...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sabbath Rest...the Fragrance of a Life Bittersweet

See the new and deeply fragrant blossoms in my wildflower garden? Many days they've been rising to statuesque heights, as flowers go--but no blossoms appeared.

"Are you sure those aren't weeds?" my husband asked dubiously.

"Let's wait and see," I answered.

These flowers came from an indefinite seed mix--we had no idea what would be growing.
I'm glad we didn't presume the worst, for their fragrance is delightful.

They put me in mind of a devotional--once again from the little book, Streams in the Desert--that I'll leave you with today.

"We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)

The best things in life are the result of being wounded. Wheat must be crushed before becoming bread, and incense must be burned by fire before its fragrance is set free. The earth must be broken with a sharp plow before being ready to receive the seed...the sweetest joys of life are the fruits of sorrow. Human nature seems to need suffering to make it fit to be a blessing to the world.

Beside my cottage door it grows,
The loveliest, daintiest flower that blows,
A sweetbrier rose.

At dewy morn or twilight's close,
The rarest perfume from it flows,
This strange wild rose.

But when the raindrops on it beat,
Ah, then, its odors grow more sweet.
About my feet.

Often with loving tenderness,
Its soft green leaves I gently press,
In sweet caress.

A still more wondrous fragrance flows,
The more my fingers close
And crush the rose.

Dear Lord, oh, let my life be so
Its perfume when strong winds blow,
The sweeter flow.

And should it be Your blessed will,
With crushing grief my soul to fill.
Press harder still.

And while its dying fragrance flows
I'll whisper low, "He loves and knows
His crushed brier rose."

"If you want to be a person of consolation, if you want to share the priestly gift of sympathy, if you desire to go beyond giving commonplace comfort to a heart that is tempted, and if you long to go through the daily exchange of life with the kind of tact that never inflicts pain, then you must be prepared to pay the price for a costly education--for like Christ, you must suffer."
Frederick William Robertson.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Do I Really Have Time for All This?

One of the main questions that stops people short of venturing into the world of gardening and canning is this one: just how much time is this going to take? It is a valid question; and one that every person might answer differently, depending on how much care they want to put into the garden, what degree of productivity they expect from it, and how anal they are about its beauty-factor.

I can't really answer the question for you, but what I can do is give you a "schedule of events" during the 60 to 90 minutes I might spend on any given day with my garden.

7:15 Sipping my coffee and gazing out at the just-breaking dawn, I plan my morning's work related to gardening and canning.

7:21 Put the canner on to boil. Add jars to the already-loaded dishwasher and start a sanitizing cycle.

7:50 Canner starts to hiss. Put the vinegar-spice mix on to boil.

7:52 Drain the cut veggies that I put in a salt water soak last night. Rinse and drain again. Vinegar comes to a simmer.

8:03 Start the hose to water the garden. Leave it to soak one section.

8:10 Pour a second cup of coffee and walk the garden, looking for new produce to pick.

8:14 Add the veggies to the vinegar mixture.

8:15 Move the hose to water a new patch of the garden.

8:17 Suddenly remember to prep the canning lids. Race back inside to put water in the microwave to boil. Pull hot jars from the dishwasher.

8:22 Ladle mixed pickles into jars.

8:26 Clear air bubbles, wipe rims and apply caps and rings.

8:30 Jars go into the canner to process 10 minutes. Meanwhile, go outside and water potted herbs with a watering can after moving the hose to its last watering spot.

8:44 Jars are out of the canner and the hose is turned off. Slice and freeze the last of the green peppers that didn't make it into the pickle mix.

The sun has risen above the neighbor's house--but not too much higher since I started my work. It's 100% consuming for the time you dedicate to it, but it doesn't have to take you all day to have a fruitful gardening and canning life.

And it's a great way to connect with another aspect of old traditions--the idea of the weekly rhythm. While you may not have baking day or washing day or such, you will have weeding day and canning day, pruning day and fertilizing day. Walking through the rotation gives a mysterious flow to life in the garden that--for me anyway--translates well to help me avoid getting too myopic, too obsessive with one aspect of life, forgetting other important elements.

