Thursday, May 26, 2016

Adventures in Preserving


As we enter a new gardening season I have a renewed hope for a bountiful harvest of fruits and veggies coming from our property this year.  I have been researching methods of preserving it all so I don’t waste a morsel and I am hoping to share it all on this blog.

I started by listening to podcasts by Theresa Lowe of Living Homegrown.  Each podcast is about a half hour which is about how long my drive to work is so the timing is perfect.  Theresa also offers an on-line class called The Canning Academy which I have almost completed.  There is a wealth of information that can be printed out from there also.  Some things have changed since the days of watching my Grandmother do all this for safety reasons and also new technology so it is good to have her guide me as I get started on this new adventure.  I am really not totally new to canning, but some things I did because that is all I knew and now I am equipped with a whole lot more information from a reliable source.  The Living Homegrown website introduced me to fermenting in one podcast.  In the past I thought fermenting was just how you made sauerkraut and I liked sauerkraut, but not enough to actually make it.  Well, I now own a Kraut Source and have made several batches of different fermented foods including strawberries.  My first batch though was with kale I grew and added some cabbage and carrots and more and it turned out a very tasty sauerkraut unlike anything I have tried from the grocery store.  I can’t wait to do more fermenting and canning.

I have been making my own yogurt also.  I made a few batches in the past, but gave it up because it was always runny and sour tasting.  Well, after listening to one of Theresa’s podcasts on making yogurt I found Cultures for Health and got a culture for a mesophilic  yogurt that you can make with no effort in a jar sitting on the counter for a day or two.  It was a lot less sour, but still runny.  It was great for smoothies and I have some popsicles in the freezer from that batch.  I got inspired though to try my hand at other yogurts though and have since had great success at some cooked variations using different cultures from Cultures for Health and even Fage yogurt for my culture.  I want to keep my posts on all this subjects short so I think I will divide the topics and cover yogurt with my recipe in more detail in another post.

As things go when you are hoping around on the internet ‘researching’ I stumbled upon a link to a new book just coming out called Batch by Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison.  They spent 3 years putting this book together.  They are in Canada and I am so glad that I found them because their book and Facebook page called Well Preserved, have inspired me so much.  The book was just released about 3 weeks ago and I got my copy right away from Amazon.  It is so well laid out alphabetically by produce with recipes of how to use what you can, ferment, infuse and more.  They even cover salting and smoking.  The few days leading up to the release of their book they were doing some short videos on their Facebook page using some of what you would find in the book and it was very helpful actually seeing it done.  Joel made everything seem so simple.  He likes to make things in batches so when you are cutting up strawberries for a jam throw some in a jar with a few extra ingredients and ferment them or I added some in a jar to my Braggs vinegar and a few days later I strained them out and had a tasty vinegar to add to dressing and drinks.  I even found it was great to add to fresh berries to eat with my yogurt.

There is a whole new world in food opening up to me and I hope to many others as we grow our food and find new and exciting ways to use it.  I have so much more to share here on my blog…

more to come…keep it growing!


Friday, May 1, 2015

Soil Nematodes

In looking back at my blog I see that I am not posting very regularly and if I have any followers left I have to apologize.  Writing a blog post takes a lot longer than posting to Facebook, but on the upside I can get a lot more information in a blog post.  I have set up a Facebook page for Hummingbird Farmz where I keep track of gardening happenings in our little homestead.  You can follow me there by liking us at this site Hummingbird Farmz.

Growing Thymes HF5 copy

The topic I am devoting this blog post to is soil nematodes.  I am no expert on this topic, but we are learning more and more everyday as we struggle with damage caused by some bad guy nematodes that like to eat at the roots of some plants causing the plants to be stunted and slow down production by a lot.  The worst part of this problem is that you never see the little buggers or the damage until you pull up the plant and look at the roots.  I thought I had taken a picture of the damage I found recently on my chard, but I can’t find it so I am borrowing a picture of nematode damage on a tomato plant.  This Rodale article describes what is happening best…it seems that the nematode has a sharp mouth that it uses to puncture the plant cell and suck the juices, the saliva it injects into the plant causes the swelling.  While most nematodes are beneficial these little Root Knot Nematodes are not.  They travel well in sandy soil, which is sort of what we have here.  We live near a lava tube near Mt. Lassen and our soil is mostly lava rock dust.  It is easy to dig a hole for planting, but it is also easy for these guys to find the roots of the plants they love.  There are some things they seem to like better than others ie., tomatoes, cucumbers, peach tree, chard, kale and many more. 

