Tag Archives: get outside

Save your seeds! How to save heirloom tomato seeds

This year I decided to save some seeds from my dad’s heirloom tomatoes. There are a few small varieties I love, and I want to grow them next year… Plus, this way I can share seeds with others.

It’s super easy, though it takes more effort than most people realize. Tomato seeds are best once they’ve been fermented, though the process isn’t absolutely vital. This process helps weed out the bad seeds and makes the seeds less likely to carry diseases. It also helps separate the seeds from the clumpy tomato gel.

I happened to be making some sundried tomatoes, so when I scooped them out for better drying I just put all the seeds from one variety of tomato in a glass.

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Next, I added about an ounce of water, and covered the glass tightly with Saran Wrap. I poked a slit into the plastic wrap with a knife so air can aid in the fermentation process. I set the glass on my kitchen window sill where it’s out of the way, and left it there for about a week. It’s recommended that you leave it for 3-5 days.

The seeds will develop a disgusting moldy film on the top— that’s okay, it’s supposed to happen! It might also stink. Mine sure did.

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As the fermentation happens you’ll notice that the seeds mostly sink to the bottom, though a few will float to the top. This is also a good thing. The good, healthy seeds will sink, and the bad ones will float.

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After a few days, I lifted the plastic wrap off and gently lifted the moldy film off with a fork. Then I also slowly and gently poured off some of the water and the floating seeds (though some of the floating seeds stuck to the mold). Next, I poured the rest of the glass out through a fine strainer and rinsed the seeds with cool water very thoroughly.

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Next I gently blotted the seeds with a paper towel, then poured them into a plate to dry. Do not leave the seeds on a paper towel or paper plate to dry as they’ll stick. Every few hours I tapped the sides of the plate to get the seeds to separate from each other.

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Once they’re completely dry they’re ready to store. I plan to put mine in a small glass jar, although a paper envelope would also work.

Happy seed-saving!

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Pickling day! Plus a little about my Mary

That’s right! Between my own garden, my grandma’s and my parents’ it’s time to start pickling cucumbers. My friend Mary taught me how to pickle a few years ago, probably with the intent of teaching me so I’ll go out on my own.

But I won’t go out on my own. I puppy dog her, and it won’t stop anytime soon. OK, MARY??!

I’ll say all this before the pickling because otherwise she won’t read it and neither will you because it’s not nearly as exciting as the pickling. Well it is to me, but maybe not to you.

Mary and I met at work. She’s a librarian, I’m a librarian. While I was in school for my masters she gave me advice on projects. When we got smooshed together in the information services department and stuck on the desk 10% of our working hours we meshed really well. We didn’t really have a choice… So we realized how alike we are in weird quirky ways (like watching shitty reality tv, eating, reading the quirky stuff, etc.) and we just clicked. Or maybe I [desperately] didn’t give her a chance not to be my friend. My best friend. Is this creepy yet?

Anyway, yesterday we pickled cucumbers and garlic. So good! I have 5 or 6 pickling cucumber plants, and my parents and grandma have a few, too. I harvested a nice sized box of cucumbers and a few onions from our gardens and set out to Mary’s house.

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We started by washing the cucumbers and onions, then we stuck the boys with the slicing job. Both Nate and Steve work in the food industry so they’re always good helpers :-). They cut the cucumbers longways and sometimes in half if they were big, scraping the mushy seedy part out on the bigger spears. They took some of the skinnier cucumbers and sliced them chip-style so we’d be able to make both types of pickles.

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While Nate and Steve chopped Mary and I washed jars, found kids and rings to match, the set the jars in the steam canner to boil. We also started boiling the brine, a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water.

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Mary also bought a big bag of peeled garlic which we planned to pickle. This stuff is like crack! The guys chopped the woody ends off and we had the cucumber chunks, chips, and garlic in separate bowls, plus a smaller bowl with a little bit of garlic and the onion slivers.

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Once the jars and brine were boiling we got started adding the spices to the jars. We put some dill (fresh is always best, but we only had fried this time), mustard seed, red pepper flakes, and pickling salt, then we add some chopped onion and a few garlic cloves (although we forgot that part on our first batch this time). We’ve added grape leaves in the past to keep the pickles crunchy, but this time I think we used something called pickle crisp along with the seasonings.