Sign off today: Happy balance!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sabbath Rest

(Sorry--technical difficulties struck me. I'm back online now and catching up on last Sunday's Sabbath Rest post.)

I'm finishing my reflections on a garden as metaphor this week with pictures that remind us of God's heart toward us when He sees us tending His creation. Even as we look upon this little child "tending" the earth and can not help but smile softly; so we should remember we inhabit His heart. It is with all the greater tenderness that He views us every moment of every day..

For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. Isaiah 51:3

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. Isaiah 58:11

For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. Isaiah 61:11

May you be blessed to know His eyes shine upon you as you go along your way--both in happiness when you are happy and in compassion when you are suffering.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keeping a Gardener's Journal

Gardening in my part of the country means walking through the full spectrum of the seasons. Only once per year do I visit summer crops, twice a year some of the spring and fall ones. Because of those gaps, much knowledge gained through experience could be lost were it not for my gardening journals.

My first venture into garden journaling was quite utilitarian. I still use that initial journal when I want to access bare-bones knowledge. In fact, it could hardly be called a journal at all. It resides in an accordion file.

Each section is divided by the month. In the front, I keep a map of my garden lay-out for each year. Since I must garden in the same small plot every year, rotating the plants that deplete the soil--heavy feeders, they're called--is a must. A map helps me remember what my plan of rotation should be.

A nice article on the whys of crop rotation can be found here:

More importantly, one that helps you break your "crops" into family groups and offers maps for garden layout can be found here:


Then in the accordion files, I have notes by the month of what I planted and transplanted, harvested, pruned, fertilized, etc. I make notes of the various pests that visit my garden and of seasons when fungal stresses make an appearance. Then as I move from month to month each year, I amend the notes, make additional comments, observe what is consistent yearly and what seems to be a one-year anomaly. This particular mode of journal-organization proves very helpful and easy to use.

On the other hand, I have another journal that is purely for fun. It is my field journal. It is also organized by the month, but it is kept in a sketch book. In it, I sketch from the garden and make more general and fanciful observations.

This is the journal I pull out to review when the garden is asleep, cold winds howl, and I long for a little sip of summer life.

In it, I make simple sketches--pen and ink, colored pencil, marker--nothing profound, but memorable in their creation if not their quality. By taking the 30 minutes necessary to create a sketch, I build myself a moment that is memorable--complete with smells and sounds--that I'll be able to revisit in those dark winter months. Summer in the garden will return more fully and more readily than if I'd just popped out to snap a quick photo.
Although I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to such "frivolous" old world pastimes, I do try to fit in a little of it, just to enrich my soul with something beyond the sheer work of gardening. Today's sign-off: happy creating!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sabbath Rest: The Garden as Metaphor

God made Nature quite adept at making her beauty without Man's assistance. She needs no help to offer a lovely world-view to any who pause long enough to look her handiwork.

But according to my Christian faith, man was nonetheless given the task of enhancing the beauty offered, to protect and "tend" as it is written.

This task of stewardship is a higher calling than many of today's city-dwellers consider it to be, especially as much called "nature" is relegated and contained--with all its potential for wildness virtually eliminated.

It is on these things that I ruminate as I consider this comment: I've been told I refer to my garden with the tenderness of a mother toward her small, helpless child, and so I've been thinking about why my garden is precious that way to me. I've come to the conclusions drawn above, but I also realize that it bears metaphoric significance in the language of my Creator, and this also is a large part of why I find it so mysteriously valuable.

The next couple of sabbath rest posts are dedicated to revealing that metaphoric value. Today's are from the Song of Songs, and reveal the intimate poetry of personal relationship that a beautiful garden can inspire.

Sgs 4:12 A garden inclosed [is] my sister, [my] spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

Sgs 4:16 Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, [that] the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

Sgs 5:1 I am come into my garden, my sister, [my] spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.

Sgs 6:2 My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

Sgs 6:11 I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, [and] to see whether the vine flourished, [and] the pomegranates budded.