In gardening there are many problems and just as many solutions.  I have found many sites that recommend adding lots of compost to help combat this problem.  We are planting all nematode resistant varieties of tomatoes this year and there were lots available at Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers.  The downside is that I love heirloom varieties of tomatoes and have had to pretty much forego those this year.  I am planting a few in 7 gallon nursery pots with compost and potting soil.  We are also experimenting with Actinovate AG as a soil drench, it is organic, but my concern is that is killing more than just the one targeted pest and taking some good guys with it.  After having dug where it has been used though I am still seeing some worm activity so that leaves me hopeful that it isn’t killing everything.  It seems that root knot nematodes are only 1/50 of an inch long so there is no way to check on their population without a microscope.  My tomatoes and egg plant have been planted in what seems to be the most heavily infested bed.  It has been treated monthly for a few months with the Actinovate and I added lots more compost and diatomaceous earth to the soil at planting time.  I am planting lots of French marigolds one is even called Nemagold marigold, it seems that their roots deter this nematode creating an environment they don’t want to be in.  One more link full of good info comes for UC Davis…Nematode Management

If you find that your tomato plants are wilting and or turning yellow early on you may be thinking that they have early blight or some other problem, but when you pull them out check the roots they may be suffering from root knot nematode damage.  There is not a lot of information out there, but it does seem to be a problem that more people are becoming aware of and more solutions are being talked about and experimented with all the time…so don’t give up on gardening just yet, we can’t let this tiny microscopic critter win!  It is just one more hurdle for a gardening to jump to get good food to the table…

we can do it!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Garden update

IMG_0368 May is coming to an end…sad for me because May is always my favorite time in the garden, things are always looking so fresh and promising after a little rain and warmth hits the soil.  This year we built our raised beds up with deeper and stronger boards and added lots of compost rich soil which is producing plants with good strong stems and deep green leaves.  One of my favorite things to come out of my garden this May was all the lettuce, beet greens, beets, peas and kohlrabi.  It has made for some great tasting salads every night and I do feel healthier for it.  Oh, how I have loved those varied colors of tasty lettuce, but now they are beginning to bolt and go bitter from the heat so they will soon be pulled and replaced  with something undecided as of yet.
















June should be a month when we can start to reap the benefits of our love and labor in the garden.  The strawberries are starting to produce tasty fruits along with a few of the raspberries.  The first crop of figs are ripening as I write this.  I am seeing baby squash on the squash plants and I even spotted a few green tomatoes on the vines.


Some Facebook friends started posting pictures of their beautiful poppies so we had a lot of fun bombing Facebook with our flower pictures every day.  Mine is a Zahir poppy which I grew from seeds from Redwood seeds, a local seed company.  I am anxiously waiting for the seed heads to turn brown and dry so that I can harvest the edible seeds inside.  I always have a jar of fresh poppy seeds for baking.


I am trying my hand at growing Quinoa this year.  It is a grain that I am learning to enjoy cooking and eating.  Watching this crop grow I can see that I really didn’t plant enough.  If I enjoy it I will be changing that for next year.  Several people have told me that it is a lot of work to harvest so we’ll see how I feel about it after harvest time.  It has been real interesting to watch it grow though.

 I am hoping that others are experiencing the joy of growing their own food and from the looks of our vegetable and fruit tree sales at the nursery I can safely say that there are many that are trying their hand at it.  I don’t think there has been a day this season that someone has not said to me that this is their first time to try growing a food crop.  I hope that they all have a good experience and will keep at it for many years to come.IMG_0370


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Growing Methods for 2014

It seems that as we garden we are always trying something new and different.  I have been keeping lots of notes on what I try new each year and then before planting I reread my notes and make adjustments.  This year we splurged on a new grow light after needing to replace our old fixture yet again.  We keep buying shop light fixtures and grow light bulbs, but they just don’t seem to last.  So this year we got a new Jump Start 4 foot light that has 4 T-5 bulbs and we are very happy with it.  The stand we are using is an old one and not made for the heavier weight of the new light fixture so we should probably invest in a new stand for next year because it was very difficult to adjust the height of the light fixture without 2 people.  The new light did seem to make a big difference, it spread out over a larger area and never got hot.

IMG_0313 I did stick with my homemade seed starting mix from last year and loved the results so I will repost that recipe here again.  I found this recipe on line at, it drains so nicely and I have great results using this recipe.

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

First you have to soak the peat or coir and let it get nice and moist then start adding all the ingredients in a bucket or wheelbarrow.  Mix it very well by hand.We fertilized the seedlings with Kelp and Sea Weed Extract about once a week. 

We started 23 varieties of tomatoes mostly seeds left from previous years, but we did purchase a few new ones.  My favorite was Geranium Kiss tomato with foliage that really looks like a geranium leaf.  It will only get 2 feet tall, but from what I have seen on line it will produce a lot of clusters of pretty large size cherry tomatoes with a little tiny point at the bottom.  Can’t wait to see that.IMG_0126 This year new raised beds were built to make them 12” tall instead of 6” so more soil had to be brought in to fill them up.  We found a nice mix that had some mushroom compost, steer manure and rice hulls along with other things.  We have also added a lot of our own homemade compost from the big bin.IMG_0308

We didn’t plant as many varieties of peppers though, but I did try something I don’t usually do, I pinched the tops several times and I love the results.  They have branched out and gotten very full.  I also turned the heat mat up to about 75 degrees until about two weeks before planting then I turned it down to 65 and let them harden off a bit.  The day they were planted we got a heavy downpour of rain and I was so afraid I would go out to see them all broken off and sad looking, but they held up really well and a few days later it seems they are even growing.  This week’s forecast is calling for a hot spell which should get things off to a good start.  A new pepper I am anxious to try this year is Chablis, it is a thick walled sweet pepper that has multi-colored fruits.

Can’t wait to post more progress in this years garden.  There is so much more I want to document here, but I will save that for another post!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hummingbird Farmz First Press


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!



Friday, June 21, 2013

Planting Strawberries


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


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~