Harvest Time: Some Photos of my Garden. Happy Making!

This post is merely me showing off some of my favourite photos of my garden harvest. So much hard work paying off. Life is good!

I would love to see photos of your harvest as well!

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5 Things to do This August to Have a Naturally Beetle-Free Garden Next Year

IMG_1065It’s August and the time is here to be proactive and begin preparing your property for the garden you want to have next year. Beetle larvae will winter in your soil and emerge late-June until mid-July. Once they mature in your soil it’s too late once again so you need to get to work right now.

This process could take a couple of years, but eventually your soil will be larvae-free.  The beautiful flower and vegetable gardens you work so hard on will no longer have skeleton leaves and various bacteria carried by the Japanese beetle and cucumber beetles.

5 Steps for beetle-free gardens

1. Destroy their winter home and food

The cucumber beetle larvae will survive the winter by feeding on the nutrients in the soil so don’t leave any plant matter in the garden beds. When you clean the garden out for the season don’t toss the plants into the compost pile. Throw them into a hot bonfire to burn up any larvae and the bacteria they carry.

2. Apply nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic worm-like organisms that live in soil and feed on larvae. They are naturally occurring so they pose no threat to people or animals. They can be purchased at your local nursery or garden center. All you do is mix them with water and apply them to your lawn and garden soil. Read the manufacturer’s packaging for more specific instructions. The nematodes will help rid you of both beetles.

3. Apply Milky Spore (bacterium Paenibacillus popillae)

This powdered bacteria called Paenibacillus popillae is lethal to Japanese beetles. It’s applied to the grass to kill the grubs before they can become beetles.  The powdered spore will leach into the soil when watered. The grubs will consume the organic matter infected by the spore, which kills them by turning their blood milky. To apply milky spore you place one teaspoon of the powder every four feet in a grid pattern, then water it for about 15 minutes.  The best time to apply it is mid-July to early August. Read the manufacturer’s packaging for more specific instructions.

4. Keep squishing beetles

A dead beetle won’t reproduce in your soil.

5. Talk to your neighbours

Spread your knowledge of natural pesticides to your neighbours as well so they don’t unknowingly reinfect your property with their beetles. Japanese beetles will travel kilometres to find their favourite leaves. Good neighbours are made by great fences and a shared love of dead beetles!

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8 Easy Steps to Start Living off Your Land, Simply by Canning Your Own Food

Homesteading was a government initiative to grow populations in the early 1900s. The original homesteaders were immigrants who were given free land to entice them to live in specific areas. The catch was that they had to be able to live off their land completely as the areas weren’t yet developed and they were often totally trapped in the winter months.

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Children helping to harvest fruit. Photo courtesy of treasurenet.com

The term homesteading has evolved and made a comeback. In my circle it means the act of using your land to grow what you need to survive without being totally dependent on “the man”. There are varying degrees of homesteading of course. Canning is an easy way to create this desired independence.

Canning is the practice of preserving food in jars or cans. Even when it’s in a jar it’s still referred to as canning. This method of preserving food is time-tested and vital to your sustainable homestead.

Anyone can do it!

There are many reasons that people chose to can their own food:

  • save money by preserving our own garden harvest
  • stock a household that could thrive in emergency situations
  • extend the season for eating local
  • have access to foods when they are out of season or more expensive
  • know what goes into our food
  • create food for people we love

I would bet that most people can for all of those reasons. Even if only one of those reasons resonates with you, then you are a canner at heart!

Follow these steps to determine if canning is cost effective and practical for your household.

8 easy steps to help you start canning your own food

1. Figure out what your family actually eats on a regular basis and start there.  

Open the cupboard and make a list of all preserved and premade things you buy at the grocery store. What from your list could you replace with homemade versions?

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Step one: Make a list of canned items you buy already

2. Look at the ingredients in the pre-made canned foods.

What are they made of?

Can they be grown locally?

Is it realistic to think you can replace and replicate them with homemade options?

3. Make a new list of canned goods that you want to replace with homemade versions.  

Start small.

If you learn how to replace just a few things a year you are well on your way to sustainability.

An easy place to start is condiments, sauces, and salsas. These recipes are simple, all ingredients can be grown locally, and can be preserved for up to a year using a simple boiling water bath.

4. Find recipes and test them.  

Make sure the recipes are safe for canning and have the correct ratios of acidity to produce to ensure it is being safely preserved. Use canning cookbooks or reputable websites.

