Tag Archives: harvest

Grape day!

The grapes are ripe! The weather is hot and dry and it’s time to make juice before they disappear under an onslaught by wasps, cedar waxwings, deer, and fox. Ripe grapes are appealing to lots of the local wildlife. We grow northern vine varieties Beta (a purple sport of Concord) and Somerset (seedless white) that are hardy and ripen reliably in Maine’s short growing season. These vines have been in place for five years, and are growing in poor but well drained soil on the side of the driveway.

Beta and Somerset grape vines

I’m not sure if the “birdscare balloon” actually drives off birds or not – the vines are so loaded with fruit that it’s hard to gauge depredation. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves for protection against slippery fruit on the ground, stinging insects, and prickly brambles grown up into the vines. . .if you’re picking into a metal container try to keep it shaded so you don’t injure the fruit.

steamer basket full of grapes

I use the stainless steel basket from my steam juicer to pick into so I know when I have enough for a batch. I used to pick when the grapes were dead ripe and a uniform black-purple, but I’ve recently discovered that the juice has more flavor if picked slightly before that stage – with red, dark maroon, and even a few green grapes in each batch.

grapes in steam juicer

The stainless steel basket in the previous photo becomes the top third of the steamer shown here when assembled. The grapes cook quickly and in about 20 minutes the clear tube to the middle portion will show purple and I’ll be able to drain off the juice into the large pot on the right. Use caution – right out of the tube the liquid is still close to the boiling point! I add about 1 cup of sugar for every 2 of juice, decant immediately into canning jars and process in a steam canner for 20 minutes.

Beta grape harvest

This batch of juice is about half and half white Somerset and blue Beta but you would never know from the color of the final product. Because it cooks without adding water, the steam juicer produces a concentrate that we cut at least 50 per cent with water or seltzer to drink. It also makes the best popsicles in the world and next year I’m planning to experiment with a batch of garbage can wine. . .

 

The July garden

Right now is when everything in the garden turns the corner into full production. We’ve just past the longest day of the year and now it’s all about beating that long, downhill slide toward the dark and cold. November will come, but meanwhile we can make hay while the sun shines and harvest broccoli too.

brassica larkspur

Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica grow well under a variety of conditions, but in my garden they also attract pests if too many are crowded together in one place. I spot plants around in odd areas to avoid cutworms, whitefly, and fleabeetles that find their host plants by scent. In the back is a row of larkspur flowering in its first year from seed – can’t wait to see the variety of colors.

green dinner

Tonight’s dinner is kung pao tofu with assorted greens.

long view of valerian jungleSome of the lower garden is buried in an onslaught of valerian. I don’t discourage it because it goes by quickly, the bees love it, and the roots make an excellent sleep potion (which as a bonus, smells like wet dog).

blue angel hosta

This is the season for big edibles, but the ornamentals aren’t far behind: Blue Angel Hosta maturing at 5′ by 6′ down in the swamp!

seedum

For most of the year this seedum is a flat green carpet, but in July it becomes an alien solar farm.

finger trimmed spruce

I have a finger-trimmed spruce going down in the swamp, next to the hosta. It’s ten years old and has been hand pruned at the tips each year. The “antler” is what happens when the gardener is called away without finishing the task! It’s not a fast growing tree, but it managed to put out this extension in four days – that’s a lot of pent up energy.

 

Seed order 2014, new directions

Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)

beanies beans

My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:

  • I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
  • I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
  • I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.

And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!

dutch popcorn

Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:

214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80

This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!

tomatoes, everywhere

Grape juicing

The Beta grapes are ready to harvest. Beta is a cross with Concord, those huge sprawling vines that took over rock walls and climbed into trees where I grew up in central Connecticut. Here in Maine the growing season is too short for Concord to ripen reliably, so Beta with its smaller grapes and quick growth is a winner. This season it took me 15 minutes to fill the steam juicer basket, and I estimate I have at least 10 more baskets-worth waiting on the vine. Fortunately, we own a Mehu-Liisa steam juicer and quarts of dense, fragrant grape juice concentrate will be less work than you might think.

Beta grape

So now you have a full steamer basket of grapes – what next?

basket full of Beta grapes

Rinse the full basket under the sprayer of your kitchen faucet, or outdoors with the garden hose. The water that clings to the fruit will dilute your product, so if you have time you can let the basket drip dry. If not, I’ve processed batches both ways and the difference is negligible. Press the grapes gently with a potato masher or wooden spoon to ensure a tight seal with the lid (I always fill the basket to overflowing), turn the burner on to medium, and let the whole thing sit until you hear water boiling in the bottom pot.

