Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Kelly and I are thrilled and proud to announce the engagement of our oldest son, Mitchell to his lovely girlfriend, Kelsey.

Kelsey, you are welcomed with loving arms into our family.   We feel so lucky that we get to be your "Parents-in-Love".   May you both be richly blessed with health, love and happiness all the days of your lives.


Mom and Dad

Saturday, 27 August 2011

I'm Sort of Back :)

I've had a lovely internet break - filled with family and a little bit of travel :)

Still very busy with heaps in the garden to harvest and preserve....

Still seeding some fall crops... ever hopeful!

Still trying to squeeze every last drop of fun out of this season...

Still thinking about and preparing for another year of schooling...

and now...  preparing to send my hubby out of town for work for a while :(  Boohoo!

Until I get everything sorted out, I need to be off the computer, so check back in later next week when things settle down a wee bit....



Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Busy Break...

As summer winds down, I'm feeling a sense of urgent obligation to not waste a single drop of what's left of the season.  In light of that, I'm taking a short blogging break to tend to both my family and the garden :)  I'll be back sporadically over the next 2 weeks in between picking, blanching, field tripping, relaxing, canning and weeding.

See you before the month is out!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Filling Up The Freezer With Fruit

Another call yesterday to pick free raspberries yielded a huge haul.  I'm all out of energy for jam making, and as we do have our quota of jam for the year, they were frozen on cookie sheets and popped into ziplock bags for winter smoothies and baking.

Blueberries are now in season and are much cheaper at the stores, so I bought some for freezing.  We use a lot them in blueberry muffins and pancakes through the winter, so they will come in very handy during the snowy months.

These 2 Evans cherries are HALF of the sum total of our cherry harvest this year, lol.  Our tree is young and not yet producing the quantities we need (understatement), but these 2 token berries represent the promise of future harvests.  Let's hope that next year the tree will be loaded!  I hear that these sour cherries make incredible pies and jams that have a complex rich flavour.  Can't wait to taste that.  Excuse the dirty gardening fingers!

I checked on the fruit trees this morning and the apples are looking really good - close to harvest!  I'm eager to get these apples into the basement fridge for fresh fall eating.  I don't think we'll have enough for processing this year as our trees are still young, but I'll be sure to have my neighbour bring me some from the Okanagan for pies and applesauce.  Can't live without fresh homemade apple pie in autumn...

It's hard to believe that the autumn months are just around the corner.  This has been the fastest summer of my life.  I've never worked harder in any garden ever, and time has literally whizzed by me.  Thankfully, the work has meant that we have a decent supply of organic food for the winter.  For this, I am grateful for.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fall Crops

This has been such a strange year in the garden.  Everything is late because of our cold wet summer.  It's unusual to be picking peas in August (it's usually late June!) and beans are a July crop under normal circumstances... perhaps we shall have a long warm fall... one can only hope!

Here is my brassica row - the same one that was covered in that row cover - remember?  All of the produce has been harvested and either eaten or frozen for winter.  Two days ago, I got out there and pulled all the remaining plants and dug up the soil to aerate it and loosen some compaction.  I was richly rewarded by seeing thousands of earthworms busily at work in every forkful of soil. The chickens (to the right in the above picture) want IN to the garden to eat those worms!!!!  I threw them a few, but I can't bear to let the hens in because they will destroy my lettuces and such...

I planted my tiny broccoli seedlings in that row as well as cabbage and cauliflower seeds.  I really should have started the cabbage and cauliflower seeds ahead of time, but I've been busy and didn't get it done.  Never mind, what's done is done.  I had planned on planting the fall brassicas to follow the beans in a different row, but because everything is so late, the beans are still producing so I can't pull those plants yet.  Can't help that - so in they went right where the Spring brassicas grew, and I hope for no disease... Back went the row cover as those cabbage months are still prolific in this area fluttering happily all over the garden.  It's crude and crooked row, but given that I was working in the heat and humidity, dripping with sweat while the mosquitoes bit me as I was trying dodge the onions and potatoes, I'm just happy the job is done, crooked or not!  Get what I mean?

I snipped some oregano, peppermint and pineapple mint.  It's all hanging in my kitchen window, drying out for winter use.

