We have had some excitement in the garden this week. Our plants are continuing to grow super fast from our week of excellent sun and we harvested our first few strawberries. I got some more seedlings planted and we spent quite a bit of time […]
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?
The weather has been cooperative so we made a huge amount of progress in the garden this week! Everything has been growing like crazy and most of the fruits are blooming which makes me very excited! My gigantic hydrangeas are almost all the way leafed out and there are the beginnings of blossoms on them and I can’t wait for them to be in full bloom. This weekend I tried to go to the plant sale to buy a ground cherry for our daughter but our son fell asleep while I was trying to find parking so I ended up just heading home and moving a bunch of plants out of our vegetable garden. Hopefully our mother-in-law will pull through and get us one from her friend because we tried finding them at Home Depot where we saw them last weekend and they were out. Maybe our daughter won’t notice if we don’t have them this year since we have so much else going on in the garden.
I spent some time moving smaller plants around in the front bed. I moved two succulents closer to the street in preparation for the fence going in and transplanted two flowers from the vegetable bed. I still have a couple of plants to move in this bed to make room for the fence but I don’t know where to put them yet. I might dig up some of the grass along the gravel strip and put them there but I haven’t decided.
I couldn’t really get a good before picture of the vegetable bed and show all of the plants since the one is gigantic, but I removed another butterfly bush (gave it to my mom) and shuffled the large bush and two white butterfly bushes down to the south side hill where friends dug up other plants last week. The move will be temporary since I will be eventually redoing the side yard but I don’t know exactly what to do with them yet so they will be there for at least a year, probably closer to two or three before they are moved again.
We also started to put our pest control fence in around the vegetable bed. We bought it at Home Depot and buried it a little bit around the edges just in case.
My husband tackled the big bush. It was pretty deep in there and had a huge root ball. I moved it to a dubious spot since the soil on the hill seems to be very shallow, much shallower than where we took the bush from. We have several of these bushes and they are pretty but they need to be trimmed back every month or so otherwise they take up way too much space. I just don’t have that sort of time with little kids right now so I am trying to pass them along to other people.
It got dark before I could take a really good after picture but basically there is a gigantic hole where the bush was removed that we will be filling in at some point in the next week or so. I am going to plant a bean house in that corner for the kids to play in while I garden. They will love it!
While I was out and about in the garden I took some pictures of what our plants are doing. All of the fruit trees, bushes and plants are blooming and our outdoor seed starts are doing well. Now that the vegetable bed is cleared out I am going to try to get everything into the ground this week and keep it protected from pests. Phew.
I am particularly pleased with our lettuce starts and strawberry tower. Most of the strawberry plants are growing and blooming and they will be fun for the kids to pick when they are ripe.
Our one potted tomato is doing well and has grown quite a bit. I need to get the other two into pots this week and plant our remaining hardened off seed starts. I still don’t know where to put the Hula berries but I need to decide this week.
Here are some of the flowers coming up along our walkway and my daughter’s fairy garden. Some of her flowers are past their prime but her hens and chicks are starting to spread out a bit. This pot is her responsibility and she loves to water it and take care of it. I may show her how to pinch back the dead flowers this week but I have to do it when our son is occupied so he doesn’t run over there on his own and “help”.
The remaining strawberries I planted on the slope are very healthy and growing super fast.
Our chocolate mint plant is spreading like a weed. We thought we had killed it last winter but it resprouted this spring and is doing it’s job of soil control on the slope opposite the strawberries.
We had a great time working in the yard this week! Hopefully by next week all of our vegetables will be in the ground and I will be able to get to the badly needed mulching and pruning!
What is going on in your garden this week?
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 […]
We are a bit late starting seeds this year. We have been dealing with back to back sickness for months and a lot of our projects have been pushed aside. Last week I started some watermelons, sunflowers, pumpkins and ground cherries. Next week I am going to add broccoli, lettuce varieties and maybe peas but I think it might still be too early for that. We have not had luck starting tomatoes on our own so we buy the starts at Costco and sometimes local plant sales hosted by garden clubs. We have had super healthy tomato plants from Costco both years we bought them there and last year we grew way more tomatoes than we could eat.
I thought I would post a few photos of my setup. We luckily have a laundry room with a shelf where we are able to place seed trays and a light. We bought the Fluorescent 4-Tube Fixture from Amazon. It is 4 feet long so it covers a lot of space for seeds and we used hangers similar to the Elfin Growth 1/8″ Adjustable-Height Grow Light Fixture Ratchet Hangers to hang it from the ceiling. It is super convenient to adjust the height of the light all the way up when we aren’t using it. I get my laundry shelf back in the off season!
As you can see we use the red cup method for starting our seeds. We bought a gigantic pack from Costco and cut 3 small holes in the bottom of the cups with kitchen shears, fill them with good soil, add a layer of seed starter to the top and plant our seeds. This allows us to water the seeds from below and prevent any molds or fungi from growing on too damp plants. I have thought about using toilet paper rolls to start my seeds, and I may try it later this year with my beans and peas. My kids constantly play with the used cups after I plant the seeds. They love to fill them with dirt or water and dump it out.
The brown and green containers are ones that have been floating around in our garage for many, many years. I found them while cleaning and instead of throwing them out (they are seriously older than my teenager) I decided to repurpose them for seed starting and they are the perfect height. You can also use long shallow containers such as these Sterilite 32 Quart/30 Liter ClearView Latch Box but any container that holds water and isn’t taller than your cups will work. You might even be able to find something at a thrift store. I was in a hurry when I planted these so my handwriting is pretty illegible on the sticks but I can read them and that is all that counts right?
So far my sunflower and pumpkin seeds have sprouted. The sunflower seeds are growing fast and will soon be too tall for the light so I may have to move them a bit. Last year I started them outside but they were immediately eaten after sprouting so I thought I would try inside this year. We are still new to this whole growing things in our yard. Last year we discovered we have a huge slug problem and some sort of animal that is eating our seedlings. We are going to try hardware cloth this year and see if that helps.
I am excited to grow more of our food this year! I will keep updating our garden progress as projects get completed.