Friday, October 12, 2007

Giving thanks

Reading another blog a few days ago left me in deep thought. Subject was the things a man really needs. On top of the list was "A good woman". I'm lucky in that respect. I was a bachelor for many years. I knew alot of people that needed to be in a relationship. I found myself on occasion the subject of ridicule because of my hard nosed unwillingness to settle for less than the woman I truly wanted to spend my life with. I'm old fashioned, too old fashioned in the eyes of most modern women. My fondest childhood memories were time spent with my grandma. A devout christian woman, A wife, a homemaker, and a moral compass for her family. My hardnosed ideal was, I wouldn't settle for less. My children if there would ever be any deserved the best I could find them. Well it took me until after my fourtieth birthday, but, I found her. The amazing thing. For much of our lives we were only the next town away from each other. At one point we were only blocks from each other. And these were relatively small town, not large metropolitan areas. I know it was god's will we would find each other. But, his plans weren't immediate. We had to learn enough from life to be ready for each other. I know I have come as close as I ever could when it comes to finding my soul mate. She blogs also. Here's our life from her viewpoint. Thank you my love. I can't recall what life was like without you. Thank you god. My prayers were answered. My bride brought three children with her. Learning to be a dad was alot harder than learning to be a traditional husband. It would have been easier had I been with these kids from the start. Still the experience has been a great one. I know I can be difficult at times. I just hope they keep understanding I'm on a learning curve here. Thank you again god. The other things I don't give thanks for enough. I have a roof over my head, it keeps me dry and warm. I have a soft pillow in a warm bed to rest when I'm tired. I have the fruits of the earth to nourish me. I have work to keep me feeling productive. I have an active productive mind, and the ability to make my hands do my minds will. Thank you god, I have all that I need. Woods

Saving seeds part two.

A pepper is a bit easier than a tomato. Here we have a pepper that was found hidden in a corner of the countertop behind some other stuff. These things happen when you have kids. As you can see it's way past it's prime and inedible at this point. Good thing is we forgot to save seeds from this variety, so, even though it is half rotten and moldy, it's a perfect candidate for seed saving.
Cut the core out of your pepper. Carefully remove as much of the meat as possible. Set the core on a sunny window sill for a couple days. By then the seeds will be dry enough to rub off with your thumb. If your pepper is of the hot type you may want to wear gloves. Definately do not touch your eyes or any mucus membranes while handling hot pepper seeds. They often hold the most caspation.
Rub your seeds out into a bowl and set in a dry place for a couple weeks. Store in paper envelopes to prevent mold formation. Because this pepper had mold inside it. I will be washing these seeds before redrying them on a piece of screening, then I will put them in a paper envelope for storage.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

How to save a seed

For generations farmers saved their own seeds. Yes, the seed houses have been around almost as long. But, when agriculture was still human sized it made more sense to save your own. First of all you can adapt your crop to your conditions. Have damp clay soil and a wilt or fungus problem to go with it? Hey, that plant over there was barely touched by it. Save the seeds from that one, maybe it will pass on it's resistance to the next generation. Got dry drought conditions? WOW, that plant looks better than the rest! Save the seeds! Hey, this tomato tastes so much better than the rest. Well, save the seeds fool. You get the idea. Tonight I saved some seeds. I took some pics. I'll show them to you, and you can do the same.

First thing you need to know. You need to have an open pollinated plant to begin with. That's a plant whose both parents were the same variety. Why, you may ask. It's in the genes my child, it's in the genes. If your plant in the seed catalog had "hybred", "hybrid", F1, F2, or F anything in it'd description, it had parents of two different varieties. The problem is, when you cross two varieties, you do so in the hopes of getting the best qualities of both in their offspring. You also sometimes get something referred to as "hybrid vigor". But, those genes, they want to do funny things in the third generation. Say for example you crossed a small yellow tomato that grew very fast, with a big tasty red tomato. The second generation you might get a big, fast growing, yellow tomato, that had the most awesome taste ever. The third generation, you might get a tiny, slow growing, low yielding, red tomato, with the flavor of corrugated cardboard. It's all in them silly genes, and some of them can hide for a generation or two.

So start by finding yourself a seed or two from either a commercial seed house or seed savers exchange. Make sure the description says "open pollinated" or "heirloom" in it. Grow those out. Watch everything as it grows the first year. Take notes. Now if you're like us, you picked half a dozen varieties to play with. And hopefully for your first try, you picked a plant that self pollinates like tomatoes. Plants that wind or insect pollinate, are a tad more difficult. Mainly because it's very easy to create a hybrid with wind or insects. Such plants take a little more work. So start with tomatoes. Save the corn and cucumbers for next year.

