Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Volunteers

As you may know, our garden sits on my husband's family property about 5 miles away from where we live.  Out there, we have several compost bins for our garden scraps, for the food scraps of those that live there and for those from a local vegan take out restaurant.  This year we had a volunteer squash plant growing out of one of those bins.


A monster squash plant, to be precise.


And that one plant yielded this:


I could not grow a lovelier plant if I tried (because believe me!  I've tried!).


Plenty enough to go around!!!

We took a few, gave a few to my sister in law, and our friends at the restaurant.  We will store ours along with those we purchased from our local organic farm.  Butternuts are probably the easiest veggie to store.  Seriously, you need no special anything.  Just a cooler room in your home.

To cure the squashes, leave them in the sun or in a sunny window for about a week or 2.  This allows the skin to harden to a nice protective layer.  After they have cured, put them in a room (or closet) that stays somewhere around 50 - 60 degrees, and they will be very happy until spring.

Just as a note, if you are storing less than perfect squashes, the storage life may not be quiet so long.

Very very rewarding!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trip to Cook Forest

As promised, here are some of the pics from this year's trip to Cook Forest in lovely western PA.

We took a couple of canoes down the river, and although I can't say I'd repeat the process in the same conditions, we will have lots of memories for years to come...


From the top of the Fire Tower...



As you can see, many of the leaves have gone through their brilliantly colored phase to the mostly brown phase (those are technical terms, don't ya know).  But the landscape is no less stunning because of it.

One of my favorite places in the park is the Tom's Run area.


There is a lovely little stream that empties into the Clarion River.


And lots of fun bridges to run across.


Paths to take into the Cathedral Forest area - an area of old growth forest.


Just beautiful.





You shall not pass!!!!!  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)


Everyone had a great time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Witch's Brew

I have been away.  First I went on my sister's trip to the wonderful world of Harry Potter down in Orlando, FL.  (We had a stupendous time, by the way!!!!!!)  When I got home, I had 2 days to prepare for our trip to beautiful Cook Forest in Pennsylvania.  We had a great time there too (pics to come later).

While I was away having a great time with my sisters in a Harry Potter dream world (yes, I am a tremendous HP fan), Nick and the kids brewed up all kinds of mischief.


Without me there to stop them, the four of them decorated the house with Halloween decorations.  That meant our holiday cauldrons (not to be confused with our everyday cauldrons) came out of storage.  And what else do you do with the holiday cauldrons?!?!?  You make witch's brew, of course.

Special ingredients were acquired.


Nothing but the organic best for our little witches.

The ingredients were carefully measured.


And mixed.


Other secret ingredients were added according to the whim of the witches.



YIKES!!!!  An intruder!!!!  Be gone!  Or you will be pricked with this poisonous spear...


The potions were carefully stirred and watched over all weekend.



Finally, everything was ready.

Would you like a taste?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our Harvest Storage System for Warmer Storage

Storing our produce for the winter has been a longtime passion for us.  Originally, I just made and canned salsa and applesauce.  Oh how far from that we have ventured!!!  Now we can salsa, tomato sauce and puree, applesauce, pickled veggies, roasted red peppers...  the list goes on and on.  We also bought a huge freezer and freeze sliced peppers, apples, corn, tons of berries, shredded zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, beans...  this list goes on as well.  And, we do a bit of root cellaring as well. 

We don't have a root cellar.  You don't really need to have one to be successful at cold storage.  You can use any unheated space - a closet, back room, attic... - to store veggies.  My favorite source for knowledge is Root Cellaring - Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Veggies by Mike and Nancy Bubel.  The book is a clearly written, very informative, and practical guide for storing veggies.  Whether you want to store only potatoes, or a whole slew of veggies, this is the book for you.  It contains information on planting, harvesting, curing, and a bunch of different ideas on how and where to store you veggies.  I find myself turning to this book over and over again.

Different veggies store best in different conditions.  Many veggies prefer very cold temps for storage - potatoes, apples, carrots, beets,...  Some do best in just cool temps - garlic, onions,...  But some do well in moderately warm temps like squashes and green tomatoes.  There is some overlap and flexibility, so storage systems do not have to be elaborate to keep your veggies for a long period of time.  Of course, the more accurate you can be with your temperatures and humidity, the better and longer your veggies will keep.  But if your conditions are not exactly right, don't let that stop you!  Your produce will keep for a while anyhow.  One year, we had so many green tomatoes that we were able to enjoy them for Thanksgiving dinner!!  (A rarity here in northeaster Ohio.)

Our storage system contains two parts.  One is stored in our back room that typically falls around 60 degrees in the winter months.  This is the one I will show you today.  The other is in our garage and made of straw bales.  When I get around to packing up our potatoes, I will show you that one.

Here it is:


It is made from grape crates that we collected from some relatives who make lots and lots of wine.  My brother in law cut the one side in order to make a stackable, but functional bin.



Once they were all cut and cleaned, I stacked them on a utility shelf.  I wanted a little extra room to access them from the front, so I staggered them a bit like so:


Yikes!!!  The cobwebs!!!!  I didn't even realize those were there until I took the picture!  Please just ignore them.  I can't really imagine life without cobwebs.  Maybe some day...  The top bins in each stack were left as they came so that I could put things in there that might require better containment.  I find them useful for storing other things that we buy in cases, like dog treats or cracker boxes or peanut butter buckets.

Each year, I empty out what is left over from the previous year, vacuum out the bins, and line them with fresh newspaper.


Then!!!  What we all have been waiting for...  the produce!!! 


Our bins are currently holding garlic, red and purple onions, and the last of last years butternuts.  While I was away this weekend, (to the crazy but fun Universal parks to visit the new Harry Potter world with my sisters.  It's a sister's thing with us.  I'll probably make a post about that when I get all the pics from my sisters.) Nick filled up 2 of the other bins with our green tomatoes. 

Since this room is a back room with 2 outside walls, 1 inside wall, and 1 unheated garage wall, the temps range in the mid 50's to 60 range most of the winter.  I have found squashes, particularly butternuts, keep well until spring, but will last until the following year (see above).  They are not exactly pretty, and have dried up a bit by now.  But they are still perfectly edible.  Kinda nice when you have a spectacular year one year, and then a not so spectacular year the next.  Onions and garlic prefer a bit cooler temps, but they store well through the winter here nevertheless.  Sweet potatoes will like this storage system as well, if I ever get around to growing any of those.  Dreaming is free.

As with anything, there is so much information out there that it can be somewhat overwhelming.  The trick is really just to do the best you can with what you've got.  Find a place in your home where you can store something - even if it's just a couple of butternuts on the top shelf of an unheated closet.  It truly is the easiest way to store your goods over winter.  There is no processing involved so the food remains whole.  You don't need any complicated or expensive equipment.  But you get an awful lot of satisfaction out of it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sack of Potatoes

Boy, giggling, told me that he brought in the sack of potatoes from the porch.  [giggle giggle]  It can't wait because the potatoes are getting rotten...  Can't I just go look at them now?


Oh!  How strong to carry all those potatoes into the house.  [Sack of potatoes starts to giggle and wriggle.]  I'd better go put them away!  [Giggle giggle squirm]

What's this!?!?!?!?!


A wee face!  [Outright laughter now!]

Mama!  My whole body is in here!  [More laughter.]


My very own potato head!

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Few Halloween Party Pictures...

We had beautiful weather for our halloween party on Saturday!!  Daytime temps were in the 70s, while the early nighttime temps were in the 50s.  Here are a few pictures that Nick took that night and during the cleanup the next day.

Welcome!