We are about 10 months into dealing with Covid and things don’t seem to be letting up any time soon. I was looking back over pictures from the year today and I was struck by how sudden everything was last Feb/March when everything shut down. […]
As the nights get cooler and the days shorter our summer 2020 garden is winding down for fall. This summer our vegetable garden stepped up a notch and I planted way more than previous years. We also had a huge pest problem with rodents, ants, […]
This year is the first one in a while I have been excited about my garden. Working from home for the past few months due to the Corona virus has greatly reduced my commute time from 3-4 hours a day to nothing and this means that after work I put on my garden clothes and take the kids outside for some sunshine. My workplace is closed for until the fall and even then they are only allowing a few people in the office and things are up in the air as far as going back to school so I have planned an ambitious vegetable garden this year.
I started out this spring with sprucing up our front garden bed. We share part of it with our neighbors and our side needed a bunch of work. Every fall/winter I am good about cutting our monster hydrangeas back so that was taken care of this year. They grow so much over the summer that if I don’t cut them they will cover most of the garden bed! In late February and early March I pruned back the sword ferns, redid the edging, weeded aggressively, pulled out a bunch of salmon berry and then mulched the whole thing with a thick coat from the stuff that has been hanging out on our driveway for far longer than I would like to admit. The mulch is not super great quality but I needed something to make it look more uniform. The front bed looks fabulous and it was so uniform at first that people were walking in it as if it was empty so our asparagus was slightly trampled this year and we did not get more than a few spears before I decided to let it grow. We have since installed a small fence where the asparagus is and I am hoping that will keep people and dogs out of it in the future.
I was a little bit late starting my seeds this year. I am not the only one upping their gardening game and many of the seeds I wanted were on backorder or were out at the first couple of places I looked. I ended up ordering from Territorial Seed Company and they took a while to get here but the quality was fabulous and we had a very successful germination rate so l ended up ordering way more seeds later on for my fall gardening. For the spring I planted Napa cabbage, two different green cabbages, a red cabbage, bush peas, pole peas, pole beans, lettuce, spinach, potatoes (from a bag in the pantry), watermelon, cucumber and several varieties of squash.
I may have planted too many potatoes. I planted a bunch early from a bag in our pantry that had started to sprout. A couple of weeks later I noticed squirrel holes all over the bed so I planted more, and some in another part of the garden. Then a couple of weeks after that I replanted more potatoes to fill in even more squirrel dug holes and planted some potatoes into the potato bags I found in the garage and we somehow ended up with about 20 plants which is way more than I wanted. I keep running out of soil so I have not been great about mounding dirt up around the potatoes but if things go ok we should have enough potatoes to last us a little bit. My kids don’t really like potatoes except when they are made a couple of ways so I may end up donating some of them to the local free pantry if we have too many.
This year I decided to put our plants into garden beds instead of directly into the ground. Our soil is not that great and I wanted to mulch around the beds to create a path and reduce the mud. In the past I planted directly into the ground with squash varieties but since we are doing more than squash this year we got some raised beds off of Amazon. We bought three total and used some landscape fabric underneath to reduce the weeds. Our older beds need a soil refresh and but I discovered that after I had done some planting so one of my plans for next fall is to add a bunch of soil and plant some cover crops for the older beds.
Over Mother’s Day weekend the family got together and planted some seed starts from the store of tomatoes, pumpkins and cantaloupe as well as the Brussels sprouts and artichokes I started in March. I should have planted the seeds I started earlier but honestly I ran out of space in my main vegetable garden and we had to buy both containers and more soil. We had some issues transplanting two of the pumpkins and the cantaloupe and as of right now our cantaloupe won’t make it and the pumpkins might recover. In order to use up more of the empty space in the tomato planters I also sprinkled some lettuce seeds in there and so far we have a few plants coming up.
One part of our garden that is thriving is the cabbage bed. I totally over planted this one with nine or ten cabbages but they are doing great. These seeds were started around the 14th of April and most of them should be ready to eat around the first week of July. This year I got smart and I wrote the day I planted them and the days to maturity from the package on the popsicle stick labels. I already have another set of seeds planted under these ones so we shall see if those do ok with the larger cabbages in there as well. If not, I plan on starting more seeds indoors with our grow light just in case although I have heard that Napa cabbage will bolt when the weather turns so I may try something else here over the heat of the summer. Cabbages are just starting to form and it is really cool to see. I have not grown cabbages before and honestly I didn’t do any research ahead of time but I view the garden as a gigantic experiment so if these don’t work out I will have a better idea for next year.
We have always had good luck with zucchini and yellow squash in our garden. This year is no exception. This bed has three zucchini plants in it as well as some bee attracting flowers. They are probably too close together but that was not a problem for us last year and we fertilized this soil so there is plenty of nutrients. Our male flowers are already blooming but I have not seen any female flowers yet. We have about 8 total squash plants so I am sure we won’t have any issues with pollination. Usually we do three or 4 plants and it has never been an issue for us. We have a really healthy bee population which helps tremendously.
We have been harvesting quite a few strawberries off of the plant I threw into a pot a couple of years ago. For some reason it does really well in the spot that it is in and has strawberries on it weeks ahead of our actual strawberry plot. I think this spot is more sunny than the other and even though the bees have been pollinating away in our main strawberry bed the berries are still super immature and won’t be ripe for another week or two.