Mehu Liisa steam juicer

When you hear a vigorous boil you can turn the heat down to a high simmer. Cook until the fruit has lost color and at least half its mass. This full basket of grapes will turn into about four cups of stems, seeds, and tired-looking skins in about 25 minutes. Harder fruit such as quince, apples, and Seckel pears take up to an hour.

The silicon tube can be clamped off, but it does leak a tiny bit under pressure. This grape juice is like purple dye so I like to keep it contained in the lower pot. Sometimes I draw off some juice half-way through the process to make more room in the pot, but it’s not necessary.

One design note: Mehu-Liisa designed the juice collection pot so that the hose begins level with the bottom. Whatever small amount of sediment is steamed out of your fruit will pass along with the juice – there’s no lip to keep it out – so if you’re going for a blue ribbon jelly at the State Fair you may want to strain the final product. Personally, I don’t mind and think it adds to the flavor.

The next step is to add sugar to taste – for me that’s about a cup of white cane sugar per pint of juice concentrate – and decant into hot, sterile canning jars. Cap with hot lids according to canning instructions, and then off to the steam canner.

Jars of grape juice concentrate

I process the quarts for 20 minutes in the steam canner, it won’t hurt the occasional pint jar to be in for that long.

steam canner

I like my steam canner better than a water bath or pressure cooker, but that’s a whole other blog post – possibly coming soon. Now, off to juice some of the vast quantities of tomatoes that are ripening in the lower garden!

The internet is a wonderful thing – here’s an excellent blog all about canning with your Mehu-Liisa.  The author mentions something I didn’t – the grape juice coming down that silicon tube is hot!

Raspberry season

Everything is better fresh-picked from your own garden, but some things are at the top of that list: sweet corn, early radishes, butter lettuce, and raspberries.

raspberry variety

The yellow berries on top of the bowl are a fall-bearing variety named “Anne”. The plants have long, loose canes and the berries dangle precariously at the very ends. Summer 2013 has been one of the wettest and hottest on record here and Anne is fruiting early, way ahead of her normal September production.

raspberry-season-anneI also grow Boyne (standard red summer-bearing) and Royalty Purple (deep purple soft round berries). This 10′ x 20′ patch produces about 2 batches of jam, a dozen pies and cakes, and all we can eat fresh. I’d like to add another patch – perhaps with the same varieties because they’re so dependable – and dry them in the soon-to-be-built earth oven. Raspberry raisins?

raspberry-season-libertyWhile there are many, many laws that govern the garden as a whole, there are only a few things to know about growing an individual plant or species. Raspberry rules:

  • Plant 3 or 4 canes each in hills rather than a continuous bed. It will be easier to prune out old canes (distinguished by their papery bark) that become unproductive, and to water and mulch them.
  • Set a sturdy stake at each end of the row and run 3 levels of bailing wire between them. Tie the canes loosely to the wires and you won’t have to force your way into the briar patch. You can use string, but thin wire will last the life of the bushes.
  • Scatter bird scares through the patch over the ripening period. I tie shiny tape to the baling wire where the wind will catch it. Later I put out a few yellow plastic balloons with a “fire eye” painted on them, and some owl silhouettes. Keep ’em guessing.
  • Try the Maine Fruit Cake recipe with a little vanilla sugar on the raspberries.

Once upon a time. . .

. . .it was summer in the garden. Not today, because we’re having a raw, wet March day with snow still on the ground, but summer will be back around soon. I was going through my photo files to find a particular study of quince and wild apples and found a few images that reminded me of what the weather will bring in the coming months once March with its snowy mornings is out of the way.

