Cold Frame Winter Prep

Our average first frost date is still a few weeks away, but I decided it was time to get the cold frames ready for winter. I’ve used several different materials to cover my cold frames over the years, and I am currently using Agribon AG-19 row cover material. On the cold frame covers this material usually needs replacing once a year, and now is a great time to do it, before the cold winds of autumn and winter start blowing.

cold frame cover

cold frame cover

I took some ‘before’ photos to show the cold frames before I started working on them. The cold frame in the above photo is planted with spinach, arugula and lettuce. The cover is in fairly good shape on it, but I am going to replace it anyway. You never know what winter will bring, and I want the cold frames to be as well  prepared as I can get them.

bird netting covering kale

bird netting covering kale

The next cold frame is planted with Beedy’s Camden and Red Ursa kale. I’m using a hoop system made of PVC pipes and rebar to support bird netting over it. I will replace the netting with Agribon as the weather gets colder. I am hoping to overwinter these plants, and hopefully save seeds from one of the kale varieties.

this cover is in bad shape

this cover is in bad shape

The third cold frame is planted with kohlrabi and lettuce. The cover on it is in pretty bad shape, as you can see in the above photo. I will be replanting the beds as the current occupants are harvested, probably with more spinach and lettuce. The last of my four cold frames is planted in basil and I didn’t include it in the photo lineup.

cold frame covered with bird netting

cold frame covered with bird netting

I removed the old Agribon from the two cold frame covers I wanted to repair. The first one has bird netting over it, which makes a good material if all you are trying to do is keep out birds and other critters. That’s sometimes all I use in summer, and it works well for me.

cold frame after recovering with Agribon

cold frame after recovering with Agribon

I put the Agribon on right over the top of the bird netting. I like to cut the row cover material a bit oversized so I can fold it over and under the wood frame of the cover. I’ve found that helps to keep the material from blowing loose from the wooden frame. The other cold frame doesn’t have the bird netting on it, but I covered it with the Agribon in the same fashion, stapling with an office stapler. I could use a heavier staple with a staple gun, but then I usually replace these every year and the thinner office staples are easier to remove. You can see how I tuck the material under the frame in the below photo. I have found that when the winds start howling, it is best to have the material secured as well as possible.

another view of Agribon covered cold frame lid

another view of Agribon covered cold frame lid

I hope this been informative for those folks who are thinking about getting their cold frames ready for winter. I know that in areas with colder winter weather gardeners will likely be using something like glass or Plexiglas for cover material instead of the Agribon. So how do you all get your cold frames ready for winter? I’d love to hear about it!

This post was shared at Simple Lives Thursday and Mostly Homemade Mondays.

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Dehydrating Peppers, and How To Use Them

Right about now, peppers of all sizes, colors and shapes are getting ripe in our garden. My wife and I have been enjoying them every way we can, from grilled to roasted, and in salsas and salads. We surely enjoy them a lot while they are fresh from the garden. But the season for them is fairly short here, and it is nice to preserve some of them for use throughout the rest of the year. One great way I like to preserve the peppers is dehydrating.

Anaheim and Biggie Chili peppers ready for drying

Anaheim and Biggie Chili peppers ready for drying

If you happen to live in an area with a dry climate, you can dry peppers by hanging them up somewhere out of direct sunlight, preferably in an area with good air circulation. In regions with high humidity like ours, a dehydrator is the best way to dry peppers. I set our dehydrator on 135°F, which is the temperature used for drying fruits. It generally takes one to two days to dry the peppers using the dehydrator, depending on the thickness of the walls of the peppers, and how many peppers are being dried.

sliced bell peppers for drying

sliced bell peppers for drying

I usually cut bell peppers into slices before drying. Other shapes can be cut in half lengthwise, or even dried whole. Cutting into slices or pieces will definitely speed up the drying time. How you intend to use them can also help you decide whether to slice them up or leave the whole. If you do slice them, remember they will shrink considerably when drying.

dried chiles

dried chiles

The peppers should be dried until they are leathery and still a bit flexible, but with no trace of moisture remaining. You don’t want to dry them until they are brown and burned looking, as that will destroy many of the vitamins as well as give them a scorched taste. They can be stored in an airtight container, and then kept in a cool dark place or the freezer. I like to vacuum seal them using our FoodSaver, and then store the packaged peppers in the freezer.

