Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Berries, Apples and The Fair...Oh My!

Leftover Berry Crisp! MMMMmmm

I have so much to share from this past week and weekend. First up this delicious Berry Crisp! I officially did my last blackberry pick last week. The berries were either over-ripe or a bit under-ripe, not like in August where almost every berry was perfect. The squishy over-ripe berries were great for the berry crisp though.

Before I give you the recipe I have a hilarious story to share. I was picking the berries when I started hearing voices coming from the corn field behind the blackberry patch.

I see these 12-13 year old boys destroying someones corn crop. Throwing corn, ripping the plants from the ground, stomping on them, so I had to do something! I kept thinking about what if that was my crop, my hard work and my income. I hear them talking about how "badass" they are for sneaking in to the field, so I hide behind the blackberry bushes and yell out "hey there are little boys ruining the corn! Hunny call the owner and the cops they are trespassing and destroying property." They heard me, got very quiet and then bolted. As they were running away their cool, baggy jeans started falling down. Oh it was the most hilarious thing I've ever seen! I officially felt old and awesome!

Okay back to this recipe, which was made on a whim and AMAZING! The best part about this recipe is it can either be baked or eaten raw. It's delicious both ways!

Maggie's Lovely Berry Crisp
2 cups of Blackberries
2 cups of Blueberries
2 Peaches (optional)

1 cup of Almond Flour
1/2 cup of Dates
1/4 cup of Coconut
1/2 cup of Sunflower Seeds
1/2 tsp of Cinnamon

Place the fruit into a oven safe dish. Then use a food processor to blend the toppings together. The topping mixture shouldn't be a super sticky consistency, so be careful with how many dates you use. Once done use about 1/4-1/2 the topping mixture to coat the fruit. Then take the rest of the topping mixture and spread it on top of the fruit, making an even top layer. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes or until the topping becomes brown/crisp. If you choose to eat it raw, then forget about baking it and dig in or place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the topping mixture mingle with the berries.

Note:I also tried this recipe using Rice Krispies as an alternative to almond flour and it worked great. I was all out of almonds and Rice Krispies worked amazingly well. You can also play with these measurements, since I threw everything into my food processor and the measurements listed are estimates.

Apple Harvesting

A couple days after blackberry harvesting we went apple picking! My cousin's neighbor was generous enough to share from his tree. There were so many apples hanging off the tree we didn't have to use the ladder we had brought with us. My sister and I picked for maybe 30 minutes and were able to harvest three big boxes of apples.

We don't' know what type of variety this apple is, but they are crisp and tart, perfect for pies and dehydrating. Speaking of which I used the dehydrator for the first time!
Apple Chips

If you are going to attempt this then I recommend you read a dehydrating guide, just in case you run into problems that I do not cover in my directions. I know I had a lot of questions that needed answers when I attempted this.

Wash, peel, core and slice apples into 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. You can do this by hand or you can use an apple peeler/slicer. It can be easier, since slicing the apples is a bit tricky in terms of keeping them a similar thickness. While processing your apples place all slices into a bowl of water/lemon juice. The lemon juice helps delay discoloration. Once done drain and rinse the apple slices. Place them on a dehydrator tray. Dehydrate for 8-12 hours at 115 degrees. I did this just before bed and woke up to apple chips! If you are unsure whether your apple chips are dry enough for storage, take a chip and tear it apart. If you see any liquid then they are not dry enough for storage. If they are crisp and/or leathery they should be fine.

Note: Some dehydration guides tell you to blanch the apples in hot water before dehydrating to cut down on the drying time. We didn't do this and they worked out fine. I might try this step next time to see if there is much of a difference. Also other recommendations are to dry the apples at a higher temperature, but I wanted to keep it lower to not kill the enzymes.

This was an experiment for me and my guy, since we had never made apple chips before. We cut about 3 Excalibur trays worth of slices, which made about 3 full mason jars for storage. As of last night they were all gone! Delicious, and flavorful!

The Fair

A playful baby goat

We had our local exhibition/fair over the weekend. We spent about 5 hours there on Saturday and had so much fun. I really think it deserves it's own post since there was so much to see and do. I'll give you a sneak peek though....
We toured the animal area and saw lots of demonstrations on how to properly care for farm animals, which was nice to see. Then it was off to the fair rides, where my lil one was fearless and tried out 5 different rides! Then we viewed the exhibition hall where there were competitions for everything and anything.
From the longest zucchini and I swear it was as long as my leg!

To the make an animal out of locally grown vegetables. I loved this teddy bear! So cute! It's made with potatoes, ripe and unripe blueberries and cherry tomatoes.

Until next post :) Enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Garden Pests and Harvesting Lettuce

I have a caterpillar problem in my garden! They are known as cabbage worms and are one of the most common insects to attack veggie gardens in Canada, United States and Mexico. There are 3 different types of these caterpillars and I have the “Imported Cabbageworm.” They are velvety to the touch, bright green, a thin yellow stripe down its back and it produces green droppings on the plants as it eats.

