Garden Week 2013: End-of-Season Garden Update

Back in May, I shared with you my fledgling garden along with some gardening tips. We’ve come a long way since then, so I thought it was high time for an update. We had an incredibly wet summer with record amounts of rain, which played a huge role in my gardening adventures this year. Spoiler: we had way too much rain.

Garden at BetweenWeekdays.com

In the Garden

This was the first year I was able to have a large garden plot, so I tested the soil a bit by planting plants sporadically to see what grew best where. Here’s how it all worked out:

  • Potatoes: I had a terrific crop of potatoes. I dug out 15 pounds! Despite all of the rain we had this year, I only had two rotten potatoes in the ground. I’ll definitely plant potatoes again.
    Potato Crop 2013 at BetweenWeekdays.com
  • Cherry Tomatoes: I planted three cherry tomato plants, and they have been major producers. We’ve loved having fresh bruschetta often straight from the garden. However, the plants became too large for my cages, so I’m going to have to rethink that for next year.
  • Tomatoes: My tomatoes have not done well at all. We ordered them from a catalog that had big promises of large, wonderful tomatoes. So far, my plants haven’t even been big enough to cage. I haven’t been able to can a single tomato this year. It’s been highly disappointing. The rain was a huge factor in my disappointing tomato crop, but I think they would have done better if I hadn’t done the catalog order. I know it works great for some people, but I’m not willing to try again.
  • Three Types of Lettuce: My lettuce grew very well during the spring, since it’s a cooler weather crop. While it was nice to be able to cut fresh lettuce whenever I wanted, I didn’t enjoy cleaning the leaves. Aphids were a huge problem for me, and I felt like I spent all of my time washing rather than enjoying my crop. I’m not sure if I’ll plant lettuce again.
  • Three types of Onions: Once again, the rain mainly dominated this category of food for me. What did come up though, was good, albeit small, but good.
  • Eggplant: Of my two eggplant plants, one drowned immediately and the other produced one eggplant before drowning.
  • White Half Runner Beans: I’ve shared two methods of preserving fresh beans (canning and freezing) this week, but what I didn’t share with you is that I’ve had a pitiful crop of beans this year. We just had too much rain. I’ve picked beans twice, but I wasn’t able to get a “mess” either time. I’ll be pulling up the vines soon and harvesting what’s left on the vines. I usually only like to grow beans every other year, but it looks like I’ll be trying again next year.Beans at BetweenWeekdays.com
  • Squash: I had squash for about two weeks before every single plant drowned. I should have had squash for at least two or three months.
  • Zucchini: My zucchini plants all drowned before they could even think about producing.
  • Lots of Peppers: Some of my peppers have done well, but some drowned and Travis accidentally mowed some down. I bought several varieties of bell peppers, but, so far, they’ve all been green.
  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers are my absolute, most-favorite food, so it was disappointing when they drowned. They lasted about three weeks.
  • Watermelon: I actually have three baby watermelons! I’m very much looking forward to enjoying my watermelons in a few weeks.
  • Cantaloupe: The rain sadly claimed my cantaloupe.
  • Strawberries: The strawberries were another win for the rain. I’m going to try planing strawberries early in the season next year in hanging baskets.
  • Peaches and Cream Corn: I managed to get about 15 ears of corn. Not great, but at least the rain didn’t completely ruin my crop.
  • Broccoli: My broccoli was beautiful. It was perfect. And then it rained for a week straight and I couldn’t get out to harvest in time. In hindsight, I should have put on rain boots and trudged through the mud. I’m actually considering growing a fall crop.
  • Cauliflower: My cauliflower didn’t do well at all due to the rain.
  • Herbs: My herbs are beautiful. The raised bed has allowed for better drainage. Normally, raised beds have to be watered daily, but I’ve only had to water twice.Basil at BetweenWeekdays.com
  • Grapes: I haven’t done anything with the grapes this year. I’ve heard that all of the rain made the grapes incredibly sour, which is definitely ringing true for my grapes. Plus, they’re shriveling very quickly. I need to do some research on raising grapes.

So, if you noticed, too much rain was a reoccurring theme for my garden this year. Luckily, there’s always next year!

