Freezing our green bean harvest

This is not a big garden year for us.

Strangely, I didn’t want to be prepping and planting two huge vegetable beds early this spring when I was a zillion months pregnant and wanting to scratch all the skin off my hands and feet. Even if Daniel had done all of the prep-work, I didn’t feel confident that I’d be able to keep it alive while I learned to keep a tiny human alive. So we decided to mostly rest the beds for the year. Lots of people use clover as a cover crop to put nutrients back in the soil. You just till it up into the soil when you’re ready to plant again. Fun fact. Did you know that clover is a legume? Clover is practically a bean. How crazy is that? So we (and by we, I mean my lovely husband) planted the smaller bed full of bush beans and pole beans as a way to refresh the garden soil and maybe have a small crop to harvest after all.

We figured maybe we’d get some beans from them and if it got too hot and burnt them to a crisp, oh well. It looked like that was the direction we were going until we had a week straight of rain.

The rain cleared, the sun shone, and I picked nearly half a bag of green beans.

Bag of Beans

 

It took me quite a while to snap them all but we ended up with four and a half pounds to put up.

Bowl of Beans

 

At that point I was so tired of dealing with this giant stack of green beans and I was pretty intimidated by the thought of blanching and freezing all of those beans. I didn’t think Samuel would stay settled long enough for me to get through them all. I searched and searched and found a lot of people saying they don’t blanch, they just stick their beans right in the freezer. I’m all for going the easy way. Especially if it’s a vegetable I’m not going to eat anyway.

Did I forget to mention that? I don’t eat green beans. I just love my husband enough to make sure he has nice home-grown frozen veggies all winter. Yes. I’m awesome. Where’s my cookie?

I was out of vacuum bags so I had to improvise. Here is how you freeze green beans in freezer bags with no vacuum.

Straw

 

Use a regular freezer bag and a drinking straw. I squeezed most of the air out and zipped the bag closed except for a hole for the straw. Then I sucked as much air out of the bag as I could and pinched the straw closed. At that point I pulled the straw out and pinched the bag the rest of the way closed. Easy peasy. Four and a half pounds made four and a half quarts of tasty (I assume) veggie goodness for the freezer.

I just picked some more beans this morning and there are even more that will be ready later in the week. If I can carve out the time I might blanch this set before I freeze just for a quality comparison.

Not bad for the year we skipped a garden!

Backyard tour and a remodeling challenge

Our sweet little old house needs quite a bit of work. We have thoughts and dreams of a kitchen remodel (I HATE my kitchen) but it isn’t in the cards for quite a while yet. We have lots of other immediate needs that need to be addressed first and we don’t plan on going into debt to make a new kitchen happen. That means we have to check off the other, more pressing, items on our to-do list and THEN save up enough money to pay cash for the remodel. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens before we outgrow our tiny little house.

Lately, most of our focus has been on the backyard. Some changes have been planned and purposeful while others have been beyond our control. I spent my Sabbath afternoon on my mama’s quilt in the backyard with Samuel so I thought it would be a good opportunity to take some photos and give a little tour as a “before.” Hopefully this space will be quite transformed by the Fall.

Grapevine Privacy FenceOne of my favorite features in our yard is the grapevine growing on the fence. We don’t get good grapes from it but it comes up thick in the summer, making a natural privacy fence against the road. Since our yard is a little lower than the road, this keeps passers-by from seeing us in the yard if we’re sitting down. Or swimming naked in our tiny pool. Which we don’t do. But we COULD if wanted to and if we’d ever haul some sand in and get a spot set up for our pool.

The vines are also useful for craft projects like wreaths or yard projects like fence from vine weaved around bamboo to keep the dog out of the berry bushes.

Grapevine fence

HammockMy hammock is another favorite.

Maple Tree MurderOr it was until the power company came and chopped down the tree that provided the shade for it. I was over-the-top sad about this development. 1) I do not do well with change that I did not expect or plan and implement myself. 2) Now the hostas that I planted here at least 6 years ago from shoots my parents gave me from their house are getting burnt to a crisp. This is not the first change that has taken place in the yard this year. It’s just the only one that made me cry like a crazy modern-day version of “Pat of Silverbush.”