vacuum sealed dried peppers

vacuum sealed dried peppers

And what can you do with the peppers after they are dried? The sweet peppers can be reconstituted and used in any recipe that calls for fresh peppers. I really enjoy them in egg dishes like omelets, frittatas and quiches. They also work well on pizza, where they pair exceptionally well with dehydrated or slow-roasted tomatoes.

fritatta with asparagus and dried peppers

fritatta with asparagus and dried peppers

The dried hot peppers are great to toss in soups, stews and bean dishes where they add a spicy, flavorful touch. You can either fish them out after cooking, or else chop them up and incorporate them in the dish. But wait, there’s more ways to use them! You can grind up the dried sweet peppers to make Homemade Paprika.

grinding peppers for paprika

grinding peppers for paprika

And you can grind up the hot peppers to make Homemade Chile Powder. Or you can crush them into flakes for sprinkling in and on foods.

Homemade Chile Powder

Homemade Chile Powder

I hope this has given you some ideas on the many uses there are for dehydrated peppers. Drying peppers intensifies the flavor as well as preserves them for use all year long. And once dried, the peppers are so useful to have in the kitchen!

This post was shared at Tuesday Garden Party, Simple Lives Thursday and Mostly Homemade Mondays.

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Monday Recap: Planting Fall Salads

Last week I planted spinach, lettuce and arugula in some of the cold frame beds. You could say I planted salad greens, but I like to think of it as actually planting salads. The greens are so fast growing, you can plant the greens and be eating salads from them a few weeks later. All lettuces are not created alike though, so I planted some of my favorite varieties. Back in late August I started seeds of Oakleaf, Simpson Elite, Red Sails and Spotted Trout indoors under lights. The Oakleaf did not germinate, which means I need to get some fresh seed, but the others came up in no time.

spinach seedlings ready to transplant

spinach seedlings ready to transplant

I also started some spinach seeds, including the Space, Viroflay and Giant Winter varieties. Sowing spinach seed outside this time of year is usually a recipe for failure. Spinach germinates best when temperatures are cooler than 70°F, and when they are above 75°F it often refuses to germinate at all. Our basement is hot in summer, hotter than 75°F during the day, so I got less than 50% germination of the spinach. But I compensated by starting extra, so I wound up with about 30 plants. It’s even hotter outside though, and sowing the seeds outside in late August rarely works, with the seed often rotting before it sprouts. The arugula and lettuce had no problems with the high temps inside though and came up nicely.

spinach planted

spinach planted

I’ve had good luck starting spinach indoors and then setting out when it has at least two true leaves. Barbara Pleasant is a fan of doing it this way too, and you can read more about the subject with her article “Getting a Good Stand of Garden Spinach.”  It makes for interesting reading, and I will be trying her trick of ‘priming’ the seeds the next time I start some. Since I had a limited number of spinach plants, I set them out a bit farther apart than usual. Normally I crowd them up when sowing then thin out at least half of them when they are big enough to eat.

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce

Joining the spinach in one bed was some arugula and lettuce. Red Sails is a dependable leaf lettuce for me. Started at the same time as the spinach, the lettuce grew quite a bit faster. I’ll wait a week or so before I mulch these plants, as I don’t want to encourage the slugs or sowbugs to get after the young seedlings.

spreading Sluggo Plus around new spinach plants

spreading Sluggo Plus around new spinach plants

I know some of you are thinking “but aren’t sowbugs beneficial?” Well, they are if they are on the compost pile, but they have wreaked havoc on seedlings here this year, and I’m talking about healthy seedlings too. Mulching early could be one of the causes, which is one reason I am going to wait. I also sprinkled Sluggo Plus on the bed after planting. This organic product has spinosad in addition to iron phosphate to control slugs, snail, pillbugs, sowbugs and earwigs, to name a few pests.

cold frame bed after planting

cold frame bed after planting

Above is a photo of what one bed looked like after planting and watering. This one has spinach, arugula and lettuce planted. I’ll post another photo of it in a few weeks, and hopefully it will be full of salad greens!