2014 Garden Plans

Obviously, I have no control over the amount of rain we receive, but I do have control over some parts of my garden. Here’s what I hope to do differently:

  • The bottom half of my garden mostly washed away during early spring/summer rains. I might shorten my garden next year, or I might plant early crops on one end to account for spring rains and plant later crops below. I’m not sure.
  • I plan to focus on planting only what I know I’ll use. For instance, more cucumbers, less lettuce.
  • I’ve got to find a better solution for tomato cages. I have some ideas, but I’m definitely open to suggestions.
  • I really need to learn how to use the tiller. This year, it’s been too wet to till, but I’m hoping to get out there next year. I think Travis tilled once this year.

This wraps up Garden Week. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Gardening is a lot of work, but I always find it to be fulfilling and rewarding. In this season of our lives, it’s exactly how I want to spend my time.

GardenWeek at BetweenWeekdays.com

How did your gardens fare this year?

In case you missed any of the Garden Week posts, click below:

Garden Week 2013: How to Freeze Green Beans

Welcome back to Garden Week here at BetweenWeekdays! So far, I’ve shared a tutorial for canning beans, a recipe for fresh-from-the-garden bruschetta and a tutorial (and recipe!) for canning spaghetti sauce. It’s been quite a week so far.

GardenWeek at BetweenWeekdays.com

Today I’m sharing a different method for preserving fresh green beans. Instead of canning my beans, this year I decided to try freezing the beans. I just didn’t have enough to can, so out of necessity, I learned a new method that I just had to share. (I’ll share more on how my garden fared this year tomorrow.)

Like anything else, freezing beans has it’s pros and cons. For instance, freezing is much easier than canning; plus you don’t need special equipment like a pressure canner and jars. However, these take up room in your freezer, and they won’t last as long as their canned counterparts.

To freeze the beans, you’ll need to pick them and prepare them just as you would if you were canning by stringing the beans, removing the bad places and washing them a couple of times. (For more on preparing beans, click here.)

How to Freeze Green Beans at BetweenWeekdays.com

Once all of your prep work is done, freezing the beans only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish.

How to Freeze Green Beans

Begin by blanching your beans until they turn bright green. This isn’t an exact science, but I let mine get bright green, and then I left them to boil for a few more minutes. I didn’t want the beans to be fork tender, but I wanted to begin the cooking process.

How to Freeze Green Beans at BetweenWeekdays.com

Next, remove the beans with a slotted spoon to drain the water and place in a freezer, zip-top bag or you can use a FoodSaver like I did. Remove all of the air from the bag and seal. Write the date on the packaging and freeze.

How to Freeze Green Beans at BetweenWeekdays.com

And that’s it, my friends. This is a super simple way to preserve your fresh produce. We’ve already eaten some of the beans we prepared this way, and they were very tasty.

Even though this method of food preservation is very simple, I still prefer canning beans to freezing. They taste delicious from the freezer, but they just won’t last as long as they would canned. Plus, a freezer isn’t always reliable during lengthy power outages. Next year, I hope to be able to can beans once again.

p.s. I love my FoodSaver! I bought it secondhand, but it works fantastic. Here’s the link on Amazon if you’re in the market for one.

Tomorrow will finish up Garden Week with an update on my garden this year and what I hope to accomplish next year. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these post as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them!

In case you missed any of the Garden Week posts, click below:

I’m linking up to TDC’s Before and After Party.

Garden Week 2013: How to Can Spaghetti Sauce (Recipe Included!)

Garden Week continues here at BetweenWeekdays! On Monday, I shared a tutorial for canning green beans and I shared a super simple and delicious bruschetta recipe yesterday with you.

Today I’m reposting a canning tutorial for spaghetti sauce. This tutorial also includes a spaghetti sauce recipe in case you just want to make an easy and delicious spaghetti sauce for dinner.

How to Can Spaghetti Sauce from BetweenWeekdays.com

Canning spaghetti sauce is much easier than beans, because you can omit the pressure cooker freeing you up to make as little or as much as you want in one canning session. I’ve been known to only make a couple of jars at a time. Plus, you don’t have to work with equipment that can sometimes be dangerous if not used properly. That’s a double win in my book.

Here’s what you’ll need to can spaghetti sauce:

  • Tomatoes
  • Ice Water
  • Crock Pot
  • Pairing Knife
  • Jars
  • Jar Lids
  • Jar Rings
  • Funnel
  • Slow Cooker
  • Spaghetti Sauce Ingredients (see below)

Step 1: Sanitize Jars

The first thing you need to do when canning spaghetti sauce is sanitize your jars, rings and lids. You can do this by running the jars and rings through the dishwasher. I usually just wash the lids, or flats, with soapy water. Do not run the flats through the dishwasher. The heat from the dishwasher will cause the jars to not seal properly.

