Monthly Archives: October 2011

Pressing Apples

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Apples are somewhat romantic to me.  From the blossoms in the spring, to the harvest in the fall.  We have 10 apple trees here on our little farm.  Some for cooking and some for fresh eating right off the tree.  Our trees are still in small production, but we cherish every last one.  About five years ago we purchased a fruit press for making apple cider.  Not only does it look neat on the porch, but it’s functional.   I read up on making great cider.  We cut up our apples into small pieces and put them in the press and ta-dah!  We had apple cider!  ?  We wish…. We cut up each apple into about 8-10 pieces, put into the press and pressed and pressed and pressed.  Drip, drip…  hum…  Out of a bushel of apple we ended up with not even a quart of hard-earned juice.   Since then we purchased a fruit crusher.  This made our job much easier.  We cut the apples into quarters for the smaller ones and eighths for the bigger apples.  We ran them through the crusher.  The crusher just simply mashes up the apples into a smaller, juicer, softer form.  Once crushed they go into the press.  Stems, seeds, skins and all.  When the apples have been through a crusher they produce so much more cider and the crank turns so much easier.  Once you see that liquid gold come out of the spout from the press, your work has become pleasure.  You can line your apple press with cheese cloth, but I don’t.  It does help hold in all the pulp better.  We get about 3 1/2 gallons to two bushel doing it this way.  Of course this will depend on the type of apples used and if we let them sweat or not. Once we have pressed all the apples, I  strain the cider and pour it into half-gallon Ball jars.  I freeze most of it so we will have apple cider all year.  Leave a space for expansion.  Fresh apple cider will only last about a week in the refrigerator so don’t forget to use it up.  Well, how could you?

What should you do with all that leftover mess?  The leftovers, skins, cores, seeds, stems and pulp is called “Pomace”.  Fern my cow and Ivy my goat are delighted to see this rare treat.  Stock relishes pomace, but if you have large amounts you shouldn’t feed it all to them at once because it can cause diarrhea.  It can be kept in a cool place for a day or just toss the rest into the compost pile and mix it in. 

Apple Types for Making Cider

 A sweet and tart mix of apples seem to always turn out the best tasting.  There are thousand of apple varieties and just to grab a mix will sometimes give you an overpowering taste.  It really seems to have some science to getting just the right blend.  I asked an old-time apple farmers and cider maker what his mix is and he so kindly shared his knowledge.  2 parts Winesap, 1 part Johnathan and 1 part Red delicious.  This is a great combo, but me being me, I always add a few different types of odd ball apples in the batch.  This year I added 6-8 apple of these varieties;  Pink Airlee, Banana and Fuji.  With just these few additions, our cider seemed to have a little more mellow flavor.   Always use mature, ripe, sound apples.  Do not use unripe or windfalls.  Immature apple make inferior cider and windfalls are loaded with undesirable bacteria which will contribute unpleasant off-flavored juice.  One trick I have learned to get the most out of your apples is to let them sit, or “sweat” for a week or so.  This will mellow and improve the flavor of the cider as well as increase the yield.  Make sure you clean your apple well and get organic if possible. 

Hot Cider, or also Known as Wassail

On cold nights I love make up a batch of hot sipping cider.  I love the taste from our homemade cider so much better than the store grade.  Besides, it’s so much better for you, but if you don’t make your own, look for cider and not the juice.  I never measure, so you don’t have to be exact with this and all of the spices are whole.  2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 2 star anise, 10 allspice,  1-2 T dried orange peel.   If you don’t have dried orange peel you can use clean fresh orange peels or even add fresh orange juice.  About a 1/2 cup should do it.  Put all the spices into a piece of 6×6″ cheese cloth, tie off and toss in 1/2 gallon of cider.  Add 2-3 T brown sugar or honey can be used, depending on your taste and simmer for about 10 minutes.  I don’t think I have ever timed it.  I just wait until it smells good!

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Filed under Fruits from the orchard, Life on the Farm, Preserving, Recipes from the Garden

Putting Your Garden to Bed

Fall garden clean up is essential to the long-term health of your garden.  If you get your garden ready for winter properly, it will make a big difference next spring.  You won’t be dealing clean-up, catch-up and diseases, you will be enjoying the simple pleasures of planting early and enjoying the spring bulbs. 

Typically you want to start getting your garden ready for winter right after the first frost has killed off most of your tender veggies.  If your garden plants are no longer producing and earlier clean up can certainly be done.  My tomatoes and squash are no longer producing and there are no green one left on the vine.  So out they go today!

old corn should be removed before winter months

Pull up, spray off and put away any cages or stakes used in the garden.  Remove all of the spent plant material from the garden.  Dead plants, old fruit and vegetables and any diseased plants should be removed from the garden beds and disposed of.  If the spent plant material was healthy, it can be composted.  If any signs of disease, it should be disposed of either in the trash or by being burned.  You can risk re-infecting disease to your garden if you compost diseased plant material.  Rake any left over debris.  If left in the garden, insects and disease can overwinter in it.  I like to till to soil.  You can work some fall leaves into the vegetable garden soil at this time and they will break down over the winter.   Don’t just layer over the top and leave for the winter months.  Till it in!  This is the time to spread compost, composted manure or other fertilizers onto the vegetable beds.  By doing this now your soil will be looser and easier to work in the early spring months.  You can also plant a cover crop for the winter which will add tilth and fertility to your soil for future plantings.

Continue to water trees until the ground freezes if you haven’t receive fall rains.  Especially evergreens. 

Wrap the base of young fig trees with burlap.  Young trees can die back completely if the winter is extra cold.  I like to wrap loosely and fill with straw or leaves as an extra insulation.  Don’t uncover until ALL chances of frost are gone in the spring.