Especially with all my work with herbs this week, I am deeply moved by these words of delight and satisfaction as they are derived from the garden. The aroma in my kitchen this week is heady, and coming full circle it is easy to see why these herbs and flowers make such an appearance in Scripture's love poetry: for the word Spirit in its Biblical context means breath. It's Hebrew definition is rather broad, leaving it open to describe much--from the wind of heaven to a vain and empty space of air. I strive to fill that air around me and within me with the aromas that are pleasing, both to me and to the one who gave me the seeds and soil for the growing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Season(ing)s Change

Summer time means enhancing marinades and salad vinegars by simply taking a few steps out the back door to pluck the appropriate herbs--an immediate offering of fresh seasoning. But, that season passes all too quickly, which means that even in the days of easy access to all that flavor, the gardener will make provisions for the days when the garden plot is under its blanket of winter straw. That's why gardening and canning go hand in hand.

But today is Saturday, and there are so many things to do on a Saturday this time of year. My garden visit is brief and perfunctory and the canner stays on the shelf. My kitchen eyes turn to lighter tasks: washing and setting chopped veggies to soak in a salt bath for later pickling, checking my drying seeds and packing the ready ones in marked envelopes for next year's planting, shaking the jars of herb vinegar and testing some of the drying herbs for storage. Fortunately, tending drying herbs is a quick and easy task, and as some are crunchy-dry, dry enough to store without risk of mold, I transferred them to jars as the last stage in prepping them for later use.

You can store dried herbs in any air-tight container. A zip-lock sandwich bag will do, but I like these mini-canning jars because you can use a sharpie to write the herb's name on the lid; and they make a pretty display on your canning shelf, although they'll retain flavor better if you crush the leaves minimally (until time to use them) and store them in a cool, dark place.

Preserving fresh herbs is an easy task, no matter whether you dry them or freeze them. I'm currently working with dried herbs, but I also have some dill and rosemary in my freezer. I've found freezing a better option if you want to make homemade potpourri with any of them--particularly rosemary--as the freezing process kills undesirables like aphids that might still be hiding in the herbs. After all, finding bugs in your potpourri somewhat destroys the ambiance you try to create by using it in the first place. In fact, as I searched for links to add related to preserving herbs, I found a lovely one on gift-making from your garden's fare. But I'll let it have a full post of its own soon. There were many energizing ideas there for the gift-giving part of my gardening soul; too many to simply relegate to a link.

In the mean time, here are a couple of links from about.com that give good pointers on both drying and freezing herbs from your garden.



And there you have it! Freshly dried herbs perched in tiny canning jars on the front edge of the canning shelf. As the season progresses, more herbs will join the shelf--some sage, lemon balm, and maybe a little marjoram soon. And, the jars already begun will grow fuller as more comes ready to store.

Today's benediction: happy seasoning!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'd Can It, Except I Didn't Grow the Truck-load the Recipe Requires...

What if this is a typical harvest on any given day this time of year in the smaller kitchen garden? Not enough of any one thing for canning, but too much of some things for straight consumption. Freezing whatever freezes well would be one option, but another is to use a canning recipes that calls for mixed veggies. I have a cookbook that offers such titles as End-of-the-Garden Pickles, Hot Pickle Mix, Mixed Pickles, and Rummage Relish, etc. All these use a mix of veggies and don't require a huge bounty of any one type of produce.

Today, I'm making a pickle mix called Mustard Pickles. I still have a few standard mixed pickle jars from last summer's garden and plenty of dill already canned this year, so I'm trying these for a change of pace.

Some recipes require a little advanced planning by the clock as the vegetables do a salt water soak for 12 to 18 hours. I chopped the veggies the evening before I canned these pickles and put them to soak in a salt water solution overnight. (Don't forget if you're trying this recipe, you want to use canning salt, or at least non-iodized salt for this step.)

The next day, I rinsed, drained and rinsed again. The veggies are ready to can. The recipe calls for one and a half pounds of sliced cucumbers, 1 quart of chopped green tomatoes, 3 cups of cauliflower (I didn't have any on hand so traded for zucchini), 3 cups of chopped green peppers, 3 cups of chopped red peppers, and 2 cups of chopped onions.

