It is already the end of the 2020 growing season, at least for many of us in the northern hemisphere, and I am planning what to grow in my 2021 garden.
There are the basic vegetables which we consume most often, green and yellow beans, carrots, beets, leafy greens, etc. (I highly recommend the carrot variety “Hercules” which grow large, sweet and don’t turn to mush when pressure canned) Then there are the few “new” veggies that I will plant in hopes we will discover a new favorite.
The chart lists how many pounds of each particular vegetable is required to fill a bushel, as well as pounds to fill a quart canning jar and the number of quart jars which can be filled from one bushel of veg.
These help me to plan quantities needed for my pantry and in the end, how much I need to plant so I don’t sow too many or too few seeds.
It is also helpful when going to the farmer’s market to purchase what isn’t in my garden. It helps when the farm stand doesn’t sell “by the bushel” and only by the pound.
I hope this .pdf for safely canning vegetables and this chart will be of use to you. If you are new to canning I highly recommend downloading the .pdf and reading it thoroughly.
It may seem a bit late in the year to writing about our new garden, but it is the best time to tell you about it and share the ups and downs, and the results of our efforts to grow our own food in 2020 here on the homestead.
We have been on the homestead for four years and have failed at our attempts to start a garden on the very poor ground. The clay muck has been difficult to learn how to make the best of it.
We began our work in February as soon as it was warm enough to work outdoors. We decided on the size and location and set to work putting up a fence both to keep deer and other critters out, and to help keep us with design and size of the garden.
We next covered the entire area with cardboard topped with a 12″ layer of wood chips. The cardboard is used to block the light from reaching the weeds, and the thick mulch layer helps to kill the weeds and elevates the raised beds so they are well above the wet clay.
Following a heavy rainfall we can feel the wetness beneath the mulch as we walk, but the raised beds are not being drowned by it.
Gardening in the South has definitely been a learning curve. Trying to grow tomatoes with a shade cover is a complete waste of time and effort. The hot temperatures and strong sunlight is not beneficial to tomatoes and the fall planting seems to be doing much better now with the cooler temperatures.
On the other hand, summer squash, peppers, cucumbers, and greens did well. As did my first ever sweet potato crop and strawberry plants.
Because there is no running water on the homestead we needed to get creative. Nick constructed a stand to support and elevate water barrels high enough to produce a good gravity fed water flow to the irrigation drip tapes.
Some plants succumbed to insects or excessive heat, but I was able to harvest enough food to fill a few hundred canning jars. Harvest included over 400 pounds of cucumbers, zucchini, yellow summer squash, spinach, chard, peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and rutabaga.
Currently green beans are now growing well, as well as a fall planting of tomatoes.
This first garden has also been costly because we needed to buy mulch and garden soil (we mixed equal parts of potting mix, peat, and manure as well as a mixture of top soil, sand and horse manure).
These were a one time expense, just as the lumber for the raised beds and the fencing are. Soon I will plant a cover crop to create green manure and build soil and by next season our home grown compost and chicken manure will be ready to add to the garden. We will also be expanding the irrigation system and adding more water barrels as well as a rainwater capture system.
Nick and I visited a “you pick” orchard a few days ago and we each picked 1/2 bushel of our favorite apples for dehydrating and canning. Of course we paid quite a bit, but we need them to be as fresh as possible as well as knowing the specific variety I wanted.
On our way back to our car we saw a stand filled with half bushel containers filled with “dropsies” with a sign calling them “animal apples” for only $5.
After a quick inspection it was obvious these apples were mostly in very good condition and would be a great buy for making apple juice or applesauce.
Needless to say, we bought two of these getting a full bushel for only $10.
I completed a closer inspection the next day and found fewer than a dozen apples needed to tossed into the compost bin.
I processed the first half bushel in my steam juicer which produced 2 gallons of apple juice for drinking and/or jelly, leaving the mash for the chickens. No need to peel or core the apples, just wash them first, so there is very little work involved. In the end, from all the dropsies I had four beautiful gallons of the freshest, best tasting apple juice.
Other good bargains are buying corn on the cob which is labeled “deer corn” or tomatoes labeled “canning tomatoes”. Canning tomatoes are generally very ripe and should be processed as soon as possible.
The worst work in the garden is tackling the problem of weeds. Over the years I haven’t found anything that works better than cardboard covered by a thick layer of wood chips.
The cardboard blocks even the tiniest amount of sunlight reaching the weeds and the thick, heavy 12 inch layer of wood chips ensure that. Eventually both will break down and create a rich soil for the garden.
