Category: Gardening


Canning Pears

My parents have a beautiful, bountiful pear tree in their side yard. My pop pop planted it years and years ago. Year after year much of the fruit falls and goes to waste. This year we did something about that.

The pears were picked when they started showing signs of ripening which according to my mom is when the little dots on the pear are brown and visible. You want to make sure your pears are not soft when you can them or they end up mushy.

Our pears ready for the process…

The process is simple, a little time consuming, and definitely worth the effort.

Gather all of the supplies you will need. The canning jars were sterilized in the dishwasher which made that step a lot easier. You will also need a canner, a large pot to cook your simple syrup if you are going that route, sugar and water, a canning funnel comes in handy, paring knifes, a larger knife to cut the fruit, and a “fruit fresh” product if you choose to use one.

You may reuse your rings, but it’s always a good idea to use brand new lids.

Start by boiling your simple syrup. We used the 2 cups sugar to 6 cups of water ratio, but tripled that. Get the water in your canner going too. It’s a lot of water to get to the boiling stage.

Bring your fruit in and wash it in your perfectly clean sink.

Peel and core your fruit. You can half, quarter, cube or slice, depending on your preference. We found that quartering was easiest. We also made of few jars of chunks, which would make a nice and simple addition to a homemade fruit salad sometime in the future. ūüėČ

As you go along, put your fruit in your sterilized jars making sure to keep the rings clean. This is where that canning funnel comes in handy.

After your jars are filled add your simple syrup, but leave a little room at the top.

Yes, we tried several knives before deciding which we preferred for various jobs.

When you have enough jars for a full canner, and your water has come to a boil, lower your jars and boil for at least 25 minutes. You have to adjust the processing time according to your altitude. If you live in a higher altitude you are probably already familiar with this concept. We are in the 0 to 1000 ft range and our processing time is 25 minutes. When your jars are done carefully remove them and set them aside. You may already start to hear the “pop” of the seals at this point. If not, you will soon enough. You can always place any jars that happen not to seal in the frig and use those first.

Make sure to inspect your jars periodically and make sure there is a tight seal when you go to open them. If something looks off, always err on the side of caution.

My family has been canning for generations and have never had any problems.

My mom first canned pears with dad’s mom. It was her husband who had planted the tree. She always added a maraschino cherry to each jar. It looked pretty and turned the juice slightly pink. We did not do this but I thought it worth mentioning.

We ended up with 21 quarts of pears.

Here are a few…

My parents tested the pears at supper last night and said they turned out perfectly. The syrup was not too sweet and the fruit was a perfect texture.

It will be nice this winter to “taste summer” when it’s freezing outside.

Poppy’s Garden

When my girls were little it was always a summer tradition for each of them to plant a plant in their poppy’s garden. What a wonderful way to introduce children to the world of gardening. Having grown up surrounded by beautiful gardens and bountiful fruit trees I naturally want to grow things and am intrigued by the beauty and the process of growth and the harvest.

My pop pop had a nice garden, tons of fruit trees, and grape vines that covered an entire patio. We lived next door, our yards connected by a little stone sidewalk. My grandmother’s parents lived next door to her before I came along. A great aunt and uncle used to live in the house that my parents have now. When there would be a wedding in my grandmother’s family, the reception would be held out back in the three connecting¬† yards. I can just imagine the scope of the celebration. I bet very Italian and very traditional.

My grammie no longer lives next door, but I still have the memories. I also had a great aunt and uncle who lived across the street, who had no children of their own, and again, a beautiful garden, fruit trees and grapes. I was there often, helped pick vegetables, and learned to clean and process them. I can still remember playfully competing with my uncle about who had the most peas in the pod they were shelling or who had the largest pea in their pod.

Yes, I grew up around gardens, a close-knit family, good food and much, much tradition. I have a lot to be thankful for.

I hope to carry on the tradition. I hope to someday have a garden that is as bountiful as my dad’s. I posted a few of these pictures earlier. Here’s what I hope to aspire to some day soon.

Big, beautiful healthy plants. Tons of good food and memories.

What kind of memories are you making?

We’re busy, busy, busy gearing up for a beach vacation and painting two rooms for my parents. More excellent reasons to know well in advance what we’ll be eating for our main meal of the day.

Sunday – Turkey burgers with carmelized onions, zucchini cakes, baby spinach and field mix salad

Here are the zucchini plants.

Monday – Rotini pasta and meatballs with sauce, salad

Tuesday – Ham and potato hash, pancakes

Wednesday – BBQ chicken, Aunt Connie’s Yukky Potatoes (recipe and story to follow), Fresh broccoli from dad’s garden, baby spinach and field mix salad

Thursday – Broccoli and cheese stuffed baked potatoes, salad

Friday – Hot dogs and beans

Saturday – Steak salads

What’s on your plate this week?