Where did they come from?The cabbage white butterfly! You will see them often in early spring to late fall. They are easy to detect because they don’t particularly fly, rather float with the air currents. They typically are white with a black spot on each wing.

What do they eat?
Everything! Well almost…. They especially love the brassica family, everything from broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and leafy greens.

How do I know I have them?
I realized I had some sort of pest because there were holes chewed through my lettuce, kale and broccoli. Some of the leaves were even skeletalized! Often the holes were chewed from the center of the leaf and in some cases whole leaves were being eaten. Look for them on the back of the plant leaves. Once they grew larger, I found them sitting on the top of the leaves. The larger ones also produce large green droppings, so you will realize that you have a caterpillar somewhere on that plant.

How do I remove this pest from my organic garden?
Basically check your plants often. Since I already have them, I am now checking the back of the leaves every afternoon/evening when they most commonly eat. I then remove them from our garden. I also check for tiny white specks on the back of the leaves, which are most likely the eggs. I will probably do this for the next 2 weeks. I have a small garden so this can be seriously damaging to our production. On the other hand, I have only found about 10 small caterpillars (no bigger than the width of my pinky finger) and 2 larger ones (about 1 inch long), so I consider myself lucky in terms of how bad it can get.

Another old gardener’s trick that I learned from a dear friend of mine with 70 years of gardening experience said to sprinkle flour on your plants. Do this after it rains or in the morning after a dew. The caterpillars will eat the flour, become bloated and die.

If you do have a serious problem with them you could purchase bacillus thuringiensis from a garden center. It is a biological/naturally occurring bacterial organism that is non-toxic to humans and animals, and is often used by organic growers. Caterpillars are just repulsed by it! You can purchase it in a dust or spray.

How can I prevent it from happening?

Since this was my first time planting a garden in this location, I did not realize how avid the white butterfly was here. Next time I will probably put floating row covers, or nylon netting overtop of my plants. This would prevent the butterfly from being able to lay eggs on my plants in the first place. Also rotating your crops is a good idea every season.

I hope our garden will survive this infestation. It’s pretty far along in terms of its growth, but one of our kale plants has been hit pretty hard. Once these caterpillars eat most of the leaves the plants cannot photosynthesize and eventually die. I’m going to try the ole sprinkle flour on the plants trick and see if this works. Wish me luck!

Harvesting Lettuce
In other news I was able to harvest some of our “cut and come again” butter lettuce! Not that you want to hear about food after reading all about caterpillars, but the lettuce was delicious, soft and buttery :) A couple tips for picking this "cut and come again" lettuce:

~Always pick the outer leaves of the plant. They are usually the biggest and more mature.

~Once you think a leaf is big enough to eat, then pick it! This will encourage more growth from your lettuce.

~Pull the leaf downwards to harvest the leaf, opposed to pulling on the leaf.

~If you do end up cutting most or all of the lettuce leaves then leave about an inch of growth on the plant and it should grow back again in time.

~I usually get about 4-6 harvests off of each lettuce plant through out the season. The lettuce leaves usually keep in the fridge for about 3 days. They are so young and tender that we usually eat them before they get a chance to make their way into our fridge.

I hope you harvest lots of your own lettuce, rather than deal with pesky bugs in your garden! Happy Veggie Gardening to you all :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Weekend Projects

We have been working on a couple family projects here at our place this long weekend. I usually try to come up with a couple small activity or projects for me and the lil one to do during the week. This weekend's project were:

  • The Excalibur Dehydrator Project (which was mostly my own project)
  • The Garden Label Project
The Excalibur Dehydrator Project was downsized a bit to mostly just clean up. Everything seems to run fine, it was just really needing some love. Although I did realize I have a weird quirk! If I don't really know where an item has been it's whole life I have a hard time using it. For example, I would probably never want used couches or bed mattress unless I knew the previous owner. I'm okay with 2nd hand clothes, plates, knick knacks, but there are certain things that give me the heebies jeebies. A friend of mine said, "maybe it's because you will never really know how clean it is!" Could be true, but I know for couches and mattresses I worry about bugs travelling into our home. As for the dehydrator I feel like I keep having to give it another cleaning and scrub before I use it. What is with me!?

Here are some before pictures

And here are the after pics...

It's in pretty great condition and run smoothly. Excalibur sure knows how to make a dehydrator! I'm thinking of making some dried apple slices for my first run through, since apples are just hitting the harvest season here.

The Garden Label Project is something my lil one and I have been working on. This is a great project for the kids! All you need are a few of those paint sticks you get free at any paint supply store, non-toxic paint, and some paint brushes. I let my little one get creative and choose whatever colors he wants for the stick/label itself. Once it's dried I use a small paint brush to write the vegetable's name. If you have older children they could totally do this project all on their own.

Paint sticks
Non-toxic Paint
Paint brushes
News paper (to protect the surface you are working at)

This label is actually one I worked on myself, since my lil guy's are still a bit damp. Pictures to come soon! His are so pretty because he blended colors together, it reminds me of sunsets and the ocean.

Other than projects we've been enjoying our long weekend by staying indoors. The fall weather has hit us, so it's rain, rain and chilly weather!