This recipe is the first I've made this summer with a thicker sauce. The sauce begins as a mix of dry ingredients: 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of turmeric. These are blended dry before adding 1/2 cup of prepared mustard and 5 cups of white vinegar to make the mustard yellow sauce you see below.
This sauce simmers until it is thick enough to just coat the spoon when you stir it. At this point, I add the veggies and simmer them for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the flour mix from sticking to the pan.

Notice the spoon rest I'm using. Pickle recipes that call for turmeric make a very effective yellow dye for counter tops. A little bleach wash takes it out, but don't be surprised if you have a very yellow kitchen as you get your pickles ready for the canner, at least if you're as flourishing a cook as I am. After the veggies have finished simmering in the sauce, they go into hot jars with 1/4 inch of headspace left. Don't forget to remove the air bubbles by running a thin plastic spatula around the inside of the jar before wiping the threads and applying the lids and rings.

The pickles then process in the canner for 10 minutes. One thing about the ones I made: they are a little heavy on the sauce. I didn't have quite enough veggies to make the 7-8 pints the recipe offered. I only made about 5, but used the full sauce recipe. You can use a slotted spoon to pack the veggies in jars and then ladle sauce over them after cooking if this happens. You may have sauce left over, but if you are close to the full requirement of veggies, then this is a better option than to try to cut all sauce ingredients by say 1/3. You might even choose to use the extra sauce for a more immediate use--say as a salad dressing for dinner, etc.--after it cools.

Pickles are on the sideboard, canner steam is dissipating. Another successful day of pickle-making is behind me, despite the fact that I only had half a dozen cucumbers on hand.

Today's sign-off: creative canning to you!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Balancing Act--Fighting Your Garden's Demons

Every season has its unique challenges, and "things" can go awry for even the most experienced gardeners. This year is no exception for me. Here are a few of my challenges during the height of this year's yield.

The lovely little flower you see above is a nasturtium. Every year, these dainty flowers have offered a biting addition to salads through their leaves, and an edible decoration for other dishes through their flowers. But more importantly, they serve as a preoccupation for aphids in the garden. This year, however, has been so hot and humid that nasturtiums have not fared so well, and I certainly see the signs of their absence in the aphids "second choice" for feeding!

Nevertheless, during this past week, a short break in the heat prompted this one little nasturtium plant to revive, making its presence known tucked between marigolds and lemon balm. What a sweet encouragement: that even in a year of tough conditions, it nevertheless makes an attempt to survive! Even if it isn't doing its more practical work of seducing aphids, I can appreciate its more subtle gift of simply trying to live and be lovely. Even if it can only afford to offer one blossom!

What other garden demon do I fight this year, besides the unusually hot weather? Mostly this one hides, so it is hard to capture his image. I caught him only once with the camera, but I've seen the evidence of him even on my back stoop where I tried to grow lettuce in better shade from the scorching sun. But instead of my enjoying that lettuce in a refreshing summer salad, he feasted on it--demolishing my hopes all in one night's work! While my fence keeps larger critters away from the garden, this little chipmunk runs the rails, making a mockery of that fence and exercises free reign within its borders. He's cute, but I can't allow him to steal my fall crop of lettuce and spinach. I could set a trap, but hate to do that. I'll try a circle of mothballs around the tender greens I'm planting now, the ones I really want him to ignore. The wafting fragrance of my garden may take a turn for the worse, but even one chipmunk's life is worth something!

Besides seasonal weather and wild beasties, the soil itself is proving to be troublesome. Tomatoes are not looking as pretty as earlier and are sometimes falling off the vine a bit too soon. Again, weather is a partially a culprit, as cracking is often a result of the soil getting overly dry between waterings. It may also be due to the fact that as I've pruned away the "leaf spot" troubled leaves, I've left too much of the fruit exposed to direct sunlight.

