Thoughts on September, and Fall Seed Shopping

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If you were to ask a non-gardener when the busiest time in the garden would be, I would guess they would assume Spring. Perhaps thats the busiest time for some gardeners, but to me, September is a month of an overwhelming number of to-do’s. Not only does this month give us harvesting and the final stretch of preserving season, but you also have to get your winter veggies into the ground! Its hard to think about planting beets and broccoli when its 85 degrees out and your surrounded by tomatoes, but thats the way September works!outside sign

The first thing that I do when entering a new planting season is to go though my mess of seeds and determine what I need to buy. I missed the window of starting the brassicas from seed back in August, so I decided to get those from starts. Other things, like greens and roots can still be seeded though out the month.

seeds

So last weekend, I took a break from painting the kitchen and took a trip down to Petaluma to go to the Baker Creek Seed Bank. When we lived in Petaluma, we were only a few blocks away, and we frequented there quite regularly. Now, I usually only stop in once in the spring and once in the fall.

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Most gardeners are familiar with Baker Creek and their heirloom seeds. I’ve written about them before. Lucky for those in Sonoma County, we can visit their beautiful store!

signIf you’ve never been there, its fun just to check out, regardless if you need seeds or not. Housed in an old bank building, it has sky high ceilings that are intricately carved and marble floors. The main floor is lined with reclaimed wood shelves with all the seed packs, organized alphabetically by type, just like in their catalogue. Downstairs, in what was originally the bank’s vault, they have gardening tools, homesteading supplies and lots of books.

books

 Unlike past trips, I didn’t come prepared with a list of what varieties I wanted to get, just my list of “more beets, carrots, turnip, peas, red lettuces, bok choy and sweet peas”. We had plenty of arugula, kale, radishes, collard and chard seeds, and some peas, carrots and lettuces left from last year, but I wanted some new varieties. After wandering around with the little tin pail and tossing seed packs into it, I walked away $65 and well stocked for the next few years!

staircase

Farm to Fermentation Festival

I consider that I’m pretty with it when it comes to the lost, or forgotten if you will, homesteading arts. I know how to sew, save seeds, and butcher a chicken. I have enough skills to knit a hat, a scarf and a mitten. I can split wood, cook from scratch and able to preserve the season by putting it in jars. But, I’m reluctant to say, fermenting is not something I’m well versed in.

table of pickles

Fermentation is a natural process that is happening all around us. Like most of the wonderful things in this world, it preceded humankind. Practiced for centuries as a way to preserve food before canning and refrigeration, fermentation also keep us healthy. Fermented foods are natural probiotics, meaning they help grow that natural bacteria inside us. The human body works better when certain types of “friendly” bacteria flourish in our digestive system, helping to break down foods and flush out the system. Ever stop to wonder why fatty sausages are served with fermented cabbage? To help you digest it! Instead of taking a costly probiotic to keep your gut happy, simply eat some fermented foods!

I’d done sauerkraut and just recently did my first batch of open crock fermented pickles, but anything else seemed a bit scary to me. But recently, I’ve had fermenting on the brain and am super excited to jump into this next homesteading skill.

pickles and beet samples

So why the sudden interest? Because a few weekends ago, I went to the Farm to Fermentation Festival. Now in its 4th year, this festival was way beyond the standard food festival commercial scene we’ve all been to, but a day celebrating all things fermented. The day was filled with informative lectures and demonstrations covering a wide range of fermentation topics, such as “Your Digestive Health”, “Making Healthy Sodas”, “Making Your First Batch of Kimchi” and “Making Miso at Home”.

I sat on a few of these lectures, including “Small-Scale Lactofermentation” by Nicole Easterday from FarmCurious where I learned about how easy it is to ferment veggies in small scale by using a airlock on a mason jar. Matt really enjoyed the “Asian Pickle” lecture by Karen Solomon and learned about using a rice bran bed, or a nuka-doko, to pickle veggies.

meadery table

In between learning from the lectures, we browsed and shopped in the exhibit hall and checked out the latest fermenting wears, such as hand thrown pottery crocks and jugs, airlocks, books, culture kits and the new Kraut Source, which just met its kickstarter goal- an inventive stainless steel set of a press and water moat that fit on a mason jar.

My favorite part of the festival, which is no surprise because I’m always at events for the food, was all the samples! Local and regional vendors of fermented goodness provided samples of all kinds- we spent the day tasting a variety of cucumber pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, cheese, bread, beet kvass, kombucha, wine, beer, mead and cider. I resisted buying a jar of everything and came home with only a jar of very unique ‘cheriboshi’, which are fermented then dried cherries. And a mason jar fermenting set. And a few books.

fermenting tops

Armed with my new supplies and excitement, I’ve already started a jar of fermented salsa and have a plan for getting a jar of carrots started soon. Are you fearful of fermenting, as I was, because your concerned with food safety and spoilage? The line between something being fermented and rotten is a confusing continuum, but trust your judgment, and as I also learned, the CDC has never reported a case of someone getting sick from a fermented food, so take the plunge!

tasting

Not ready to make your own but want the health benefits? Find these types of live fermented foods at your local grocery store or farmers market: kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut (freshly fermented, not from the jar!), pickles (freshly fermented, not from the jar!), tempeh, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, unpasteurized aged cheese, unpasteurized beer. Still think fermentation is weird and something only hippies or health nuts are into? There are many other foods that ferment with the help of bacteria, such as: charcuterie, wine, beer, vanilla, ginger beer, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, bread, chocolate, tea, coffee and miso.