Old ShedThe first change was partly started by this eyesore. This shed has never been truly usable for me. It leaked and the doors didn’t work correctly the day I bought the place. I’ve been meaning to get a new shed for years but it has always worked “well enough” for shovels and the lawn mower so it never made it up to the top of the list. Then we had a baby, and our already full house started bursting at the seams. And Daniel started working from home full time. From the couch. Where I nurse a baby all day long. We’re a little cramped. We desperately need storage space so we can free up an area for a home office for Daniel. Enter our new shed.

New ShedIt’s huge. About 16’x11.5′. Or something. It has taken up the spot where my clothesline used to be but it will be worth it. I’m DYING for it to get finished. It’s going to be VERY useful as well as a beautiful addition to the backyard. So I’ve been inspired to get the rest of the backyard into shape so it will match the pretty shed.

Wicker chairThis area next to the old shed was supposed to be a natural little oasis. I planned to have a clematis grow all over the broken wicker chair but the crazy bush took over instead and it just looks snake-y and messy. Hopefully this will be the new home to our hammock. Once we get the contents of the old shed moved into the new one we’ll haul the metal off to the recycling place and hopefully get at least enough money back to buy some heavy duty weed barrier and mulch so that this area will become the new shady hammock spot.

That little project probably won’t start until the Fall. Right now I have the back deck/porch on my mind. It needs a serious revamp. It’s a big mess. This is me being real and showing just how ugly it is.

Back PorchThe wood needs weather treating in a bad way and it has somehow gathered a bunch of pots full of potting soil and weeds. Somebody must have snuck into our backyard and put them there. Definitely. Yup. Daniel did make me some steps with slices of my poor, murdered Maple tree. These pretties have inspired me to do some work on the deck to make it presentable. I never know where to start so I need some limits or parameters to follow in order to get going on projects like this or I’ll just stand in the middle of the porch staring and doing nothing. This time I decided to turn it into a fun challenge. I’d love to add on to the deck and have a big one spanning the back of the house for entertaining but we don’t have the funds for that now. What I DO have is a piggy bank full of change, though. Not sure how much, but definitely more than $10, less than $50. My goal is to do a back porch remodel/redecoration/revamp using only that cash and anything around the house or yard plus whatever I can find for free or trade. I’m going to devote Fridays to posting about my progress and call it the amazingly unique and inspired series title of “Frugal Fridays.”

I think it will be fun!

In which I re-pot an orchid and hope for the best

When Daniel and I were dating I was in a play and, instead of a bouquet, he bought me a potted orchid. Now, my mom had a bunch of orchids growing in coconuts and pots on our front porch in Thailand and they were crazy easy to keep alive. You know. In a tropical paradise. In Arkansas? Not so much. I have slowly been killing that beautiful orchid for the past several years. I’m a champion houseplant killer. That exotic beauty never had a chance.

I’m cleared by the Dr. to start going back to normal activities now but when I was still on lockdown I was excited to find anything productive to do that didn’t require me to lift anything or be more active that I was supposed to be. Re-potting the deathbed orchid was a perfect opportunity to feel like I could accomplish something more than being a milk machine (which is a very important job, indeed, but still!). Getting out in the sun was a wonderful mood-lifter as well.

Here is how I re-potted my orchid!

Orchid Potting Tools

First I gathered all of my tools.

  • My nearly dead orchid
  • Orchid Book with re-potting directions
  • New Pot
  • Scissors
  • Potting material (orchids don’t live in regular soil)
  • Big bowl or bucket for soaking the potting material with water the night before
  • Hand shovel and gloves
  • The new tiny orchid we bought when we picked up the potting mix. It was 50% off. We couldn’t resist.

Orchid 1

 

If your orchid looks like this, you need to re-pot it. And maybe give up houseplants altogether  I personally don’t know when to quit. Mine used to have two big stalks and lots of leaves on it. Poor orchid. I should be ashamed.

First I soaked the potting mix with equal parts water the night before. I drained off the excess water before I started re-potting. I also gave the orchids a good soaking so it would be easier to clean the potting medium off the roots. Once I carefully freed the roots from the old potting medium I snipped off all the brown and/or mushy bits of root.Orchid Roots

There was a lot to cut off. I ended up with only one long and two short stalks of healthy, bright green root. Oh, poor, poor, abused Orchid.