Ok, You have your 6 seed packets. Plant maybe ten plants of each. Label them well, there is nothing worse than wondering what it's name is later on when telling people about it. Now, when transplanting time comes, pick four of each to keep and give the rest away. Give each plant a number. Makes it easier to keep a log that way. Does one plant set fruit a little earlier than the other three. If you have a short growing season it helps to know that. Maybe one gives you 8lbs of tomatoes and the other three only give you 4lbs. Handy thing to know if you only have a small garden. Does one get sick? Write it in your log. You get the idea. Your giving yourself a reference point. Later you will pick fruit from the plants that best suit your growing requirements. Don't be surprised if at the end of the season, you only have one or two varieties that did well for you. That's fine, you will save seeds from those and next year you will grow those two plus four new ones.

Here we have a tomato called "Yellow Pear". A small salad type tomato, not your typical red cherry type. We grew these this year for the first time. Due to a few family things and a tight work schedule, we didn't get our plants in until just after memorial day this year. We were harvesting these in mid July in spite of the late start. We've had them several times a week since then. Today I picked nearly three gallons of ripe or nearly ripe fruit off two plants. They were still loaded with blossoms and setting fruit. If tonight wasn't going to be our first frost, I wouldn't be surprised if we had gotten another several gallons of fruit from them. On top of that they have excellent flavor. To start with you need fruit and a strainer of some sorts.

Squeeze the fruit until the seeds pop into your strainer. With meatier tomatoes, you will need to slice them and scrape out the seeds.

Rinse away as much of the pulp as you can. Again meatier tomatoes require more effort. With those it helps to push the pulp through with your fingers. You don't have to get it all. And remember if pushing the pulp through, those seeds can be delicate before they are dried.

Add the seeds to a jar filled half way with water. This varieties seeds are very small. So, I actually turned the strainer upside down over the jar, then filled the water through the strainer, washing the seeds into the jar. A tight fitting lid is wise to prevent spillage.

These will stay here for a week to a month. When a layer of white or black nasty stuff starts floating on them. They are ready for the next step.

No photo for this step. Set your jar in the sink. Remove the lid and slowly trickle water in until that layer of scum washes over the side. You don't want to stir the seeds up off the bottom. There may be seeds floating in the scum. Let them wash away, they are dead seeds and won't grow.

After you get the scum off. Drain your seeds through your strainer again. Spread them out so they aren't touching on a piece of wax paper. Put the wax paper in an out of the way place for several weeks until they have a chance to dry out. A fan place well away from the seeds is o.k.. Just keep it on low and as far away as possible. You just want to help evaporate the water. You don't want to blow them away, or blow the paper over, dumping your hard earned seeds. Store the dried seeds in a paper envelope. Paper envelpes breathe and mold won't form on your seeds. As you can see, these are a different variety. This tomato called "Bloody Butcher" is an old favorite of mine. I've been growing it for almost 10 years now.

So, there you have it. Not rocket science. But, for the pre industrial age farmer, a skill that was a necessity

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My second favorite time of the year.

I was born to be a farmer.

Too bad I was born into a family that stopped farming two generations before I was born. I would have gladly taken over one of the family homesteads in Ohio and PA. But, those farms being sold long ago, I make do for now on a 35'x90' city lot. Actually my wife is more the farmer on this plot. My last big garden was just before we married. Still I'm here to help with the bullwork and to be the creative mechanic. That being the creative mechanic is part of what makes you a farmer rather than just an ordinary gardener. Spring planting time is the favorite of all farmers. The smell of fresh turned soil, the chilly air, and the sun warming you. The minute signs of new life. New life created by you. All this can only bring you closer to god and his creation.
But, harvest time is a close second favorite. Knowing that your resting time is right around the corner. The larder is filling fast. All will be well for another year.

Today the final harvest push was on. All hands were brought in . Time to bring in the last of the tomatoes, peppers, Basil, dill, celery, and a small harvest of huckleberries. Pelenaka fired up the wood burner and started on picking the huckleberries, and turning them into juice. I pulled the basil as seen at right. After dinner tonight the leaves were trimmed from the stems and put in a dehydrator. After they dry they will be vacuum sealed in an old mason jar for later use.

Here we have a tray of celery ready to go to the dehydrator. With a heavy harvest of celery this year, we will be spending the next 5 or so days cutting up and dehydrating celery. They trays are lined with screening to keep the pieces from falling through. Celery shrinks quite alot when dehydrated. Two plants can fill seven trays. When they are dry they won't even fill a pint canning jar. The dehydrators are old Ronco units purchased from the thrift store. Cheap, simple, easy to fix and keep going. We have half a dozen of them and they work great. We also have the solar dryer I built last spring. It works great on a hot day with low humidity. The creative mechanic needs to do some even more creative engineering on it.

