Monthly Archives: August 2015

Garden Tomato Production Outstrips Consumption

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As I expected we found ourselves swimming in lovely fresh garden tomatoes. No matter how many we ate, they ripened faster than we could eat. I decided to get production back to controllable levels by canning three large jars of them for the future. Many years ago when I canned tomatoes, the pressure cooker made me nervous so I used the old fashioned boiling water bath method. Today I am very comfortable with the pressure cooker so I did the cold pack, ten minute method except I went for 20 minutes instead of ten. I find the pressure cooker method much easier. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the boiling water bath does. I also added my own onions, garlic and some store bought celery to the jar before canning. The tomatoes are a mix of yellow and red and the yellow ones are considered low acid so I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice just to make sure the acid level is high enough to avoid problems even though, with pressure canning, botulism shouldn’t be an issue. These tomatoes will make great sauce later with the year when the garden is finished. I will put them on the new shelves I have been building in my storage closet/tornado shelter.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction to putting your own home grown food by for later use. It’s only three jars because the I didn’t plan a garden for getting a whole years worth of veggies. I did that for three years in the past when I lived on a farm and we did what was basically subsistance farming. Next year I will consider more tomato plants and maybe more canning. In the meantime the jars are cooling, the colour is lovely, and three jars of stewed tomatoes worth about $15 will end up in my basement after about 30 minutes of work.

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Garden Update for End of August

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The garden is now at the point where I am thinking rather wistfully of frost. This is today’s haul and is typical for a day. The robin has fledged her second brood and so she is no longer on slug duty and they are thick in the garden. I am finding I have to pick the tomatoes as soon as they begin to turn or the slugs eat holes in them. In one of our big winds several of my tomato cages got knocked over so I am also picking tomatoes off the ground even if they are still green. Yesterday I made spaghetti sauce from scratch. I have been giving away excess but I will very shortly have to begin canning tomatoes. I like to make fancy stewed and herbed tomatoes when I can since those are expensive to buy and take very little extra work if you are canning anyway. At the rate they turning by week’s end I will doing my first big batch.

The cucumbers have been a disappointment though not really due to anything they have done. It’s just been too darn wet. I should be at the top of the production of pickles but I am barely getting a small jar a day for pickles. I am also beginning to harvest the carrots, not just thin them, picking as much as we can eat in a meal every other night. Making pickles means garlic and as you can see by the muddy white ball, my garlic has been the best I have ever had. I have begun using it up one plant at a time and I am about 1/8 of the way through what I planted.

The beets and turnips are growing fat and sassy. I am leaving them for later to let them get to a decent size. I actually have corn ripening. The cobs are small but we might actually get a taste.

Some of my potato plants looked like they were giving up and dying, withering away without blooming, so we dug up the three plants.  I planted five different types of potatoes and it would seem the red ones, my personal favourite, are the ones that are giving up. (I didn’t note which ones I planted where figuring I would remember but I didn’t.) The red ones didn’t die in vain since we got some fresh potatoes in the dig, about 4 per plant. We do have enough for a couple of dinner and what is tastier than new potatoes? Note to self, the other varieties are doing just fine so next year repeat that assortment of varieties since conditions can vary so much. I have found the red ones perform well in drought in the past so I think the wet was what made the red ones unhappy this year. The purple and white plants look especially good, still vigorous and spreading and they have not bloomed yet. They must be good for wet years.

And of course there are the zucchinis. One plant is still having blossom rot issues but the other two are putting out at a fine rate. We are still eating our own zucchini for breakfast every day and loving it.

There is very little work in the garden now, just picking and cleaning plants out that are done. I have also decided to try collecting seeds. I planted heritage varieties and a community greenhouse has been put up two blocks away. I will try starting plants from my own seed myself next year and starting my own plants indoors. If it doesn’t work, I can always buy seed and plants at the nursery. If my seeds do work, I will save myself about $100.

Funny how you wait all winter to get the garden in, fuss over every little green shoot in May and stand looking at the garden imagining the bounty in June when all you are getting is radishes. By the end of August you start kind of half hoping for frost so you can quit. Now to wash off those carrots and potatoes for dinner.

My Bissel Zing and National Dog Day

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We are kind of short this month with a bunch of expenses but I saw this little Bissel Zing on sale for a mere $44 at Walmart and I just couldn’t resist. (If you are one of those who hates Walmart, it is also on sale with free shipping from Amazon for the same price.) It’s a dandy little gadget with washable reusable filters, a power retractable cord and it’s easy clean. It is small, so I end up cleaning it after each use on our little house. While it does have a brush I suspect it wouldn’t work so well on carpet but with my allergies I don’t tolerate carpets. Normally I also find vacuuming a pain but thus far the filter is good enough that even after a week of use I am not having reactions to floating recycled dust.

