Category Archives: Frugal living

Zucchini in containers.

My husband and I are big fans of zucchini. Our typical breakfast includes fried zucchini, lots of it, with mushrooms, onions and eggs. Naturally, zucchini plays a big role in my garden. I have tried for many years to get zucchini to grow consistently and well. It is not as easy as I thought it would be but this is the second year now we have been enjoying early and great abundant zucchini. So I think I have the knack of it now.

As my followers will recall, we live in Manitoba near the 51st parallel and so we have to adjust our gardening for late and early seasons frosts and occasionally even snow in May. Zucchini are delicate when it comes to frost, and slugs and cutworms love to eat them. After trying for years to get really good zucchini, I finally gave up on growing them in the garden and I switched to container gardening. This way, on nice spring days we can put the plants outside but if we have one of our late May frosts (or even snows) they can be carried inside to warm safety until the cold passes.

Since they are going into containers anyway, it makes sense to start them indoors under artificial lights. I started mine April 15th this year from seed I saved from the previous year’s harvest. I had both yellow and green (actually called “midnight” variety) that grew very well for me. Since we like to eat our zucchini young, that meant leaving some to grow large enough to produce mature seeds. That happened more towards the end of the season when we had so much I was actually getting sick of it.

The zucchini grow quickly. In this image they are only about three and a half weeks old. The tiny tomato plants beside them were started at the same time. Zucchini like rich soil, and they require a lot of water but they also like good drainage. This is why some successful gardeners put them on hills in the garden. I started mine out in high quality potting soil. Zucchini are subject to blossom rot (like tomatoes) so I added extra calcium powder and ground egg shells to the soil. Deeper pots work better in the early stages as the zucchini like to set deep roots fast. Zucchini also like to grow with companions so I start with about six seeds per pot and then reduce it down to two plants per pot once the first leaves are open.

Zucchini also need abundant sunshine and so as soon as possible I put them outside in my little greenhouse. At about six weeks, I repotted them into some large pots I scrounged from the local dump that were originally used for transporting trees, again using the best quality potting soil with water conserving beads and fertilizer. (Pot size is 12 inches (30cm) around and 10 inches (24cm) deep.) I topped up the calcium in the bigger pots as well. I started with six pots going. Four are yellow and two are green. I gave one to my neighbour who has also had trouble getting good zucchini in the past.

Another advantage to getting the plants outside well before it is warm enough for the garden is to let pollinators get at the blossoms. My plants had blossoms by when they went into the big pots at 6-7 weeks and they were soon full of busy bees, especially bumble bees. The plants grew and overflowed the edges of their pots. By June I didn’t have to worry about carrying them inside overnight. I moved them into their own sunny location in the back part of the lawn. The nearby trees provide shelter from the occasionally fierce prairie wind and they are near the rain barrel. Even in these pots they need watering almost every day. They do much better with soft rain water than our extremely hard iron laden tap water.

It is important to pick the zucchini young in order to keep the plant producing more. Last year I noted that the zucchini ran roots out of the pot into the ground and seemed to halt growing for a few days when I moved them. So once they are in their place on the lawn I now try to mow around the pots rather than move the pots to mow. My final tip is that as soon as the first two plants are producing zucchini, put in more seeds near the edges. Allow two of these secondary plantings to reach maturity for a total of four plants per pot. The second pair of plants will take over peak production just as the first set are getting too old.

And we are now enjoying the rewards of my not-too-hard work. It is more about planning than work. I picked my first zucchini last week which is nine weeks after I planted the seeds. Yesterday I harvested four good sized zucchini. Two are yellow and two are green. One of the green ones I made into a layered zucchini vegetable lasagna. (Cooking tip; zucchini have a lot of moisture so I find you need to double the typical cooking time fora lasagna and leave the lid off for the last half of the cooking to make a good texture that is not watery.) The other three are in my fridge and will be consumed soon.

 

 

 

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Bread Day

The weather forecast was for a miserable cold rainy day followed by a typically Canadian abrupt switch to summer. The high was a mere 12C (54F) for the day I decide to bake but only two days later the forecast high was 27C (81F). I decided it was a good day to get ahead on home baked bread. This would heat our little house without using the furnace so the heat would serve two uses on a cold day. Plus making my own bread costs a small fraction of buying store bought bread.