Another benefit to washing your jars in the dishwasher is that they come out nice and hot. This is important since you won’t be using a pressure canner to seal your jars. My dishwasher runs on a two-hour cycle, so I timed making my spaghetti sauce to two hours.

If your jars are already sanitized and you won’t be using a dishwasher, you can heat them by pouring boiling water in each jar a few minutes before you pour your spaghetti sauce in. You can transfer the boiling water from jar to jar as you add spaghetti sauce. Just be sure and use a funnel, because pouring boiling water on your hands is no fun. Trust me.

Step 2: Prepare Spaghetti Sauce

The first thing you’ll want to do is peel and core your tomatoes. This can be done very simply by blanching your tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes, and then dropping them into ice water. The skins will come loose in the boiling water, making them super easy to peel by hand. If they’re too hot to touch, drop them back in the ice bath for a few seconds. Then, core your tomatoes with a paring knife, or apple corer, and remove the skins.

How to Can Spaghetti Sauce from BetweenWeekdays.com

Once all of your tomatoes are peeled and cored, drop them into your slow cooker. I dropped mine in whole, but I’d recommend quartering the tomatoes to speed the cooking process.

To your tomatoes, add your spaghetti sauce ingredients. You can follow any recipe you want (mine is below). Through trial and error, I’ve come up with a simple sauce that is versatile enough to be used for spaghetti, pizza, chicken parmesan, etc.

Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 9 or 10 Tomatoes, peeled and cored
  • 2 Cans Tomato Sauce
  • 1 Can Tomato Paste
  • 3 or 4 Fresh Garlic Cloves, Minced *
  • 2 Tablespoons Basil (I like to use Gourmet Garden basil in a tube.) *
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Italian Seasoning *
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper *
  • Dash of Salt

* Use more or less of this ingredient per taste.

All you do is combine all of the above ingredients (be sure to mash your tomatoes really well) in your crock pot and let it cook on high while your jars finish in the dishwasher. You could also cook your sauce on the stove top, just be sure to not let it burn. I’d recommend cooking it on medium or medium-high heat.  I like to stir/mash the sauce every 30 minutes or so just to make sure all of the ingredients are well combined.

Canning Spaghetti Sauce at BetweenWeekdays.com

The tomatoes will break down on their own during the cooking process, and you’ll be left with a sauce that is slightly chucky depending on how much you mash. If it’s still too chunky at the end of the the cooking process, you can blend it with an immersion blender directly in the crock pot.

Canning Spaghetti Sauce

Once your jars are sanitized, remove them from your dishwasher in pairs, closing the dishwasher after each pair has been removed.  This will hold the heat in the dishwasher keeping your jars hot.

Work quickly to funnel your sauce into each jar. Fill the jars nearly to the top leaving very little headspace and then secure your ring and lid on the jar tightly. Then, and this is important, turn your jar over so that it is standing on the lid. The pressure of the hot liquid on the lid will help seal the jar. Continue until all of your jars are filled and upside down.

This should yield about six or seven jars of spaghetti sauce since tomatoes break down quite a bit while cooking.

Leave your jars upside down over night. The next morning, check to see if all of your jars are sealed by pressing the lid. If the lid doesn’t move or pop, your jars are sealed. If it moves, the jar is not sealed and you’ll need to put it in the fridge to use that week.

Canning Spaghetti Sauce at BetweenWeekdays.com

Have you been canning anything lately? I’m hoping to can a few jars of spaghetti sauce soon, and I’ll definitely be using this recipe again.

How to Can Spaghetti Sauce from BetweenWeekdays.com

Garden week continues tomorrow with another method to store your fresh-from-the-garden produce. See you then!

GardenWeek at BetweenWeekdays.com

 

In case you missed any of the Garden Week posts, click below:

 

I’m linking up to TDC’s Before & After Party!

Garden Week 2013: How to Can Green Beans

Welcome to Garden Week 2013! Today I’m sharing a tutorial I wrote a couple of years ago for canning green beans.If you’ve been too nervous to attempt canning before now, let me assure you that anyone can do it! Just make sure you follow the proper instructions for preserving your food, and you’ll be amazed at how simple canning can be!