Kolibri kohlrabi

Kolibri kohlrabi

The bed next door has had kohlrabi planted for about a month now. That’s Kolibri in the above photo, and it will soon be big enough to harvest. I love kohlrabi, and it’s always a treat when we have it it. Fortunately it stores well in the refrigerator, or in a cool root cellar. Some of these have a little slug damage on the skin and leaves but not enough to hurt anything.

Spotted Trout lettuce

Spotted Trout lettuce

I planted a dozen lettuce plants in the bed with the kohlrabi. That’s Spotted Trout in the above photo. It’s another favorite of mine.

bed with kohlrabi and lettuce

bed with kohlrabi and lettuce

The Slobolt lettuce in that bed is big enough to eat. It’s on the far right in the above photo. I need to start some more lettuce and spinach to replace those Slotbolt plants when I pull them, and to plant in other spots as they open up.

Gold Nugget and Delicata squash

Gold Nugget and Delicata squash

In other news, we have been enjoying the Delicata and Gold Nugget squashes. They are two of my favorite ones for individual servings.

Barley Wheat Bread

Barley Wheat Bread

And I baked a loaf of Barley Wheat bread this week. It’s another recipe from Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. The barley flour gives the bread a great flavor, not to mention extra fiber.

fermented chili garlic sauce

fermented chili garlic sauce

I took the Maule’s Red Hot peppers I was fermenting last week and made a chili garlic sauce with them. After scraping the seeds off the peppers, I put them in the food processor along with a bit of sugar and vinegar, and a generous amount of freshly minced/crushed garlic. I added a bit of the salty brine too, and then whirred the whole thing up to a fairly fine consistency. I was quite happy with the final product. I love the extra flavor that the fermenting adds, and I can see me doing this again in the future.

That’s all I have for now. I hope you have enjoyed this recap of what’s going on here at HA!

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Roasting Fresh Chile Peppers

I love the smell of roasting peppers. My wife and I made a fall trip to New Mexico a few years ago, and it seemed like everywhere we went they were roasting the new crop of chiles. The wonderful aroma permeated the air as the roasters were set up outside supermarkets and on street corners. They were so reasonably priced, it was tempting to buy some and try and bring them home. But I knew I already had plenty NuMex type peppers growing in my own garden. And they would be waiting for me to roast when I got back home from vacation.

Roasting Chile Peppers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Roasting Chile Peppers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the Southwest they use big, specially made roasters to do the job. At home, you can use the oven broiler or do like I do and use the gas grill. The grill lets you do a larger quantity at one time, and it also helps keep the smell outside just in case you aren’t as fond of the aroma as I am. Today I’m roasting a mix of two varieties: Anaheim and Biggie Chili. You can use any peppers you have available, and I also sometimes roast poblanos/anchos and other New Mexico types.

roasting chiles on the grill

roasting chiles on the grill

Either way you do it, the goal is to char the skin until it is blistered and blackened, but not so much that the peppers are burnt to a crisp. This is the part of the operation that I think smells so good! It doesn’t take long on a hot grill, perhaps five minutes, so check on the peppers after a few minutes of roasting to see how they are coming along. Once they are nicely charred on one side, flip them over and do the other side. This might go even a bit faster, so don’t be tempted to leave them too long!

charred skin of chile pepper

charred skin of chile pepper

I put them on a plate after they come off the grill. Aren’t they pretty? Now it’s back in the house for the next step that will make it easier to get those charred skins off.

roasted chile peppers

roasted chile peppers

After roasting, you want to cover the peppers and allow them to sweat as they cool. This loosens the skins, and makes them much easier to peel. I usually put them in a big metal mixing bowl, and then invert another mixing bowl over the top to make a cover. You can also put them in a plastic bag, or cover them with a damp towel. They should be ready to peel in about 10-15 minutes. It doesn’t hurt if they sit a bit longer though.

sweating the roasted chile peppers to loosen the skins

sweating the roasted chile peppers to loosen the skins

Some people just freeze the roasted peppers whole, skins and all, but I like to skin them and remove most of the seeds before I freeze them. I do put on gloves for the next step of skinning and seeding the peppers. Rubber gloves work, but I prefer a thinner vinyl glove because I find it allows me to have a better feel for what I am doing. And if you don’t wear glasses, you might consider wearing goggles for this task since I have managed to get some of the juice up in my eye and it is no fun!

