Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hummingbird Farmz First Press

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This year we finally had quite a few apples to harvest which justified the purchase of an apple press.  We hope to put it to good use in the future and have discovered that it works well for more than just apples.  We christened it with a mixed batch of apples from our orchard and got 4 wine glasses of juice, enough for a toast to Hummingbird Farmz success.  We also used it to make some pear juice and even grape juice later.  I think this is going to be quite a handy tool and nice decoration too.IMG_1581

IMG_1630We also took our pears and figs to a little market for the first time.  It was good practice to figure out just what we needed and got us talking to people about what we will have in the future.  Giving out samples for tasting was our best idea, one taste and they wanted more.  We met several of our neighbors who have been watching our little orchard grow and they are anxiously awaiting tastes of those heirloom apples.  The laws in California have changed now for what you can sell from your home kitchen and I am planning to go through the process so that I can sell some of my jams and jellies in the future.  Some fruit has such a short shelf life fresh that processing it makes for a product that you can sell for a much longer period of time.  Figs are one of those, they only last a few days off the tree and about a week refrigerated.   I made fig jam and balsamic figs that were delicious and last up to a year when processed properly,  You IMG_1631can also sell baked goods as long the ingredients are listed on the label along with your certification number and the process to get certified is not really hard, but there is a fee, of course, which I think will be worth it next year.

 

See you at the market!

Ferne

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Planting Strawberries

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An extremely kind fellow blogger gave away this nifty dibble handmade by her husband  of Bepasgarden, on her blog and I was just looking through my posts and realized that I have never blogged about it or how really handy it is.  I used it a few months ago when I planted my strawberry plants and it was the perfect tool for the job and looked good too.  I plant my berries in a 3’X6’ raised bed.  I dig small trenches between the rows and plant 2 rows with alternate placement of the plants to give them the most room to spread.  I have 3 rows of berries in this bed with 2 trenches that I use to deep water the roots.  I fill each trench with water then lightly sprinkle over head.  The berries I planted in this bed were bought bare root and are a fairly new variety called Sweet Ann.  The were breed in our area by Lassen Canyon Nursery.  It is a day neutral variety which means that it will continue to bear fruit all summer until frost.  It is suppose to produce a very large and very sweet berry.  Can’t wait to compare it to my favorite from last year called Mara de Bois, which was the best berry I have ever tasted.  I now have 2 beds of Mara and one of Sweet Ann. 

Let the strawberry competition begin!

IMG_1501 Update:  Somehow this post never got posted and now I have been eating strawberries from both beds.  So I can tell you that the handy dibble did a great job at helping me to get those roots firmly in the ground and they are now producing lots of lovely berries for me and some for the bugs.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Little Rubies

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Currants are like little gems growing on a bush.  When you get past the seeds there is such an  indescribable burst of flavor that is both sweet and tart.  Every year I try to make a jar of jelly using the berries from this bush.  Last year and the year before that was all I got, one precious jar of jelly.  I was experimenting with just how much pectin to use and it kept coming out way to thick.  This year though I came across some information suggesting that they really don’t need any added pectin as they have enough on their own and that information has proven to be true.  All you need are currants, sugar and a little time.  Here is the recipe I ended up using from David Lebovitz blog.  He suggests adding a shot of Kirsch, but since I didn’t have any on hand I skipped that part and it is still very tasty jam (actually more like a jelly).  The trick for me was getting quantities right since I was making such a small amount.  I ended up getting almost 3 jars from this years batch.

IMG_14511.  Rinse currants and put them in a large pot.  You can leave the little stems intact because they well come out with the seeds later.  Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.  I mashed my berries up a little with a potato masher to get some juices flowing.

2.  Cook the red currants, stirring frequently, until they are soft and wilted.  I then put the whole batch in a food mill and let the juices run for a while, I was baking a cake too so I let it sit while I whipped that up and got it in the oven.  Then I very slowly pressed the juices out and the reason for doing is slowly is that it doesn’t get cloudy that way.  Other recipes suggest letting it stand over night in a jelly bag or piece of muslin and let it drain the juice out on its own.  I was impatient and this way worked very well.