Orchid New Pot

 

 

I planted the orchid in the potting mix up to the the leaf just like you would any other plant. The good news? There IS a new leaf growing next to the big one. YAY! Hopefully it will survive the shock of the re-potting. The book says that’s a possibility. The potting medium isn’t very pretty so I added a decorative covering. Daniel had some leftover green mossy stuff from the egg-laying box for the geckos. Isn’t he sweet to share with me? I can’t remember what that stuff is called but it’s pretty 🙂
New OrchidI also re-potted the tiny new orchid into a bigger pot. After doing a little more research I realized I should have waited on this one until it was finished blooming. Whoops. It’s been two weeks though and it seems to be doing OK and not trying to die on me so maybe I didn’t kill it. See? I should probably not try to grow Orchids. Seriously. Who makes one last attempt to save a plant they’ve almost killed and buys another one in the process? Cause the first one worked out so well. But see how pretty?

New Orchid 2I just happened to have this purple pot and the black river stones out in the shed. SCORE. Finding ways to NOT spend more money makes me so happy. Plus, see how pretty?

Garden surprises make me happy

I have volunteer petunias coming up all over the place. In a pot for the 2nd year in a row as well as all around the new 4×10 raised bed! Those are the biggest surprise and they put such a smile on my face. We also finally have some poppies blooming from seeds we got for Christmas from Daniel’s grandmother. They came from her own garden so they are extra special just like our blackberry bush from her house. It’s FULL of green blackberries. I see cobbler in our future.

Life is good.

How to Make Your Own Butter: And Avoid Manual Labor

A few nights ago I came home from work knowing that I really needed to mow the back yard. It was starting to get out of control.  Daniel mowed the front yard the week before and then he was sick as a dog for several days after. He used to mow my lawn for me sometimes when we were dating and never say a word about it making him sick. The things boys will do to get a girl to make out with them! He waited until I had promised him in public that I’d stick around in sickness and in health and then he started blowing his nose and moping about his head exploding with abandon. Now, because I love him, I keep our medicine cabinet stocked with good drugs and I usually mow the lawn.

Last Thursday night I knew that I needed to mow the jungle in the back yard before I started losing the dog in it when she went out to pee. I stood in the kitchen after work, my husband away at Guy’s Night, and I thought about changing into my mowing clothes while I scanned the fridge for dinner. There, on the top shelf, was a brand new carton of heavy whipping cream.

I found myself thinking, “I definitely need to make some homemade butter. NOW.” So, instead of mowing, I made butter in my Kitchen Aide Mixer.  I knew in theory that this was possible but I had never tried. It is so easy!

Here is my really difficult and detailed tutorial.

How to Make Your Own Butter at Home From Scratch Just Like Laura Ingalls Wilder if Laura Ingalls Wilder Had a Kitchen Aide Mixer Instead of a Butter Churn

Step1
Buy some heavy whipping cream. You can get it from the grocery store.
I don’t remember what kind I got but it was not organic or from grass fed cows. I think it might have been store-brand. Nobody was out back giving these cows massages and reading them daily affirmations. (I assume, but who knows) My crunchy friends are probably gagging right now. That’s OK. You could also probably buy whole milk with the cream still in it if you know a dairy farmer. I don’t know any dairy farmers in Arkansas.  I might in Missouri, though.  Once we had some dairy cows on the family farm my Aunt lives on.  I helped her with milking a couple of times.  You have to get up really early in the morning. Every. Single. Day.  I will never be a dairy farmer. Instead I buy store-brand heavy whipping cream at IGA.

Step 2
Pour your whipping cream (non-organic or otherwise) into your mixing bowl. Don’t use the biggest container they have at the store. I used the middle one and I think it would have made a big mess splashing if I used the big one.  I probably should have told you that when I told you to buy some.  If you already bought the giant one, just don’t use it all at once.

Step 3
Use the whisk attachment and crank ‘er up. Don’t be afraid to bring her all the way up to 6 or 8, she’s a Kitchen Effing Aid Mixer. She’s tough. Ten got a little splashy for me, though.

Step 4
Grab your phone and check your Facebook. This is going to take a few minutes and you might get bored. Sometimes I read a book during these short bursts of waiting when it’s not enough time to complete some other task.

