Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Garden is Growing!

It's a jungle out there! I'll have trouble getting through the rows of tomatoes soon. I'm not complaining. I knew it would be this way when I planted all those tomatoes. It's ok. I over crowd all my veggies. I still get lots of produce and I don't have as much weeding to do. I have two small plots out there so I make the most of the space I have by going vertical along the fence. The tomatoes will be tied to the wire fencing when they've grown too tall for the cages they are in, which will be next week at this rate. I used more apple branches to stake all the tomatoes down the middle. They are loaded with blooms and fruit.


The green beans have reached the top of the fence.
The onions are still blooming and buzzing with bees.


The squash are creeping over the eggplant. I'll have to tie them up again. I'm trying to train them to go up the trellis. I tied them to the trellis last week. They resisted. I've tried this in past years with no luck, but I'm determined to try again.

 The wall of strawberries has really filled in.
It's a nice privacy screen and such fun to see all those berries hanging there for us to admire while we sit outside.

  Here is trellis type support I made for a planter. I have tomato and sunflowers in it. Sunflowers will keep other plants around it reaching their potential, but I have so many tomato plants this  year, I don't mind if this one is stunted a bit. It's nice to step out onto to patio and pick tomatoes.

This type of trellis is really easy to make. Pick desired      branches and poke them into the pot with even spacing. Gather at the top and fasten with wire. This one also has wire running around it spiraling to the top. It helps support the branches. 
Happy gardening!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Hypertufa Containers are Curing

I've had good results with yesterday's batches of Hypertufa. Here are most of the containers so far. Several different batches represented here. On the table are some nice big pots, some pavers (I used meat trays, oiled) for my garden, also some watering rocks for my potted plants. Since I have a small garden I don't have room for big stepping stones.

Lots of tufa curing on 1x2's on a table. I read that it's good to let it rain on them to leach out the Lyme. Some people spray them with vinegar to neutralize them. Since we're getting rain showers every day, I thought I'd set them up outside to let nature do its thing. If you don't have rain it's recommended to soak them with the hose every day or submerse them in water, soaking for at least 3 days.
They need to dry for a couple weeks after that. Longer for bigger objects.

  I set up a tray on the grass to hold more of yesterday's treasures. I like the way the baby planters came out. The sphere should be fun to put together. One has a line around one end where it was sitting on top of the pot. I can fix that with a slurry.
   It looks like I may have to build a drying rack. I could put it along the fence so it would be out of the way, since they have to dry for so long.

  Here is the fountain with all the tiles laid in it. I'll grout it when it's dry. I like it. I haven't quite finished this. Needs some fill in here and there.

 A simple dish tub and the containers strawberries come in are the two types of molds seen here. I used a dowel to make drainage holes when I formed these yesterday.
  They came out of the molds easily. Once again I used cheap motor oil painted on with a sponge brush. It's important to wash the molds right away. I'll scuff these tufa planters up a bit with a plastic brush.

  I think I'm ready to make the frame for some window boxes. These will sit on a 7" railing. It's a gift for my step-daughter for her birthday. I had to make sure I had the recipe right before I took on a large project like that.

  I read yesterday that these pots are perfect for African Violets and Bonsai. I have a couple African Violets in my kitchen windowsill that need new containers. It'll be fun to choose a couple when they're dry.

I like how they came out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Tufa Time!

Hypertufa is a light weight concrete mix that gives you a container with the strength of concrete but light weight. The basic mix is Portland cement, perlite and peat moss.