Here's the result of drying down two decent sized celery plants. Barely two handfulls now. A pinch or two added to a soup or stew goes along way. Tonight I experimented a little. The batch in the bowl at left was dried in a dehydrator without screens added. Thus the pieces were cut fairly large. The pieces shown above are closer to the size you would expect to find in your tuna sandwich. We'll see later on if they will rehydrate in a batch of tuna or chicken salad. When the celery is done the peppers will get thier turn in the dehydrator. I may try and dry a few of the paste tomatoes this year. I'll then grind them up in our grain mill. The powder to be added to bread dough, also to be used for thickening soups.

Maybe a bushel of various types of tomatoes finished my workload for the day. We grow alot of tomatoes. So many it makes an effective crop rotation difficult. If any of my readers knows of a vacant lot that can be rented in or very near Batavia, NY, for the purpose of gardening, please let me know.

Here the editor in chief, Hunter the cat gives me that stern look. I can read his mind. It's saying, "Isn't a vacant lot like a field?" "Isn't a field part of a farm?" "You silly fool, you'll always be a farmer in your heart!"
Either that or he just wants me to feed him!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The unintended collection

WOW! It's been almost two months since I last checked in. Summer is our busy time. I should have taken time to post, but, didn't.

Last time I posted I was showing off one of my custom cheese presses. I also make/restore presses of a different flavor. These are rapidly becoming favorites. This summer I tackled two restoration projects between working on our 105 yr old home, gardening, foraging, and working at a job.

That large cider press on the left looked like this when my DW Pelenaka dragged it home from a yard sale last fall. She paid a whopping $20.00 for it. There wasn't a good stick of wood in it. The big acme screw was siezed into the cast iron crossbar. With winter closing in I didn't get much done last year. As soon as it was out of the car I started soaking it liberally with KROIL penetrant. Best stuff ever made as far as I'm concerned. On the second day I started gently playing a propane torch over the area where the screw passed through the casting. Every day I followed the torch with another shot of KROIL as soon as the metal cooled. After about a week the screw would move back and forth maybe 1/8 of an inch. Then the rawhide mallet came out to tap the screw back and forth. After half an hour it would turn just as it was designed to do. It turns out the previous owner greased it with lard before leaving it out in the weather for the next 20 years. The KROIL broke the rust loose and the heat melted the old grease out. Now the screw has some pitting where it was stuck inside the casting. Not enough to affect operation though. With snow and foul weather on the horizon the old press was greased up and tarped until nicer weather could arrive. When july rolled around and I finally got back to it. I laminated a bunch of fir 1x4's to make a new frame. You may ask why I didn't just make it from maple like it was to begin with. The answer, as it sits today this press weighs close to 100lbs. Using the fir gave me strength, but saved many pounds of weight. Three coats of Krylon white make for easy cleanup. The old basket bands were from a different press and were so oversize you had to fight to get them in and out of the press. So, new ones were made from nice no rust aluminum. All the fasteners that might come if contact with juice are stainless steel. Slata sre red oak treated with Boo's Mystery Oil. Good stuff a bit pricey at $16 a pint, but well worth the price. A new press disk was made from a plastic cutting board. All this effort was made in an attempt to simplify cleanup. It's nice being able to just spray it down with a hose when you're done pressing.

The black press looked worse than this when we found it on somebodies lawn 2 years ago. Covered top to bottom with rust at least it was functional. I shot the red paint and cleaned the loose rust away so we could make our first three gallons of home made cider. Pelenaka hated the red, so when I finally got serious about doing the rebuild last year, I scrounged up some food safe black paint. New red oak slats and a bunch of stainless fasteners really made a difference. I did make one concession to technology when it came to the press disk. That was cut out from a heavy duty resaurant cutting board. When we're done pressing we just spray it down with a hose and wipe some oil on the slats to preserve them until next year. Last year we finally aquired a proper fruit grinder to prepare pomace. Prior to this we used a food processor. This brought a doubling of production and we could have done more if the wind hadn't knocked down all the wild apples before we could get to them.

The little green wine press was another of this summers projects. Found burried in a pile of junk next to an antique shop. It had somebodies version of a home made basket, made from galvanized pipe hanging strap and some entirly too small pine slats. A little grinding to smooth out the casting was all it needed before a coat of food grade paint was applied. Some new aluminum basket bands and some maple slats held in place with stainless screws finished the project.

The big white one is available if somebody wants it. The same for the green wine press. The black one isn't for sale. $300.00 takes the white one and $100.00 takes the little green one. I'll consider taking an anvil, forge , or hand cranked drill press in trade. I am also willing to buy more old presses to fix up. I can fix up your press if you have one needing restoration.