I have never dried herbs before, so if you have, and I'm doing this wrong, please let me know!  Share your tips :)

Megan picked some calendula flowers to infuse the petals in olive oil for soap making.   
It's official now....  we are addicted to soap making and it's hard to temper the desire to make it every day!  That kind of production needs to wait until winter because there is WAY too much to do in the garden right now justify working indoors!  Speaking of which, it's time to go out before the sun gets too hot :)  Have a happy day!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Garden Is Giving

After all the hours, days, weeks and months of me giving to the soil, seeds and plants, the garden is giving back.  Big time.  Oh yes, indeed.

I suspect it might have something to do with these little lovelies found in every fork full of soil turned over yesterday....

When we moved here, there was nothing but grass (mostly brown due to drought).  The soil was dead - no life in it whatsoever, not a worm to be found on the entire 2.5 acres (at any depth).  And so we set about to create a garden by first creating soil.  Soil is not dirt I've learned.  Dirt is dead, but soil... soil is alive with microbes and is teaming with visible life!

So, yes, right now.... the garden is giving generously to us and I am duly humbled at the power of good soil.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Learning New Skills and More On Bartering

I posted about bartering a while back.  Bartering is exchanging good or services without the use of money.  I love to barter and do it all the time using things that we produce/can provide here on our little homestead (eggs, jams, garden produce, handmade soap, homemade bread, childcare, etc).

Learning new skills and sharing resources with others is a little different than bartering but it's based on the same principle ~ swapping with someone else without the use of money.    As an example, last week, I picked free raspberries with my friend at her Uncle's place.  Because she currently has no freezer space, nor the need for raspberry jam (she still had some left from last year), she gave me all the berries that we picked together.

In exchange for that kindness and the investment of 2 hours of her time, I invited her to go "shopping" from my jam shelves.  She chose some flavours to add variety to her shelves (Peach, Apricot, Mango, Strawberry, Cherry/Blueberry) that currently only hold raspberry jam.  A pretty good trade for both of us!  She gave time and I gave jam (and we had a lot of fun visiting together while picking).

On Thursday, this same friend came over to my house to make soap.  She brought some olive oil and I shared all the other ingredients and my equipment.   She had never made it before, so I taught her using Rhonda's Soap recipe and we had a good laugh together while creating 4 successful batches to share - great fun!

We don't keep track of what we give each other ~ we give freely of our time and resources and it always seems to work out evenly in the end.  It's not "technically" bartering, because we aren't making specific arrangements to swap one thing for another in one clear transaction, but we both give and receive all the time (just not necessarily always at the same time!).

In September, I have a friend coming over to learn about making stock and soup from scratch.  She has never tried it and she wants to learn how to make it herself in time for the cold winter months.  This same friend loaned me some high quality educational resources during the school term last year which saved me from spending the money to buy them.  I'm finally giving back to her after nearly a year by teaching her how to make stock and soup!

In a few weeks time, another friend is coming over to make jam with me.  This friend has never made it before and wants to learn how.  I have learned a lot from her over the years as she is a Registered Nurse working in elder care.  She helps and guides me through the medical system regarding the care of my Grandmother (which is incredibly helpful).  Now, it's time for me to teach her something.

In the spring, we hope to raise our own pastured meat birds.  Because we haven't butchered chickens before, we want to be taught how to do it correctly.  Friends of ours have agreed to teach us the next time they butcher and we will most certainly offer something in exchange for them teaching us.

If you don't already, make the effort to teach what you know to someone else.  Also, think about about what you can learn from others.  Suggest getting together to swap these skills and revive the "old way" of doing things.  A generation or two ago, people didn't pay to take night classes to learn something new, they learned from others in the exact same way I am describing.  Sharing, teaching, befriending...

What have you bartered recently?  What have you learned from others?  What skills have you shared?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Cherries Are Done

I was sure procrastinating about dealing with the cherries.  I found a million other things to do (all legitimate tasks) and kept putting it off.  I think it's all the pitting that made me shudder!  In order to avoid pitting cherries, I went out into the garden and picked more beans...

stripped beds, did laundry, cleaned the bathroom, tidied the bedroom.... you get the idea.  I was really avoiding doing what I needed to do, lol.  Do you do that, too?