3.  I measured how much juice I had in a measuring cup and matched this quantity in sugar.  You could maybe go a bit less, but since I wasn’t using pectin I didn’t want to take a chance that it wouldn’t thicken.

4.  Mix the puree and sugar in the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

5.  Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, let it boil for 5 minutes undisturbed.  You will see a film developing on the top, don’t worry it will skim off later.

6.  After 5 minutes you may want to do the nudge test.  I put a small plate in the fridge before I start cooking for this purpose.  Drop a little of jam on the cold plate and wait a bit (or re-chill it), if it wrinkles when it is nudged then it is ready if it stays too liquid you may want to cook it a bit longer.  5 minutes was plenty of time for mine though.  Skim the scum off the top, I enjoy spreading this on bread immediately so I can have a taste.IMG_1458

7.  Ladle into clean hot jars to the top.  David turns the jars upside down which will sometimes be enough to seal them.  If I had a bigger batch I would have put them in a hot bath now, but since the batch is small and will be gone soon I will just store it in the fridge to enjoy ASAP.

My next big harvest is zucchini, I have some shredded and soaking in salt to turn into zucchini relish tomorrow.  I’ll be sharing that recipe soon hopefully.  We just used the last jar we had left from last year so it is just in time!

Keep Harvesting and sharing~

Ferne

Friday, May 31, 2013

It’s Growing Time!

 

My garden has taken off growing…well, most of it.  Those hay bale beds sure did work well.  Here they are one month after planting them.  They are full of squash, pumpkins, corn, tomatoes and even potatoes.   I also added lots of nasturtiums to trail over the sides after reading that they repel squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  Every thing in these beds is growing so much better than in my old beds and I am not sure if it is my soil mix or just that the bales are making it heat up more than in the ground.  I suspect it is the combination of the two.  Here is one squash leaf with my hand to show the size.

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I hesitate to show off my problem beds, but something is going on here or not going on as the case may be, or maybe it is just because the new guys are making them look even worse.  Next year though these beds will be built up to 12” deep and the soil from the hay bale beds will be filling them.IMG_1436It is looking like we will be getting some fruit from the fruit trees this year and the apriums will be the first ready in a couple weeks.  Cotton Candy took a few years to produce for us and since it is ready early the blossoms are very susceptible to falling off if we get high winds or frost after they open.  This year though they did good and I can’t wait to start eating some! 

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We are even going to be getting some apples this year.  I am hoping to be adding more posts

to this blog this year with pictures of a successful harvest that is if I am not too busy picking in the garden!

It is growing time!

Ferne

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Planting Time!

IMG_1357IMG_1384 I usually wait till Mother’s Day here to plant my summer veggies, but unusually warm temps both day and night have warmed the soil up to 70 degrees and it is looking like it might be here to stay for a while.  I hope we get some rain and no frost and gardeners in northern California will finally have a good year for tomatoes.  The last few years the weather has not cooperated.  The blossoms on my roses are bigger than usual, I am told it is because of warm weather followed by just enough cold after the buds came out to stop them for a while then it got warm again and they exploded.  It is a beautiful site!

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I wanted to bring in more soil so that I could eventually (not this year) make my raised beds a little higher so I bought some rice bails and had some garden soil delivered and put together these giant beds.  I layered the soil with compost and the plan is that next year I will have giant piles of good garden soil to add to my raised beds after I build up the sides to 12”.  I am planting squash and potatoes in one and pumpkins in the other.  I also added nasturtiums at the edges to make them a little prettier.  I read that they attract beneficial insects that help keep squash and cucumber beetles away so it seemed like the perfect combo.