Test small batches on friends and family. Once you find a great recipe write it down in a few different places for safe keeping. I have misplaced more great trial and error recipes than I care to admit.

5. Calculate how many jars of food you will need.

If you can figure out how many jars of tomato sauce you eat in a year, then you can make a more informed decision. If you eat 100 jars of tomato sauce a year, ask yourself if you have it in you to make 100 jars at harvest time. Or will you use homemade as often as you can but not always.

6. Do the math.

Calculate how many fruits or vegetables you need for each recipe and how many jars a recipe makes. How many jars did you calculate you will need? Can you grow or buy this amount?

Look at your schedule and make sure that you have enough time to invest in planting and maintaining a garden, harvesting and turning the produce into the recipes you selected, and then canning and processing the jars for safe storage.

Add up the cost of the other ingredients and supplies. Most of the canning will be done at the end of the summer. It requires a lot of upfront costs but once it’s on your shelf you don’t have to spend money on it again. Can you afford the upfront costs?

Figure it all out now so you know whether or not canning is realistic for you.

It’s ok if you decide that it doesn’t make sense for you to get into canning right now, if you just want to make a few homemade preserves now and then, or if you decide to embrace it fully.

Either way you are making an informed decision and that’s a decision you will never regret!

7. Grow a garden.

If you decided that canning is right for you then you need to figure out how you will get the produce.

IMG_0991Growing it yourself will always be the most cost effective way to can. Also, you will know exactly how the plants were grown and if they were treated with any pesticides.

You already did the math so you know which plants you need and roughly how many. Decide if you will plant from seeds or buy seedlings from a store.

Consider planting fruit bushes or trees. These will take longer to establish but canning is a homesteading lifestyle and the conversion can be slow.

If having your own garden is not possible you can always rent a garden plot in a community garden. If that’s not possible either, then approach a local farm to buy directly, frequent farmer’s markets, or watch the flyers.

Where there’s a will there’s a way!

8. Start canning!

Please let me know how your canning is going.  I would love to know what you have swapped for homemade from your own pantry!

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How to Dry Seeds from Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for Planting Next Spring

You don’t need to buy seed packets next spring if you can get your hands on the fresh ripe fruit or vegetables you desire.

Find plants grown in a local garden or farmer’s market rather than from the store. This way you can be certain the plant has been treated in a way that renders the seeds useless.

Only save the seeds from ripe healthy plants that showed no sign of disease as the disease can be carried through to the next crop.

Saving Tomato Seeds by Fermenting Them First

It’s important to ferment the seeds of a tomato as this fermentation process will dissolve the gel around the seed and kill off any bacteria that will infect the plant with disease.

1. Squeeze a ripe tomato to release the juice and seeds into a glass jar.

2. Add about half the amount of water that there is of juice and seed mixture in the jar.

3. Use a labelled paper towel, plastic wrap with poked holes, or coffee filter with a rubber band as a lid. Labelling the jar is important as tomato seeds are difficult to tell apart.

4. Let the seeds sit in the water and juice mixture until mold grows on top indicating fermenting. This should take a few days, but could happen sooner if it’s warm or in the sun so you need to monitor it. As soon as it’s covered in mold the seeds are ready.

5. Get the viable fermented seeds by scooping out the mold with a spoon then adding new water to almost fill the jar. Stir the water and let the seeds settle. The bad seeds and pulp will float to the top so remove them with the spoon. Repeat the process until the mold and all the floating seeds and pulp have been removed. The good seeds will be settled at the bottom of the jar.

6. Rinse the good seeds with lukewarm water in a sieve with holes that are smaller than the seeds.

7. Spread the rinsed seeds on a glass plate. Notice the gel coating will have dissolved in the fermentation process.

8. The seeds need to be dried immediately, use a fan to speed the process. Do this away from direct sunlight.

9. Once the seeds are totally dried, store them in a labelled plastic sandwich bag or envelope in a cool dark place.

Plant your tomato seeds inside in early March. Use a peat moss pellet. Let it grow until the sprout has it’s second set of leaves, then move the plant into a bigger pot so the roots can spread out for a big healthy plant.

Saving Seeds of Cucumber, Peppers, Cantaloupe, Beans, and Peas

Saving the seeds of these plants is not as complicated and time consuming as fermenting tomato seeds.

