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Archive for the ‘Stuff I've made’ Category

First batch of blueberry jam

First batch of blueberry jam

I LOVE blueberry jam! For several years I’ve wanted to try making my own but never tried- until now. 

Every year when fresh blueberries are in season I’ll buy ten pounds of fresh Michigan blueberries.  In past years I’ve either eaten them fresh or froze them for the long-cold winter. 

This year is different.  Not only have I dehydrated them to make blueberry raisins, I made my first batch of blueberry jam. 

There are many great resources and recipes out there, but here’s the process I used. 

My recipe only uses two ingredients, blueberries and sugar (no pectin, no additives) 

The recipe- 

approx 4.5lbs of fresh blueberries (processed in a blender until smooth, it nets nine cups.  Its’ really more like a blueberry jelly when finished) 

6-cups pure cane sugar 

Preparation- 

1.) Boil canning jars (my batch netted approx six pints) 

2.) Sterilize lids in hot water (I heard you want them near a boil, but not to actually boil.  Mine were removed from heat when they were just about to start a rolling boil) 

3.) place several large spoons in the freezer to cool (I used three, so I could test and retest without having to wait for the spoon to re-cool)  

note- before I started filling the jars I added the funnel  and jar tongs into the jar pan boiling water- to help ensure they were sterile. 

The process- 

1. ) Sort, wash and blend blueberries until smooth (like a smoothie) 

2.) Combine blueberries and sugar in med/large pan and bring to slow rolling boil, stirring frequently.  Keep boiling and stirring until the mixture thickens and some remains on side of pan when you stop stirring.  I let mine boil for a long time (I’m guessing about 1/2hr to 1hr, but I didn’t time it). 

3.) Test the mixture- scoop a spoonful of mixture and hold over a plate (not over the heat).  Let it cool for a few seconds and turn the spoon vertical.  If the mixture drips off quickly, it’s not ready- if it slowly runs off as a clump, it’s ready. 

4.) Remove jars from hot water and set on towel 

5.) Ladle mixture into jars- leaving 1/2 inch headroom (I tried to fill them to the bottom of the lid threads) 

6.) Wipe top lip of jar and place sterile lid and lid ring (hand tighten) 

7.) Process in a water bath for 15 minutes (starting the timer after the water returns to a boil).  Be sure to have at least 1/2 inch of water above the top of the jars. 

8.) Remove from water and let cool.  The lids should pop on their own as the jars cool. 

9.) After cooled, wipe dry and label jars. 

10.) Enjoy 

11.) Share with friends and family (or not 😉 

If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment.

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The compost bin is finally up and running!

I’ve had the addition of a compost bin on my list for some time, but I hadn’t decided where to place it and what to make it from.  I wanted to have a compost bin that was self-contained, wouldn’t dry out to quickly or stay too wet during rainy periods, easy to turn, easy to move (if so desired), relatively inconspicuous, and somewhat attractive (i.e.- not incredibly unattractive to the neighbors), and inexpensive to make. 

I considered the pre-made molded plastic bins, but couldn’t see spending the money.  I opted to use a spare Rubbermaid tote we had lying around.  To make the compost bin, I simply drilled 7/8 inch  holes in the bottom and all four sides, and filled it up.

a look inside...To get it going I added a weeks worth of veggie scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, the remnants of my first round of spring cleanup debris, some soil from the best perennial bed we have, some old dried out potting mix (from some old containers), and a little potting mix, and watered well.

I located it in an old neglected bed that was little more than sun-baked clay with a little bit of  hardwood mulch.

After three short days, I was very happy to see that old bed coming back to life.  I moved the bin and discovered a handful of baby worms enjoying themselves in the moist, nutrient rich soil.  To give the bin a quicker start I added my little worm friends to it, with the addition of today’s coffee grounds and veggie scraps.

I have contemplated adding some worm towers to the main beds around the landscape.  After seeing the immediate success under the compost bin I think that decision just got a lot easier.

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Looking forward to summer…

Having spent a lot of time in the great out-of doors, I was aware of the synergy that the web of life provides, but I never gave much thought about the inter-relations within the home landscape.  Jack Spirko, and his TSP podcast, helped enlighten me to principles of Permaculture.

I’ve been hooked on Permaculture research ever since.  From watching videos on YouTube, reading books and web forums, listening to Podcasts, and most recently watching distance learning college classes on iTunes U, I can’t learn enough quick enough.

This has totally up-ended my plans to expand our landscape.  I had some loose plans I wanted to accomplished this summer, but they are all on hold until I have a better understanding of what we already have.  There’s a lot of established landscaping here at the new homestead, but a lot is in semi-neglected or stressed state.