Most amazing, the Zing handles Fred’s long hair easily. Fred is the kind of dog who sheds his own weight in fur each day and his loose fur has utterly defeated more than one vacuum. The Zing balls the fur up under the filter so it’s so easy to clean. I also learned something new about Fred. He LOVES being vacuumed! I can put the brush out and vacuum him and he is delighted. The brush pulls out the loose hair and the suction pulls it up. I have not had to pick up a furball or dust bunny in the entire week that I have had the Zing.

I am declaring my Zing a present for National Dog Day!

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Disclaimer: No one paid me anything for praising the Bissel Zing.

Biscuit Panic

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When we moved to Alonsa we joined the local senior’s centre. This has been a positive thing for us because we have met new people and we have the use of the facilities. Hubby dearest repaired the centres pool table and he has started a casual pool game night every other Tuesday. They have a seniors dinner once a month on the last Sunday of the month. It’s a casual social affair where local ladies take turns bringing in the components of the dinner and the cost is $10 a person for anyone who doesn’t bring something. A main dish meat is purchased by the group and cooked at someone’s home. Membership is $20 a year. Being Jewish and having issues with pork is only a bit problematic because there are so many different dishes, especially salads, that we can always find something we can eat. Dinner is followed by a 50:50 draw and then bingo and card games. (About half the people leave after eating.) We first attended in May, had a lovely time, and I immediately volunteered to bring something for the next dinner. The lady in charge seemed a bit dubious about me but, finally, after insisting I could help out, she allowed me to bring “3 dozen biscuits or buns (can be store bought)” for the August dinner. I was delighted and had great plans to bring my challah buns and wow them.

We have just come through a week of intense heat with highs in the 30s and humidex values in the 40s so I have not been keeping up in the garden. Yesterday was finally cool so I spent three hours in the garden picking and weeding and then processing food. At 4:30 pm, after a gruelling day catching up, I am cleaning the last of the cucumbers and Hubby Dearest sits down at the computer and leans back. His calendar bleeps. Then he sits forward with a start. He keeps the calendar in the house and up had popped a notice saying the Senior’s dinner was today in exactly one hour. It seems in August they move the date up so as not to interfere with the harvest rush.

After he announced this, I spent an indeterminate amount of time hovering between a state of blind panic and an urge to commit murder. There is absolutely no way to make fresh buns in 1 hour. I am the new person in town. Everyone else is watching me. What kind of impression would it make if I arrived with nothing but an apology after insisting I wanted to help out? How could I ever face anyone in the town again? Eventually that horrified state passed and I started frantically thinking of options. Now I had 59 minutes to find 3 dozen buns or biscuits. If we still lived in the city, I would have simply given up on bringing my own and gone by a store and picked buns up. But this is the country, as in rural, as in the nearest store with fresh buns, that is open on a Sunday, is at least a two and a half hour drive away. There would be no easy out for me.

Now I once did have a whole bunch of my fresh buns in the freezer. However, Hubby dearest being a great aficionado of my fresh buns, had long since depleted the stock. I briefly reconsidered my decision to not murder him. I cast about frantically wondering what to do. I needed buns and quickly.

Quick breads! She said buns OR biscuits.

I have not made biscuits in many years, because I just don’t care for them, but they are fast. My next step was a frantic search for a recipe. We had very little milk and hardly anything else suitable for biscuits. A quick search on line for no milk biscuits yielded my salvation. All the ingredients were available in my kitchen and the recipe promised they could be ready in 40 minutes.

Thus we began an assembly line. I gave orders to Hubby Dearest to start the oven preheating and get the cookie sheets out and I began measuring flour, margarine, baking powder, salt and water. Just before I did the final mix, I recalled a trick for making dumplings fancier for company and I decided to dress the biscuits up a bit. I ran out to the garden, pulled up some fresh parsley and washed and finely chopped the parsley and mixed it into the dough.  I briefly kneaded the dough, rolled it out and used the lid of canning jar (which Hubby Dearest found for me after some frantic searching while I kneaded) to cut out circles of dough and then get the biscuits in the oven. The recipe was really easy, so even with the side trip to the garden, it took under 15 minutes to get them into the oven. While 5 dozen biscuits baked, we cleaned up and changed our clothing.

After 15 minutes of baking, the house began to be filled with a lovely smell and the biscuits had risen and turned lightly golden. We pulled them out of the oven, broke one open to test it (yup tastes exactly like a yucky biscuit), and we cooled them on my baking racks for five minutes. We left for the Senior’s Centre with the still steaming biscuits in a large box. As we walked over, Hubby Dearest told me he thought I was amazing. I sternly ordered him to not tell anyone about this near miss and said he better not do this to me again or he might not make it to the next Senior’s dinner.