Another benefit I have discovered is I am not walking ankle deep in the wet, clay mud which lingers for days after it rains. Last week it rained every day and normally the area where the garden is located would be a shallow pond, but because of this deep mulch I can walk over the area without loosing my shoe in the mire or having my plants drown.
The farm is located in what the locals call “clay alley” so it doesn’t matter where I situate the garden, it is all white clay. When wet it is a sticky, mush. Once dried out it is as hard as cement. Nothing grows in it except nasty weeds.
This is what 33 pounds of summer squash and zucchini look like when dehydrated. These half-gallon mason jars don’t weigh any more than the actual weight of the glass and take up much less space than if I had frozen it or pressure canned in quart or pint sized jars. The quality of the reconstituted squash will be most like when it was fresh.
Blanch 4 minutes then dehydrate at 125F approximately 24 hours.
I have found that this method of preserving summer squash and zucchini result in the best product. Pressure canning takes a long time and results in a mushy product. Freezing is faster but I have found the resulting product is still mushy.
Dehydrating results in a product which is very close in texture and taste to when it was fresh. Blanching reduces the time it takes to reconstitute.
I don’t dehydrate everything. The preservation method I use depends on the item and how I intend to use the food. Some foods, such as tomatoes or carrots, I use both dehydration and pressure canning.
This method also works well to make other foods “quick cook” such as pasta, rice and beans. Precook pasta, rice and beans until nearly done then dehydrate. When needed the pasta, rice or beans will cook much more quickly.
I was busy in the garden bright and early this morning enjoying the peace, quiet and solitude. I don’t miss living in a city, or even a large town, at all.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few things I would like to have better access to, such as a source for quality health care. We have been living here in farm country for four years and have yet to find a good health care provider.
We don’t miss shopping malls or shopping centers, we also don’t miss the rat race. Interestingly we haven’t even noticed a change in our lifestyle all through these months of lock-down.
We have been focused primarily in getting the new garden created. And now that things are growing and the garden is beginning to be productive we will be moving on to the food preservation period of the growing season.
A bit of advice for those planning to start canning food this season, now is the time to buy your supplies especially mason jars. As the season progresses these supplies will quickly become unavailable due to high demand. Also do shop around for the best prices and buy as many cases of jars as you think you may need or the most you can afford. Mason jars are a one time purchase and if you use the reusable Tattler lids you will only be adding to your supply as needed, not to replace used lids, which can get costly.
When shopping for supplies also look to purchase in bulk, directly from the manufacturer if possible.
Tattler is having a June special of 15% off some of their regular bulk prices and fast free shipping is standard. (I am not affiliated with Tattler and I do not receive any benefit if you choose to shop with them).
This is the final update for this experiment of starting seeds without soil.
The carrots have all germinated and are ready to transplant into soil.
The beets have also all germinated and are about 1 1/2″ tall with leaves.
The cabbage seeds have 100% germination and have been transplanted into plastic egg carton cells (the egg cartons are the clear plastic type with two lids) and are thriving.
Add to these, 3 days ago I sowed broccoli seeds and they all germinated in only one day and are now ready to transplant into egg carton cells. These tiny seeds were amazing to watch as there was a major change in their appearance daily.
All the tiny plants will remain beneath the grow lights until they are large enough and strong enough to be moved to the garden, but I must say at this point I am stunned by how much time this process of starting seeds has saved and especially how every seed has germinated compared with starting them in pots or seed trays with soil.
I hope this experiment has been helpful for any of you starting seeds for your own garden.
When I last sowed cabbage and carrot seeds in soil they seemed to take forever to germinate. In fact, carrot seeds are still germinating from when they were planted in April!
A few days ago I decided to try germinating these bothersome seeds without soil hoping they would be easier to transplant as well as being easier to pick up and thus have less loss of seeds and avoid thinning.
I set damp paper towels in two plastic containers and spread the seeds. The tiny seeds are easy to see and to move apart evenly. I misted the seeds then put the lids on.
The cabbage seeds have already germinated after 3 days. When I last sowed cabbage seeds in potting mix it took 5 days before I saw sprouts emerge and only 4 seeds germinated out of 2 dozen. Cabbage seeds normally take only 3-5 days to germinate, but for me they took twice as long in soil and a few germinated.
The seeds I put into the plastic container are from the same seed packet and as you can see the germination rate is much improved.
