We have been trying to eat both healthier and cheaper in our house and besides beans one of the ways I have been trying to do that is to add more squash into our diet. I love squash. I am really excited about our zucchini […]
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?
My husband has wanted a fire pit ever since I can remember and once we moved into our house we knew we would get one. Last year we never got around to it but a few days ago we decided to take the plunge. We ordered it from Amazon when they were having a lightening deal on it so it was a decent price. It called a Solo Stove and is supposed to cut way down on the amount of smoke it releases. The fire pit can also be used on a deck without damaging it which is nice since our deck takes up most of the flat area in our yard. Just to be safe we put our heat shield from the grill underneath it and aside from the gigantic spider that went running there was no damage to our deck.
The little kids loved playing with it while they were waiting for dinner. They kept stacking the wood and moving it all about which was hilarious. Our son loves anything mechanical so he spent a lot of time trying to figure out the wood holder and how the fire pit was put together. Our three year old “pealed” the wood for us and rearranged it so that it was just so. It was great fun and luckily they understood (mostly) when we lit it on fire that it was hot and they were not to go near it. We still had a grown up watching them at all times once it was lit since you can’t ever be careful enough with little kids and fire.
The wood we used was from extra large branches that fell during the first major wind storm we had in our new house about a month after we moved in. We cut the larger branches up and stacked them and they worked pretty well for our fire pit. Most of my neighbors sent their branches to the yard waste bin but I was in the back yard super excited about all the free wood we got. My husband probably thought I was slightly nuts being out there pregnant and insisting he cut the branches into manageable pieces instead of throwing it into the bin but my mind was on how we could use it later. The branches were a good size and burned for just the right amount of time we needed so it worked well plus we didn’t have to spend a bunch of money buying fire wood. If you have a place to burn it is a good idea to keep some wood around for emergencies. We lost power for a couple of days our first winter and it would have been really nice to have some seasoned wood to burn in our fireplace to keep the house semi-warm. Luckily my mother-in-law had power so we were able to hang out there once the house got too cold.
My husband lit it with some fat wood and we were ready to go. We shut the slider to keep the kids off the deck, ate dinner and then the fire was perfect for S’mores. Our kids love S’mores (and we do too). There is something magical about them. My childhood is filled with memories of being promised S’mores after a long day of working in the woods but somehow they rarely materialized. My husband and I are all about creating family memories and having a great time with the kids and I could never imagine promising something like that and then never following through.
I found these jumbo marshmallows at Target and some dark chocolate that is dairy-free for our daughter. Our son was given a chocolate free S’more so that he would definitely sleep tonight. Ha ha, I wonder how long that will work before he realizes he is the only one without chocolate. The jumbo marshmallows worked ok but they really were too big for our fire since it burned pretty hot while we were making them.
Somewhere in our house are some long skewers we bought many, many years ago to roast hot dogs in our fireplace at the townhouse during a power outage but they got lost in the move. Hopefully we can find them when we get some more cleaning in the garage done. We still have quite a few boxes that we are slowly sorting and unpacking. I would highly recommend not moving in a crazy disjointed manner while one of you is pregnant since it becomes impossible to pack properly for a three week close on the house you are selling with items being stored at 4 different locations while you live at your mother-in-law’s house during the closing of the house you are purchasing. Whew. It was enough stress to make me never want to move again.
There is some debate about the proper way to cook a S’more marshmallow but I fall firmly in the light it on fire camp. I love a little char on my marshmallows with a gooey center. Delicious!
The fire died down in about 2 hours from when we lit it. We did not add any wood to it and it ended up being the perfect amount of time for us. We got a chance to hang out on the deck as a family for a bit while the kids ate their S’mores and by the time they were ready for bath it had mostly died out.
We had a great time tonight and we are looking forward to a full summer of S’mores and chilling around the fire pit. Now off to buy hot dogs for tomorrow night!
We recently had to switch to a dairy-free lifestyle in an effort to see if our younger kids have a sensitivity that is causing them some serious sinus problems. I was having a hard time finding granola bars for our kids that were dairy free, […]
We have finally been able to make some progress on our garden this week. Our pumpkin and sunflower seedlings are growing well and are almost ready for hardening off and transplant. I checked this morning and the watermelon seedlings are just starting to peek through the soil. Our ground cherries have yet to sprout but I was not able to get them to germinate last year either so I will probably buy seed starts again this year at a local plant sale. If you can I highly recommend buying plants from your local Master Gardeners group. You can just google “Master Gardeners” with your city and find a local club. Many put on plant sale which allows you to buy locally and also gives you a chance to talk to a gardener with experience growing the crop you are buying in your particular area.
Last night after nap time I was able to plant the strawberries I received from my local buy nothing group and plant lettuce, zucchini, spaghetti squash, luffa, gourds and cucumbers seeds. I used this planter we bought off of Amazon for the strawberries and lettuce. I put strawberries in the lower layers and lettuce in the top two. I wanted to save some of the strawberries to plant along the slope I want to keep from eroding.
We bought our potting soil from Costco and our local nursery. For the seeds I used mostly potting soil and then added about 1/4-1/2 inch of seed starter to the tops of the cups.
Our current seed starting method is to use red cups with three holes cut out of the bottom (you can just use kitchen shears) purchased at Costco in a low waterproof container. Since I was planting so many seeds I used this sterilite container with 20 cups. This still left room on the side to add water to the bottom for a passive watering system.
I added about a 1/2 inch of water to the bottom and let it sit while I planted the strawberries and lettuce.
I did have to refill it again since the soil was pretty dry. After I refilled it I poked two seeds into each cup and labeled them with wooden sticks. I bought ours at a local craft store but mine are almost gone so I will be ordering a gigantic pack from Amazon pretty soon. You can use anything you want to label your seeds and since I didn’t use a waterproof pen to label mine I will probably be able to wash them and use them again. Since I did not have enough sticks to label all of my cups I just labeled the first row of each. Hopefully I won’t mix the cups up…
Here are the seeds I used. They are just regular seeds bought from the grocery store except I ordered Luffa and gourd seeds from the Burpee website. They had a free shipping special on seeds and I did not have time to look around for luffa seeds since they are not common. I have this idea that we will grow our own luffa sponges and make bird houses out of the gourds but I have no idea if they will actually grow so it will be a fun experiment.
I rearranged our seed shelf in the laundry room so that the new seeds would fit, sprayed the tops of the new cups with water so that the seed starter would not dry out and let them bask in the glow of the light. All of them should germinate in 7-14 days and I am excited for them to come up!
A close up of the seed cups. The lack of waterproof marker caused the writing to run when I sprayed them with water but I can still read them so we are all good.
Today we spent some family time in the garden getting it ready for our seed starts and doing general clean up. We live in a heavily treed area and there is a constant need for leaf blowing. Here is the area where we are planting most of our vegetables. The previous planter from last year has had it’s soil turned over and I weeded and raked the area where the new planter box will go.
We bought our planter box off of Amazon. It is a little smaller than I pictured but you can add another one on top of it to make it deeper. We will probably buy another one to add to the top next year. It was super easy to assemble and our kids loved helping with it.
We placed the second one slightly farther away from the driveway so that we have a bit more space. I may plant our sunflowers along the driveway since I don’t want them shading out our planter boxes but I haven’t decided yet. We will add dirt sometime in the next couple of weeks when we can borrow a truck to haul it.
I am really happy with our progress in the garden this week. Next week we are planting our tomato starts we got from Costco and looking at adding our seed starts to the garden. I also need to direct sow our carrots and install a pest management fence around the vegetable garden which we can hopefully complete in the next couple of weeks.
What do you have going on in your garden this week?