Below, a steam canner full of Beta and Somerset grapes ready to put the lid on, turn up the burner, and make juice. The vines look thin and sad in the garden right now because the posts are crooked and some of the wires are down, but I’ll be able to set things right in April. I made almost 5 gallons of grape juice concentrate last year and it was wonderful – rich and sweet. More on the way for 2014 as the vines mature!

steam canner full of grapes

My pallet after painting peaches and geranium blossoms in the hoop house under the summer evening sun – light enough to work until 9 pm.

summer-misc-palette

Setting up to make tomato sauce on the Hoosier cabinet. We put up 5 gallons (in pint jars) in 2012, none in 2011 due to virus, we’ll have to see what 2014 will bring.

summer-misc

Do It Yourself: Sea Salt

We live on an island and often benefit from our proximity to the ocean by harvesting seaweed and compost for the garden, digging clams, and gathering  rose hips and wild asparagus that grow untended on the beach. A few weeks ago I found myself buying 8 oz of sea salt for $3.00 at the grocery store and thought hey, ocean!  And then I went down to Beach Road Beach for 6 gallons of really clean seawater. harvest seawaterI also did some research online. According to various blogs and agriculture sites (and for once, Wikipedia wasn’t all that helpful) six gallons of seawater should produce six cups of salt via evaporation. That seemed like a very high concentration to me, but turned out to be quite accurate.

I chose shorefront with no sewage outflow or houses nearby and a fast-running current. Water from a shallow bay might contain more salt, but is more prone to contamination. I initially forgot that water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon but remembered pretty quickly when I realized I was downhill from the car with a container that would weigh >50 lbs when full. I finally put the large container up by the car and schlepped buckets up the ridge to fill it. You’ll want your water source to be convenient to your transportation.

Strain the water through a sieve to remove bits of debris and sealife. Don’t empty the container all the way when you pour it into your cooking pot to avoid any sand that has settled to the bottom. It helps to rest the water container on something sturdy above the level of your cooking pot to pour it off. I used a honey sieve to strain the water into a 5 gallon restaurant pail.

pouring off If you can possibly avoid it, don’t do this inside! Boiling off six gallons of water took a full day – actually two half days of diminishing sunlight – over a wood fire, and that’s a lot of water vapor to add to the interior of your house. I used a 5 gallon lobster pot a refilled it when necessary but I imagine any non-reactive pot or bucket would do. If you have to use a smaller size, try for as much surface area as possible to encourage evaporation.

kettle on the fire I lit a wood fire in my cinderblock grill using slightly punky firewood that the mice have been living in that I don’t want to burn in our woodstove. I only kept the fire going during daylight hours, currently 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. here in Downeast Maine, and it took two days to reduce 6 gallons of seawater down to about 4″ of what looked like clear water and a cup of chunky tan sediment swirling on the bottom of the kettle. At that point I took it off the fire because I was afraid I’d scorch the pot.  Boy, was I disappointed!

The remaining water was very salty to the taste, but even the steam coming off the kettle was salty – I didn’t see how it was going to produce 6 cups of salt. I dumped what was left into a large glass baking pan, per directions on the web, and figured I had nothing to lose by letting it evaporate the rest of the way in the house. The next day it had dried enough to appear opaque and slushy, and then crystals started to form. I broke up the slab with a potato masher periodically because the top dried out first.

pan o'saltNow, a week later, I have 5 1/2 cups of large crystal sea salt that has dried quite white like the dish I pulled out first so that we could sample it. It tastes like salt, of course, but there’s also a little extra “ocean” flavor somehow, probably due to the lack of processing. My neighbor describes it as “smoky”. All in all, a good experiment – would try again!

 

Seaweed harvest

I went down to the cable beach this afternoon to harvest seaweed. The road was in pretty good shape for a gravel slope after all this rain.

Beach Rd Beach roadThe hay is in from the meadow, exposing the giant granite boulders that pop up here and there. The mountains in the distance are across Somes Sound on the other side of the island, in Acadia National Park.

Beach Rd meadow and CadillacHigh surf and strong winds from Hurricane Sandy pushed long barrows of seaweed onto the beach. I harvested six contractor bags of fresh kelp and bladderwort for the garden.

Seaweed harvestI also brought home six gallons of seawater and tomorrow I’m going to experiment with making my own sea salt. The surf close to shore was full of seaweed, but the water was warm on the incoming tide so walking around in squelchy shoes wasn’t too uncomfortable. My Merrills will be fine after a night of drying in front of the woodstove.

Drawing waterI prefer to harvest rose hips after the frost, but here it is early November and we’ve only had a few nights below 35F. This year I waited too long and the cedar waxwings and other fruit-eaters have beaten me to the wild roses. I may look in other places tomorrow, or perhaps add some late pears and apples for a mixed batch of jelly.

Rose hipsTomorrow – a post about boiling down a kettle of seawater!