By mid-day, I realized that it was now or never.  They were going to go rotten if I didn't get them put up so I grabbed the bull by the horns and dug in!

First, I made a huge batch of cherry blueberry jam (my new favourite)

and then I decided to give canned cherries a go.  I figured that having some canned in very light syrup would be really nice for making desserts in the wintertime.  We never have cherries in the winter so they will be a welcome change come the snowy months.

I see that the water level really dropped in my quarts of cherries.  I am new to pressure canning, having only water bathed foods before now, so perhaps I'm not doing something right.  If you have advice for me, please share!   I hope it all tastes ok, because it sure was a lot of work to get them prepped for processing.

The garden is coming along fast...  there are Fava beans just about ready to pick

the cabbage needs to come out because the cabbage moths have been all over it laying eggs....  The chickens will LOVE that treat!  I'm going to plant ONE row of fall brassicas there today and cover them up with my row cover.  Hopefully with only one row, the cover will be wide enough and not let any moths in.

My cucumbers are finally growing!  It's likely way too late for them to reach maturity.  Our weather was not favourable for cukes this year...  they just kind of sat there doing nothing until a few weeks ago when the weather warmed up.

This is a heritage variety of corn called Bi-Color.  I've never seen such interesting corn silk!  It's a lovely purplish burgundy color.  We've had a bit of rain over the past 2 days to water in a nitrogen boost of blood meal.  Last year I waited too long to feed the corn a nitrogen boost so the ears were a bit stunted and the foliage went a little yellow.

We picked some GORGEOUS lettuce for our supper last night.  With our cool summer, the lettuces have not bolted which is really nice.  They are thriving and are so tender and sweet.  Megan made a lovely creamy ranch dressing from scratch which was the best I've ever tasted.  With "just dug" potatoes from the garden, and grass fed local beef, it was a delicious supper after a very busy day.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


And so come the beans!  I harvested close to 12 lbs on Friday and got busy prepping them for storage.  Soaking, topping and tailing, snapping into bite size pieces, blanching, freezing and a little canning.  It was a busy couple of hours.

I've never canned beans before and wanted to try it.  I'm not sure I'm going to like the taste of them, and the color of them leaves a little to be desired....  but the advantage is that there is more room in the freezer for our fall pork and chicken order that is to come.  I really want to salt some beans and I'm still working on what to put them in.

The raspberry pie that I made the other day was really tasty and I had some raspberries left in the fridge that were going soft and juicy, so into pies they went!   Can we just for this weekend say that pie is a healthy breakfast and a decent lunch, plus a great side dish with supper?   Especially if served with natural vanilla ice cream - ah yes, that makes it very well balanced (fruit, dairy, grain).  *ahem*  :)

Friday, 5 August 2011

How to Can/Preserve In Less Time

Well, I am no expert, that's for sure.  This is what works for me and it may NOT help you that much given your own circumstances.

1)  Organize your kitchen into stations

This is my prep area.  I soak produce in the sink and cut or trim it here so that I can easily access the compost bins and water.  I also have my food processor set up so I can quickly mash/crush fruits, etc.  My island is divided into 2 stations (one side for filling jars and lining them up for processing, and the other side for the processed jars to cool).

2)  Stay set up.  My pots and supplies stay out for the season.

These are recently washed canning jars, upside down in cardboard flats lined with clean tea towels.  They are at the ready, stacked next to my island, so I can quickly pop them into the oven on a cookie sheet to sterilize them as I prep food to be canned.

3)  Stock up in a big way to save running out for things like sugar, vinegar or pectin.  I have lots of everything I need for canning so I don't run out (all bought on sale).  I keep this basket at the end of kitchen counter and it has all my rings, lids, pectin, the funnel and the jar lifter in it.  This basket will stay there till the canning season is over.

4)  Plan for easy meals and triple or quad cook what you do make to make life easier during canning season.  This is critical!  When I have been canning all day or canning AND in the garden or at the U-Pick, I'm bushed come supper time and have very little energy or desire to cook.  I made 2 HUGE quiches the other day which fed us for 2 suppers and a few lunches.  Even better is to plan ahead and put meals in the freezer BEFORE canning season.