IMG_1369 I planted my first tomatoes about a month ago and used wall o’ waters on them to protect them which was a wise choice because we did have a few cold nights.  This week I took them off because the plants were about to grow over the top.  I have planted squash, tomatoes, peppers and even cucumbers and my fingers are crossed that this weather carries us through May as the weather men have predicted.  I grew extra plants as usual and have been giving them to co-workers, but I think I will sell this last batch.IMG_1393  

I am growing the following varieties of tomatoes this year: 

Dr. Wychee’s Yellow, Indigo Rose, Moon Glow, Black Giant, Csikos Boterno, Cherokee Purple, Black Brandywine, Zebra Heart, Chocolate Stripes, Black Cherry, all of these I have grown before and really enjoyed them.  There are 3 new varieties I am trying this year 2 from a local seed supplier in Manton, California, Redwood Seeds…Zapotec and Peacevine Cherry and the 3rd is recommended by a friend for making good sauces, Nonna’s Pride.  The Peacevine Cherry has really taken off and is trying to climb high!  Working at a nursery and talking plants to people all day always tempts me to try new things so there may be more added to this list and that is just the tomatoes.  I now have to decide just where I am going to put all the melons I want to grow this year and I know that I want to keep them away from my squash,

I am also trying several new beans that I am growing both for fresh eating and for drying.  Going through the Seed Savers catalog was just way to tempting so I have planted seeds in all kinds of weird places between things and will hope for the best!

IMG_1396We have been seeing a return of butterflies so set up this little butterfly watering station near the butterfly bushes.  I put small gravel in the bottom the a few larger rocks on the edges for them to sit and drink from.  I haven’t seen any butterflies at it yet, but I hope they will find it to be a real treat on a hot day.

I am hoping that with all the newbie vegetable gardeners and those of us that keep growing hoping for a bumper crop year that this will be that year and we will be sharing all sorts of ideas on what to do with the plethora of fruits and veggies we will be harvesting in the next few months!

Keep Growing!

~Ferne

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fruit Tree Update ~ Spring 2013

The fruit trees at Hummingbird Farmz are bursting forth in bloom and the bees have been busy pollinating them.  Some fruit has set and some things are still in progress.  It is such an exciting time since many of trees will have fruit for their first time this year and with more than 70 varieties of heirloom fruit this will be our first time to taste many of them.  We go out and inspect their progress almost daily.  Here is what we found most exciting on our last walk…

IMG_1348 Buds on an apple tree called Stump, originated in 1875 in Chili, New York and was very popular as a high-quality autumn apple. The skin will be pale yellow with a pink wash overlaid with splashes and stripes of dark red.

 

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This little blossom is on a Strawberry Parfait apple tree,  The fruit will be striped red over ivory skin and red splashes like strawberries in vanilla ice cream in the flesh.  It is said to have the flavor of strawberries in the flesh also.  They are not long keepers so they will have to been eaten soon after picking…don’t think that will be a problem though..

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The flowers on this Firecracker Crabapple really look like fireworks going off in the orchard.  These little 2” red apples will actually have a surprising red flesh.  Can’t wait to pickle some of those for the holidays.  They are said to make an excellent jelly as well. 

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Another crabapple that I have in my Belgian Fence because it is a great pollinator for other apples is Wickson Crabapple.  This is a very sweet crab apple with a very strong flavor that makes it wonderful for cider.  The biggest surprise to me was the fragrance of the blossoms and how they varied.  Some were strong and smelled like roses and some smelled just like a tasty apple.

IMG_1344 The peaches and nectarines are bursting forth in bloom too.  This is Maria Gold and she did produce one of the only nectarines we got last year which was very delicious.  It is looking like she will grace us with her presence once again this year.IMG_1255

 

This picture of the Cotton Candy Aprium in bloom shows it being pollinated by one busy bee and he did a great job because we are seeing lots of fruit coming on.  Last year we got a small armload from it and it was wonderful.  Looking forward to eating more of this fruit this year! IMG_1258IMG_1260

We are seeing lots of fruit in our future and will have to inviting this little guy back to help with the picking and eating of it.  We have lots of other family members who would love to join him I’m sure!  He does enjoy walking through the orchard though and studies all the signs I made for our trees so that we don’t forget what they are.. 

IMG_1311 In the vegetable garden things are happening too.  I hope to be posting more on this experiment I am under taking this year using bales of rice straw stacked to make a large raised bed.  I will be growing my watermelon squash and pumpkins in it and have already been adding lots of compost to get it ready for growing.

Looking forward to some tasty sweet times!