Yesterday we enjoyed our first fresh produce of the garden. It wasn’t out of my garden, but my dad shared three lovely zucchini from his. As his garden plants were in a good two or three weeks before mine, I’m getting pretty excited about what I’ll be harvesting in a few weeks.

To celebrate I made one of our favorite summer recipes.

Zucchini Cakes

2 cups grated zucchini

2 beaten eggs

1/3 cup Bisquick baking mix (I used the heart-healthy version)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp onion powder

salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Combine all but the oil. Let the mixture set for a few minutes. Fry 2 inch pancakes in olive oil. Let these get good and brown on one side before flipping or they will fall apart. This is the original recipe but I used fresh grated onion this time instead of the onion power. I also used some chives and oregano fresh from the herb garden.

It looks like it’s time to do some weeding already. Isn’t it amazing that this came from

this…?

Only a few short weeks ago we put the plants in. Those tiny little seedlings have grown and on some you can already see a few flowers.

The beans have sprouted too…

It won’t be long and we’ll be enjoying fresh veggies.

What’s growing in your garden?

This year we considered building a raised bed garden. It seemed like a great idea because you can plant more per square foot. It’s sort of like planting in a container. After figuring the cost of the wood and the soil we decided a traditional garden would serve our purposes and save quite a bit of money.

Once you know what kind of garden you want you need to decide how to get that area ready for planting. If you decide on a traditional garden I’d recommend borrowing a tiller and someone who is familiar with the operation of one. If you do this, or rent a tiller, I’d recommend making sure there are no large rocks, underground pipes, or anything else that might end up ruining your day. Double digging is another option, but it is quite labor intensive, especially if you want a larger garden.

My dad tilled my garden. He had to go over it several times to break up the sod. We didn’t plant anything last year and the grass really started to take root and fill in the area.

Another consideration is whether or not you need a fence. With two large dogs we decided a fence would be a good investment. I’m sure they could do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. We found some rather inexpensive fencing and used fence stakes to hold it in place. It took literally minutes to set up.

I had planned my garden layout in great detail earlier in the season. I failed to factor in my daughter’s graduation party and the need for quite a large tent to cover everyone in the event of inclement weather. In order for the tent to fit in the yard I had to alter my original plan, but it worked out nicely. I also did not plant everything I intended. My dad planted cabbage, and he has a much larger garden. Large vegetables such as heads of cabbage take up a lot of space.

We ended up with 4 zucchini plants, 12 pepper plants, 12 tomato plants, pole beans, lettuce, and spinach. I may see what else I can tuck in here and there. You want to make sure your plants are well spaced, but you don’t want to waste any space either.

The next step for me will be beautifying the garden. Sometimes when you till you have to go outside of the original boundaries to turn around and to avoid shrubs or other things that might get in your way. This happened to us and allowed for the potential of flower beds on either side of the garden. I also intend to mulch the perimeter to alleviate the need for grass trimming around the fence. If you don’t lay black plastic down before you plant, which is an excellent option to cut down on weeding, keep the soil warm and retain more moisture, you can always make a path through your garden with boards or stepping stones.

Be sure to check back for updates. What are you planting in your garden?

Gardening

It’s almost gardening time. I’m so excited to get back into the gardening series. We’ve already covered a few topics. Here’s¬†a refresher to help get you in the mood if you’re just not there yet, or help build even more anticipation if you’re as excited as I am. I was greeted by my clematis this morning. The flowers immediately made me smile. Everything is a little unruly and wild out in the yard. Hopefully with the rain behind us we can get out there and get a few things done.

Our garden project has been on my mind a lot lately, with our goals of eating better and saving money. I touched on several gardening topics in my post Planning A Garden. After deciding to make it a pet project I divided it into a ten part series so that I may share our progress as our garden grows, as well as any problems that may arise. I hope it to be a learning experience for all. Our adventure will include:

Research

Planning

Site prep

Planting Seeds and seedlings

Tending the plants

Harvesting

Preserving

Saving seed

Garden cleanup

What I have learned

We have begun our research and know some questions to ask ourselves from my previous post. There are some other things to consider during the research phase.

Which zone am I in? You’ll want to find your location on the Hardiness Zone Map. You will find this map in your seed catalog or on¬†some individual seed packets.¬†I found the map on¬†my seed catalog order form. I live in Pennsylvania and know I am in hardiness zone six. At the end of a plant description it will tell you appropriate zones for the plant to flourish.¬† Most plants are able to be grown in multiple zones. Knowing your zone will help you find out how long your growing season is so you will be able to better follow the directions that come with your plants or seeds. I know not to set out any tender plants before Memorial Day without some kind of cover. You many get tons of nice weather and then boom, your plants are shriveled and useless.