peeling the roasted peppers

peeling the roasted peppers

After skinning, I split the peppers in half lengthwise and scoop out as many seeds as I can. You can also use a spoon for this if you like, scooping and scraping down the inside of the pepper. I avoid rinsing the seeds off under running water because I don’t want to wash away any of that good flavor.

split chile peppers before seeding

split chile peppers before seeding

At this point, the peppers are roasted, skinned and seeded. If you are going to use them right away, they can be refrigerated and kept for several days. But for longer term storage they need to be frozen.

roasted, skinned and seeded chile peppers

roasted, skinned and seeded chile peppers

I’m going to give these a coarse chop with a knife, and then I will divide them into portions before vacuum sealing them with the FoodSaver.

roasted and chopped green chile peppers

roasted and chopped green chile peppers

After sealing, it’s off to the freezer, where they will keep for at least a year. Of course you can also put them in a freezer bag or other container. The vacuum sealed bags do keep the air out though, and the quality of the peppers after thawing is excellent, as is the flavor.

 

peppers after sealing

peppers after sealing

And what can you do with all those peppers? Roasted chile peppers are great in salsa, sauces, soups and salads. They can also add flavor and a bit of heat to casseroles, cornbread and egg dishes. For me, they are a must for chili and chalupas, as well as for taco and burrito fillings. The flavor is so much better when you roast your own that you might never go back to using canned ones again!

This post was shared at  Green Thumb Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday and Old Fashioned Friday

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Monday Recap: Peppers and Parsley

It would seem that September is prime pepper season here at HA. So many of them are ripening about now, and it has kept me busy with harvesting and processing. Many of them get photographed too, which is partly for my own benefit so I can reference them later on, but then I also like to share them with you all.

I planted three cayenne pepper plants this year. One is called Joe’s Long Cayenne, and those peppers certainly live up to their name, getting around 8″ long. Another is Cayenne Long Red Slim, and it is a productive cayenne, though it is nowhere near as long as Joe’s. The third cayenne is Cayennetta, and I have it growing in a container. In the below photo, from left to right we have Joe’s Long, Long Slim and Cayennetta.

trio of cayenne peppers: Joe's Long(L), Long Slim(M), Cayennetta (R)

trio of cayenne peppers: Joe’s Long(L), Long Slim(M), Cayennetta (R)

I’ve been growing Cayennetta for several years now. It does great in a container, and I can usually count on more than a hundred peppers each year. I haven’t really counted them, but they are truly prolific. The peppers themselves are a tad milder than most cayenne peppers, but still plenty hot. I dehydrated those in the below photo.

Cayennetta peppers

Cayennetta peppers

Another pepper that is called a cayenne type in the catalogs is Maule’s Red Hot. This was a free seed packet given to me this year along with my Seed Savers Exchange order. This pepper was introduced in 1912 by the William Maule Seed Company, and is supposed to be a good pepper for those with short growing seasons. I have to say it was quick to fruit here, and the red hot peppers have a nice crunchy flesh that is thicker than the usual cayenne type, and also not quite as hot. This one is a keeper, and I will probably save seeds from some of the later peppers. Right now I have another use for the ones in the photo below.

Maule's Red Hot pepper

Maule’s Red Hot pepper

I started a batch of fermented hot sauce with the Maule’s Red Hot, trying a little different trick that comes from The Hot Sauce Cookbook by Robb Walsh. He cuts the peppers in half lengthwise, puts them in a stainless steel bowl, then crushes them with a potato masher until they are bruised but still in large pieces. Then you mix with salt, and crush some more. You leave the peppers sit out overnight until liquid forms in the bottom of the bowl, then it’s on to a glass jar for fermenting. After fermenting, you can easily scrape the seeds away from the flesh. With this recipe, you wind up with a fermented pepper mash that can then be used for several hot sauces, or used to make a fermented chili garlic sauce. I’m not sure what my end product will be like just yet, but I will let you know how it turns out.

mashing the pepper and salt mixture

mashing the pepper and salt mixture

I’m growing two NuMex chili peppers this year, Anaheim and Biggie Chili. In the below photo, that’s Anaheim in the top row and Biggie Chili in the bottom row. I plan on drying the ripe ones for chile powder, and roasting the green ones. I’ll be back later this week and show how I go about roasting them. These plants are really loaded this year. There’s almost six pounds of them here in this batch, and there are plenty more peppers coming on the three plants.

