One of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest snacks I make my kids is dried banana chips. My son absolutely loves them! We buy a couple of bunches of bananas at Costco for $1.39, slice them up and put them into the dehydrator and at the […]
We have had a super busy summer and I was really bummed that we missed the July blueberry picking season. Our bushes are only a couple of years old and don’t produce anywhere near enough berries for us to freeze. They were eagerly eaten every day by the kids with very few to spare. I was super excited to hear from another mom at gymnastics that there was a local U-pick farm that still had blueberries! We cancelled our plans to try an easy hike with the kids and headed out to pick as many blueberries as we could manage.
The farm we went to was super close and I am really glad I found it because the blueberries were delicious! My blueberry hating husband even liked them and actually ate a few. The kids of course ate themselves silly and enjoyed every moment of it!
We grabbed a couple of smaller buckets and one gigantic 5 gallon bucket to consolidate our berries into. It was a pretty hot day and we were worried about the kids overheating so we picked at lightening speed. Luckily blueberries are much easier to pick than raspberries or strawberries because you do not have to be super careful about placing them into your container. I just placed my bucket underneath a large blueberry covered branch and let them fall into the bucket as I massaged them off of the branches. It took us less than an hour to fill our five gallon bucket with over 20 pounds of blueberries!
The biggest issue we had was the fear of losing one or both of the kids. The bushes were overgrown and touching each other in many places so you could not see down the rows at all. We split up with one kid each and made the kids wear their hats for both eye protection and visibility. I highly advise buying your kids neon hats and jackets so you can easily pick them out in a crowd of people or when you are outside with them. It was really easy to keep track of my son’s bright orange Tigger hat even when I couldn’t see the rest of him.
I don’t remember what type of blueberry we picked but they were not organic (which I found out later on). Next time we will try and find an organic blueberry farm to pick from or I will see if the farm we went to has some that are organic. There were tons of them on the bushes though and we did not have to walk very far to pick all that we needed.
We did however come home with two half flats of berries and I am super excited to eat them this winter!
I immediately started freezing our berries in batches on a cookie sheet. We froze about three gallons total and I still have a half flat left. We have made blueberry jam in the past but we typically do not eat enough of it so we decided not to this year. We also have tons of raspberry jam which will be plenty of jam for us!
All week we have been eating blueberries on our cereal and our ice cream and the kids and I absolutely love it! We haven’t decided what to do with the rest of the berries yet and we may try to dry some of them in the dehydrator but I am really hoping my husband will make his famous blueberry peach pie!
Did you pick blueberries this year? What are some of the ways you prepared them?
We have had a busy week in the garden! Lots of flowers are in bloom and we spent many hours pulling ivy along the property lines in anticipation of our fence measure this week. We are very close to being done with the fence line and once that is done we will start clearing the center of our fenced area. I am really excited to finally be able to use our back yard. That ivy has been staring me in the face for almost two years. Once it is out we will be able to start working on landscaping the back and possibly adding our chickens.
North property line before ivy removal.
North property line after ivy removal. We took out a 3-4 foot buffer so that the fence company could measure. We don’t have room in the yard waste for the massive amounts of ivy we removed so we moved it towards the middle of the ivy patch where it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. Next week I am doubling our yard waste pickup so that we can fill up two toters every week. That may still take us all summer to slowly add it but it is our best option at the moment.
View of the north property line from the bottom of the hill. The slope is moderately steep here. There was also quite a bit of native blackberry mixed in with the ivy and I am looking forward to checking it later in the summer for berries. There is a huge patch of it on the slope below my neighbor’s house on the public part of the ravine.
We also spent some time removing ivy in the south east corner. This area is behind a landscaped section and was pretty jungle like. I found a large amount of holly back here which I am pretty bummed about. It looks like the previous owners chopped down a pretty big holly tree at one point but left the stump which promptly sent out dozens of runners. I am not excited to remove them. We also cut down some of the lower hanging branches on the hemlock trees in this area since they would have interfered with the fence and were pretty dead looking. I did not get a picture of those before the light gave out but it looks much better.
In the ivy jungle I found an abandoned bird nest. It was pretty cool to find it and I am really glad the birds weren’t using it any more. One of the reasons we are pulling ivy out is because it provides shelter for rats to live in. I do not want to encourage them to live near our house, especially if we get chickens. The ivy behind our house has seriously damaged several large trees and needs to be pulled down so that the trees can recover and not fall on our house in a windstorm. English Ivy is nasty stuff and it will take many years to remove it from our yard but many of our neighbors have neglected their large trees and I am really concerned several will come down in the future.