5)  Plan ahead.  Start saving or sourcing free or second hand jars months ahead of time to save rushing and paying full price when you are desperate for jars in peak season.  I started looking months ago and found all my jars either free or VERY cheaply second hand. You can collect and re-use jars from store bought foods, but I don't buy/get nearly enough of those to meet our needs.

This is my back up stash of store bought jars.

I bought them cheaply (on sale recently) and I'm saving the receipts to return them if I have enough of my own jars (which I think I will have).  I was SO fortunate to have received over 200 FREE jars on the weekend in response to an ad I placed on Freecycle!  I am astounded at the generosity and kindness of total strangers...  Can you imagine how happy I was when I pulled up to her house and saw a HUGE stack of boxes of jars?   I took the couple some jam as a thank you and they were so pleased ~ not only to have the jam but also to get the space freed up that all the jars were taking up!  A win, win all around.

6)  Use the assembly line system, slightly modified.  I do not prepare ALL the fruit/veg at once.  I do just enough to get the first few batches going.  As soon as I have that first batch water bathing/processing, the next batch is being readied.  When one set of jars is done in the water bath, the next set is ready to go in, and so on.  I re-use the hot water in the water bath - no sense refilling and waiting for it to reheat.  The plan is to keep it moving with no pot or piece of equipment sitting idle, including me (wink).  All stations are going full tilt, all the time until it's all done :)

7)  Have a place cleared and ready to store the finished product so that you aren't tripping over jars of canned goods.  We worked last month to get the basement pantry set up with shelving so that I could store all of our canned goods safely in the coolest part of the house.  My husband and boys use those cardboard flats to carry down the cooled jars at the end of the day and they bring up more empty jars (if needed) on the flats on their way up.  No steps are wasted, lol.

So, that's the nuts and bolts of my method.  It's not pretty, but it's very functional.  It's a temporary inconvenience to have some of my kitchen taken over by canning supplies, but it makes it so much easier than gathering all my supplies each day and putting them away.  Everything is ready.  When I receive an invitation to pick fruit or produce somewhere for free, I can take advantage of it, knowing that I am ready to process it at a moment's notice.  Should the garden go into overdrive (like right now), I can easily process the food with little hassle.

If you don't have a garden, you can still preserve food cheaply.  Watch your fliers carefully and wait until a particular fruit or vegetable has come down in price at the peak/toward the end of the season.  Here, our strawberries are very inexpensive right now (but are almost finished) and blueberries are just coming on full force and are coming down in price a little. In another week they will be much cheaper and on the front page of the fliers.  That's when to buy lots for processing.  Alternatively (and even better), is to find a local farmer's market and support a local producer (if you live in a climate where any food is grown).

Hope this helps someone :)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

More Work Than Day

I can already feel a nip in the air.  It's decidedly still summer, but as soon as the calendar turns to August, there is always an unmistakable change in the feel of the air.  It's cooler somehow in spite of the thermometer still registering summer temperatures ~ it's most noticeable in the evenings and early mornings.  Even on a hot sunny day, the house cools down quickly in the evening and stays nice and cool right through the night and into mid morning.  It's a sign that we notice every year - summer is nearing it's end.  Already.  *Sigh*

With this little warning sign, comes a flurry of activity!  There's plenty of time before winter sets in, but it does make a person snap to attention and cram all the outdoor fun and chores in that one can while it's still summer!  Wednesday found us making yet another 25 jars of raspberry jam...

 and a raspberry pie with the free berries from Tuesday's picking.

I have much to put up still!  50lbs of organic sweet cherries are clogging up my fridges and I have an offer (that I can't pass up) to pick local sour cherries for free.

There's sheds to paint...

... a 3 sided greenhouse to design and build on this south facing wall of the carport

...and a little more outdoor trim painting to finish.

I need to get more of my fall crops in the ground...

... and weed yet again. 

There's more work than day (if you know what I mean)... always more work than day!

lol :)


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Gardening Like Your Life Depended On It

Yesterday was a busy one!  We spent the morning picking free raspberries at a friend's Uncle's place, and the afternoon was spent in the garden picking beans and peas and staking up plants.  As silly as it sounds, I felt like I didn't have time to go pick berries because I have SO much to do in the garden, and MANY pressing tasks around the house to deal with.  But, I gave my head a shake and knew I couldn't pass up a large quantity of free fruit, so off we went to the berry patch for the morning :)

Because the garden growth has really taken off, the plants have become rather unruly and need a little TLC in order to support the weight of the ripening vegetables.  It seems that there is always a task that needs urgent attention in the garden, and with my busy week of jam making, the garden is reflecting the redirection of my energy. It's shocking how just one week of sparse attention can show in the garden!