Anaheim(top) and Biggie Chili (bottom) peppers

Anaheim(top) and Biggie Chili (bottom) peppers

Another pepper worth noting is the one I am calling Sweet Happy Yummy. This is a ‘rogue’ pepper that first appeared in 2011. It has medium thick sweet orange flesh, and gets to be about 1.5″ wide by 6″ long. I am still trying to stabilize this new strain, and I was pleased to find that one of the plants I set out this year made peppers that were true to type. I’ll save seed from this one, which should be the F5 generation. I am told it can take eight generations or more to stabilize a strain of pepper, so I have a ways to go yet!

Sweet Happy Yummy peppers

Sweet Happy Yummy peppers

In non-pepper news, the tomato seeds that were fermenting last week have now been rinsed, strained, and are drying on a paper coffee filter. The paper helps wick away the moisture, and they are easy to scrape off the filter when they are dry.

drying tomato seeds after fermenting

drying tomato seeds after fermenting

Parsley is growing lush right about now, thanks to ample rains we have had throughout August and early September. I decided I needed to use some of it, and tabbouleh came to mind.

flat leaf Italian parsley

flat leaf Italian parsley

I sometimes use bulgur or quinoa for tabbouleh, but this time I made it with freekeh. We bought a bag of this ancient grain on a recent pilgrimage to Costco (we don’t have a local one). If you don’t know, and I didn’t until fairly recently, freekeh is made from wheat that is picked before it is fully ripened, then dried, roasted and cracked into smaller pieces. It can be used like regular cracked wheat, and has a nice flavor that is hard for me to describe. I used the rice cooker to cook it before making the tabbouleh. I had to buy a cucumber since ours are not producing at the moment but I used our own tomatoes, garlic, parsley and a bit of mint.

Freekeh Tabbouleh

Freekeh Tabbouleh

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one enjoying the parsley. I found a swallowtail caterpillar munching away on one leaf. It actually hatched a few feet away in the carrot bed, but I had moved it to the parsley a few days earlier. I planted some parsley over in the Wild Garden just for the swallowtails, but of course the female swallowtail laid her eggs on the carrot tops instead! This one seemed to be ok with the parsley substitution though.

swallowtail caterpillar on parsley

swallowtail caterpillar on parsley

I used some of our recent zucchini harvests and homemade marinara sauce to make a batch of Three Cheese Zucchini Stuffed Lasagna Rolls. This recipe from Skinnytaste was relatively easy to put together, and tasted delicious. I froze the leftovers, which will make for an easy future meal. I am thinking the filling would also work well for shells or manicotti. I can’t remember the last time I made lasagna, or ate it for that matter, and this lightened up recipe was a real treat. The photo below makes it look like there’s more cheese involved than there really is, and most of the sauce is hidden in the bottom of the baking dish.

Three Cheese Zucchini Lasagna Rolls

Three Cheese Zucchini Lasagna Rolls

Our blueberry season is over for the year, but I used some of our frozen ones to make a batch of Blueberry Syrup with Honey. Rachel at Grow a Good Life shared the recipe last week, and I have to say it is quite yummy. I would also like to try it with blackberries or maybe cherries in the future. It was my wife’s turn to cook starting yesterday, and she made a batch of Whole Wheat Sourdough Pancakes for lunch. The blueberry syrup made a great topping!

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

In the bread department, I baked a batch of Moomie’s Famous Burger Buns last week. This continues to be my go-to recipe for buns, and like pita bread we almost always have some of these buns in the freezer.

Moomie's Famous Burger Buns

Moomie’s Famous Burger Buns

That’s a look at what’s going on here at HA. To see what other gardeners are celebrating, harvesting, and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays every week.