GardenWeek at BetweenWeekdays.com

Every couple of years we spend a Saturday afternoon canning beans. It’s a pretty simple process, but it can be intimidating for those who are new to canning. For a full tutorial on canning beans, read on!

BetweenWeekdays How to Can Green Beans

Luckily, this year we didn’t have to pick the beans (white half runners, if you’re interested) ourselves. We were very happy to become the proud owners of of a five-gallon bucket beans one friday night back in 2011.

Here’s what you’ll need to can beans:

  • Beans
  • Jars
  • Jar Lids, commonly called flats
  • Jar Bands, commonly called rings
  • Pressure Canner
  • Jar Funnel
  • Jar Lifter
  • Bath Towel

How to Can Beans from Start to Finish

  1. Remove strings from beans and break into two or three pieces. Then, place in water to remove dirt. It’s best to do this outside in case any bugs came along for a ride on the beans.
  2. Take the beans that are in the water (we filled a cooler with water to accommodate all the beans), and remove the bad places with knife.
  3. Transfer cleaned beans inside and place in sink filled with water. This will remove any dirt that may still be clinging to your beans.
  4. Check beans in sink for any bad places or strings one more time (or two more times if you want).
  5. Blanch beans on stovetop for about 15 minutes. This begins the cooking process and cuts down the time it takes to cook beans from the jar. You could omit this step and “dry pack” the beans, but I prefer blanching.
  6. Funnel beans into jars and pack them down with a spoon. Fill the jars nearly to the top with beans.
  7. Top jars off with water used to blanche the beans.
  8. Place your lid and band on the jar.
  9. Place in the pressure cooker.
  10. Repeat steps 6 through 9 until your pressure canner is full.

At this point, you’ll need to refer to the instructions that came with your pressure canner as they may vary from mine. Pressure canners can be dangerous if you do not follow instructions.

Here are the basic steps for using a pressure canner to can beans. Please be sure to carefully read the instructions that came with your canner.

  1. Be sure your canner is thoroughly cleaned. Refer to your instruction manual for proper cleaning techniques.
  2. Place canner on stovetop and put a small amount of water inside. There should be a mark inside showing where to top the water. Your instructions will have more information on this. Generally, only a small amount of water is needed. For instance, my pressure canner required only three quarts.
  3. Place the canning cooking rack inside canner.
  4. Place filled jars on top of cooking rack. Do not leave a lot of room in between jars. During the canning process they will knock into each other and break if there is too much room inside the canner. If you have any leftover space, place water into an empty jar, close it with a lid and band and then place into canner.
  5. Place lid on top and lock into place.
  6. Turn your stovetop where your canner is on high.
  7. Once you see steam coming out of the top, place your pressure regulator on the vent pipe on top. Ours was sent to 10 pounds pressure. Different canning recipes call for different pounds of pressure.
  8. Once the regulator begins to jiggle, turn your burner heat down. You’ll want your heat somewhere between high and medium heat. Your regular will continue to jiggle.
  9. Set a timer for 15 minutes and wait.
  10. At the end of the 15 minutes turn off your burner and remove canner from heat source. Be very careful when moving your canner.
  11. It is very important to let the pressure drop on its own. Do not remove the pressure regulator. Check your instruction manual to know when pressure is completely reduced. DO NOT remove the lid or pressure regulator until the pressure is completely reduced.
  12. When the pressure is completely reduced, remove the lid carefully and slowly to keep steam away from you.
  13. Remove each jar from the canner with a jar lifter.
  14. Place jars on bath towel on counter top.
  15. When all the jars have been removed from the canner, cover them with a bath towel to keep jars from cooling too quickly. If they cool too quickly, they may break. You’ll hear the lids popping into place as they seal.
  16. Leave jars overnight to seal and cool.
  17. Once the jars are cooled, check each one to make sure they are all sealed. To do this press down on the top of each lid. If it pops, it hasn’t sealed. If a jar is not sealed, you’ll need to repeat the canning process.
  18. Write the canning date on the top of the jars and store in a cool, dry place.

Once again, it is VERY important to refer to the instructions that came with your canner when canning. Pressure cookers can be extremely dangerous when not used properly.

 

See? Easy as pie. This year, I chose to preserve my green beans using a different method, which I’ll be sharing later in the week. Stay tuned!

In case you missed any of the Garden Week posts, click below:

I’m linking up to TDC’s Before and After Party!

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