  I've been trying my hand at making hypertufa containers. Some turned out, some did not.( I didn't wait long enough to remove them from the mold.) I was able to crumble the remains of the disasters and used in a 'save the crumbles batch'.
  That turned out ok, as all of the containers are solid. It was not a true tufa recipe, as I didn't have the perlite. Basically I mixed equal parts of peat, sand and cement.
I should have let all of them cure for two days instead of one.
  A lot of research was done before I bought those first few bags of cement. There is a wealth of information out there for beginners like me. I watched lots of videos, studied recipes and techniques. I did take precautions like wearing goggles and a face mask when dealing with cement. I'm working in the garage with a fan, on a stand, placed behind the work area blowing outside. Once the recipe is mixed and the fan has cleared the air, I
remove the mask. It's been hot and humid lately so getting that mask off as soon as it's safe is very important to me!  I went shopping and got more peat, perlite and containers to use as molds, (I got these containers at Big Lots.) and made several batches yesterday.
  I'm attempting a large fountain using our fire pit as a mold (lined with plastic trash bags).
I'll let that one cure a couple days before I attempt to remove the mold. I made a bunch of tiny planters for cactus or mini plants as well as some medium sized bowls as well. I'll remove them from the molds and scuff them up a bit with a brush to make them look more like stone. You can see the tiles I've broken to go into the fountain once it cures. I wore eye protection and put the tiles in a plastic grocery bag while breaking them. Gloves are a good idea as the tile pieces can be very sharp.
Fire pit as a mold for fountain.
     The tiles were free! Given to me by a craft-hoarding friend like me. She and I have become great 'pickers' utilizing craigslist and freecycle on a daily basis. Both sites are free and very useful. Craigslist is like an online newspaper you visit. It's part of my routine to check it every morning. Freecycle is a site that you have to join, then you get sent daily emails. It's free to join and I have gotten some items from members of my group. You can ask for what you want and people seem to come up with that item. It's very cool, ask and you shall receive, right!? It's a great way of getting what you need
for very little or no money.
  We should talk about molds. You can use almost anything for molds. Plastic containers work best.You do have to coat the inside with a release of some sort. You can use cheap, new motor oil or Armor-All spray (for cars). No vegetable oils as they can go rancid. Cardboard boxes can work when covered with plastic. Wood frames can be made and covered with plastic.

  Here's a fun website that can give you some ideas.  The Artistic Garden
 Here's one that gave me inspiration!  Little and Lewis

 Here I cut a basketball in half, oiled it, filled it and set dowels to create a tube when mortared together. This will be part of a fountain.
 I made a shallow dish with left over mix. You can  use the inside of the bowl or...

 You can turn a bowl or planter upside down and cover it with mix.
  Here's variety of containers that can be used. I went through the house scavenging! A cheap disk toy will be a level on a fountain. The yellow bowl has a concave on the bottom so I can set a sphere on it! The plastic drinking glasses are little planters. The triangular one has two uses, the small part will be a leg for a big pot and the larger one a leg also although I made planters from some of them.
Now to go out and see how it turned out! How fun!
Time to scuff them up! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Wood Storage Racks

  Last week my neighbor showed me how my pile of wood was pushing the fence over. I got right to work moving all the wood. I fixed the fence. Then I made a rack for the wood, (an over due project). After putting most of the wood on the rack I saw that I needed another shorter rack for smaller pieces, so I made another one. Now I can see what I have and can get to it to use it! Yeah!
I used my recycled wood to make both racks. They are both 24" wide.
One is 6' tall and the other one is 4' tall.
  There's a lot of weight on it and it's doing fine. Notice the planks on the bottom. I traded a piece of old exercise equipment for it. Craigslist is your best friend people! The barter section is fun to look through. I didn't pay a thing for any of this wood. Granted, I did have to go pick it up, but in some cases it was brought to me. Be creative and you can find what you need for free!

Hmm, what to make next....................

To Blanch or Not to Blanch Our Veggies, that is the Question

  Last year I made sauce and froze tomatoes whole as well. The skin seemed to take on a bitter taste if not removed, so I took that extra step. After some research I learned that blanching has a true purpose.  It seems that enzymes help vegetables grow and mature. After maturation, however, they cause loss of quality, flavor, color, texture and nutrients because they keep working even in the freezer! Blanching stops that process, leaving you with better quality food.

