙂

Last season we canned 8 quarts of our v(egetable)-8 juice and 22 quarts of tomato juice for ourselves + some for next door.

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We also make several large batches of salsa & freeze it in 1 cup portions. Most of it gets devoured eaten fresh, but I think we managed to freeze 15 cups or so. 🙂

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our chili recipe

2 quarts tomato juice

2 quarts whole tomatoes (crushed up)

1 quart tomato sauce

4 pounds cooked ground beef

2 cups chopped green peppers

4 cups of mixed dried beans – softened* (see below)

4 t minced garlic or 8 cloves, minced

4 t sea salt

2 c chopped sweet onion

2 c chopped celery

2 T chili powder

1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (56g)

Add to pot. Heat & simmer over low heat for several hours, stirring occasionally. 🙂

Yield is about 20 servings.

*One of these days, I’ll get a post up about our dried beans.  Here’s how we “soften” them.  Take 4 cups (1 pound) of dried beans and pour them in a tall pan with water covering them by at least 2 inches.  Bring them to a rolling boil for one minute (IF YOU ARE USING STORE BOUGHT BEANS, DOUBLE THE COOKING TIME.).  Remove from heat & add lid. Let sit 1 hour. Drain/rinse. Add back to pot with water covering them by several inches.  Bring to a boil. Add lid, and simmer 20-30 minutes. (SAME AS EARLIER, IF STORE BOUGHT, DOUBLE COOK TIME.)