I bake my own bread for many reason. I started when I lived in a rural community where fresh bread was hard to come by without a long trip to the grocery store. In those days I had no machine to knead the bread and it was a chore. I quit when we left the farm and I went back to work. A few years later the local kosher bakery closed up and I was given a bread maker. On top of that, hubby dearest was told to go on a no salt diet and commercial bread is very high salt. I started using the bread maker. It was perfect for a busy career woman. Set it up on a timer in the morning and at supper walk in to the smell of fresh bread. The bread maker worked very well but….

Bread makers don’t seem to bake evenly. In such a small batch the variations of any batch of bread that have to do with moisture in the flour, temperatures, yeast and so forth get really magnified. You can get a bad “batch” often enough to be annoying and to feel the bread maker is unreliable. I eventually settled on using a Kitchen Aide with a dough hook for the kneading part. I make a four loaf double batch which is far more forgiving of subtle variations compared to the one loaf bread maker. It is a lot easier to get consistently good bread. I also like to make my loaves small so hubby dearest can have a two small slices of bread with crust all around rather than one huge slice produced by the bread machine which has to be cut in half and which will fall apart far more easily. I initially began giving up the bread maker by letting the bread maker do the kneading and then moving the dough to my own bowl and pan. With the Kitchen Aide the bread maker sat idle enough I eventually gave it away.

This particular day I make four double batches of our favourite types of bread. They all ended up in the freezer to be taken out and used on one of those hot summer days when the last thing I want to do is be baking bread.

Batch one is my husband’s special favourite which I can’t stand. It is dark pumpernickel with cocoa, instant coffee and dark rye flour. We both like sesame and poppy seeds so I almost always do an egg wash and add these on the outside. (One advantage off doing four double batches is one egg was enough for all the loaves.) This bread also has a hefty dose of caraway seed. As you can see, someone stole a piece before I got these loaves into the freezer. I don’t think it was one of the dogs although they have been known to sneak a whole loaf. This is my own recipe

Dark Pumpernickel

1 ¼ water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups bread flour
3 tablespoons gluten
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 tablespoon caraway seed
1 tsp instant coffee
2 teaspoon bread machine or quick active dry yeast

In addition to poppy and sesame seeds I also top with oatmeal flakes and corn meal and small sprinkling of additional caraway seeds.

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The second batch I made was a light rye bread. The recipe is from CooksRecipes.com originally.

Light Rye Bread
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups unbleached white bread flour
3/4 cup rye flour
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon stone ground corn meal
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

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The third batch of bread was honey, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, my own favourite.

Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat

1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoon margarine
4 cups while wheat bread flour
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoons salt
1 cup dry oatmeal flakes
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

 

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And the final two loaves are the special braided Sabbath egg bread called challah.

Challah

1 1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cups unbleached white bread flour (approx you may need more or less to get the tight texture)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 whole eggs

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I normally try to bake challah each Friday so we always have two fresh warm challah for the sabbath. Life doesn’t always cooperate so we have two pairs of emergency challah in the freezer.

All fourteen loaves (less one slice) were double wrapped and slipped into the freezer for future use. We normally use about two loaves a week so I should not have to bake bread again (except for Friday Challah) until midsummer.

There is something mystical and connected about making homemade bread. Even though I let the machine do most of the kneading I do get to handle the dough, work it my hands and feel the connection to our earth home. Baking bread becomes an exercise in philosophy, meditation and prayer. And is there anything to compare with the sweet scent of homemade bread? Homemade bread makes a house a home and sanctifies a holiday. It was a perfect way to pass a cold miserable day and prepare for summer.

Home Made Turkey Soup Base

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We had the absolutely best turkey dinner ever at my son’s home. He used a recipe that among other things called for a bed of vegetables and oranges. My son and DIL work full-time and so don’t have extra time for things like soup from scratch. When she offered me the turkey carcass, I jumped at the chance. I added everything the turkey had cooked with but the oranges to my big stock pot. I also added enough water to halfway cover the carcass.

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As you can see the turkey came with carrots and celery and seasoning already part of it. I also made sure to scrap the pan of the brown stuff on the edges and bottom of the pan. That brown stuff makes the broth really tasty. I also scrapped up all the fat and seasoning stuff as well.

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After a slow simmering for about two hours, the turkey falls apart easily and the broth has taken on the creamy colour you can see here. (Steam on the camera made the picture steamy but you should be able to see the difference.)

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The next step is the most tedious and took about twenty minutes. Separating the mixture from the pot into bones to be discarded on one plate and meat and veggies to go back into the pot on the other. One needs to work fast to avoid giving the stuff time to cool. Cooling food left standing around is bad. It can grow nasty bacteria if you aren’t careful. Also if you are canning you have to be extra careful about washing your hands and using clean utensils. I emptied the plate back into the simmering stock pot several times to keep the separated stuff hot.