I am pleased to report that I heard several comments like;

“Mmmm… these are still hot!”

“The butter is melting, these are so fresh.”

“Parsley in biscuits, wow that is delicious.”

“Did you really take them from the oven just before you brought them over here?”

“Delicious old fashioned biscuits! I love them!”

I just smiled and thanked folks for the compliments and acted like I had totally planned it all this way back when I was first asked to bring them. And there were 38 people and we went home with nine biscuits so people even took seconds.

Whew, we dodged a bullet that time, (especially Hubby Dearest!)

I decided to try one for breakfast. Shrug…a biscuit. I don’t really like biscuits. However I am in luck. There is never any problem in our house with disposing of such things,

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Here is the recipe for no milk no eggs biscuits. If you like biscuits, these are good ones.

NO MILK, NO EGG BISCUITS

2 c. flour

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

6 tbsp. oil or soft shortening

2/3 c. water

Mix all ingredients together. Add enough flour to knead easily. Knead on floured board about 30 seconds. Roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with small cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 450°F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes 15 to 20 biscuits.

Thank you cooks.com

http://www.cooks.com/recipe/819l50kl/no-milk-no-egg-biscuits.html

Tornado Shelter – Part 5

Today’s forecast is for a moderate probability of strong thunderstorms including tornadoes. Storm chasers have taken up positions to the south west and south east of us. The arrival of professional storm chasers is always an ominous sign. I fretted and fretted about using the line of credit as I hate having any debt, but after the forecast yesterday, we decided to go out and buy enough plywood to give the shelter one layer. There is frugal and then there is penny wise and pound foolish. A pleasant surprise was finding out our little local lumber store in Glenella has prices that match Rona, plus great service, so we will be patronizing them first from now on. I didn’t have to climb up on my truck and load lumber. They have a fork lift to precisely place and stack stuff on top. I was very impressed.

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The shelter plan calls for two layers of 3/4 inch plywood. We added one this time. One layer is good enough for most severe weather that would involve some windows being knocked out by hail or maybe a small microburst. Not enough for say an F3, but pretty good.

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Hubby dearest is a bit paranoid about us being trapped in the closet so we have added an escape hatch at the end opposite the door. This is bolted in but if we find the door buried we can undo the bolts and pull the hatch door in, airplane emergency door style. Hopefully we won’t need it. You can also see our sump pump hole. We are going to use the leftover PWF stuff and make a proper cover and we have purchased a back up sump pump that will run on DC power because the place will flood in heavy rain if the power is out. The battery will be inside the closet and also give us DC lights.

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Finished trap door.

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A shelter is only as good as the door so we framed that in. No storm is sucking that door out! Inside is more problematic. The local lumber shop did not have any big heavy duty dead bolts as we put three of these little ones in for now but they are not adequate for keeping the door closed with heavy flying debris coming at it. We’ll work on better reinforcing today.

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And so we are kind of ready. Our plan is to finish and bolt in the escape hatch today, reinforce the door, and then begin stocking the space. We will move the pets kennels in first thing. That way if we need to take shelter, they can be locked up. I once took a dog through a car wash and I learned it is not pleasant to have a panicking dog in a small space. We will also put in a bench for us to sit on. We will also add emergency supplies in case we have to sit in it for an extended time or need to undo bolts or saw and pry debris in order to get out.

And the primary purpose of this space is storage, not shelter, and so I intend to put in lots of shelves, big ones, small ones perfect for canned goods, places for boxes, hooks to hang stuff, junk and treasures too good to toss. Oh glorious wonderful storage space! You shall be fulfilled soon.

The guy in the lumber store asked us what we were building. I told him a reinforced storage closet that could double as a shelter for a tornado. He went white and then described how his brother’s home was a mere 100 yards from the path of the infamous Elie Manitoba F5. He then added one more happy thought.

“And if you have this ready, you’ll never need it. This will be the cheapest insurance you ever paid for.”

I sure hope he’s right.

And as if to prove it:

Storm Concern

The professional storm chasers in their reinforced vehicles have converged on Manitoba and put out their own predictions and we are about 20km outside the upper bullseye.

Tornado Shelter – Part 4

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Work continued on our shelter. The framing is done and the men moved to the door. FEMA has an entire pamphlet on the door for a shelter because the shelter is only as good as the door. You can have the best shelter there is but if your door is weak you’ll end up like the father of the lady scientist in the movie Twister, sucked up for some close and personal encounters with the big one. After checking the diagrams FEMA has, our engineer decided we would need to make a door with the same specifications as the walls, two layers of 3/4 inches plywood glued together and then screwed together. We went to the lake for a swim while we were waiting for the glue to set. It was so pleasant we stayed to watch the sunset.