To save pepper, cucumber, and cantaloupe seeds let them get very ripe then cut them open and take out the seeds. Rinse the seeds clean using lukewarm water in a sieve, gently dry them with a paper towel, and let them sit on a plate to dry. A fan will help speed the process. Once dry, store them in a cool dry place.

To save beans or peas leave the vegetable on the vine or plant to turn brown and dry up. Jiggle the pod to check if it’s ready. When you hear the seeds rattling around in the pod you can remove the seeds from the pod and store them in a cool dry place.

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Dried cantaloupe seeds. I let them sit on my dining room table and dry under the ceiling fan.

How to Turn Your Tomato Harvest into Food for the Winter

Now that your tomato garden is ripe and ready for harvest, you have a lot of work to do.

We all wish these tomatoes could sit fresh on our counter all winter long but that’s not going to happen – though the fruit flies implore you to try!

Growing, harvesting, and preserving your garden is more work than going to the grocery store in the winter, but well worth it. You will know exactly what went into each jar of your food and how it was grown. Who doesn’t get the warm fuzzies from watching a garden grow then creating delicious pesticide-free food for their friends and family?

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You will need to either freeze or can your harvest. Canning is a term that means preserve. Most people use glass jars and not cans even though it’s called canning.

You need LOTS of tomatoes to make even a small amount of sauce. Most tomatoes are almost half water so they will simmer down to shockingly less sauce than one would expect. Make sure you have many tomatoes to make it all worth your time! Some varieties of tomato are more commonly used for sauce because they are more fleshy and less watery.  Roma, Amish Paste, and San Marzano are famous for being good sauce tomatoes. You can make sauce with any tomato you have though so don’t worry.

3 ways to store your tomato harvest

The options below all include the tomato skins as the skin holds a lot of nutrients. You can remove the skins if you prefer.

1. Freeze them whole

Wash and core the tomatoes. Space them out on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. Once they are completely frozen, put them in a freezer bag to keep in the freezer until you need a tomato in the winter. The texture of these tomatoes will be mushy once they defrost so use them for cooking only.

This works well for people who aren’t getting many ripe tomatoes at once as you can keep tossing them in the freezer until you have enough to make a big batch of sauce.

2. Freeze them as a tomato sauce

If you keep the tomato sauce plain then it keeps your recipe options open for later.

IMG_0907Wash and core the tomatoes, cut them into sections and use a spoon to remove as many of the seeds as you can. (set the seedy goop aside to store your own seeds for next year)

 

Once the seeds are removed you can toss the segments into the blender and puree the fruit to your desired consistency.

If you like chunky sauce, separate and puree half and make the other half chunky. Add the two together in the pot. If you prefer chunky sauce you may want to remove the skins from the chunky half of the recipe as there will be noticeable pieces of skin in your sauce.

 

The sauce will be watery. Simmer it until the water has evaporated to your desired consistency.

 

Leave it in the pot to cool then pour the cooled sauce into freezer bags and put it in the freezer.

You can season it and add any meat or vegetables when you defrost it later.

3. Can the whole tomato or tomato sauce

If you want to make the sauce and keep it in jars in your pantry you should use a pressure canner. Bacteria can grow inside the jars if not processed at the correct heat for a specific amount of time. Use trusted recipes from the experts as the ratios of fruit to acid must be correct for safe canning.

How to remove tomato skins

  1. Wash the tomatoes and submerge them in boiling water for a couple of minutes or until you notice the skin has cracked.
  2. Immediately move the boiled tomato into a bowl of ice water. Let them sit a minute. The ice water will cool them to make them easier to handle. Also, the ice-cold water immediately stops the cooking process.
  3. Use all of your fingers to make a gentle pinching motion on the tomato to pull the skins off. They should slide off easily.
  4. Once they are skinned, you can core them.

Natural pesticides to eliminate vegetable garden pests like Striped Cucumber beetle and Japanese beetle

IMG_0693Certain garden pests must be treated long before the plants even grow. When you notice them on your plants it’s already too late. You can’t be rid of them this season, but you can dramatically lessen them.

About a week ago I noticed that my climbing beans and cucumbers had little holes their leaves. I was devastated to find the evil Striped Cucumber beetle and their savage sidekick the Japanese beetle feasting on my hard work.

Why are these two beetles a nuisance?