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I had no need for turkey soup right away. I wanted to have it handy “put by” in case one of us is not feeling well. There really is nothing as tasty as homemade soup if you’re feeling ill but if you’re not feeling well, then who has the energy to cook soup from scratch? I ladled the soup into well cleaned and rinsed jars that had been sterilized with an extra boiling water rinse.

Even though the stuff is still really hot, you can see how the fat is separating and collecting on top. If you dislike the fat you can skim it off at this point. Personally I think the fat gives the soup more taste and fat has been given a bad name it doesn’t deserve so I left it on. I also added a dash of salt and a tablespoon of lemon. The lemon makes the soup slightly acidic which discourages nasty bacterial growth. Salt is also a preservative and brings out the flavour. I know salt is bad for us, but a dash in a whole jar is not that bad.

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I then capped the jars and put them in the pressure cooker for one hour.  It is not safe to put anything into jars with meat or any low acid food, without using a presser cooker. Boiling water simply doesn’t get hot enough. You need the extra pressure of a pressure cooker to get the internal temperature high enough to kill nasty bacteria. That has to be done according to your pressure cooker’s manufacturer’s directions. The amount of time required varies depending on the kind of pressure cooker you have, the size of your jars, what your home’s altitude is, and the size of the individual pieces in the broth.  If I had added say, a whole potato or dropped in big meatballs I would have left it in my pressure cooker for an hour and a half. After the jars came out of the pressure cooker I left them to cool. The seals popped tight almost immediately. They continued to bubble for a long time afterward as they cooled because of how high the internal temperature got. I left them undisturbed until morning.

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Now the jars have cooled. The seals are on properly and the fat has settled on top again. The jars can be left for up to a year so they need to be dated so you don’t forget to use them up before they age too much. Now whenever I want to make turkey soup, I can open a jar and reheat it in a pot or the microwave. I do it in the pot and I add vegetables (which this batch won’t need) and some rice or noodles or maybe some potatoes and cook them in the broth at a slow simmer before serving. This is also great with a loaf of homemade bread. The one litre jar is just right for the two of us.

If you don’t like canning you can freeze the soup. I have found freezing changes the flavour and not in a positive way. Jars of home made soup taste nothing like a tin from the grocery store. One of the nice things I have found is home made, home canned goods taste just as good as home made just made. And you can’t beat the cost of doing it yourself.

Garden Plans and Other Winter Dreams

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Oh winter, when things are cold, the ground is frozen and one can only dream of summer. (I am spending my winter in Florida so I really can’t complain too much!) And I am dreaming! Oh how I am dreaming. Since my garden last summer was such a great success and produced so much lovely food I am full of dreams of this year’s harvest. Things never come out as perfectly as the retouched garden pictures in the seed catalogues. I don’t care. I enjoy dreaming over them anyway. I made many notes for my failures and successes of last year and my plans are in full swing.  The Canadian dollar has dropped to .69 on the American with the result being all foods in our grocery stores that are imported have skyrocketed in price. And so my Canadian dollar invested in garden seed has the potential to produce food worth a lot more if it comes from the garden making a pay off even more likely.

I purchased a small greenhouse and a plant starting light. If I get even half the plants I normally buy at the nursery that investment will have paid for itself this first year. I have tried starting things from seeds before but they always got spindly and sickly and never amounted to any size worth the fuss. Maybe with lights and a mini greenhouse they will this time.

Last year I had some weed issues. We had a fellow come in with a big tractor at the beginning of the year and he did a fine job working the garden up. I could have used a second tilling before planting but I was too impatient. The garden is only as good as the soil so this year I have done two things. First I made a great big note to till twice before planting anything. I also bought myself a small tiller. I will have the man with the great big one come in to do the first till and then I will my small tiller to do a second tilling as I plant and I will have the new tiller to do the rows in between as well. That should make my life easier and the weeds less trouble.

Worms got my turnip crop last year so this year I will be putting them in a different location, sprinkling the area with diatomaceous earth after each rainfall and picking a lot earlier. I will also try the trick of planting some marigolds in among the turnips. Hopefully I won’t have maggots this year.

