Tag Archives: vegetables

Killing Jack

During the summer, I am busily growing veggies and standing on sentry duty for hungry moose sneaking a snack. I have NO problem running “Mama” off with a rake in hand. Crazy? Maybe. BUT…considering gardening in Alaska means all most all plants need a three month head start before they ever see REAL dirt.

Not really.

Warm weather fruits and vegetables need to grow in a greenhouse. This is where I grow my Sugar Pumpkins, THE favorite.  🙂

Pumpkin vines

This year was the first year I had great success with these little buggers. In addition, I used a vertical gardening method to keep the vines from taking over the floor space.

Taking over is a drastic understatement, and growing them upright was the ONLY way to go! With fruit set, these vines still grew to 25ft, weaving in and out of the rope lattice I’d threaded across the ceiling.

This year they’re NOT growing past 10 ft…I’ll nip that in the bud!

Figuring it will save more energy for production.

Love them!!! It’s an instant gratification thing. They grow SO FAST!

I spend a lot of time in my little Garden of Eden. Some people look at me funny as I climb up and down the ladder, hand pollinating the babies.  LOL 🙂

OK…..moving on…I swear I’m not a whack job.

BUT someone has to love growing veggies or the rest of ya’ll would STARVE! 😀

Not to mention they make the CUTEST Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations……Easily lasting that long, and longer, without any preservation assistance.

I still have four sitting in my garden window, too small to bother processing, but serve as a nice reminder of summer.

Here you can see the FAT little seeds I saved for the 2012 garden. Given that I purchased open-pollinated seeds originally, the organic growing methods and hand pollination I am relatively assured these seeds will produce a like…off-spring???

***I’m forgetting Biology 101 at the moment.***

After cleaning all the gunk out of the middle, I lined a large roasting pan with the pumpkin, cut side down. They get about an 1/2 inch of water to soak in, a tin foil cover and “steam bath” for about an hour in a 350* F oven.

With pumpkins in the oven, I turn back to the seeds I plopped in a bowl. Wash off all of the orange….guts…..brains….whatever you call them. It’s not as time consuming as it might seem.

Well….I thought I took a picture of CLEAN seeds but apparently NOT! That’s what I get for burning through files, deleting pictures willy-nilly.  lol

Needless to say, after a simple wash, spread them on a sheet of foil to dry. This is a great activity to involve the rugrats.   Word of advice, do not use paper towel, they stick to the towel and are a b**** to get off.  Spritz the towel down with water and start all over. Learned this one the hard way.

These little guys will be bone dry and ready for storage in about 24 hours assuming a relatively dry home. Alaska happens to be classified a desert, so you might have a little longer. They should be mixed every few hours to dry consistently.

 

You can also try a dehydrator, but I would ONLY use one designed with an adjustable thermostat set to less than 100*F anything above that and you will kill the seed. ***think bath tub temperature for a kid***

 

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Once the steamed pumpkin is out of the oven, remove the cover and allow them to cool down.

 

Masochistic behavior IS the sign of a true whack job…regardless of what your husband might tell you. ***giggle***

 

 

***”Not that there’s anything WRONG with that.”***

 

 

With clean pint jars waiting on the cutting board, I start sterilizing.

Do not forget to put your lids and rings on the stove to heat up.

Sterilizing back in the day meant standing over the stove turning jars in a pan of boiling water. Burning the hell out of your fingers if you were too cheap to own a pair of tongs.

 

Now…

 

…if I have my timing down, the jars would be just finishing a quick cycle in the dishwasher with the “heat dry” on.

 

****My Mummy LOVES the dishwasher trick; she’s been standing over the stove canning veggies for a millennium. :D***

 

Instead… I happen to be fortunate enough to have an “Insta-Hot” tap at my sink, therefore I just spin the jars through that boiling water and VOILA!!!

Using my trusty funnel I fill my jars with bright orange squish…

…past the recommended fill line, as you can see, ‘cuz I’m a rebel like that.

I’ll have you know, although I joke around, I’ve NEVER blown anything up!

Weeeeelllllll, except for that one time…

…at Band Camp.   LMAO!!! 🙂

 

 

Juuuuuust Kidding!!!!! It was just the blender.

 

 

A little too much soap I’d say!!! ***snicker***

 

 

BACK TO THE ORANGE SQUISH…

With 2 quarts of water in the bottom of the cooker, I start it on low with the lid OFF while I’m running in circles.  This cuts the time waiting for everything to heat up so I can start “venting”.

 

 

At this point I would highly recommend referring to the one and only reference manual for these things…

Jars filled, hot lids screwed down with rings, and into the pressure cooker they all go.   Cook at 10 lbs of pressure for 60 minutes.

 

 

BLAM….. the finished product…

 

 

 

 

For the seeds….my first batch turned out beautifully.  Air dried by hand. I even designed a cute little seed packet in Word and printed it on leftover card stock.

 

***Yes….I’m a geek***

 

They’ve been living in the freezer for months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Batch….much like the second child…. back to the basics: get the job done!

 

They have been stored in the jar, on a shelf, in my pantry. This, I believe, was the first machine dehydrated batch. Relatively same  results as the first; beautifully fat clean white seeds.

****there’s a joke here….but I’ll leave it alone. Being a fat kid, I’d be allowed…..***

 

 

The third batch was taken from a commercial field pumpkin. Stored in a jar….air dried by hand, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I removed them from the fridge condensation had built up in the jar and low and behold….Black Mold!  That’s what I get for rushing the process.