The Striped Cucumber beetle mainly targets cucurbit plants like cucumber, melon, and squash, though they will eat many other plants as well. They eat roots as a larvae and they eat the stem, leaf, and fruit as an adult. More annoying than damaged leaves and fruit is the bacteria these beetles carry in their digestive tract. They can spread bacterial wilt which hinders the flow of water and nutrients in a plant’s stem.  Infected plants wilt and die off quickly. The Striped Cucumber beetle can also spread squash mosaic virus. This virus increases the chances for powdery mildew and black rot, stops plants from branching properly, and gives the mature fruit a mottled skin.

Japanese beetle larvae are called grubs. Grubs are well-known for destroying grass as they feed off the nutrients in the roots. These grubs mature into Japanese beetles. After they damage your lawn as a larvae, they will move on to destroy the leaves of your plants as adults. They are a gardener’s nightmare because they destroy vegetable, fruit, flower, and tree foliage.

2 ways to quickly lessen the impact of the Striped Cucumber beetle and Japanese beetles on your plants for this season

IMG_0719It’s too late to completely eradicate these two kinds of beetle for this growing season, but a garden can be managed with natural annoyances and a careful eye if you act fast.

In late-June to mid-July both beetles will emerge so be ready for them.

The Japanese beetles will scour your neighbourhood looking for great gardens to feast on. They will mark areas they like with an excreted scent. Their friends will soon follow this scent. Kill them as soon as you see them in case they are the first ones out on patrol.  Killing the first Japanese beetles you see could be all it takes, but if you noticed them too late, there’s a strong chance they will be around all season.

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The Striped Cucumber beetle could: be in your garden soil already, come from a neighbouring garden, or come in on a cucumber plant purchased at a nursery.

Ideally you want them all gone, but if you already have them, you will have to deal with them for the season. Both these pests can be organically managed now in the same way: spraying and killing.

1. Natural Pesticide Sprays

Only natural ingredients should be used in the spray for the obvious reason that the vegetable garden is a food supply.

Spray only the infested plants as there are many beneficial bugs that could also be harmed by the spray. Generously mist the leaves and flowers with this solution a couple of times week. Don’t forget to mist underneath the leaves as well and reapply after rain. The same rules apply as normal watering – not at the hottest part of the day. Early morning or evening is best.

Take a strong pure soap like Ivory, Murphy’s Oil, or any natural soap and dilute with tap water. Do not use detergents or any soap with a degreaser in it.

The recipes below are based on two cups of water because my spray bottle holds two cups. Feel free to multiply the recipe to suit the size of your spray bottle.

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Mix an eighth of the Ivory bar into two cups of warm water. Crumble it into the water so it dissolves faster. Shake it often.IMG_0716

 

 

 

 

 

Murphy’s Oil liquid soap and water 

Mix one teaspoon of the liquid soap into two cups of warm water. Give it a light shake. It will cloud the water as soon as you shake it.

 

 

 

Vanilla and water 

(I am telling you about this one as many people use it but I find it to be the more expensive of the homemade options, and I prefer to save my vanilla for baking!)

Mix 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract with 1 liter of tap water.

Neem Oil

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Photo from Home Depot’s website.

Neem oil is effective for both Striped Cucumber beetle and the Japanese beetle.

Neem oil repels bugs, and damages their reproductive system and ability to eat.

It’s naturally derived from a neem tree. There are no reported links to any health risk to animals or humans who consume plants exposed to neem oil.

For neem oil to work, the insect has to eat the leaves. Merely landing on the leaf or eating from the flower will not spread the poison. This makes it safe for insects like bees and butterflies. Like any oil, it will harm good bugs too if they are spayed with it directly. Try to spray at the times of day when good bugs are not active, like early morning or evening.

You can buy neem oil at most garden centers.

2. Good ol’Fashioned Squishing

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My high-tech squish tool. Patent pending.

It doesn’t matter how you do it – just do it. Squish as many as you can as often as you can.

They are slow and clumsy but they fly so move fast.

If squishing them is out of the question then knock them into a cup of hot soapy water.

How to naturally eradicate Striped Cucumber beetle and Japanese beetle from your property

This process could take a couple of years, but eventually your soil will be larvae-free.

The beetle larvae will winter in your soil and emerge late-June until mid-July. Once they mature in your soil it’s too late once again so you need to get to work right away.

Don’t give up the fight this season though because the more you kill now, the fewer larvae you have to fight later.

6 Steps for beetle-free gardens

1. Destroy their winter home and food

The larvae will survive the winter by feeding on the nutrients in the soil so don’t leave any plant matter in the garden beds. When you clean the garden out for the season don’t toss the plants into the compost pile. Throw them into a hot bonfire to burn up any larvae and the bacteria they carry.

