Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Worms Will Be Eating My Garbage

I checked "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof out of the library so that I could prepare for starting my own worm farm. I am expanding my gardens this year, and with Florida's sandy soil, I need to find ways to supplement it. I've read that vermicomposting is a great way to produce nutrition for a garden, and that Mary Appelhof is the #1 expert on the subject.

This book could definitely use an update. It was written in 1982, before worm farms were commercially produced, before the internet, and at the start of interest in the US in recycling. I would love to see the resources section updated for the present times, and I would like to know Ms. Appelhof's opinions on the new commercially produced worm bins.

That being said, I still learned a lot from this little book. Appelhof's information on worm ecology, biology, and care is detailed and easy to understand. Her section on the other critters that are likely to live in your worm bin was also very informative.

Thanks to "Worms Eat My Garbage" I feel fully prepared for the arrival of my Worm Factory 360 and my 1800 Red Wigglers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Grow It Forward

I just won free heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Seed Company in the Your Garden Show "Grow It Forward" contest. I can't wait to get my seeds and find out what else will be going in my garden!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Problem with Kumquats

My neighbors have some beautiful kumquat trees. They are diminutive, with long, arching limbs that are laden with bright orange kumquats. They look so yummy, you just want to pop them in your mouth. But resist that temptation! These kumquats are so sour your pucker will pucker. Your eyes will bulge, and you will begin to drool. They are a Trojan horse for a citrus sour-bomb.

But this year, I decided to do something about our neighborhood kumquat problem. I would make these kumquats taste like candy. I would can them!

My favorite book on canning is Linda J. Amendt's "Blue Ribbon Preserves." She has three recipes for Kumquats in this book: Kumquat Marmalade, Kumquat Preserves, and Brandied Kumquats. I had so many kumquats, I decided to make all three!

I started at about four in the afternoon. I took my sack full of kumquats and carefully washed them and sorted them for the different recipes. The best looking, most ripe ones I would save for the brandied recipe.
Washed & Sorted Kumquats
Then I got the canner out, filled it with water, and started the long journey it would take to get it to boiling. I always put the canner on the heat a good 45 minutes before I am going to need to use it.

Canner and Tools
The amount of prep work canning recipes like these takes is monumental. I decided to tackle the Kumquat Preserves recipe first, since it had to sit over night to soak in the syrupy goodness.  I created a simple syrup and then tossed the kumquats in whole.

Kumquats Added to Simple Syrup
Then I increased the heat and got the fruit up to boiling.

Kumquats Boiling in Simple Syrup
They boiled for about ten minutes and then I took them off of the heat to start their over-night soaking. The scent in the house from the boiling kumquats was absolutely ambrosial. It smelled like I lived in a flowering kumquat grove. Wonderful!

Soaking Kumquats
The next recipe to tackle was the Kumquat Marmalade. This one had some serious prep work involved. I had to "supreme" six Valencia oranges (also donated by my neighbors). Supreme-ing is a huge pain in the ass, but it makes a superior marmalade. Basically, it means laboriously trimming away all of the white pith, and then cutting away all of the membranes that separate each segment of the fruit, and then chopping up the inside of each segment. It takes a long time to do this, but the flavor and texture of the marmalade will make it all worth it.

After I supremed the oranges, I had to thinly slice a couple of pounds of kumquats. This was a lot easier than the orange prep, but required concentration to make sure all of the seeds were removed.

Once the fruit is prepared, its ready for the pot. I added the kumquat slices, orange juice, water, and baking soda to an 8 quart pot and turned up the heat. I got it to a full boil and then reduced the heat to simmer the concoction for 10 minutes. Then I added the supremed orange bits, stirred and simmered for 10 more minutes.

Then I added a ridiculous amount of sugar (5 cups!) and a little butter and stirred it all up to make sure the sugar had fully dissolved. Brought it all back to a boil again so that I could add a pouch of pectin.

Boiling Kumquat Marmalade
And that's about it. After adding the pectin, I stirred the marmalade for a minute and then let it sit for 5 off of the heat before adding it to sterilized jars. Once the jars were filled and capped, I processed them in the canner for 10 minutes.

When it was all said and done, I had 7 jars of majestically golden kumquat marmalade.

Kumquat Marmalade
The third recipe I decided to try was the one for Brandied Kumquats. The only trouble was that I didn't have all of the ingredients. The recipe called for brandy and a vanilla bean. I had neither. Undaunted, I decided to substitute cognac for the brandy (my preference anyway), and vanilla extract for the vanilla bean.

First I blanched the kumquats. Then I made a simple syrup and added the vanilla. Once that syrup had simmered for 10 minutes I added the kumquats for 5 minutes. When that was up, I took the pot off of the heat and spooned the fruit (leaving the syrup) into the jars. It smelled wonderfully citrusy.

I put the syrup back on the heat and brought it to a boil for a minute. Then I took it off of the heat and added the cognac. I gave the mixture a quick stir and then ladled it over the fruit in the jars. The aroma alone was intoxicating. I processed the jars for 25 minutes.

Cognac Kumquats
Fortunately (you'll see why in a moment) I had more syrup than I had fruit. Once I had filled three pint jars, I had nearly a pint of cognac syrup left. The temptation was too great. I poured some of the hot liqueur into a coffee cup and had a sip. GLORIOUS! My new favorite winter beverage: hot kumquat cognac! Next time I make this I will intentionally increase the quantity of the syrup and can that separately.
Kumquat Cognac
This morning I retrieved the kumquats that had been soaking their syrup all night. It smelled lovely. I put it on the heat and got it up to a boil. Added a pouch of pectin and attempted to get all of the seeds out while I stirred the mixture for 60 second on the heat, and for another 5 minutes off of the heat. I got a lot of seeds, but not all. I think next time I will cut the kumquats in half and remove the seeds before they soak in their syrup all night.