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Next we packed the jars with the sliced cucumbers. This part can be surprisingly tricky; it’s like a puzzle. You want to use slices that fit well with each other so that they’re packed tight. When the jars get nearly full we break chunks off and top them off. Next, we poured the brine in to about half an inch from the top of the jar.

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After the jars are packed we wiped the rims with a clean cloth, the. Set the lid on top and put a ring on, just finger tight. We put the jars onto the rack of the steam canner, then put the lid on and let it boil for about 15 minutes.

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Once the steam canner has boiled at least 15 minutes we pop her open and gently lift the jars out, letting them rest, cool, and *pop* on a kitchen towel on the counter.

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And onto the next batch….

This weekend Mary and I did two batches of pickles (spears and chips), and one batch of pickled garlic. Yum! Our results look amazing… And I can’t wait to eat them. But not so fast! They need to sit and get really pickly, at least 4-6 weeks if I remember correctly.

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I always have such a good time and learn so much when I pickle with Mary. When I’m going through it Mary is always there. When I think I’m going through it but really I’m just being sensitive or over analytic Mary shakes me sane. She’s a good no-nonsense friend, but don’t let the no-nonsense fool you, she’s one who actually cares. At work when we have to talk on the phone I often quickly and loudly tell her I love her before she can hang up, for three reasons: (1) because it makes her laugh awkwardly, (2) it makes others around either of us laugh too, and (3) because I mean it.

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A day in my garden with my boys

I almost didn’t take Friday off work as I had planned, but I did… And I’m so glad! It was a great day.

I got to sleep in a decent amount, until 9:30ish, then Atticus and I went downstairs and I did some (very little, to be honest) cleaning, which included finding a 4 oz. jar in the kitchen sink drain that I could not remove on my own…

Atticus and I went out to water the garden while Trent was still asleep. I’m so happy with how it’s growing! It seems like each summer in this house I’ve had some issue that makes the garden just fail. Pregnancy slowed me down two years, drought another, using the wrong weed killer before planting another… But this is our year so far!

I was pretty ambitious this year, but it’s because I’m determined to get some harvest! I planted about 16 heirloom tomato plants, 16 varying pepper plants (sweet, green, hot), corn, celery, cabbage, zucchini, cucumber, and several herbs. I also have potatoes, onions, rhubarb (brand new, so no harvest this year), and a few other things.

I noticed one of the mystery heirloom tomato plants (my dad often has volunteers that are strayed between several different plants, so we just wait and see what they end up being… I love it!) has some baby tomatoes on it! I’m crossing my fingers that this is either rowdy red or the grape-sized orange variety.

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I also noticed the two heirloom paste tomato plants (the only tomatoes I didn’t get from my dad) have something happening!

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I like to go around every few days and pinch the tomato crotches. Well, that’s what I call it. My mom says my granddad called it suckering the tomatoes. I’ve just always done it because my family has always done it, not sure why. If I had to guess I think it probably helps focus the nutrition in the growing plant on the blossoms instead of in worthless extra growth.

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Atticus likes to watch, mostly, but sometimes help.

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As I was looking things over Friday I noticed a giant hiding under some leaves…

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I took it to the hose to rinse off but Atticus didn’t want to wait…

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I’m hoping to have a bunch more by this next weekend for a possible pickle party. But I had to try out this guy both fresh and with some yummy vinegar.

I chopped the cucumber up as well as a small onion from the garden and threw both into a Tupperware container.

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I splashed in 2 parts red wine vinegar (I was out of apple cider vinegar) and 3 parts water, then added a small palm-full (maybe a tablespoon?) of kosher salt, and a few pinches (maybe 1/2-1 teaspoon?) of sugar, plus a shake of garlic powder. I ate some of them later that night and they are amazing!! Tried more today, two days later, and they’re so tart and a little sweet. Delish!

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Late afternoon/early evening both boys had some splash-time. They love hanging in the yard!