 

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Herb Infused Iced Tea

Tea is pretty much the beverage of choice here at Happy Acres. And for much of the year, that means iced tea. There is almost always a pitcher of tea available here for me and my wife to drink, or to offer up to visitors. And that tea is almost always infused with some sort of herb, usually something from our own garden.

iced green tea infused with spearmint

iced green tea infused with spearmint

Mint is one tea herb that gets a lot of use here. I’ve been a fan of mint tea for a long time. To my taste buds, mint and tea just seem like a marriage made in heaven! I planted several mints in the herb garden at my first house, and I’ve been growing a variety of them ever since. It was back then that I first learned that mint spreads like crazy, and needs to be contained somehow or it will quickly take over. Now I grow it in containers, where it can more easily be kept from becoming invasive.

Moroccan mint for tea

Moroccan mint for tea

A lot of different mints can be used for teas. I have quite a selection to choose from myself these days, from spearmint types like Moroccan Mint and Mint Julep to peppermints like Blue Balsam and Black Mitcham. That’s spearmint ‘The Best’ in the below photo, growing in a container. Chocolate mint is another great mint that combines peppermint flavor and aroma with subtle chocolate overtones. And I’ve recently become fond of Orange Mint, Mentha citrata, which has rounded leaves and a perfumed citrus aroma. Most mints dry well too, and you can always do like I do and keep some dried mint in a jar for winter use.

Spearmint ‘The Best’ growing in container

Spearmint ‘The Best’ growing in container

Some of my other favorite tea herbs include lemongrass, lemon verbena and lemon balm. Lemongrass and lemon verbena are not winter hardy here in my area, but they can easily be grown in containers. You can also plant them in the ground for summer, then dig them and pot them up before freezing weather arrives. They are easy to over-winter indoors, and you can always harvest a few leaves as needed. Lemongrass is very easy to start from stalks you can buy at the grocery, and you can read more about how to grow it here: Saturday Spotlight Lemongrass. I don’t think lemongrass retains much flavor after drying, but lemon verbena and lemon balm are both quite nice when used dried.

mint and teas

mint and teas

Though I’ve tried other methods over the years, like making sun tea, I use the coffee maker these days to make my infused teas. It’s quick, easy, and produces consistent results. I did buy a second permanent type filter that I use exclusively for the herbal teas. That way I don’t wind up with herbal flavored coffee when I use the coffee maker to brew my morning joe. You can also use a paper filter and accomplish the same thing.

adding herbs in with tea bags

adding herbs in with tea bags

Just prior to brewing, I chop up the herbs coarsely. Bruising the leaves helps release the volatile oils so they can get infused in the tea as it brews. I usually use two or three tablespoons of fresh herbs, or about two teaspoons of dried, but you’ll have to experiment to find the amount that’s right for your tastes. I like to use four of the regular sized tea bags, or one family sized, per 12 ‘cup’ pot of water. Black, green and white tea can all be used, and my current favorite is a mix of green and white. I add the chopped up herbs in with the tea in the filter, then it’s time to brew the tea. After brewing I let the tea cool before adding ice, unless I’m in a hurry.

pitcher of Herb Infused Iced Tea

pitcher of Herb Infused Iced Tea

Making your own infused iced tea is a great way to enjoy the variety of mints and other tea herbs. They add a lot of flavor to tea, without adding a lot of calories. And with such a variety of herbs to choose from, there’s sure to be something to please everyone!

 

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Monday Recap: Pulling Up, Winding Down

I think it’s safe to say the summer vegetable garden is slowly winding down. And by September, I am usually quite ready for that to happen. The bush dried beans are all done for now, so I pulled up what was left of the plants, and my wife and I spent some time last week shelling out and picking through the beans. Growing dry beans is somewhat challenging in our area with the hot and humid summers that we typically have. The beans tend to rot or even sprout in the pod before they are ready to harvest. This year I grew three bush varieties: Jacob’s Cattle, Whipple and Hutterite Soup. I also have pole dry beans growing but they won’t be ready for awhile longer.

Jacob's Cattle beans

Jacob’s Cattle beans

Jacob’s Cattle is a tried and true bean that has done well for me over the years. It’s also sometimes called Trout bean or Appaloosa, no doubt due to the spotted markings on the beans themselves. This year the beans were quite variable in color, with many not spotted at all, but that shouldn’t change the way they taste or cook up. I devoted a ten foot section of row to each of the three bean varieties, and Jacob’s Cattle yielded 26 ounces of dried beans.

closeup of Jacob's Cattle

closeup of Jacob’s Cattle

A newcomer here that sounded interesting to me is the Whipple bean. It’s popular in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where the growing conditions are no doubt quite different than they are here in the Southern Ohio Valley! The beans themselves are fat and almost round, and purplish-red in color with some white spots. Whipple yielded 16 ounces of dried beans. They look like a nice meaty bean that should be good for soups, salads or side dishes.