The carrot seeds normally take 14-21 days to germinate, and the ones in the plastic container have not germinated, yet. But I am hopeful. It would be great to have a better way to start carrots and other tiny seeds.
Beet seeds take 5-15 days, but these are already germinating in only 3 days. Since I didn’t have any additional plastic containers, I spread these beet seed atop very damp potting mix in a seed tray then covered them with a damp paper towel and kept all three containers beneath grow lights.
The beets have started germinating after only 3 days.
Just as with the carrots, the beets I sowed directly into the garden in April have only recently started germinating and only a portion of the seeds sprouted.
At this rate of development these tiny plants may be ready for the garden in a few more days. I will be using this method with other seeds.
I will post updates as things develop.
UPDATE DAY 4:
Yesterday I found another plastic container and started broccoli seeds.
Have you ever thought about how much food you and your family need for one year? If not you’d be amazed, as we were, by the answer.
Our new garden may seem big with hopefully a large bounty at harvest time, but when we compute exactly what we need to feed just the two of us for one year the garden should have more in it.
We preserve food by canning, dehydrating and freezing. Because we cannot have a root cellar where we live keep fresh food through the year is not possible.
Since there are just the two of us we use pint jars for most foods. Quart jars are used for pie fillings or for dry canning and storing dehydrated foods.
Figuring on each pint jar of vegetables providing 2 servings, we need two pints per meal for lunch and dinner. In addition we need meat and potatoes, and extras such as pickles, relishes, jams or jelly, and fruit. We also need milk, eggs, butter, and pantry staples such as herbs and spices, leavening, etc.
There are 365 days in a year requiring 4 pints of veggies per day = 1,460. Add to that at least one pound of meat per meal (1 lb of meat pressure canned = 1 pint) = 730 pints. We also like fruit once in a while so lets add 2 pint per month for an additional 24 pints.
If we have pasta once weekly we need 1 quart of tomatoes = 52 quarts Do you realize how many tomatoes it takes to make a quart of pasta sauce? It takes a minimum of 6 pounds tomatoes per quart. And if you want thick sauce, it takes much more.
So at the very least two people need a pantry stocked with at least 1.500 jars of just vegetables. Certain vegetables store better in the freezer, such as corn, spinach, chard, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Others store better if dehydrated such as cabbage, zucchini and summer squash.
We also pressure meat putting up 1 pound per pint. We can chicken, pork and beef. Along with quart jars of bone broth, soup stock, soup/stew base, and meals such as pork and beans, chicken pot pie base, etc.
A vegetable garden can be a lot of work, but the end result is worth every minute of spent energy. Using heavy mulch greatly reduces the need for weeding from days to minutes per day. It also reduces the need for frequent watering. Once soil has been prepared and the seeds have been sown the remainder of work for the gardening season is primarily in harvesting.
Based on an average week of food shopping at only $150 per week, it would cost us nearly $8,000 annually at the grocery store. Building our garden cost a fraction of that total and is mostly a one time expense. I will be saving seeds from this year’s garden to grow food next year. And our new chicken flock will feed primarily by foraging and will also produce eggs and next year’s flock.
The new garden build is coming along nicely even if it does feel like it’s taking a long time.
We had the long Memorial Day weekend to devote to the garden and it felt so good. More shoveling of wood chips, building raised beds, testing the creation process of an 18 day grass compost, building and painting a new picnic table, etc.
The garden is a big investment in time, energy and money but because the land here is only good for raising tobacco or soybean there is little choice but to build a garden area from scratch.
The ideal would be to plant earth creating plants such as winter rye and clover, add wood chips and leaf mold and wait a few years until it becomes suitable soil for gardening food.
We will use that method later to build the market garden. In the meantime our raised bed garden should provide all the food we need for the coming year, in addition to the chicks (which arrive next week) which will provide meat, eggs and new chicks for next year.
For dinner we roasted organic chicken in the grill, wild rice and our first home grown spinach.
I roasted the 3 lb organic pastured chicken stuffed with a half onion and herbs, and laid thick sliced bacon strips over its breast and legs. Then it was set onto thick onion slices set on the bottom of a cast iron skillet (the onion slices act as a trivet) and roasted on the grill at 350-375F for about an hour.
The bacon strips keep helps keep the chicken juicy and are removed for the last half hour of roasting. The combination of the chicken juices, bacon grease and onion makes an fantastic au jus for basting during the last half hour of roasting. Yum!
The spinach was delicious. It was full of flavor and not coarse or gritty like store bought. I steamed it with a bit of salt, pepper and garlic.