2. Apply nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic worm-like organisms that live in soil and feed on larvae. They are naturally occurring so they pose no threat to people or animals. They can be purchased at your local nursery or garden center. All you do is mix them with water and apply them to your lawn and garden soil. Read the manufacturer’s packaging for more specific instructions. The nematodes will help rid you of both beetles.

3. Apply Milky Spore (bacterium Paenibacillus popillae)

This powdered bacteria called Paenibacillus popillae is lethal to Japanese beetles. It’s applied to the grass to kill the grubs before they can become beetles.  The powdered spore will leach into the soil when watered. The grubs will consume the organic matter infected by the spore, which kills them by turning their blood milky. To apply milky spore you place one teaspoon of the powder every four feet in a grid pattern, then water it for about 15 minutes.  The best time to apply it is mid-July to early August. Read the manufacturer’s packaging for more specific instructions.

4. Keep soap spraying IMG_0633

Use the soap spray in late-June through to mid-July as this is when they emerge from the soil.  They may not emerge from your soil but a neighbouring garden so do all you can to keep them from staying.

5. Keep squishing

A dead beetle won’t reproduce or keep eating your leaves.

6. Talk to your neighbours

Spread your knowledge of natural pesticides to your neighbours as well so they don’t unknowingly reinfect your property with their beetles. Japanese beetles will travel kilometres to find their favourite leaves. Good neighbours are made by great fences and a shared love of dead beetles!

Pruning Your Tomato Plants Isn’t Vital for a Great Harvest

Pruning the suckers off tomato plants isn’t mandatory, but merely a personal gardening style.

I was always advised to prune my tomato plants, so I always did. When I started gardening I trusted all sage advice from anyone who had a harvest to prove their credibility. I understand the theory and benefits of pruning tomatoes but I’m not sure I fully agree that it’s vital to a great harvest.

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Black Krim tomatoes

This year I have seven varieties of tomato growing in my garden. Some I grew from seed, and some I bought as seedlings from my local nursery. The ones sprouted at my house are thriving and flowering, while the purchased ones already have large green fruit. I planted the seeds indoors on April 11, started hardening them off (exposing them to the outdoor elements in small stages) in mid-May, and planted them in raised beds at the end of May.  I will plant my seeds sooner next year to have fruit at this time of year like the nursery ones do.

I left one bed of tomato plants unpruned. I see two differences when compared to the pruned plants: more foliage and more flowers.

Why spend precious time pinching off every single sucker when they flower and turn into more tomatoes?

What’s a sucker on a tomato plant?

Suckers are the thin sprout of growth that pops up between two other main branches.

The Theory Behind Removing Suckers

The theory is that if the suckers are removed the main branches can live without competition, allowing them to hog all the energy from the roots. This enables the plant to grow bigger fruit that ripens faster. Also, less leaves means better air flow through the leaves so there is less chance of mould or diseases.

Reasons to Leave the Suckers on a Plant

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Black Krim tomatoes in the making.

Photosynthesis. Every gardener knows that leaves act as the plant’s solar panels, catching as much sun as possible. The leaves use the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar. This sugar is plant food. The more leaves the better for this process to occur.

The suckers will quickly grow into branches that will flower and bear fruit. It may take longer than a pruned bush but you will get more tomatoes in the end.

Every time you pull a branch off you risk skinning or cracking the connecting branches. This can cause rot or a weak spot where disease can get in.

The Verdict

It would seem that picking suckers is solely a personal preference amongst gardeners.

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Heavily pruned white tomato plant stalk. Notice the scars where four branches were cut.

I don’t think it’s necessary to pinch off every single sucker that grows. It should be done on an as needed basis to thin the plant only in areas that are overgrown. I do think the base of the plant should always be heavily pruned to reveal only the stalk. This allows airflow under the plant where it meets the soil. Leaves that lay in damp soil can rot and create problems. The leaves underneath don’t get enough sun to contribute heavily to photosynthesis so they won’t be missed.  I always remove the bottom branches until there is a gap between the lowest hanging branch and the soil.

If you want bigger tomatoes sooner and you don’t mind a smaller yield, then prune them regularly. If you want a larger harvest of medium-sized tomatoes and don’t mind waiting a bit longer for them to ripen, then just prune as needed.

No judgements! Just do what works for you.

What do you do in your own garden?