Discovering New Things, Or At Least Making My Own Mistakes

I was leary as this garden season progressed.  Everything but the weeds seemed to move so slowly, and the lack of nice orderly rows gave me heebie-jeebies galore.  But the garden is coming on strong, and has become something of a delight to behold.  Production has just truly begun, as the carrots now outpace the peas and cilantro – oh, that crazy productive cilantro!  I’ve scattered seeds along the neighboring lot border to allow it to continue in its claim of the land.

New insects appeared this year by the multitudes.  Squash vine borer was the most obvious, and my vines were not covered.  I identified the entry spots on the main pumpkin vine and applied a plaintain weed poultice at every point after snapping off a few of the leaves and vine branches.  Each hole was covered with plaintain poultice.  That was a month ago and I’ve not seen more than a few yellowed leaves at the primary site.  We’ll see if that was a success.

The plantain grows prolifically in my yard, and I’ve been using it on bites, most recently on a bite that had necrosis (yes, brown recluse spiders are resident here).  The bite healed completely.  My thought was ‘why not’ when I considered its use on the plants.

Below is a sampling of the beauty and diversity I’ve discovered in the garden this season.  I’m making this post my last – as I’ve determined it’s simply time.  Time to use my time elsewhere.

Thanks for being along for the ride!  This blog will stay live, but no longer active.

No Longer Dreamin’

Why Yes! Yes I Did Can 40 lbs of Chicken… And Lived to Tell About It!

 

And you can too!  I’ll use the canned chicken for quick meals:  chicken enchiladas, chicken salad, chicken soups… the possibilities are many.  Here’s how it came about:

 

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If you’ve followed along, you likely noticed that life spun me around like a pair of socks in the dryer for the last two or three years.  I’ve had a lot going on and had not been able to get back ‘in the game’, so to speak.

During that time, I’d ordered 40 lbs. of boneless skinless chicken breast from Zaycon Foods.  The delivery came mid-summer last year (or the year before?) and my good intentions for repackaging and handling this big bag of meat did not go as planned.

So, life changed once again – I switched to a different job, a new sector of industry – and I had four days of downtime in between.  Time to can some chicken!

I thawed the block overnight in a larger cooler (sorry, this is not the safest method and I’m not promoting it – just saying that’s how we roll around here, and I cannot recall the last time I had tummy ick).  Then I began the process… a hot vinegar bath for all of the jars and utensils, then cut the chicken into chunks and pack it into the jars, raw.

 

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Chicken can only be canned with a Pressure Canner.  If your canner does not have gauges on it then you need to step away from this sort of project.  Seriously.  You could kill yourself or someone else if you don’t use the proper canner.  Also – a pressure cooker is not the same thing as a pressure canner.  Use the right tools for the job.

For the sterilization step, I simply used tap water as hot as I could get it and added a quarter gallon of vinegar.  Each item was dipped and rinsed in the water and then set out for a quick dry.

These beautiful, functional jars are from Weck.  They’re my favorite for meat processing, as they are a much thicker glass than the standard canning jar – and they look so good on the shelf.

I have several of the Weck jars, but not quite enough for this project, so I filled in with good ol’ Ball jars.  Always add new metal tops when canning, and reuse any of the rings that are not rusty.  The Weck jars will need new rubber seals each time they’re used.

 

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While I packed the jars with the chicken chunks, I got the water into the canner and set it on the stove to heat.  It takes a while, so I knew I could get the jars in before the water was too hot to set cool jars into.

 

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With so much chicken to process, there was no way to do it all in one session.  I cut up and packed the first 20 lbs of chicken and got as many jars as was safe into the canner – a double stack.  As you can see, there is still a lot of chicken in the bowl, and more waiting over yonder in the sink… as shown in that second picture from the top.  It’s a good thing I started this project before noon.

 

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Instructions are so very important when canning.  Raw pack meats are going to go through an intense cooking process and the juices and pressure involved require that you leave a lot of space between the packed food and the top of the jar – head space.  This is for safety purposes, make certain you follow this step.

 

 

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Once the water was in the canner (see your instructions to make sure you’ve put sufficient water in your canner), and the jars were packed in, I was ready for the first batch.  Use a reputable source for the instructions, aided with the instruction booklet from your canner.  Quarts of raw pack chicken take 90 minutes processing time.  This is serious business folks – always follow the instructions to the letter when you’re canning foods.  Safety is key.

 

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In between batches, it’s important to allow the canner to cool and release pressure on its own.  Forcing the cool down will do serious damage to the canner, your kitchen or your body.  Be patient and allow for this down time.  Once the pressure has returned to zero, you are ready to pull out those steaming batches of canned goodness and start the next batch.

Take a serious cue from me and start waaaay before noon, not just before.  This is a time consuming process, but oh so very worth it in the long run.

Til’ later…

Dreamin’

 

Summer Time Update

Time sure flies when you’re having fun!

As I hinted in the last post, I’ll add a few pictures of my ‘front’ garden, which is home to the tomatoes and peppers – but more than that, it’s a work in progress.  I want to create a self-sustaining wildlife garden, full of native drought resistant, self-seeding or perennial plants that will feed the butterflies, moths, bees and birds.

The rear garden is a resounding success in terms of good bug population.  The earthworms are outstanding!  I see spiders duck and run every time I turn the water on.  Winged things are numerous, mostly tiny flies and wasps, but also lacewings, ladybugs, dragonflies, blue winged wasps and parasitic wasps.  It’s a good thing, because I’ve seen a good share of the bad bugs too!

Nearly discouraged, I’ve fought to keep my course with the gardens.  They’re not pretty and tidy.  There are no neat rows of voluptuous vegetables.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for an OCD type, let me tell you.  What I have, as you’ve seen, is a structured series of beds, fraught with untidy, self-strewn weeds and such.  Oh My!

The good news is that it’s working.  I’m experimenting with self-seeding, to allow the garden to become less time intensive for me.  What I learned by mistake is that many things we weren’t really aware of will survive a hard winter.  You’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that Pole Beans (particularly heirloom rattlesnake beans) will overwinter and produce heartily.  I now have them springing up nearly everywhere in my garden, right along my overly productive cilantro.  Cantaloupe has also made its own special appearance, along with dill, parsley, watermelon, potatoes, and lettuce.

I’m going to purposely allow several plants to rot on the vine/plant, and just do a minimal rake in and leaf cover at the end of the growing season.  This will allow me to find out how many of these wonderful, fabulous heirlooms will simply grow when they’re ready to grow.

Back to work for me – and for those who are new viewers, mine are gardens of full-on experiments, as I struggle to produce a winning combination of many gardening theories:  permaculture, forest garden, hugelkultur, polyculture, and medicinal native edibles.  Join in, but expect random posts, cuz I’m a busy dreamer.  :)

 

Rough paths and patches of 'weeds' for winged visitors.

Rough paths and patches of ‘weeds’ for winged visitors.

Permanent wood strip cage for the tomatoes, with space for wire cages inside.

Permanent wood strip cage for the tomatoes, with space for wire cages inside.

It’s hard to tell, but I dug a deep trench between the tomatoes and the peppers and have filled it with a deep layer of straw.  I fill the trench to provide deep watering, as the Kansas heat will take a toll on these plants if I conventional water them.

Tree limb lined paths and patches of native weeds and self-seeding flowers.

Tree limb lined paths and patches of native weeds and self-seeding flowers.

 

And a final picture – the most recent from the rear garden:

rear garden view

 

Back to work!

Dreamin’