Friday, August 15, 2014

Simple Pleasures in the Everyday

One day this week I brought our Boer does back to graze in an electronet paddock my Dad set up and took my camera along and enjoyed some time sitting out on their grain feeder in the peaceful afternoon taking in the beauty all around.

When one looks at any view in nature, it is often the whole that is seen . . . yet it is amazing when you stop and really start looking at the small things that make up the whole, to see how much diverse beauty and detail there is. 


Looking towards our neighbor's pasture

I was out there for quite awhile soaking in the peacefulness, praying, thinking, watching various insects and butterflies, listening to the birds singing and the honeybees buzzing around nearby flowers, petting the goats whenever they came up for attention, and then photographing some of the 'little' things that caught my eye . . .

(And after uploading the photos, I used the book Missouri Wildflowers to identify most of the flowers in the below photos which was fun to do! For some reason, knowing the names of the plants makes it that much more enjoyable when I see them.)

Tall Bell Flower

 I couldn't find this plant in the book, nor online either . . . any ideas? The little pods open into tiny orange flowers (one can be seen in the photo.) Then in the fall, the seed pods dry and rattle in the wind. One thing I discovered about them this week is that the honeybees love them!

Edited to add: I was able to identify it! It's called Figwort and is a native herb that has a range throughout much of the United States. When reading online about it, I discovered that it is another wild plant that can be used medicinally. 

A honeybee on the 'mystery plant'

Sierra, Aspen and Sienna

A Turkey Vulture flying overhead

The sky was beautiful this day!

A Grand-Daddy Longleg 
(I'm not sure if that is their proper name or not, :) but that is what we've always called them!)

Jewelweed . . . which I just recently discovered is supposed to be good for treating poison ivy

Mist Flower

 Brown-Eyed Susans
(I didn't even know there was such a thing until looking in the wildflower book! They have smaller flower heads and many branching stems compared to the larger flowers and single stemmed Black-Eyed Susan.)

Sienna

 Aurora, Sienna and Aspen

On a different note, Leah and I started harvesting the potatoes this week! So far we have 162 pounds, and there are still some to harvest, but they aren't quite ready yet.

Some of the freshly dug potatoes

Out of all the garden produce to harvest, I think potatoes rank up there as one of my top favorites. It's almost like digging for hidden treasure :), never knowing how many potatoes you'll find or how large they'll be. Our potatoes did very well this year, and we are thankful for how many we've been able to harvest!

This time of year also marks when the wild plums start ripening. Earlier this year it looked like we were going to have quite a large crop, but then in the last few weeks, most of the plums began falling off of the trees when only partially ripened. Today I was able to harvest some from the trees that I normally pick from, but not many.

Then I remembered about a few more wild plum trees at a corner of our property that in the past, haven't produced very well, but I thought that perhaps there might be some on the trees this year. One of the trees had a little more than the other trees had had, but still not very many. And then I saw this tree . . .


It had so many plums on it!



I don't think we have ever had a tree produce as well as this one has this year! I picked the lower branches and then worked my way up the tree using a step stool to reach as high as I possibly could. It was so fun picking and even more so seeing the basket and bowls quickly filling  . . .

Some of the plums

I know what I'll be doing this afternoon :) . . . washing, crushing and juicing the plums in order to make some jelly and maybe some syrup, too!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Morning Drive to the Market

The Saturday before last, Leah and I were just about ready to head out for the farmer's market when I had a last minute thought to bring my camera. The morning light was beautiful which made me think it would be nice to take a few photos along the drive. I am glad I brought it along as with the fog and sunshine, it made for one of the prettiest morning drives we have had . . .

In the tree covered hills

Almost to the bottoms . . . with a heavy fog in the distance

Tall cornfields all tasseled out line much of the highway


Trees disappearing into the fog

When we got closer to the river, the fog got really thick!

As we crossed the bridge, it began to dissipate and the old train bridge could then be seen in the distance 

These drives are always so pleasant! And on a morning like this one was, it was especially so.

 Leah and I have really been enjoying our Saturday mornings at the farmer's market, and it has been so nice getting to know the other vendors. One of my favorite parts of the day is when we are all arriving, setting up, visiting, and simply having a fun time getting ready.



Visiting with the customers is also much enjoyed! I especially like the long conversations with several of the older people who come by. We're getting to the point now that we recognize some of the regulars :), and it's a real treat to see the familiar faces as they come up to our booth to visit for a bit.