Blanching tomatoes. Notice Roma's, beefsteaks and cherry tomatoes. If it's extra, it all goes in. I ladled these out with a slotted spoon. Not an optimal choice as cooking times varies too much. This year I'll look for a stainless steel colander that I can submerse and remove all at once.

This is a great article on blanching and freezing and why it's a good idea.
I found another great source here.

   The tomatoes are loaded with blooms. I’ve already got cases of jars ready. We’ve gotten a dozen tomatoes so far. The harvest coming later will keep me VERY busy. At $1 a can, (on sale) for tomatoes, we'll be saving a good deal of money. I'll tally that later. We eat lots of tomatoes in many kinds of dishes. They taste better because they are picked at the peak of flavor and they're organic.

   I froze all our tomatoes last summer. This year I'll be canning most of them for a couple reasons. Our freezer is too small to hold all these tomatoes, and we like the idea of food that is ready to eat and don’t have to thaw. Another reason is that it's good to have a supply of food that is there if the electricity goes out. If everything is in the freezer and we have some sort of disaster, it'll only last a few days, instead of a year like we intended.

  I also froze green beans, corn, squash, eggplant and summer fruits. Some veggies don't freeze well, like eggplant so I made several small Eggplant Parmesan dishes and froze them in casserole dishes lined with foil so we could pop them out when frozen and still have the dishes free. When it's time to eat it we just find the correct size dish, pop it in (put in a cold oven, so the dish doesn't break, I had this happen once). and cook it. I'm feeding two of us, so several small casserole dishes work well for us. 

  The corn that we got was free! A friend of a friend plants too much every year and just gives it away, acres of it, amazing. Not sure what the deal is there. To our benefit, we got a years supply of corn! We labeled every bag FREE CORN. All through the winter we pulled out those bags and had to smile at that label. Bob helped with the process. It took most of one day. We make a great team! He grew up in the city and didn't learn how to preserve food so this has been a learning process for him. He's anxious to help in any way. What a trooper! We always double bag all the veggies, (in freezer bags). It keeps them from getting freezer burned. We have plenty of corn to last till harvest this summer. Yes we did blanch all of it. I have to admit it still tastes good. It was worth it.

Here's a helpful tip for freezing fruit or veggies in zip-lock type bags. Fill the bag so that when laid flat, the produce is in one layer (for strawberries it would be one berry high) or about 3/4 of an inch tall. I fill it about half way, standing up. Then to test it, I grab the unsealed end and lay it flat, holding the end so it doesn't spill. If it's filled the bag in one layer I suck the air out and seal it, then double bag it. If not I add more. You'll need to freeze them flat, I stack them up.
   You end up with lots of bags that you can stack or even stand on end. With no air in there, they are stiff. I stand mine on end, when frozen, with the zipped end up. It’s easy to see what you have and they slide out easily, (provided you froze them flat and none slipped before they froze. Now I can pull out a bag and break off what I need. This works great for me when making smoothies every morning. I break off enough strawberries, or the choice for the day, to make a smoothie. It also works great for corn or any veggie. You can use the gallon bags that way. I used to freeze vege's in 1 or 2 meal size portions. Now I'm using the gallon size. Saves time and keeps the freezer a little more orderly.

  I freeze peaches, pineapple, apples, strawberries, plums, and apricots, grapes and cherries.  Any kind of fruit that is in season will work. I'll be doing about half canning and half freezing this year with fruit. All these fruits eventually make it into pop-cycles at our house. When my kids were young they loved the strawberry pop-cycles I made. It’s a great way to use up the end of that big watermelon or a fruit salad, throw it in the blender and freeze in molds. One of my favorites is strawberry with lemonade. It’s very refreshing on a hot day!

  It seems we need to blanch our veggies to get the most from them. After all it's a lot of work to weed and water and fuss over our plants. As for me, I'll be doing what it takes to make sure our food tastes good, even after months in the freezer.