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Just when you think you’ve had enough

Everyone has times when you think things are bad, and then they just get worse. It’s been like that for me lately. I hate to be a downer, but my job is hard. Being a full-time working mom is hard. Getting housework done is hard. Personal issues I’ve recently had are hard. Stuff’s just hard, man. But just when I thought I’d had enough things start to get better: stuff at work that wasn’t working for so long is… better. Just when I was feeling crappy, a coworker took the time to tell me I’m appreciated.

I know a woman named Jennifer. Jennifer is calm, hilarious, peaceful, sarcastic, smart, sympathetic, and thoughtful. I love working with her because she is always ready to listen, share empathetic stories, give her honest opinion, and take action in whatever way you need her to. Jennifer always has a funny story or humorous idea; some of my favorite work moments involve Jennifer’s humor. She purchased some bump-it’s once and tried them in my hair. Now, if you know my hair, you know why that’s funny. I probably had the highest, tangliest, bumpiest bump ever. Another time I brought in one of my wraps (my Dolcino, my first real woven) and she photographed me posing with some library babies. She’s such a great photographer… I can remember helping her get pictures off her digital camera a few times, so of course I got to check out her pictures. She’s amazing at taking pictures of anything! I’m lucky to be her Facebook friend, because I constantly get to read stories and see photos she’s taken while on nature walks.

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Before my 30th birthday last fall I started thinking a lot about what happens to us when we die. Morbid, I know, and yeah… I’ll save the details for another post. Jennifer is a co-pastor for a Quaker church with a lot of theology knowledge, an open mind, and a peaceful demeanor. I talked to her briefly about my concerns, and I’ll never forget how she responded when I told her my fears, and asked her, “what happens to us when we die?” Her response: “I don’t know.” She told me her thoughts and hopes, but she never made me feel stupid, or like I should be fearful, or like I was bad or wrong for not already having a firm belief. I still don’t know what I think, and I wonder about it a lot. But I’m not as lost anymore, and I know I can depend on her to talk it out any time.

Jennifer knows how hard work has been for me lately, and today as I headed back to my office to get my things ready to leave I was surprised to find her in there. “Hey, I was just writing you a note,” she said. “It says ‘I bought you some cookies. Of course I had to try one. Then I had another but I couldn’t finish it, so I only had half.'” Totally Jennifer. So giving, but so honest and funny at the same time. I told her she didn’t have to so that, and she said, “it’s just some cookies.”

Jennifer lied. It was more than cookies. First of all, the gift came with a hug. I’m not one to ask or offer hugs often, but each time I share one with someone I remember how great they are. Once I got to my car I opened the gift bag and shared some cookies with Atticus and Trent. I told Trent that Jennifer had given them to us. He knows Jennifer because he likes to share his crazy jokes with her and play shy with her. We went back in to thank her, then left. It wasn’t until later that I saw what else was in the bag: a delicious looking tea drink I can’t wait to enjoy. I love tea! And the best part… a Jennifer original photograph.

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I first saw this picture when Jennifer shared it on Facebook. I showed this to Trent and asked what he saw and he said “some trees.” Then his face lot up. “A heart, mommy!” He said that it was nice of Jennifer to give it to me.

Jennifer also included a note, which made me cry. She said something really important, something I want to remember and something I hope others take away from this.

I think people don’t realize that they are making an impact on others unless the ‘others’ tell them. So, I am telling you!

She’s right. And I bet she didn’t know how much her thoughtfulness meant to me, how hard things have been and how wonderful her words felt to read, and just how perfectly timed she was. Actually, I’m sure she knew. Jennifer’s too smart not to. She always notices the little things.

She is a good woman. I’m so glad to know her. Thanks, Jennifer.

Figuring out what to plant

How do I know what to plant in my garden? It seems like each summer at the end of gardening season I have several thoughts that I swear I’ll remember next season. What did I plant that for? Why didn’t I plant that? Who knew caring for this plant would be so time-consuming? I think back to my first years with my own garden and wonder why I planted some things. Luckily, this trial and error process is a good thing, I’ve come to realize.