To help educate myself, I’m reading the following books-

Gaia’s Garden- A Guild to Home Scale Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway (a great book- I’m planning on posting a review when I’ve finished)

and-

Permaculture- A Designer’s Manual” by Bill Mollison (I’m still paging through this monstrous hard bound book)

I purchased both of these books via Abebooks.com, for less than $100 delivered!  That might sound like a lot, but I’ve seen new copies of the Principles online for nearly $200.

I like Abebooks because you are often purchasing from smaller, independant bookshops.

Another great Permaculture resource is the iTunes U class “HS432- Introduction to Permaculture” from North Carolina State University.  This is the distance learning course taught by Will Hooker.  There are 36, one-hour long, videos in the series.  They are very informative and inspirational.  Will has really opened my mind to how complex, or simple, Permaculture can be.

This class isn’t the easiest to find.  You can find it is through the iTunes store- search for HS432.  It’s a free video series.  Google searches don’t seem to find it.

So much to learn, but it’s so much fun….

Do you have any suggestions for other Permaculture resources, etc?  Please post a comment letting me know.

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I’ve got the first round of seeds started for the 2010 container garden.

The first set of seed starts includes several variety of tomatos, sweet and hot peppers, salad green blends, green beans, and zucchini. 

I’ll be planting some ever-bearing strawberries in hanging strawberry planters very soon.

I made the starter pots out of toilet paper rolls.  To make the pots I flattened the rolls, cut them in half, then slit the bottom into quarters.  This allows the pots to be assembled like little open ended boxes.  They are a perfect size for starters.

These little pots are free, easy to store, fun to make, and biodegradable.  When they get wet, they wick up water like a sponge.  Plus, you can write on them with a permanent marker to make them easy to identify.

I like to start them in old clamshell containers from the grocery store.  These little greenhouses make it easy to care for, transport, and water.

When the time comes to transplant, I’ll tear the flaps off the bottom of the pots and plant them in their new home or containers just as they are.

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For Valentine’s day, my lovely wife bought me a three pack of mini pots for our kitchen windowsill garden. I didn’t waste any time getting these filled and into the sunlight. These three pots will be the first herbs in the windowsill garden. We’ve decided to start with Oregano, Sage, and Dill. I’ll be adding more herbs to the outdoor container garden I’ll be starting this week.

Material list-
Instead of using rocks, pebbles, or broken pot shards in the bottom of the containers, I prefer to use coffee filters. For these small pots, I fold them in quarters and trim them down to about a six inch diameter. This fits these small containers very well. I find that this works much better at keeping the integrated saucer free from debris.

For the potting mix, I’m using Schultz’s Garden Safe- Natural/ organic potting mix. So far I’m very impressed with the water retention and quality of the mix. Menard’s has this mix on sale this week, with a $1 per bag mail in rebate. I purchased the six bag limit (for the rebate). This will be the primary mix for our veggie and herb containers this season.

The seeds were all old packets I had in my seed bank. The oldest packet being from the 2005 season. They have been stored well, so I don’t expect any problems.

I’ve covered the pots with plastic wrap to create a mini-greenhouse.  This works very well to help raise soil temperature and retain moisture,  I poke holes in the plastic to allow for some airflow and remove the wrap as soon as the seeds spout.

Growing location-
As Springtime draws nearer, our kitchen window is getting better and longer sun exposure. This window faces East-Southeast.

Update on the green onions-
Since the last green onion post, we’ve added some more green onions to the mix. We’ve harvested the onions two or three times. After the second cutting four of the plants have failed. While the five others are still growing back they are much weaker.

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Window sill green onions

A few weeks ago I planted a green onion kitchen scrap root trimming.

Looking at the roots on the green onion and the plantless pot sitting on the window sill, where a spider plant start failed to take,  I figured ‘why not give it a try?’.

Within a few days the center of the green onion started growing like crazy, followed by a new shoot, about a week and a half later.

I’ve since added four more green onion roots to the same pot.  Three of the four have already started growing.

Last night was the first opportunity to use the home-grown green onion.  The flavor and texture of the fresh onion was fantastic!  It was unlike anything I’ve experienced from grocery-bought onions.

The time from plant to plate was a whopping 20 seconds.   The home-made BBQ Chicken flatbread pizzas were awesome!  BBQ Chicken Flatbread Pizzas

I’ve since started a few garlic plants from some nearly dried out garlic clove slivers.  These sprouted after only three days in the pot.  I plan on transplanting these outside come springtime.

This experiment has proven a great success.  Time to check the fridge and see what else we can grow or start on our window sill.

I wonder if a regular onion eye will sprout.  Or maybe a baby carrot…

What do you think?  Is there anything you would recommend trying?

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Follow-up to yucca cordage video…

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