One fun thing we tried this year was releasing ladybugs into the garden. I ordered them from Territorial Seeds a couple of weeks ago along with my fall planting seeds and some garlic starts that will ship in September. My kids were a little scared of the lady bugs at first but by the end of it they were picking them up gently and letting them crawl around for a bit before asking for the grownups to remove them. We will definitely be doing this again next year or maybe even later on this summer since we had such a good time. I would have loved to do praying mantises as well but everywhere was out so we haven’t yet. Ladybugs only stick around long enough to lay some eggs and then they move on to the next area. I am hoping in a few weeks we will have lots of little lady bug larva crawling around eating up any aphids on our plants. So far the weather in the PNW has been mostly gloomy and wet and I haven’t seen many aphids but I know that as soon as it warms up a bit we will start to see them more.
We are having a great time in the garden this year and hopefully in a few weeks we will be able to start eating most of our vegetables out of the garden instead of buying them at the store. Below are some resources for your garden with no affiliate links, just sites we have used and liked. Happy gardening!
About eight months ago I took a break from blogging. There were many reasons, the most pressing being a complete utter lack of time while trying to maintain balance with both Mr. Oscoey and I working full-time with small kids. To say it was difficult […]
Indoor Seed Starting Time It is that time of year again when I start to think about what seeds I need to start indoors. This is our third year gardening at our house and the second year for us starting seeds indoors. Last year […]
Well dear readers, week 2 of the Uber Frugal Month Challenge went off the rails a little bit. We had a busy week with sick kids and another family member was ill so I have not done the last 4 or 5 daily tasks from the UFM challenge. I skimmed the emails, but I did not have time to go through and read all of the articles. My goal this week is to catch back up on the reading and sit down with my husband and talk some more about the challenge and complete our tasks.
We did a decent job at keeping our spending down this week. We ran out of coffee though so I had to make a quick trip to Costco (our favorite place to shop) to pick some up. In an effort to prevent a second trip over the weekend I spent some time looking over our supplies and made a bare bones list. Although it may look like we bought a ton, we were basically out of everything. I bought three bunches of bananas so I can replenish our dried banana chip supply (recipe here), raisins (sometimes the only fruit my picky eater will eat), greens, gluten-free bread, fresh fruit, peanuts (a great protein snack), applesauce pouches for lunches and of course diapers. I also bought some vitamin D since we are almost out and they were on sale. I was hoping to buy some pears to make pear sauce out of in a couple of weeks but they were out. The only “extra” I bought was the broccoli and that was only because my son insisted on buying it and who can say no to a kid that wants broccoli?
We did end up having to stop at the store over the weekend to pick up some vegan cheese for the kids and their milk was on sale so we grabbed a bottle of that as well. Our splurge purchase of the week was a pack of popsicles ($4.00) that we ended up getting for the kids. They have been basically sick for three weeks straight and we have been making popsicles out of the juice we have on hand that they never drink but our kids rebelled and we gave in and bought them “real” popsicles. Sometimes you just have to give in to your kids when they are sick so they will get enough fluids. We ended up spending about $145 on groceries for the week but that included high ticket items such as diapers, vitamins and coffee so we did pretty good. We are still under our grocery budget for the month and we should be able to avoid buying groceries for at least another week (although as I was typing this my husband informed me we are almost out of toilet paper).
I will say that you should make your own applesauce and put it in reusable pouches if you can. It is super easy and homemade applesauce tastes so much better (here is my pear sauce recipe). I usually have a supply of both apple and pear sauce in my freezer as well as some in jars in the pantry but this year was not a good year for apples and my usual source of free apples had none to spare. We were super busy this fall with back to school shenanigans and applesauce making did not happen. Needless to say I am not happy about our applesauce pouch habit but sometimes when life gets hectic you have to find small ways to make it easier and buying applesauce pouches so that my kids will have something in their lunches that they will actually eat is one of the ways I am doing that right now.
We did however this week do an excellent job of eating things out of the pantry and the freezer. We pulled these corn tortillas out of the freezer to make both quesadillas and burritos this week and they were delicious! My husband also made homemade chicken stock and made a baked potato soup out of it that was delicious. We used up some sweet potatoes and the last of the Brussels sprouts, found some real (as in cow milk, not non-dairy) ice cream in the freezer to make Banana’s Foster after the kids went to bed. My husband also made bagels from scratch instead of going to the store to buy them and the kids loved eating them toasted with their non-dairy cream cheese. I think next week will be a challenge for us not to run to the store. I did not buy meat at Costco when I went because we had a bunch of turkey that needed to be eaten so next week’s meals will probably lean towards the vegetarian side. We do have a freezer meal stashed away that could last a couple of meals if we stretch it with rice or something similar. It will be interesting to see what meals we come up with in the next week.
We did have a couple of major expenses come up this week. The first being the leak I discovered in my car. I parked it outside in the rain for the first time in a while and when I got back in water was dripping from the lights over my head. We are still under warranty and I am hoping the repair will be covered but I anticipate being without a car for a while since they will have to dry it out. I can’t get the car in for a couple of weeks though and still get a loaner car so I am parking it indoors as much as possible. The other major expense that came up is our hot water heater needs to be replaced. We knew when we moved in two years ago that it only had 2-3 years of life left before we would need to replace it. It is on our short list of repairs that we will be doing this year and I was planning on having it done sometime in March but when I went to do laundry yesterday we discovered it was leaking all over the laundry room floor. Needless to say we will be taking care of that ASAP. We have the repairman scheduled for this week and luckily since we were planning on replacing it soon we have the money set aside for it.
So far I have really enjoyed the UFM Challenge. It has made us rethink our purchases and we have definitely paused before buying something and thought about whether or not we really need it. One of the things that has stood out to me is how expensive it is to feed our kids. I am looking forward to when our garden is in full production and we will have nearly free fresh produce every day!
How are you being frugal this week?
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 […]
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 […]