Ferne & Michael

 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Seeding Time

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It is time to gather all your seed starting supplies and inventory your seeds, maybe even order more.    I am teaching a seed starting class in a few weeks and was going through my process in preparation for that and because I am chomping at the bit to get started.  I
have been starting things from seeds for many years both in a green house and also in a one bedroom apartment so I know it is something anyone can do if they want to.  It doesn’t take much space and can you give you the opportunity to grow some really interesting vegetables, herbs and flowers.  Supplies you will need are containers of your choice, seeds of your choice, markers of your choice also, heat mat (not necessary, but very helpful), and grow lights with some way to adjust the height as the plants grow.  The planting station above has been very helpful in containing my soil and keeping my mess easy to clean up, my antique minnow buckets are great for holding soil, tools and bulk fertilizer.
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Here is my list of my favorite seed companies for the more interesting and heirloom varieties of vegetables:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Seed Savers,
and Everwilde Farms.  I also like Cook’s Garden and Territorial Seeds and order from Gurney’s and Parks Seeds on occasion.   We have a very local seed company that grows some really fun varieties of veggies that I know will do well here because they came from only about 10 miles away..Redwood Seeds is in Manton, CA just a hop, skip and a jump from where I live so I always include a few things 
from them.

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IMG_1219I have been experimenting with seed starting methods and soils for years and haven’t found a perfect go to method yet.  I did use Whitney Farms Seed Starting soil for years and loved it, but since I moved I haven’t found a source for it here.  Black Gold has an OMRI rated seed starting mix that is nice though.  I have used peat pellets with pretty good success if I remove the mesh netting from the plant at planting time.  I loved the little indentation for the seed  right in the middle of the plug.  This year I am trying Gurneys seed starting tray, I have seen a similar set up in other catalogs, too.  The tray is Styrofoam and it floats on the water that is in the bottom tray, this should cause the roots to develop and grow into the water.  I am experimenting with it now using some lettuce seeds.  The soil that fills the holes comes in preformed spongy plugs that fit right in the hole and they have the dibbled hole in the top to hold the seed.  The part that seemed strange to me is that you just drop a seed in and don’t cover it with anything.  After 2 days I do have seeds emerging and can see some IMG_1245root growth too.   The picture to the right is exactly one week later.  I am already seeing the roots coming out the bottom of the seed sponge, so far I am quiet happy with vigor and health of these seedlings.  They were all lettuce and kale starts.  The best part is that I don’t have to water very often at all, just keep an eye on the reservoir.
I found a recipe on About.com for a seed starting soil and found all of the ingredients at my garden center.  I have mixed up a batch and like the way it looks and feels.  I planted in it just yesterday so I will have to repost when I have the results.  The recipe is really quite simple so I will post it here if you would like to give it a try yourself.  The reason for not using a regular potting soil for starting seeds is that it can contain pathogens that are harmful to small seedlings and some may contain a pre-emergent which keeps seeds from sprouting.  A good seed starting mix should be light and airy, stay moist not soggy and allow good root growth.  This recipe seems like it should be a good one to me, I especially like that it contains coir and greensand.  I used a coir block that I soaked for quite a while first and I used Worm Gold for the vermicompost.  This takes me back to the gnat invasion of last year when I used straight coir for soil, it will be interesting to see if the addition of the Worm Gold and Green sand and Perlite help in avoiding that fiasco.
Basic Seed Starting Mix
  • 3 parts** peat or coir (coir is preferable if you can get it)
  • 3 parts vermicompost (your own or purchased from a garden center or other supplier ~ Worm Gold)
  • 1 part perlite
  • 1/2 part greensand
Once you get those seeds planted in whatever container you have chosen to use the next thing is to be sure to label them.  I made my own tags a few years ago from mini blinds cut down to about 6” long they are perfect for fitting all the pertinent information on you can also use purchased tags.   I like to write with pencil because it doesn’t fade and I can reuse the tags with just a little erasing.  Always put the date you planted the seeds on theIMG_1231 tag as it will help you keep track of progress later.  I also like to make notes in a notebook of any kind.  A simple spiral notebook can contain years of information and will be so helpful to look back on year after year to see what worked for you what really didn’t.

Let’s get growing!
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Ferne
@ Hummingbird Farmz