Whipple dry beans

Whipple dry beans

Hutterite Soup bean is a small greenish yellow bean with a distinctive eye. It’s slightly larger than a Navy bean, and is an heirloom that was cultivated by the Hutterite religious group. I got my seed from the Seed Savers Exchange, who got their seed stock from a Hutterite colony in North Dakota. The beans are supposed to be quick cooking, and make a creamy, delicate tasting soup. They wound up being the least productive for me, yielding only 14 ounces. It’s enough for a nice batch of soup though, and I look forward to tasting it whenever it gets to be soup weather around here. Growing dried beans is perhaps not the most productive use of garden space, but it is fun to try some of the many types that are out there. And of course the beans are good to eat too!

Hutterite Soup bean

Hutterite Soup bean

Both sweet and hot peppers continue to ripen. We’ve been enjoying the sweet ones a number of different ways. The hot ones will mostly be dried, roasted, frozen or made into hot sauce, so I tend to let a bunch of them ripen before I harvest and process them. In the below photo there’s the big red bell pepper Big Bertha along with Topepo Rosso, Jimmy Nardello, two orange Hot Happy Yummys and two Early Sunsations. A White Scallop squash also came in that day and appears to have photobombed the peppers!

assortment of peppers and squash

assortment of peppers and squash

Another project I’m working on is saving some of the o/p tomato seeds. The recommended procedure calls for squeezing out the seeds into a container and letting them ferment for a few days. The fermentation removes the little gelatinous sack that encases the fresh tomato seed, and helps kill many seed borne diseases. I sometimes add a bit of water if the mix seems dry. You can eat what’s left of the tomato too, so it’s not all wasted.

squeezing out tomato seeds

squeezing out tomato seeds

After a day or two they will develop a layer of mold and start smelling pretty much like a rotten tomato! In the below photo the white patches on the surface are mold. I won’t go into all the details here, but I generally follow the instructions in my favorite seed-saving reference book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. After fermenting the seeds are rinsed, strained and then dried before packaging up.

fermenting tomato seeds

fermenting tomato seeds

The slicing tomatoes seem to have taken a break for a bit. There are still plenty of the small fruited types coming on for us though. In the below photo we have Black Cherry, Juliet, Green Tiger and Golden Sweet.

mix of tomatoes for salsa

mix of tomatoes for salsa

They all went in a batch of salsa I made, using our tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro. Instead of peppers I used a splash of homemade hot sauce to give it a bit of zip. I often make salsa using the smaller tomatoes, and I love the mix of colors and tastes they bring.

fresh salsa

fresh salsa

Another project this past week involved making soap. My wife and I made two batches, one a Lavender Bastille and the other our Flower Child Coconut Milk. You can blame me for the soap names. We don’t sell our soaps but I do like to give them descriptive names. I need to share the recipes here since I know there are a few soap makers out  there and these are two of my favorite soaps at the moment. Needless to say they smell so much better than the fermenting tomato seeds! That’s the Bastille soap on the left in the below photo, and the golden color comes from a bit of honey in the mix. The sugars in the honey help increase the lather, and the color usually fades to a light tan as the soap cures.

Lavender Bastille and Flower Child Coconut Milk soaps

Lavender Bastille and Flower Child Coconut Milk soaps

I didn’t bake any loaves of bread last week, but I did make a double batch of Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita Bread. I often make a double batch of pita bread, because once the oven is hot (and the pizza stone I bake them on) it just makes sense to take advantage of it. They also freeze well, and that’s what we do with the extras. It’s so easy to pull one out of the freezer and let it thaw a bit before eating. They’re almost as good as new that way, and definitely better than store-bought ones.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita Bread

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita Bread

That’s a look at what’s happening here in early September. To see what other gardeners are harvesting, cooking and preserving, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays every week. And thank you Daphne for helping to create this great community of garden bloggers!

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