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I have on my list saskatoons and strawberries. Getting fruit to grow in our climate is problematic but these grow wild in our area and we love eating them. So it should be possible to have two cultivars that give big abundant fruit planted. We won’t get much this year but the future looks bright. I may have to destroy some of the bushes the previous owner planted that do nothing but look pretty before I can find room but I will. I’ll take a tree/plant that gives me something to eat over one that looks pretty anytime. I may make an exception for marigolds if they keep the root maggots away.

Last year I got sloppy about labelling rows and ended up with rows I knew were beets, turnips and kale but I couldn’t tell which was which. We ate a lot of really great green salad from when I was thinning the plants but this year rows will be properly marked. Plus I am adding some cooking greens that can be preserved in addition to spinach, collard and mustard. If I succeed I will have a little of the south in the north this summer.

Some other notes were to grow cucumbers on tomato cages like my neighbour did with hers to make picking easier, plant smaller amounts but more varieties of herbs and plant more varieties of beans. I have always had bad luck with peas but I think I will try them this year as well. If anyone has a foolproof way to avoid having them turn white and fungus filled peas, I am all ears.

My garden seed list is now at almost $250 the largest part of the seed expense being Saskatoon and strawberry plants, seed potatoes, and other larger “stuff”. Last year I kept careful track of my seed and plant costs and the garden more than paid for itself. In fact, I still have one last lonely container of frozen tomato sauce and some beet/horseradish spread. It makes me wince to think of hitting the send button on that order but spring will come, a gardener’s hope springs eternal, and the winter does end. Those cans of tomatoes look like I preserved the sunshine and warmth of summer.

I would love to hear if anyone else is planning their summer garden and what they are planning.

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Fall is here.

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The forecast for tonight is 2C (35.6) with a risk of frost. And so it’s time to harvest my herbs. On the table is my summer savoury and a mix of cilantro and carrots. The summer savoury is something I don’t use a lot in cooking. However, I read an interesting blog about extracting essential oils from this herb and I thought I would try it. So after picking I set some aside in a bundle to dry but most of it is currently in, or waiting to go into my crock pot. After it’s been properly stewed I’ll distill the mix. The resulting essential oil should work well for cleaning.

The cilantro I am handling a bit differently. I chopped the finer leaves up into small bits and spread it on a cookie sheet. That is in the freezer and once it is frozen I’ll just break it up and put the bits in a plastic jar in the freezer. I only really use cilantro in cooked dishes so I can just grab the jar sprinkle a bit in at needs and it’s as nice as fresh.

Fall is kind of sad time for the garden. I have been busy cleaning the garden out. I pulled up all the corn stacks and I have picked most of the tomatoes. If it frosts they will be first to go. The cucumbers are still producing but I have enough pickles now so I am not going to try to keep it going by covering the plants. If it frosts it frosts and if it doesn’t, well bonus.

I also noticed that white mildew has hit as it so often does in the fall. My spaghetti squash only produced two little apple sized squash. If we don’t get frost and the mildew doesn’t spread they might produce something but its unlikely. Note to self: next year don’t start spaghetti squash from seed. The season up on the 51st parallel is just too short.

And so I am kind of hoping the frost arrives tonight because then the garden is finished and the work is done. I am mostly hoping the frost will pass us by and I can get a few more weeks of produce. We shall see what the night brings.

One of the nicer aspect of fall is that the sun is now setting and it’s dark by about 8:30pm. The last few nights the northern lights have been absolutely spectacular and it’s been dark enough to watch them before bed. And so life on the 51st parallel is a series of tradeoffs. Down south they are still in summer heat but I’ll bet they don’t see a lot of northern lights like we do. Even in the bright city lights of Winnipeg the aurora was spectacular. We got an even better show.

View from Winnipeg

Simple Pleasures Are the Best

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What could be simpler than a plain roasted chicken, some boiled corn on the cob and potatoes? What could be more delicious than your very own corn picked from your garden and baby potatoes you dug up just before throwing them in the pot?

The corn was small and stunted and so the cobs were half the size of a store bought one but what they lacked in size, they more than made up for in taste. And potatoes, heavenly. I noticed the garden turnips are ready too. I’m not a big turnip fan but Hubby Dearest loves them. We’ll start eating those soon.

I am also still drying seeds for next year. We will have a chance to try out the community garden and greenhouse next year with our own seeds. It’s raining outside and the cool nip of fall is in the air. The days are shortening so half the evening is dark now. I had to rake leaves yesterday. We are planning our trip south for the winter. But today, for our dinner, we enjoyed the simply sweet pleasure of plain chicken, and our own corn and potatoes. Life is sweet.

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.