 

***I should really keep notes, eh?***    Grrrrr!

In a nutshell…..either leave them out to dry (forgetting about them for a week)  OR use a dehydrator…..AND LABEL EVERYTHING!!!

Bleh….that’s all folks!

~I’m off like a crazy woman!

 

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Fortunately, not everyone lives in Alaska….Steps to Sustainable Living

It’s all about starting small…”Big Bird steps”.

I have a tendency to have big beautiful ideas and then the reality of the project sets in…. and then well it’s pretty much dead in the water and how FUN is that???

MANAGEABLE: A little bit of planning will save you time, money and aspirin.

It may be as small as a few planters with herbs on the sill, a “no-dig” bagged soil garden out the back door, a more defined straw bale garden, or a raised bed or two. Remember, size does not matter it’s what you do with what you have that counts. I’ve learned success in gardening comes with a good foundation…soil. But it doesn’t mean you have to break your back to get there or kill the ceramic piggy. All of these growing concepts will have brilliant results and end up producing wonderful compost for whatever your permanent solution may be.

How it played out in my neck of the woods:

Year One: (2008)

16′ X 18′ Finished Greenhouse

 I was fortunate enough to start with constructing a greenhouse (1) out of leftover materials from building our house. It took an additional two years to buy all of the Lexan to finish  the sides and back, which were temporarily covered with 6 mm plastic sheeting. My garden that year consisted of 20 tomato plants growing in their pots in the new greenhouse.

Year Two: (2009)

I started my seeds in the house, on a fold out table in the living room with newspaper pots (2). Not the BEST idea, but hey what can I say…..it had sunshine and I’m CHEAP.

First year attempting corn and upside-down tomatoes

Once the snow melted, I added four 4’ X 8’ X 12” raised beds and upgraded to about twenty-five 7 gallon black nursery pots for growing containers in the greenhouse.

I’d mark 2009 as the point I started to understanding why living a sustainable lifestyle is important and researching ways for it to be successful in Alaska. It wasn’t a foreign concept having a long family history of hunting and gathering, but let me tell you, living in a society of convenience assuages the natural instinct to fend for yourself.

Year Three: (2010)

Cucumbers

I planned a head; starting my seeds earlier with one large grow light in the garage. I wanted to add more raised beds but ended up concentrating on growing bigger and better fruits and veggies.

Year Four: (2011)

I ordered my open pollinated seeds online AND actually READ the back of the seed packs. Go figure…..they put growing information back there! Put together a nice little planting schedule; counted back from our last frost date which is usually May 15th and outlined the weeks I had to start which seed. However, I realized too late that I should have included the week or two of germination time. OOPS!  No biggie! In the end it worked out beautifully…

Baby Killers

…Until most of my baby seedlings were violently choked out by the “dampening off” fungus. Apparently, this occurs when you don’t use fresh potting soil every year, but what if you put your used potting soil outside to be frozen during winter??? I’m still not sold (*giggle*) on paying $40 for DIRT! It just doesn’t make since.

Spring 2011 comes and I find myself pouting about the quality of my dirt…or lack thereof.

SOIL: Having heavy clay deposits, I could’ve purchased good humified compost to get started, but that still kind of goes against the grain of the “frugal sustainability” game I play.

Really…What is “sustainability” if you just run to the store to fix the problem, right? So I did some experimenting with a couple of lasagna beds.

Lasagna gardening is based on building layers of organic material to plant in; much like a compost pile.

My Recipe:

  • Straw for structure, air flow and moisture retention
  • Chicken manure for the 1% Nitrogen (N) content which is the second highest to bunny poop at 2%.
  • My dirt for local microorganisms and to help hold the nutrients from washing to the bottom
  • Bone Meal promotes healthy root growth with 12% Phosphorus (P)

    Layers

  • Lime to counter the acidity of composting straw.
  • Epsom Salt for magnesium. It is touted be beneficial to the photosynthesis process and helps promote the availability of other nutrients. Tomatoes love it!
  • Ash for the 3% Potassium (K) to help in the production of the fruits and veggies.

I started with turning over the soil in a 2′ X 16′ row in my greenhouse and breaking up the large chunks. Added a 6” layer of straw and watered it down. I chose straw because of its hollow structure thus helping with air flow, as suggested when researching composting. Then I added a 3-4″ layer of last year’s chicken manure and watered it down to make good contact with the straw. Next came a 2″ layer of my own dirt, sprinkled with bone meal, lime, Epsom salt and ash, then watered to wash some of the additional nutrients in with the manure and straw. Now…..”Rinse and repeat.” I had enough materials for two layers, which gave me 12” of growing medium.

Lasagna Bed 1

The whole process took about an hour and once it was all watered down…I let it set over night. Planting in a bed like that is as simple as shoving your trowel into the straw and wriggling open a hole. The next morning I eagerly planted my pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, black beans and a soaker hose… then…add some sunshine and….VOILA!!

Pumpkin vines with green beds at their feet

The Sugar Pumpkins and Provider Green Beans really love what I’ve done with the place!!!

Pumpkin vines and hanging cucumbers

(1) More later on the TRUE greenhouse effect and how to use it to your advantage. There is always a way to start small…do not condemn a wine bottle to the landfill. 

(2) Newspaper pots are ideal for seedlings that need a lot of room or do not transplant well, i.e. corn, melons, squash or cucumbers.