What should I grow? This may be a question you thought about if you read Planning a Garden. You will want to grow what your family will eat. Most parents already know the answer to that one. You may also want to consider getting the children involved. They may eat a vegetable they have grown themselves just because they had a part in it and want to carry that through. Browse the seed catalogs with your kids. Make sure you will have room for the plants or think of alternate ways you can make room, such as containers, or hanging baskets. Look for varieties suited for small gardens. That information¬†will be listed in the catalog or on the seed packets. If you are able, grow what is more expensive to buy in your area. This will save you the most money, unless it is something that’s care requires a large outlay of cash, such as ridiculous¬†soil amendments or constant watering. That just would not be worth the trouble.

What kind of seed should I buy and where should I get it? You can go with regular seed or organic. This is a personal choice, just as your choice for what food you eat. We found some seed packets last night that were organic and I noticed they were less expensive than what was in the regular seed catalog. We decided on those. Your seed supplier might depend on who came up on your internet search first or whoever friends and family recommend. If you know someone who has a garden ask where they get their seeds or plants and what they have had luck with.

Should I buy seed or plants? This is another personal choice and you will need to take a few things into consideration. Do you have the time and space to start seed indoors? The seeds will need to be kept warm and in a sunny location when they start to grow. They most likely will need daily care. Small seedlings can dry out quickly. They would need to be kept up out of the reach of pets and small children. Is your growing season long enough to direct sow, or sow right into the garden and produce before the first frost? You can always purchase plants from a plant nursery or garden center if you have any concerns. Most gardeners I know buy both.

Where will I put the garden? Walk around your yard and pick a site with at least six hours of sunlight but hopefully more. It should have good drainage and air flow.  It should not be near any huge, water guzzling trees or in a rocky area. It should be close enough to your house so that you can easily tend it. It should also have a reliable water source nearby.

Is my soil suitable for a garden? If your neighbors are successful without amending their soil very much you should be too. You want rich, loamy soil and you can amend your soil if necessary with homemade compost and other items from the garden center. You can also build raised beds or use containers.

What kind of tools will I need? A few basic tools would work just fine for a beginner gardener. A spade, fork, rake, hoe and small shovel or trowel would be enough. I started with only a spade and made do.

Now we have something to think about and options to explore.

Where are you in your gardening adventure?

Mini Herb Pot Progress

Here’s the update on the oregano, sweet basil and cilantro mini herb pots, if you’ve been following along. All of the warm weather we have been having has inspired me to consider moving the little fellas outside, along a protected portion of the house, of course. I also thought about splitting the pots and planting half outside and keep one or two plants to keep and nurture in the pots inside. We’ll have to see how that goes. In any case I hope your weather is as nice as it is here today and that you get a chance to get outside and enjoy it. If you haven’t yet,¬†pencil in an appointment with the sunshine. You need 15 minutes worth to create vitamin D anyway, so there’s a good enough reason.

The herb garden has really taken off…

We do have a month yet until I¬†may¬†plant them outside without fear¬†of¬†frost. The cilantro on the far right ¬†is¬†more than a bit¬†“leggy” and I’m not sure why as all of the pots have the same sun and I rotate them often.¬†It’s a mystery that I will have to look into to satisfy my curiosity.

I’m really looking forward to these additions to my herb garden. This year we will have Greek oregano, chives, thyme, sage, dill, Italian parsley, sweet basil and possibly cilantro.

Last week I got caught up in the warm spell around these parts and decided I needed to plant something. My mini herb garden is off to a good start but just in time for a hard freeze to hit us tonight here in Pennsylvania. I think I’ll pull the little guys out of the window right after the sun stops shining on them this evening, and then I’ll go outside and see what’s budding that I can possibly cover and save from the freezing weather. I guess it’s just mother nature’s way of telling us to grow some patience.

Here’s where we are at with the mini herb garden.

One out of the three pots has sprouted. It is exciting to see the little seeds that you planted turning into¬† living, growing plants. Tend your plants well and barring anything beyond your control you shouldn’t need to buy herbs again. It is very satisfying to go out into your yard and pick your own organic produce.

The actual growing season begins on May 31 here in my neck of the woods. That’s the date you should be able to set out¬†tender plants without fear of frost. It’s a ways away, but in the meantime you can still plan your garden, buy your seeds and get them started indoors. If you’re getting antsy too and want to start, you can find some of that information here. I can’t wait to be able to dive back into my gardening series.

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