So there you have a tiny glimpse into what our early Saturday mornings are often like! Though we don't often get to enjoy a drive quite as pretty as this one was. :)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Like a Tree Planted by the Water

Lately I have been reading through the book of Jeremiah, and what a sad book it is . . . the Lord pleading with the nation of Israel to turn back to Him, and while they continue to say they follow Him and certainly appear religious, they worship and serve other gods, rejecting the One who had done so very much for them, the one true God. The Lord pronounces righteous judgment against them, yet still they continue in their rebellious ways.

One thing that especially stands out to me whenever I read this is God's amazing love for man and specifically the nation of Israel. Yes, He judged when necessary, yet part of the purpose of that judgment was to turn their hearts back to Him. And if they had but repented and turned to Him in repentance with a whole heart, they would have been forgiven. His love and mercy truly know no bounds!

And He continued to give such beautiful promises to them. One from chapter 17 that I read several days ago really spoke to my heart . . . .

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
and whose trust is the LORD.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
that extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
nor cease to yield fruit."
Jeremiah 17:7-8

How encouraging and also convicting this is! Trusting . . . by simply trusting in our all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise God and Father, having Him as our trust and surety, we are like that tree. Growing strong from the living water that He gives to us, nourished and bearing fruit through the sustenance He alone gives. Resting in peace and not fear as we are forever rooted in the life-giving stream of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Pressure Can

After hearing stories of pressure canners exploding, jars breaking inside, etc., the first time I pressure canned about seven years ago, it was intimidating to say the least! And never having seen anyone do it before made it even more so. :) Once learning how, though, the process is really quite simple! (Though, I should add that it can be dangerous which is why it is very important to carefully follow the pressure canning instructions.)

If you have water bath canned before and would like to venture into pressure canning, yet are unsure how to do so, I hope that this little tutorial will be a help to you and will give you the confidence to start pressure canning!

(Please note, this tutorial is for dial gauge canners and specifically for the Presto. If you are using a dial gauge canner other than the Presto, please also refer back to your specific canner instructions - sometimes they vary from canner to canner!)

-- Put 3 quarts of hot water into the canner (and make sure the bottom canning rack is in place)

-- If you have hard water, add approximately 2 Tbsp. of vinegar to the water in the canner

-- Place washed jars into the canner



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Prepare your recipe, heat the lids, etc. according to basic canning methods and per your recipe.

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-- About ten minutes or so before you are ready to start filling the jars with your prepared product, begin heating your canner water and jars. You want it to be around a simmer when it is time to start filling your jars and also during the filling process. (And during this time, adjust the heat if necessary to prevent the water from boiling or from dropping below a simmer.)

-- One at a time, take the jars out of the canner and fill them following your canning recipe and basic canning instructions. After a jar is filled, and the lid and ring is in place, put it back in the canner.


A full canner load of quart jars of carrots

-- Once all of your jars are filled and back in the canner, make sure that none of them are touching each other or the sides of the canner. Then put the lid on the canner and align the arrows. Turn the lid to lock it securely into place. The cover handles must be aligned over the body handles. (Note, before putting on the lid, always check to make sure the vent pipe is clear!)

-- Now it is time to exhaust the air from the canner and jars! This step is very important so make sure not to skip it. Turn your burner heat to a relatively high heat setting (with our stove, I use the highest heat setting.) Once a steady, free flow of steam is coming from the vent pipe, set a timer for ten minutes (the vent pipe is directly to the right of the dial gauge in the below photo.) Lower the heat to maintain a moderate steam flow during this time.



-- During the above step, water may bubble out around the air vent/cover lock (which in the above photo, is in the front center of the canner lid.) This is nothing to worry about! If it is a lot, simply absorb it with a dry towel.

-- Once the ten minutes is up, place the pressure regulator over the vent pipe. Turn the heat back up to a high heat setting. The air vent/cover lock will soon pop up, and the canner will begin pressurizing.


The pressure regulator is over the vent pipe and the air vent/cover lock is up. Now the pressure will start rising!

-- When the dial gauge reads about two pounds away from the desired pressure, turn the heat down some (it will take a bit of testing to learn the best heat settings to use with your stove.) Adjusting the temperature down at this point will help to keep the canner from heating too fast and going well past the pressure you are wanting to reach (I learned from experience on this one! :) 

-- Once the desired pressure is reached, start your timer for however long your recipe needs to process. For the carrots that I was canning, this was 30 minutes.

As a little side note here, it is important to get your dial gauge tested each year to make sure it is accurate. This year, mine was reading a pound under so instead of processing at the called for 11 lbs of pressure, I am doing 12.