Step 5
Pretty soon you’ll have whipped cream. It’s at this point that I realized I have never made whipped cream from scratch either and I’m definitely going to make some for strawberry shortcake this spring once we harvest enough strawberries for a batch.  If you bought the huge bottle of heavy whipping cream you can use the other half to make some whipped cream next.  Just start from the beginning and stop at Step 5.  But we’re making butter here.  So keep whipping.

Step 6
Post something nice to someone on Facebook. You might just make their day.  If you are in a Vintage Fellowship Small Group right now it’s part of your homework anyway. While you are doing that you will start to hear a slappy/splashy sound. That is the butter separating form the butter milk! It will look like this.

See the buttermilk left over?

Step 7
Pull the butter off the whisk and rinse it thoroughly, making sure to squeeze out all of the excess milk.  You can do this in a bowl squishing it with a wood spoon or just your hands under cold running water like I did.  This is actually an important step if you don’t plan to just eat that awesomeness right off the beater (you’ll be tempted).  The butter milk will make your butter go rancid more quickly if you don’t get it rinsed out.

So beautiful.  Daniel might tell you I married him so I could get this gorgeous piece of machinery.  It gives me a happy.

Step 8
Taste your butter and try not to drop dead because it’s the BEST FREAKING BUTTER YOU HAVE EVER TASTED. Vow to always make your own butter from now on. You can use it right away (I’m guessing if you baked your own bread right before you made the butter and then covered a slice of that bread in your butter the world might crack open from the awesomeness and the Mayans will have been right all along) or you can pop it in an airtight container in the fridge to harden up for later. You can also flavor it with honey or chopped up fruit or garlic or just whatever tickles your fancy.

Strain the butter milk into a mason jar because it’s cuter than a glass and you can seal it up.  I tasted it and it’s pretty yummy, not like the butter milk you buy at the store, which is cultured and tastes sour.  You can’t use this as an exact substitute for that but you CAN drink it or use it in your coffee or make ice cream with it.

This is definitely getting turned into homemade ice cream.

Daniel was sufficiently impressed with my pioneer woman skills when he got home from Guy’s Night and then I mowed the lawn on Sunday and counted it as a workout.  Lesson of the day?

Procrastination Always Pays Off

How Does Your Garden Grow?

No silver bells or pretty maids but there are lots of hot peppers! It’s May Day and everything I had planned to put in the garden is already there. That’s definitely a first. Two years ago I was scurrying to get as much planted as I could the first weekend in May before Daniel and I left for Memphis to go to Memphis in May. Last year was 3 weeks pre-wedding so that’s pretty much a blur and I really don’t remember what I had planted but it wasn’t anywhere near being finished since it never did get finished all summer.

I tried to prepare as much as possible in advance this year. I spent evenings at Tanglewood with my map of the gardens and many cold afternoons on my couch with my seed catalogs and some new gardening books.

This year we did a major over-haul l even bigger than we did the year’s before. We didn’t double the square footage like we did every other year. In fact it’s a bit smaller. But we did move the beds in the back yard to the side of the house so that they will all be together and we’re planning to add a nice little picket fence around it all to keep out the critters and the hooligans. We have already had a problem with someone helping themselves to our pile of dried bamboo that I plan on making trellises with. What is WITH people?

Despite the rocky start to the trellises I have high hopes for the garden this year! We are having some additional guttering and a downspout added to the middle of the side of the house so we can have an extra rain barrel and I’ve added some drip irrigation lines. Hopefully it will help us combat any crazy hot, dry weather we might have like last year.

This is what we have planted this year:

Bed #1 (4’x10′)
–Lots of Lettuce
–Some Cabbage from the neighbor
–4 Cucumbers (2 pickling 2 slicing)
–2 Zucchini
–1 Yellow Squash
–2 Giant Jalapeño
–2 Regular Jalapeño
–Random peppers from our friend Matthew that I lost the label for and don’t remember what it is. So let’s call it pepper surprise
–Lots of Dill

Bed #2 (2’x10′)
–2 Rows of Strawberries (We’ve already harvested a few!

Bed #3 (Maybe 3.5’x20 who the heck knows. It’s cinder blocks. It’s slightly ghetto. But there are marigolds planted in the wholes in the cinder blocks for a nice border. Anyway…)
–1 Pumpkin
–2 Watermelons
–5 Tomatoes (for canning, not slicing)
–Rosemary
–2 Soy Beans (for edamame)
–Huge Oregano
–Lots of Basil
–Green Onions
–Yellow Onions
–Garlic

PLUS
–2 Blackberry Bushes
–2 Blueberry Bushes
–1 Raspberry Bush (the 2nd died)
–Big Lemongrass Bunch

I’m probably missing some things but I think it will be a pretty good variety and I’m looking forward to doing lots of harvesting and canning and EATING this summer!