I'm starting my intervention by taking my eggshells and crushing them to powder in the cuisinart before turning them into the soil. Some authorities say it is too late for such a soil amendment to "uptake" into the plant where I need it to work, but I'll also make a run to the garden supply store and dedicate myself to a little side-dressing and mulch around them--something I should have thought to do sooner as I realized the heat might deplete moisture in the soil.

I'll add here a couple of websites for on-going tomato care:


In the meantime, I'll sit here on the back stoop and admire my cherry tomato plant, growing heartily in its planter. Sometimes, potted veggies have their advantages!

Gardening mid-summer is always a balancing act--and a great life lesson. As the struggle evolves through the height of the productive times, key intervention involves identifying the source of the trouble--whether it be external conditions, unwanted consumers of the plant's goods, or even the soil itself. Once identified, an appropriate course of action must be implemented. Finally, acceptance of the results (be what they may) and hope for the next season keep gardening a lifestyle rather than a short-lived venture into a potential hobby. Today my sign off wish is this: productive gardening to you!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sabbath Rest: Transfiguration

A few days ago, I was quite unsuccessful at getting a picture of the first large butterfly I'd seen in my garden this year. Today, however, they came in multiples and were happy to pose for me. They put my mind on transformation--as they are transfigured from a lowly caterpillar, through time in the cocoon stage, to their days as winged creatures.

Do they contemplate what they give up, what they gain?

This week's sabbath rest comes from Oswald Chambers writings in My Utmost for His Highest. It is an excerpt from a devotion entitled The Transfigured Life.

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17

What idea have you of the salvation of your soul? The experience of salvation means that in your actual life things are really altered, you no longer look at things as you used to; your desires are new, old things have lost their power. One of the touchstones of experience is--Has God altered the things that matter?

May the wisdom of the author and its representative, the butterfly, inspire you this week...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Garden Pilgrimage: Children's Farm at the State Fair

Friday was opening day at the Indiana State Fair and for the second time we as a family attended those first-day festivities. My garden helper and I visited a particularly fun farming exhibit that I thought might make a choice entry in our monthly garden pilgrimage.The exhibit was tucked behind the pioneer village area, where 1800's replica gardens are surrounded by maple syrup cabins, wood-working cabins, old-time tractor displays, period-dress players and the likes.

Behind all these, however, was the area called Little Hands on the Farm. That's what we're visiting with the blog today. We joined the line of parents and youngsters who waited to experience a day in the life: on the farm.

The first stop outfitted the kids with a farm apron and a pint-sized basket for use as they farmed.

As we left the entry station, a fun fence snuggled up against the path that led us to the farming stations.

The first couple of stops included feeding hogs and chickens and collecting eggs.

Then came planting time. Equipped with a hand trowel and seed--a plastic piece the size of a poker chip, each child buried a seed in the bare soil.

Miraculously, one step around the end of the fence brought them to harvesting. (Wouldn't it be nice if it were really that quick and easy?)

After spending time in the vegetable patch, each little farmer moved on to the orchard and picked an apple for his basket.

Next, he went to the sheep barn where he collected a little wool fluff for his basket.

The sun was a bit too bright to tell, but the basket is pretty full with its egg, veggies, apple and wool--all ready to go to market. But, we need to make one last stop...

What's a day on the farm without a visit to the dairy barn...

...and what's a visit to the dairy barn without milking a cow. I wonder if he'd be so lost in thought if it were a real cow.

Finally, farm work is finished. It's market-time.

Little farmers sort their produce into various bins, and then...

...visit the cashier for their big, green farm bucks.

Last stop in this day in the farmer's life: a visit to the grocery store where that farm buck will buy a "real" treat. My little farmer had a hard time deciding between a juice box and a cheese stick.

After all that fun on the farm, we went to find Dad and share the tale of our farming adventure. I hope, gardening reader, you had fun visiting a state fair, children's farm with us as August's garden pilgrimage. If you have young farmers in your life, I'd highly recommend checking your own state fair for a similar attraction. It's a rich experience for would-be farmers.

And in case you didn't notice, my garden helper chose the cheese stick over the juice box--probably the healthiest snack he had there all day!