-- Reduce the heat enough to maintain the desired pressure, but not so low that it drops below it! Again, this could take some experimentation before you find which setting works best with your stove and canner and also the quantity of jars you are canning.



-- Helpful hint: I always like to bring my pressure to a little above the needed pressure (as can be seen in the above photo.) That way if it starts dropping, I can adjust the heat to bring it back up before it drops below pressure and thus necessitating the processing time being started all over again.

--Which brings me to something important, if at any time the pressure should drop BELOW the pressure needed for your recipe, bring it back up to pressure and start the processing time over again.

-- During the processing time, your canner will need to be 'babysat' to make sure the pressure doesn't go too high or low. This is a perfect time to do some deep cleaning in the kitchen, wash dishes, or things like that! (Or type a blog post :) which is what I am doing right now at 10:00 while the last load of carrots for the day are processing. edited to add: what I was doing, I should say :) . . . I started this post on Thursday and am just now finishing it!)

-- Once the processing time is complete, turn off the heat and carefully remove the canner from the stove to cool. Let the canner naturally cool and let the pressure drop on its own. Do NOT quick cool, and do NOT remove the lid or the pressure regulator at this time.

The cooling/depressurizing process takes quite awhile . . . usually forty-five minutes to an hour for my canner with a full load.

-- Once the pressure is down to zero AND the air vent/cover lock has also dropped, remove the pressure regulator and set a timer for ten minutes.


The pressure regulator is now off and the timer is going for 10 minutes

-- Once that time is up, remove the lid, lifting the back up toward you to keep the steam from blowing out on you.

-- If the lid is hard to turn, there may still be pressure inside the canner. In that case, let the canner completely cool before removing. (I have never had this happen, but thought I should include it just in case you ever do!)

-- Carefully remove the jars from canner with a jar lifter. Let cool according to basic canning directions.


23 quarts of carrots cooling

And there you go! It sounds like a lot of steps, but it is simpler than it sounds. :) It will also get easier and easier each time you can! And once you learn to pressure can, you will be able to preserve an even wider variety of healthy foods for your family and especially the delicious bounty from either your garden or from another's.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask and have fun canning!

(And for you seasoned canners, if you have anything to add 
that I am missing, please feel free to do so!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A July Garden Update

The warm summer days of July along with the abundant rains earlier in the month have made the garden grow prolifically! As it was planted late this year, we just recently started to harvest the first summer squash and cucumbers which means delicious summertime dishes made with fresh vegetables are back to being dinnertime staples.


Part of yesterday's harvest

Here is some of what the garden is looking like now . . . both the good and the bad. :)

Pole beans, Cosmos, Zucchini and Yellow Squash with Tomatoes way in the back

The cucumbers have done amazing this year! And for the first time ever, way outgrew the trellises that I have always used for them.


A pickling cucumber


When picking the the cucumbers, there is a constant hum of honeybees among the plants . . . pollination certainly isn't an issue this year!

Celery

Zucchini

Bush green beans on the left, tomatoes in the back (and the 'red' among the plants is ties holding the plants to the cattle panels) with sunflowers behind them, and then part of the 'bad' of the garden in the front . . . the poor pepper plants! They were hard hit by a fungal disease and have really been struggling. They were also planted in a section of the garden that has poorer soil which we're thinking now is too heavy for them.


Amish Paste tomatoes

The crookneck yellow squash plants which are in the foreground are huge this year! Up past my waist and still growing. Behind them are the cucumber trellises and the bush beans off to the right and the pole beans in the back.

The bush beans are just starting to put on beans

Beets that are ready to harvest and can

A growing watermelon

While this photo looks promising with the melons, this is another not so good part of the garden as just in the last few days, the cantaloupe plants made a dramatic change and nearly wilted away. We're still trying to figure out the cause to that one, and we're thinking it may be a soil borne disease.

A Lemon Yellow Squash

This photo is from last week and is the last of our blueberries. The plants are finished producing now, and the delicious berries either found their way into baked goods or are in the freezer waiting to be used.

Our poor strawberry bed . . . the plants had been doing so well and were tall, thick, and lush. But then a deer decided that the bed would make not just a good snack, but a good full course meal. :) Thankfully most of the plants are starting to rebound!

A few apples are growing! It's exciting that some of our young trees are starting to produce.

 A few of the peaches that the late frost spared us.

With all of the produce that has either reached maturity or is close to it, we'll be starting the first canning of the year this week!