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Back to work. The door needs some heavy duty hinges, and then it would need to be framed into the structure itself, so that even with extreme sucking it would not be able to open outward. It would also need some fancy deadbolt hardware on the inside. Given the design, the basic door had to go in before the layering of plywood and framing on the outside.

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Industrial strength hinges with the screws also glued in to make it strong. By this point we were out of wood and Bryan has to leave for a visit with family. He’ll be back in a week and we have plans to go to a country music concert weekend.

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This morning we were awakened by thunder storms. A quick check of the radar showed severe storms approaching fast. Then we had some fun watching more rotating clouds overhead doing the eery green thing while Environment Canada issued warnings. Wow it came up fast! Twenty minutes between nothing on radar and then this strong storm. It passed us by, dumped a bunch of golf ball sized hail into the lake 12 kilometres east of us, and we are now sitting in a severe thunderstorm watch with more storms expected later today. Ever feel like you’re in a bulls eye or someone is trying to give you a message?

*sigh*

We had planned on waiting until next month to purchase the next $300 or so of stuff we need to finish the shelter. However the forecast is for extreme heat (35C/95F) until Saturday and then an approaching cold front will mean yet another round of severe storms. So we may yet decide to buy the rest on the line of credit and finish this thing for Saturday. For today though, we will just get caught up on other stuff. Having company is great. Having a project to build is a lot of fun. Still we are behind on a whole bunch of little things, there is sawdust everywhere in my house. All the floors need washing. Time to get to work.

Tornado Shelter – Part 3

Work on our basement closet/tornado shelter continues. We had some delays yesterday. We needed to borrow some tools and that took some scrounging around town. This meant we had folks come to see what we were up to. Naturally, we needed to break out a beer or two to keep the conversation moving. Then we had to wait for the beer to wear off before we went back to work. Saws and beer don’t mix. But, finally, we did get back to work. SAM_6095

These metal plates with nails add enormous strength against uplift. One way tornados kill is that the tremendous uplift rips off the roof. Once the roof is gone, the rest of the structure collapses onto anyone down below and then if that doesn’t kill you, the tornado blenderizes all that wall material and stuff inside and then shreds everything down to deadly missiles. (I read a tragic story of a two year old who died because a doorknob got inserted into the back of his head by this force. So heartrending!) These strengthening plates are added at all the points where the roof meets the side frame. These plates are also cheap and easy to install. I took on the assignment of hammering in 125 nails into six plates for the back wall which is against the concrete block basement wall. The total cost of plates and nails was under $15 from our local Co-op. It’s little touches like this that greatly increase the strength of the structure with minimal additional cost. You do have to plan these things into it though. You can’t just wing it.

It’s been fascinating watching an engineer plan and then see the plans come together. Our friend Bryan read the plans provided by FEMA and studied some of the diagrams and stats on force and uplift of F0-F5. His eyebrows went up and his eyes went wide a few times as he read. Twice he actually whistled in awe. Yes, tornados are vicious beasties. No doubt about that. To me, the neat FEMA diagrams looked like strange goblety gook lines in black and white but he understood them. He speaks that language.

“Okay, I can see why they do that.”

“Oh yeah, that makes sense.”

“Well, we can get the same amount of protection for a lot less money if we do this instead.”

And all of this knowledge and experience got built into the design. So I recommend that if you want to build one of these reinforced sheltering areas, it would be a really good idea to involve an experienced engineer. First, to make sure the thing holds up against a monster storm, second to save money, and finally, because each place one of these shelters needs to be built in requires special modifications to fit the location. I could have built a closet myself but I could never have come up with this design.

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We are doing the framing now. The studs on the outer wall are spaced every 12 inches instead of the standard 16 inches to increase the strength of the walls by 50%. Since the studs cost under $4 you get a great increase in strength for very little additional cost. The other cheap strength improvement is that all the screws are getting glued in with special construction glue applied before insertion. So you get not just the power of the screw itself, but also the adhesive and that adhesive is really cheap too. Such things do add time.

And the door will open inwards and be partly under the stairs. Our stairs are very well built with dove tailing where the stair is inserted into the stringer so they will take a lot of force. This makes it less likely we’ll be trapped if the building collapsed. We would be able to open the door with greater safety and have a chance of getting out once it’s all over and the storm has moved on.

I sure hope we never have to use this closet/tornado shelter. But if we do, we’re going to have it. I have always been of the opinion that if you prepare for events, they don’t happen. So my little superstition means putting our shelter in, will actually prevent a tornado from coming.