Despite the seeds though, the crushed kumquats made a tantalizing preserve. I filled 6 jars and processed them for 10 minutes.

Kumquat Preserves
Canning is no small task. I worked from 4 in the afternoon to 10:30 at night without stopping. And then I spent another 45 minutes at it this morning. But despite the grueling hours, I think canning these kumquats was absolutely worth it. I can't wait to share the bounty!

Kumquat Harvest Canned

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm a Bad, Bad Blogger

Okay, I am WAY behind on this blog, so here’s a crazy long catch-up post:

I moved from South Florida to North Florida on January 14th.  I brought the seedlings that I had started in the beginning of January (onions, cabbages, and tomatoes), my jalapeno pepper plants, black night pepper plants, mint, orchids, and chives. They all seem to be happier the new, somewhat cooler climate.

 On January 18th I managed to break the well. Not the actual hole in the ground, but the PVC pipe that carries water from the well to the house. Panic doesn’t begin to describe how I handled that situation. Luckily for me and my boyfriend, I was able to call a friend who walked me through purchasing this magic blue stuff, and applying it to the pipe and coupling.  As of this posting, the seal is still holding, and Max says that now that he knows I have plumbing skills, he’s got a long list of chores waiting for me.

Here’s a pic of my masterful handiwork.

So Max and I have already had some winter veggies started in our garden.

Bok Choy, Leeks, & Radicchio
We planted this Baby Bok Choy from seed in early November and have been eating from it since late November. What a great winter veggie! We love the Ching Chang Bok Choy. It grows fast, is hardy, and very tasty.
Bolting Bok Choy
Unfortunately, our unseasonably warm weather has caused the Bok Choy to bolt and the Radicchio to slow its growth into peppery red lettuce heads. But I’m not complaining, because it still tastes great.

We got so much out of our Bok Choy seeds that we decided to try to squeeze in a second batch of winter veggies. I planted more Bok Choy, Red Cylindra Beets, Kohlrabi, Pink Beauty Radishes, Daikon Radishes, Japanese Mustard, and European Mesclun Mix salad greens.  I planted this on the 21st of January, and as you can see, we have some good looking sprouts happening now.

Bok Choy Sprouts

Pink Beauty Radishes

Japanese Mustard Greens

European Mesclun Mixed Greens
On February 2nd my best friend, Kaurie, and I decided that the warm weather wasn’t going to abate, and we’d better just go with it and start our spring seeds. We used our paper pot maker tools

and made a TON of little paper seed pots. We learned that after filling the pot with soil, you should use the tool to compress the soil in the pot. This will help the stability of the pot, and give the seedling something to grow against.

Kaurie's Seed Pots

My Seed Pots

Here’s a list of what seeds I planted:

§         Dwarf Jewel Nasturtium (x1 pot)

§         Dwarf Peach Melba Nasturtium (x1 pot) *These did really well last year. This year we are planting more nasturtiums for both salad and butterfly garden use.

§         Purple Tomatillos (x4)

§         Yellow Wonder Strawberries (x4)

§         Cherokee Purple Tomatoes (x3)

§         Amy’s Apricot Tomatoes (x3)

§         Red Currant Tomatoes (x2)

§         Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes (x2)

§         Black Giant Tomatoes (x3)

§         Black Cherry Tomatoes (x3) *These did well for us last year, so we are replanting them from our saved seed this year. They were our favorie tomatoes from last year!

§         Pineapple Ground Cherries (x2)

§         Regular Ground Cherries (x2) * I didn’t have luck with these last year, but my mom (in Orlando) did. They were so yummy I have to try to grow them again. They grow wild in Florida, so I feel pretty confident we can get them to grow.

§         Purple Beauty Peppers (x3) *Had one plant of these last year and enjoyed them so much we replanted more of them this year from our saved seed.

§         Japanese Eggplant (x1) *We planted this last year and it got a late start but it never died out. We have a large plant now that is ready to flower soon. So since we already have one eggplant ready to produce, I only planted seed for two more.

§         Florida Eggplant (x1)

§         Burgundy Okra (x4) *Planted this last year late in the season and it was wonderful! We bemoaned that we started it so late, because it was a real winner. Very tasty and beautiful to look at too.

§         Fife Creek Cowhorn Okra (x3) *Planted this late last year and promised ourselves to start it early this year.

§         Sweet Red Stuffing Peppers (x2)

We may have gone a bit overboard on all of this, but I just couldn’t restrain myself.

On both January 15th and February 5th Max and the boys went out and procured some composted horse manure from a local stable. We now have two piles like this ready to be spread out in our upcoming raised beds. Hopefully these piles of horse shit will make my dream of delicious and sweet melons a reality.
Mostly Composted Horse Manure
And while I was at it, I impulse purchased these strawberries and cat nip plant at Ace Hardware on February 2nd.  Can you ever have too many strawberry plants? I don’t think so.

And lastly, though this isn’t technically part of our garden, our Red Bud tree is blooming. Seems too early for that sort of business, but I’ll enjoy it any time it feels like blossoming.