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A few questions I try to ask myself when planning my garden:

  1. Will I use the produce? I try to ask myself if we will eat or use the harvest immediately or at all. My stepson asked last year to plant carrots and corn, which I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I thought of ways I’d use the produce and have decided to grow them again this year. Win!
  2. Will I know what to do with the produce? I typically keep my herbs in pots because in the past my garden space has been more limited. I got a dill plant at the beginning of the season last year but we didn’t use it at all and it outgrew the pot and just died. Now I know a few things: we likely won’t use it early in the season, it doesn’t work well for us in a pot, and it went to seed quickly. Knowing those things will help us this year.
  3. Is it possible to preserve the produce of I don’t use all of it? I experience to more and more with preserving each year. I’ve received a few preserving books as gifts from my awesome mom and so I have new ideas and things to try. Some years some plants produce a bumper crop and it’s hard to figure out what to do with the produce. I try now to think ahead about how I will preserve the produce of each thing I plant of that happens.
  4. Will I use the preserves? After determining if I can preserve extra produce I try to ask myself if I will use preserves in that way. I have long been tempted to make mint or mint jalapeño jelly but I just don’t foresee us using it, so I never have. On the other side of that coin, however, if it’s something I want to try and I have the extra produce, why not? I might find we really like it.
  5. Will it grow in my garden? I was dead set on trying to grow artichokes last year. I craved them at the end of my pregnancy with Atticus as well as after and I still love them now. I know they aren’t easy to grow in Indiana, but I really wanted it to work last year, so I tried. And I failed. Lesson learned. But again, no harm done. Will it work in my garden? Probably not without some serious accommodations made for the plant. Will I try it again? Not any time soon, I don’t think… But you never know.
  6. How easy will it be to take care of? One word: artichoke. I wanted it to work so much, but seriously… I learned that the plant can take up lots of room, is a perennial that would need to be covered and protected in the winter in my plant hardiness zone (which is 6a), and can take a few years to produce. Is it worth it? Oh, God, how I would live to have fresh artichokes… but no, it isn’t worth it at this time.
  7. Is it appealing to me or my family in at least one way? My dad (gardener extraordinaire) often tells me I should just plant flowers in some parts of my garden, and it used to baffle me. Why plant something that doesn’t give me something? But I’m realizing he might be onto something… My parents have lots of different flowers on their property and I get totally jealous. So this year I think we will put some focus into flowers! After all they do give something: they give my parents happiness, and they surely will us, too. My mom often walks me around the yard at different times in the year and tells me about how she plants different things, what they’re called, and what memories they invoke for her. I want that in my life!
  8. Have I tried growing it before, and if so how did it go? Artichoke. Okay, okay… I’ll give another example this time. I do peas sometimes, but they never do much. They take up quite a bit of space in my raised bed, which is what I primarily use with spring plants, and they only produce a handful of pods a few times before they’re done. However, Trent loves to pick and immediately eat the fresh peas, and they’re fairly easy to take care of, especially the varieties that don’t need support to grow. Will I grow them again? Yes. Because Trent loves them it’s worth it to me, but I plant to do them differently this year. Nate has finished putting up the new perimeter garden bed and we just need to get compost and topsoil mix for it. With the extra space the peas will be worthwhile.

I used to get frustrated with my garden all the time. When things don’t work, when I don’t use all the harvest, when I want to do something particular but don’t ever get to it… all of those things frustrate me. However, I’m learning that gardening is about more than just the produce. I have fun working on my garden with my family, and we love watching the plants grow and produce. Nate and I enjoy talking about and planning for the garden. We love figuring out what we will use in different ways, and we love experimenting with different things since I love canning and preserving and he loves cooking. When we fail it’s ok: it teaches us what works and what doesn’t and what to do differently. Plus, working together as a family outside makes it all worthwhile.

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8 Things I Can’t Wait to Plant……. And Harvest

I still can’t wait for gardening season. The time for planting spring stuff in Indiana is almost here. My spring stuff always seems to do better then my summer stuff, probably because I’m more energized and dedicated at the start of the season. With hardly any obstacles, who wouldn’t be? But with droughts and super hot temperatures like we’ve had the past few years, I just end up failing.

