Summer is upon us and the vegetable garden is in full swing. My pumpkins have taken over the garden space and the spaghetti squash is not far behind it. The kids and I are harvesting berries, green beans and squash every other day. I have […]
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?
A few days ago I posted about our strawberry picking and how we froze and dried the berries. We have been snacking on the dried berries all week and they are delicious! On top of drying and freezing our berries we also made two batches of strawberry jam. My husband and I love to make jam together so it took us a couple of days to coordinate our schedules so that we had enough time to finish. We kept the berries in the fridge and they were still delicious. You can store some varieties of berries such as Rainiers in the fridge for a few days before you make jam but others such as our favorites shuksans need to be processed as soon as they are picked. We had picked regular can be kept in the fridge strawberries so we had time to wait.
If you are new to jam making it is really important to do your research first. There are a bunch of awesome books and websites out there that walk you through the steps to process your canning jars safely and with minimal risk for spoilage. Some of my favorite are:
The Ball Book of Canning (The canning Bible)
There are many many more and a quick Google search can find you what you are looking for. We used the instructions that came in our box of Sure Jell Pectin for both batches but for the second batch we added a little bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice.
We wanted a “lower sugar” jam which you can do with strawberries but it still used 4 cups of sugar so don’t be fooled into thinking it is actually low in sugar, it just means you use less sugar to process it. Before you do any canning you have to make sure all of your jars, utensils and surfaces are clean and sterile. I always wipe down the counters and put a clean dry towel down to work on. We ran our canning jars and bands through the dish washer on the sterilize cycle. Before we placed our lids on our jars we put them into the boiling water for a few minutes to warm up the seals and kill any germs on them. We used the Kerr brand wide mouth jars and lids but any of the brands are fine. We just got a good deal on them so that is what we use.
The first thing we did was measure out and crush our strawberries. For the first batch we used a potato masher for chunky jam and the second batch we used an immersion blender to make a smoother jam.
Then we measured out our sugar and spit it into two bowls and added the pectin to one.
Next we put our crushed strawberries into a pot and added the first batch of sugar/pectin.
We stirred that up and brought it to a boil.
Then we added our second batch of sugar and brought it to a rolling boil again for one minute.
Then we quickly poured it into our jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space. We used this Ball canning kit I found at our local grocery store to make sure we had the correct amount of head space in the jars.
Yum! Chunky strawberry jam. We opted not to skim the foam off but many people like to do that so that their jars look prettier. We won’t be giving a lot of it away so for us it wasn’t a big deal.
Next we wiped the jars clean with a paper towel so that they would seal correctly.
Then we used the little magnet thing to put the lids on the jars without touching them and screwed on our bands to finger tight.
Next we made sure the water in our canning pot was fully boiling and then we added our jars, brought it to a boil again and left them in there for 10 minutes.
This year I broke down and bought the special tongs for pulling the jars out of the water and let me tell you they are amazing. I don’t know how we went without for so long. They make it so much easier and I wasn’t worried at all about the jars slipping so if you only buy one canning tool I highly recommend the jar grabbing tongs.
After our jars were processed we put them on another clean towel to cool. We check them the next morning and only one of ours did not seal so we will be eating it this week. I am not complaining, our jam turned out delicious!
We had a great time with our strawberries this week and I feel much better about eating our own jam rather than buying some in the store that may or may not have high fructose corn syrup. I am already thinking ahead to raspberry season in July and how much raspberry jam I will be eating. Raspberry is my favorite and Costco has been out for months. I fully plan on canning a bunch of raspberry so that we don’t run out this year!
What types of jam are you making this season?
Strawberry Jam by Sure Jell
Make your own strawberry jam!
- 12 cups whole strawberries (6 cups crushed)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 package Sure Jell Low Sugar Pectin
- Step 1 Use a dry measuring cup to measure exactly 12 cups of strawberries with the tops cut off.
- Step 2 Measure exactly 4 cups of sugar into a bowl.
- Step 3 Combine 1/4 cup of the sugar from the bowl with 1 package of Pectin in a small bowl.
- Step 4 Crush your strawberries and measure out 6 cups of crushed strawberries into a pot.
- Step 5 Add your sugar/pectin mixture and bring to a full boil on high heat, stirring constantly.
- Step 6 Stir in remaining sugar and return to a full boil. Boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Step 7 Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon if desired.
- Step 8 Immediately pour into prepared jars, filling within 1/4 inch from the top.
- Step 9 Wipe jar rims and threads, cover with lids and screw bands tightly.
- Step 10 Place jars into boiling water making sure they are covered with 1-2 inches of water.
- Step 11 Process for 10 minutes or adjust time based on Altitude.
- Step 12 After the jars are processed remove from the water and place on clean towels. Check the seals after the jars have cooled down.
- Step 13 Let jars stand at room temperature for 24 hours before storing in a cool dry place for up to a year.
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 […]
My daughter loves to play with baking soda and vinegar. She always helps me deodorize the garbage disposal by pouring the vinegar down the drain and making bubbles. Today my son got to watch and he was fascinated.
We were talking about how much she loved helping me and I remembered that last year she was obsessed with this activity I found on Pinterest (but unfortunately didn’t pin for some reason) where you put a bunch of baking soda in a dish and let the kids squirt different colors of vinegar on it to make a rainbow effect. My son was interested so I though I would let them out on the deck to play with some baking soda and vinegar for a bit. I opted not to use dye since I had no idea if my son would actually play with it or if he would decide just to dump everything out and I didn’t want to deal with dye in clothing today.
This activity is super simple. I just grabbed a couple of Tupperware containers, poured some baking soda in and leveled it, poured some vinegar into another Tupperware container and we were ready to go. I got my plastic eye droppers off of Amazon last year. They are super easy to clean and I ended up giving some to a friend since the 12 pack was more than we needed. Since they are plastic there was no worrying about the kids dropping them and breaking them. I just rinse them out in the sink and we are good to go.
The reaction goes pretty quick since the eye droppers don’t hold a lot of vinegar. My daughter loved to make patterns in the baking soda and systematically covered her available space. She is very focused when she works and it is always fascinating for me to watch her thought process.
My kids love bubbles so they had quite a bit of fun with it even without the dye. I am probably going to let them use a lighter color like yellow next time since my son was pretty good about it. It makes the bubbles much clearer and if you give them primary colors it can help teach them the color wheel.
My son always tries to figure everything out and if there are other possible ways of doing them. Part of his process today was grabbing a handful of baking soda and dumping it into the vinegar container. He was really pleased with the extra bubbles it produced! Most of his time was spent trying to scoop the baking soda with the eye dropper since he wasn’t quite able to squirt it with the vinegar.
We had some pretty patterns in the baking soda when we were done and the kids got to dump the rest of the vinegar into their baking soda containers which my daughter really loved to do! This baking soda and vinegar activity is one of the easiest and cheapest science experiments I have found to do with my kids. I buy baking soda and vinegar in bulk at Costco (maybe $10 total for both) and there is enough for hours and hours of bubble making fun. If you were really creative you could even fill a bottle with baking soda and a balloon with vinegar, mix them together and see how the balloon fills with gas. I may have to try that next time!