In anticipation of a new fence we cut some of the lower branches off of one of our hemlock trees. They were starting to grow over our path down to the ravine and parts of them were very dead looking. Basically they were hair-pulling spider havens so they had to go. We were told last summer that we should cut some of them out to allow more light into the back yard and quoted $500-600 for them to come out and remove them. It took my husband 30 minutes with a ladder and our tiny chain saw to cut four or so branches down and open up the pathway. He spent a little bit longer cutting up the branches a bit and burning some of the smaller ones but we do that sort of thing after every winter storm so it wasn’t a big deal. It really goes to show that if you have a little know how and a willingness to work you can save a ton of money doing as much as you can by yourself. I grew up cutting down trees and clearing land and I am really enjoying working out on ours. We will have to hire someone to remove trees since they are so close to the house but we can definitely handle the smaller stuff!
On a more positive note our gigantic hydrangea bushes are in full bloom. They are absolutely gorgeous. I love hydrangeas and I am really glad our house has such beautiful ones!
Some of our other plants are finally blooming. Our butterfly bush has a few blossoms and the fuchsias are just starting to flower. I am really glad the flowers are coming out because I am having a problem getting my squash flowers pollinated.
Because my vegetables aren’t getting pollinated very well I went out and bought some lavender plants to put next to the vegetable garden. I am going to take out our boxwood hedge and make a lavender hedge instead. I am hoping that will solve my squash problem.
My daughter also wanted me to take some pictures of her fairy garden. It is growing very well. Everything is blooming and growing fast. I may have to talk her into moving it to a larger pot next year. She checks on it every day and we talk about how the flowers are doing. It is really sweet to see her take ownership of her plants and care for them so well.
Our fruit garden is doing well. The apples are growing and looking very healthy. We have been picking a handful of raspberries and blueberries every day. Thanks to my kids they never make it inside but they have a lot of fun picking them and eating them. My son is not a fruit person but he will eat fruit from our garden!
Our tomatoes still have a few fruits on them. Many of the other gardeners in my local community are having trouble growing tomatoes this year. Last year we had such a bumper crop I am not surprised. We had way too many tomatoes last year so having way fewer is totally ok with me.
My sunflowers were doing so poorly after being attacked by slugs that I went out and bought a dwarf sunflower to plant near the squash. I am hoping it will attract some bees as well as grow enough so that we can get a few seeds from it. Of course after I planted it my other sunflowers started taking off but that is ok. They are nowhere near close to blooming so I think it will help to have them blooming at different times.
I have one large yellow zucchini but there are also now some smaller ones so I have a little hope! The new ones happened after I planted the sunflowers and bought the lavender and I can’t tell if they have been pollinated yet but keep your fingers crossed!
There are two spaghetti squash out in the garden and this one is getting pretty big. It is about the length of my hand right now and it has doubled in size over the past few days. I love spaghetti squash so I am really excited about this one!
There are a few female pumpkin flowers. Most of them shrivel up shortly after blooming. This one was closed mid-day so I am hoping it has been pollinated. I tried hand pollinating another one so that we will get at least one pumpkin this year. Hopefully it worked!
My squash are completely taking over my beds. I have had to corral the pumpkin ones several times. They keep trying to escape to the neighbor’s yard. I honestly didn’t think many of them would grow so next year I will know and plant only a couple of them.
Our bush bean plants are doing very well. They just started flowering and I did see a couple of bees on them this morning so we should get at least a few beans out of them.
Our green beans are still struggling. They were pretty eaten up by slugs but are recovering. I need to put some netting over our bamboo poles to help them climb. I changed the watering system around a bit so that they are getting more water and they seem to be doing better now.
Our freeloading ground cherries are thriving despite being stepped on almost daily. A few of them even have a few fruits on them so we are excited to eat some and see if they taste as good as last year’s.
The carrots have finally started taking off. They have really been putting out a lot of greens and I am excited to try drying the greens this year to add to recipes. I found this excellent article on A Modern Homestead that details how to use carrot greens in your cooking. I am really excited to try some of her ideas!
Whew. A lot went on in our garden this week! I am really excited that our vegetables are starting to take off and hoping to start harvesting some of the squash this week. We will be spending a bunch more time on ivy removal and clearing up what we can from the back yard. I am already thinking about projects for next year and what we will do differently in the vegetable garden.