Not this year, though! I’ve got plans for using and storing my harvest. Here’s what I’m looking forward to growing.

Heirloom Tomatoes. My dad grows them every year and always has tons of volunteers that he starts in his basement. By tons I mean around 100. Though the summer section of my garden met its demise due to poor planning, I did get lots of tomatoes from my parents’ garden. I used my tomatoes and green beans to do plenty of canning with my preserving pal, Mary. There’s nothing like us in the kitchen during canning season! Heirloom tomatoes in particular are a favorite of my family because you can do different things with the different varieties, and everyone has a favorite. Each batch of salsa Mary and I made turned out deliciously different. With my tomatoes this year I plan to:

  • Eat them fresh (duh, so good)
  • Make sun dried tomatoes to have fresh, in olive oil, and frozen
  • Can salsa, diced and whole tomatoes, tomato juice, and maybe try spaghetti sauce

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Peppers. All kinds! Green bell peppers, jalapeños, banana peppers. None of our peppers made it last year. Maybe I’ll talk about the incident later. Ahem. Anyway, I hope to do some green, some mild, some sweet, and some hot. This is how we’d like to use them:

  • Eat them fresh (always.)
  • Make stuffed green peppers and freeze some singly for lunches
  • Can some for pickled peppers, and use some in the salsa
  • Dry some for seasonings

Kale. I grew kale for a few years but haven’t for last two seasons. It tends to do well in the spring and fall, and growing it is fairly easy and very rewarding, as long as you have the patience to deal with cabbage worms. Kale is overlooked a lot, at least by me, but is delicious and super healthy; in fact, it is considered one of huge top ten leafy greens by WebMD. This is how I’ll be using my kale:

  • Eat it fresh (yes, you’re gonna see this from me each time.). Kale is delicious with a little sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Throw it in the juicer. I don’t juice often, but when I do, adding kale isn’t unusual for me. It. Is. So. Delicious. Also healthy.
  • I might try making kale chips. I’ve heard both awesome and horrible things. We will see.

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Mesclun mix. So easy to grow, and again, so rewarding. I literally take a salad for lunch every day in late spring, once my salad greens have come up. There is nothing like a home grown salad, especially with radishes and onions from the garden. That’s pretty much all I’ll do with the mesclun mix, though.

Onions. We mostly just grow green onions to use in salads, on baked potatoes, on tacos, etc. we just pop a few in the ground every week so ewe have a staggered crop each for harvest all the time. I let them get kinda fat and then eat them whole and raw in my salads.

Heirloom Green Beans. I love them! While I don’t grow them on my property (the downfalls of living on a quarter of an acre in a neighborhood) we do grow them at my grandma’s and I pick a couple times a week. The heirlooms are bush and pole varieties. This year I plan to:

  • Eat them while picking. Fresh. So amazing and filling.
  • Make and can green bean pickles
  • Blanche and freeze them

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Peas. Peas never do super-well for me, but they never do poorly either. We mostly just eat them fresh in salads, and the kids like them fresh, plus Trent loves checking for pea pods, so they’re worth planting for us.

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Herbs. I love herbs, and plan to plant several kinds. I love rosemary, cilantro, spearmint, lemon balm, and dill. I hope to dry some herbs and look into other uses.

A really great website for gardening and produce questions and tips, check the Old Farmer’s Almanac’s gardening section.

I’m hoping to possibly plant potatoes, garlic, and squash for the first time this year. What are your garden staples? What are you planning to try for the first time? Come on, garden season!

Guest Blog at A Nation of Moms

I wrote a guest piece for an awesome blog, A Nation of Moms.

Check it out here: http://anationofmoms.com/2014/03/reading-the-outdoors.html. Let me know what you think.

Writing this piece brought back a ton of memories for me. I had so much fun growing up; we always played outside and read a lot. My parents were and still are the greatest. I’ve been thinking a lot about the little house we first lived in. There’s a picture somewhere of me sitting on the grass as a toddler chewing on a wrench while Daddy worked on something. I loved our little life.

Anyway, check out A Nation of Moms. It’s a really great site, and I’m glad I got to share my thoughts over there.

A Nation of Moms