Rake leaves often.  The work can seem daunting if you only rake once.  A little here and there is certainly a lot more enjoyable.  Besides if leaves are left on the lawn to long, they can get slimy, smoother and weaken the  grass.  You can run your mower over the to break them down if done often or catch them in the bag and use the shredded leaves as a winter mulch in perennial  beds or just add them to the compost pile.  They are great for that!  Leaves that haven’t been shredded will take longer to break down and they can repel water and stay dry for years.  So shred them if possible either with a chipper shredder or running your mower over them.  Make leaf mould simply by piling shredded leaves with a sprinkle of water in layers and left to sit for several months.  Of course turning often and adding moisture will break them down faster.

Apply fertilizer to your lawn in the fall encourages winter hardiness and promotes quick greening in the spring.  I really like using Cotton Seed Meal for this.

Do one last weeding and discard any weeds that have weed seeds.  Any seeds left will germinate next year and come back to haunt you.  One crabgrass plant has the potential of producing 10,000 seeds in a season!  To bad they aren’t tasty!

Leave perennial seed heads for winter food for the birds

In the perennial gardens I like to leave some seed heads of my Rudbeckia, Echinacea and other perennials for winter interest and feeding the birds.  I do however,remove them after the seeds are gone.  This gives me a little sun and  time in the garden on warmer winter days.

Pull out all annuals that have been hit by frost and toss into the compost pile. 

Plant spring bulbs before the ground freezes.  Put a tablespoon of Bone Meal into the hole where the bulb is going.

Don’t cut back roses back yet.  This should be done early spring.

Preparing your garden, especially the vegetable garden will help your garden stay healthy from year to year!

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Cooler Weather Approaching

Ahhh Fall!  What’s not to enjoy?  Isn’t this the best season of all?  I enjoy fall time as the leaves begin to turn, weather  becomes cool and pleasant, mornings are crisp and the fall rains start to moisten the ground.  Gardening chores are at a low roar. Casper the Cat enjoys when I start to slow down and spend more time writing my blogs, studying gardening books and planning next years garden as he settles in to add some assistance by either sleeping on the keyboard or in the middle of the my book.  The hummingbirds are gone except an Annas hummingbird that stays over winter here on our little farm.  The chicken egg production is almost up to 100 percent.  Fall crops are just starting to set and just a few weeks out for fresh new greens.  It’s time to harvest the sweet potato crop before it freezes.  Garlic, leeks and shallots will be planted this month.  Pretty pansies, snaps and chrysanthemums are blooming.   Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins…….  And the smell and sounds of fall!  Wouldn’t you agree?  This has to be the best time of year!

This is the time of year I love to cook and create foods that make you feel good inside.  Pumpkins are abundant during autumn and I love to decorate with them as well as cook with them.  Heirloom pumpkins are really just a pretty squash that taste great.  If you didn’t grow any this year check out your local farmers market and grab a dozen or so!  They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and they last for several months in cool temps.

Here is a simple and great side dish perfect for fall! 

Crusted Pumpkin Wedges

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs pumpkin, 1/2 freshly grated parmesan cheese, 2 T dried breadcrumbs, 6 T finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme, grated zest of 2 large lemons, 2 large garlic cloves crushed, salt, white pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T chopped dill. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Cut pumpkin into 3/8 inch thick slices and lay them flat on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Mix together parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, half the lemon zest, garlic, and a small amount of salt and pepper.  Brush pumpkin with the olive oil and sprinkle with the crust mix making sure to cover all the pumpkin.  Pat the mix down to hold it in place.  Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender.  If crust darkens too much you can tent with foil.  Mix sour cream with the dill and some salt and pepper.  Serve pumpkin warm with a sprinkle of remaining lemon zest and a dollop of sour cream on the side.


Filed under Casper the Cat, Life on the Farm, Recipes from the Garden

Chard All Season Long

Chard holds a special place in my garden for its beauty, generous yields, and undemanding ways.  The tall sprays of deeply crinkled leaves and colorful, broad stalks are eye-catching, especially when grown among zinnias or other annuals.  Chard can make a summer garden look lush, even when the tomatoes are devastated and the beans are disappearing under hordes of Mexican bean beetles.  Unlike many greens, chard will produce steadily through the hottest days of summer and the first autumn frosts.

Chard is a biennial and a member of the beet family.  Although it will overwinter in most gardens, it will set seed during its second year, so it’s best to plant a new crop each year.  Sow chard seeds 1/2 inch deep directly into the ground when spring air turns warm or in the early fall.  In my Southern Utah area it’s around mid March for spring and late August for fall.  Chard started in pots are never as vigorous as those plants started directly in the ground.  Chard prefers soil that have been enriched with compost and a little nitrogen.  When seedlings are about 3 inches tall thin them to 6-12 inches apart.  Rainbow chard can be on the closer side whereas the stalky white chard need more room.  Chard needs regular watering when plants are young to make for a vigorous mature plant.  Once they are about a foot tall they are far more tolerant of dry conditions and seem to produce well whether pampered or neglected.  When summer hits a good mulching will undoubtedly help with drought.  Not to many pests seems to bother chard.  Leaf miners, slugs and aphids will sometimes attack.  I use a neem spray to knock out the insects and watch for slugs.  Pick the outer stalks, and new ones will emerge.  I use tiny chard leaves in salads, where their sweet flavor comes through.  Larger leaves are best when lightly steamed, and can be substituted for spinach in most recipes.  Chard stalks can be stemmed or stir-fried for a mild flavor and pleasant crunch.

Use chard as an accent among other vegetables or as a contrast to brightly colored annuals.  Pop a few Rainbow Chard in your flower beds or pots for added color, providing a bright, midsummer display.  Edible Landscape!

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