What is happening in your garden this week?
When my husband and I first started really looking into our food many years ago one of the first things we looked at was high fructose corn syrup. We discovered it was really difficult to buy jam without out it so we decided to try making our own. Since we lived in a townhouse with no yard we became huge fans of U-pick farms. For a few years we would make the trek out to the farm, pick a bunch of berries and then bring them home to freeze, make jam and sometimes dry them. We stopped making jam about the time we had our second child because life got busy and we started to stray from trying to be more self-sufficient. When we had our third child we strayed even farther and a few months ago I realized although we were cooking a lot of our own food still, processed foods had crept back into our diet. Our garden is still young and we do not have a lot of mature berry plants so this year I was determined to make all of the major U-pick seasons (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and apples).
Last weekend we went strawberry picking with the younger kids and we had a lot of fun! The key is to go after a few sunny days so the berries are sweeter and early enough in the day that the fields are not so hot that you are miserable in the sun. Our three year old is a total foodie and has inherited my love of fruit so she spent most of her time eating everything she picked. Our son will not eat fruit unless it is cooked in something or comes in pouch form so he wandered around telling me about the plants and watching all of the people. It was great because both kids had fun in their own way and my husband and I were able to pick a couple of flats in a relatively short amount of time.
The farm we went to had a little play area with shaved ice so after we picked our berries we ate a snack and some shaved ice. The kids ran around and played some more which guaranteed a nap for the youngest in the car on the way home. It was a great way to spend the morning as a family. We are also firm believers in involving our kids in the whole food/cooking process so it was great to have them help with picking berries. It was still relatively early in the season so the strawberry plants were very full of berries which made picking faster and easier than in the past when we have gone towards the end of the season.
The first thing I did when we got home was slice up our berries and fill the dehydrator. Dehydrated berries need to be very fresh and blemish free so the sooner you get them in the dehydrator the better. It also takes 8-12 hours (or more) so make sure you time it so you aren’t having to wake up in the middle of the night to pull them out. For a long time we used a small dehydrator with a top fan that had been passed down from many people and worked okay but last fall my Dad bought me an Excalibur dehydrator for my birthday and this was my first time using it. Man, there was a huge difference. My fruit was much more evenly dehydrated and having a temperature setting with a timer seemed extra luxurious. I even forgot to rotate the trays until well into the process and they still came out very evenly dry. Our old one you had to rotate every two hours and it still ended up taking way longer to dry out the food no where near as even. I highly recommend saving up for the Excalibur it was a completely different experience for me this time around. I really wish I had bought the fruit leather trays so I could have made fruit leather as well but maybe next time. There is also a dehydrator cookbook that I would like to try as well.
Our strawberries came out of the dehydrator while our kids were eating breakfast. It is important to check that they are dry before you put them into long term storage so that they do not develop mold over time. My kids were hungry so I just put the not so dry ones into a small glass dish for them to eat and honestly they did not last until lunchtime since everyone was snacking on them. My son actually ate a few pieces of dried strawberries which was a huge win! I made 5 trays of berries and it filled about 1/3 of a gallon Ziploc bag. We are not huge eaters of dried fruit so it will be enough for us.
While the fruit was drying I cut the tops off of more strawberries and placed them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. We freeze them this way so that we can take a few out as needed for smoothies. I leave them in there for a few hours then transfer them to a gallon Ziploc bag. We probably need three gallons of frozen strawberries to last us a year but we simply did not pick enough berries for that this year. I froze two trays of berries and it made 1 1/3 gallons of frozen berries. Next year I think we will pick 3, maybe 4 flats of berries so that we have enough to freeze three gallons and make some fruit leather. It is always a learning process and I am really glad we are figuring out the kinks so that in the future we can know how much we will need.
My kids love smoothies so we have already eaten quite a few of our frozen berries and they were delicious! With all of the recalls on frozen food I am really glad we have some berries stashed away for future use! About a year ago when Costco had most of their frozen veggies recalled I had to completely change how we bought our vegetables since we eat a lot of frozen peas, green beans and corn. Every year I want to add to what we grow ourselves so we will no longer be reliant on store bought fruits and vegetables. Stay tuned for our next post in the series about the delicious jam we made from our strawberries!
What foods are you replacing with your garden this year?