An apple a day

Last week I got a half a bushel of apples on clearance for $10 and decided it was time to make some apple butter. YUM. I found out recently that you just make it in your crock pot! Easy as apple pie. You DO have to make the apple sauce first, but that’s no problem. Unless, of course, you don’t have a food mill. I just assumed I’d be able to pick one up at our local wholesale kitchen store on Saturday morning. Not so much. They only had little tiny ones or big giant electric, restaurant style $300 versions. I can order one for fairly cheap online but the apples needed to be used now. I finally resigned myself to pealing a half a bushel of apples because you CAN make apple sauce without a food mill if you peal them first since the purpose of the mill is to separate the fruit from the skin. You just have to put them in the food processor or blender after they’ve softened up on the stove. I was saved only 4 apples in by a friend who had her grandmother’s old Foley Food Mill and offered to let me borrow it. The old ones your grandma had work so much better than anything new, I swear. And I REALLY didn’t want to peal 1/2 a bushel of apples.

So I have a crock pot full of apple sauce in the fridge waiting to start cooking tomorrow and turn into delicious apple butter. My house is going to smell DELICIOUS tomorrow! Then I’ll can them and have lovely jars up on the shelf next to the strawberry jam I canned in the spring. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Cause I’m a pioneer girl.

In which a computer error at Lowe’s makes my day

I usually don’t buy plants at full price. I wait for the people at Lowe’s or Home Depot or wherever to pretty much kill them and then put them on the “Almost Dead” rack. Then I pay 25cents for them and either nurse them back to health or I finish the job and they end up in my compost heap.

Yesterday was the first time in ages that I’d been to Lowe’s because a) I would definitely kill anything new that I planted in this heat just as I killed 99% of the plants already on my deck in the past few weeks and b) I just really didn’t need to be spending money on more plants. I have a birthday party to prepare for, people! But because of said birthday party it really IS time to fix the running toilet.

A plumber friend at church offered months ago to fix it if I’d just go buy a “Tank to Bowl Kit.” OK. I can do that. If there is something called a kit and all I have to do is ask for it at Lowe’s I’m golden. I was even more excited to realize that such a kit is less than $5! The teenage boy in the plumbing section even said it was a one-size situation. Even better! But I’m cautious (ok, paranoid) about that kind of thing so I asked him “Are you SURE this will fit any size toilet?” and he returned from asking another employee with the answer “Probably, but maybe not.” Instead of buying both sizes and returning the one that doesn’t fit, I decided I’d let my plumber friend come look at my toilet and tell me which to get. At which time I will go get the correct size while he takes apart my ancient toilet. Problem solved; now it’s time to go look at the crispy plants!

So while I was checking out a very meager selection, Daniel was noticing that a particular section of plants was swarming with butterflies and bees while none of the other plants were getting much attention. Since he was getting really excited about the butterfly bushes and we had a disappointing showing around the garden this summer when it came to the precious little pollinators I suggested we get one. The big sizes were marked to $16.95 or something like that but the smaller ones didn’t have a price anywhere. So another high school boy/Lowe’s employee came along to get us a price check.

And it rang up as $1.91.
“Did you say $11.91,” I asked skeptically.
“Nope,” says another high school boy. “They’re $1.91.”
“…..”
“DANIEL! Get 3 more!”

Four plants for less than what one of them probably should have cost! That is the kind of thing that makes me just giddy.

Because I might have someone out to grind up a stump right where they’ll be going they aren’t planted yet but here they are patiently awaiting their new home.So pretty!

My photography skills leave a little to be desired and they’re pretty small not but THIS is what they WILL look like.
And they have a really fast growth-rate. We were at some friends’ house for a party last night and coincidentally they had a butterfly bush in their yard that they bought last year. When they planted it it was a foot tall. now it’s about 6 feet.

I also finally remembered to go to the park and pick up a few horse apples for decoration. I have meant to do that every year for 3 years and I finally remembered!

Saturday was a pretty dandy day!