Signs of Fall

We still have a month until the autumn equinox on September 23, but it sure feels like fall started early! The mornings have been misty and the sky is a lot less bright as I do my evening walks though the yard.

fennel

Tomatoes are harvested daily and all the pumpkins and winter squash are relocated from the vines into the pantry. For the past month, my counters have been covered in rotating trays of pears, apples, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The canning pot has taken up its late summer semi-permanent spot on the stove and I’m regularly turning out batches of preserved goods.

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The leaves on the fruit and walnut trees are turning yellow and starting to fall, creating a carpet of yellow around their base. My persimmon tree is so fully loaded the branches are touching the ground. The drying beans are also turning color, the plants slowly dying back, and I’ve stopped watering that bed to facilitate faster drying. Fronds from the asparagus are browning and the red berries are standing out like glowing ornaments.

asparagusbeans

My mind and body is making the shift as well. While our mid-days are still warm and bright, in the evenings I’m sensing the urge to curl up with knitting needles and tea. The high path of the summer sun is shifting, and without its bright light beaming in my window first thing has made me start to sleep in longer. I’m no longer wanting cool refreshing foods but craving heavy winter foods like roasted squash and cheesy gratins. As my friend Diana recently said, “I want rain rain rain and pumpkin!”. I’ve heard (i.e.- read on the interwebs, so it must be true!) that Starbucks has already released the iconic seasonal pumpkin spice latte.

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The chickens have noticed the change as well, and I’m getting significantly less eggs than I did a few weeks ago. Yesterday, only 5. The one turkey left from a raccoon massacre at the pallet palace, who’s taken up residence with the chickens, is growing nicely.

eggs

I’ve been mostly preoccupied in the kitchen, trying to get pound and pounds of pears and tomatoes into jars, but I’ve slowly been working on transitioning the garden into the winter growing season. Eggplants and pepper that never really did anything have been pulled, as well as spent squash vines and the dead tomatillo plants that gave up promptly after forming husks but never set fruit. Hopefully within the next few weeks I’ll make some more space and get kale and beet seeds in, soon to follow by brassica starts.

Late summer and autumn is my favorite season, with the busyness of harvest and I’m reveling in the change of the weather! How are things where you are? What do you love best about fall?

the Perfect Pear Jam

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perfect pear jam

Its pear season! I’ve got an ancient pear tree in the back section of my lot, there are two fully loaded branches that hang over the fence from the neighbors pear tree, and there are about a billion (ok, maybe 5, that I know) people who are trying to pawn pears off on people. As I won’t let good produce go to waste, all pears must go to good use!

pearsLast year, when faced with counters of ripening pears, I turned to this Vanilla Pear jam recipe from Food in Jars for inspiration. After adjusting the sugar quantity and using Pamona’s Pectin, I turned out a few cases of it. This year, I’m back to being inundated with pears, and back to the Pear Vanilla jam jamboree! I’m pretty sure this is the best jam I’ve ever made! As long as I have access to pears, I will make sure to always put up a few jars. 

vanilla mixing in pectin with sugar immersion blender

boiling jam

jam jars

Pear Vanilla Jam

  • 16 cups cored and chopped thin-skinned pears (no need to peel)
  • 4 vanilla beans, split and scraped
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 5 teaspoons Pamona’s Pectin powder
  • 10 teaspoons calcium water

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine pears, vanilla beans and all the bean-y goodness that was scraped out. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft can easily be smashed with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the vanilla pods. Use an immersion blender to break the fruit down into a smooth sauce. Add the calcium water. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the pectin powder with the sugar, then stir into to fruit. Bring to a roiling boil and boil for 5 minutes.

Fill jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace, and process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

yield: 11 half-pint jars

If you are new to canning, make sure to checkout a reputable source for step by step instructions. The Ball website is a great source for all the basic info. 

jam mess

The Sunflowers

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Throughout the summer, sunflowers of all different sizes and shapes have graced my garden, and their time is coming to a close. The petals are dropping, seeds are ripening, and the drying stalks are leaning out at awkward angles. A group of little finches flock to the plants to peck away the seeds, some hanging upside down from the head and some precariously perched sideways on the stalk. These birds are small and fast, and fly way when I get close. I’ve even seen a woodpecker hammering away to get its share of the tasty morsels.

To honor these awesome flowers that brought such color and joy to my garden, I wanted to share a collection of my favorite pictures captured over the past few months. Some have been posted before, some where on my Instagram, some just captured because they made me happy!

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Come with me
            into the filed of sunflowers.
                        Their faces are burnished disks,
                                    their dry spines
 
creak like ship masts,
            their green leaves,
                        so heavy and many,
                                    fill all day with the sticky
 
sugars of the sun.
            Come with me
                        to visit the sunflowers,
                                    they are shy
 
but want to be friends;
            they have wonderful stories
                        of when they were young—
                                    the important weather,
 
the wandering crows.
            Don’t be afraid
                        to ask them questions!
                                    Their bright faces,
 
Which follow the sun,
            will listen, and all
                        those rows of seeds—
                                    each one a new life!—
 
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
            each of the, though it stands
                        in a crown of many,
                                    like a separate universe,
 
is lonely, the long work
            of turning their lives
                        into a celebration
                                    is not easy. Come
 
and let us talk with those modest faces,
            the simple garments of leaves,
                        the coarse roots in the earth
                                    so uprightly burning.

 – Mary Oliver, from Dream Work, 1986

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