After all the months of hard work and effort, there is nothing like the reward of the first substantial picking of a vegetable or fruit just coming into season!  We've been picking the odd handful of peas and beans here and there but yesterday was the first day I could pick enough for a decent side dish for supper :)   Because we already had a meal prepared, I blanched and froze the peas to enjoy in the winter months and prepped the beans for tonight's supper.

There will be many more beans to come, so I need to plan how I'm going to store them.  I'd like to salt some like both my Great Grandma and Grandma did, as I hear that it is a simple, old fashioned, time saving, successful method.  They both used a crock to store the beans, but I'm considering new food grade plastic buckets that I already have on hand.  I'd much prefer a large crock but I don't want to buy one - they are really expensive!

Picking and shelling the peas got me thinking about how difficult it must have been for the first homesteaders who came to Canada.  They had to fight incredibly hard for every morsel of food that passed their lips.  It would have taken me 30 seconds to open a bag of frozen store bought peas vs. the hour it took me to pick and shell the peas (that doesn't count the time spend seeding, watering, weeding and staking).  Those facts made me really THINK about where our food comes from and how it gets to the table.  I've read many books about the homesteading days here in Canada, and the majority of those families went very hungry during our long cold winters.  They worked terribly hard in horrifying conditions just to survive (the bugs alone made all outdoor work insufferable) and if they didn't grow enough food in summer (and store it well for winter), they most certainly did NOT have enough food for winter.  There were no stores to buy anything if they ran out, and many settlers had virtually no money.  The land was rough and hard to clear (by hand), crops failed, and the weather was unpredictable (as it always is).   Many things went wrong, year after year contributing their difficult existence.

Life was hard then, and it makes me feel very grateful that should I need to, I can buy whatever we need to in order to feed our family.  When I have a hard or particularly busy day (like the past few days), I like to think about what a wife and mother would have done here in my part of the world just a few hundred years ago.  Nothing that I think is hard or tiring now, is EVER as hard as what those people faced.

So while my very life doesn't depend on my garden, I am purposing to grow more of our own food and I am working harder to not waste any of it.  For the first time, I'm growing dry beans to store and use in winter as one more small notch on the post of self reliance.  I'm growing heritage crops that are tried and true and most importantly, hardy.  I'm more organized with succession planting, to maximize the production right through into late fall.  None of these things have gone perfectly and I've made many mistakes.  Plants have died and plans went sideways.  The rains came... and stayed.  I've learned a lot and have more to figure out but at least I'm trying.  I'll gain more experience each year and hopefully, along the way, there will be food.  Good food that I grew with my own two hands.  That feels good to me :)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Jam Fest

By now, you must all think I'm crazy for making so much jam!  We use a lot of it on toast, but more importantly, we flavour our homemade yogurt with it each week.  We use on average, 2 jars of jam each week, meaning that we need at least 100 jars of it for our own personal use.  Additionally, I give some away as thank you gifts through the year and my intention is to put together gift baskets full of homemade jams and soaps to give as Christmas gifts.  That's a lot of jam, folks!

I bought peaches on Friday at 76 cents/pound (that's very inexpensive for here!), so those went into a delicious jam flavoured with cloves and a little bit of that blackberry liqueur. Tasty!  

As well, I dealt with that strawberry syrup that I wasn't happy with.  I had popped it into the fridge the other day (instead of water bath processing it) because it just wasn't the right texture for syrup.  I had a few cups of leftover raspberries that I added to it which gave it a nice tang, and with a little pectin and a bit more sugar added, it set up into a delicious jam that tastes much better than the original syrup did.  Whew!  A relief to get that used up and not waste it.

So that was Monday - spent largely in the kitchen, washing, prepping, skinning, cutting, stirring, sterilizing, water bathing and testing.  A long day, but well worth the effort :)  So satisfying to see the pantry fill up!