Applesauce from the Orchard

Yesterday was my family’s yearly visit to go apple picking at our favorite orchard near Julian, CA and dare I say I think it was our best yet.  Instead of letting October roll around and then saying, “Oh!  We need to go apple picking!”, we went a few weeks earlier than usual this year.  And boy did it pay off.  The crowds were thinner and the apples bigger and more plentiful.

Selecting our bounty with first-timer cousins.

Selecting our bounty with first-timer cousins.

The breath-taking blue skies provided a touch of fall in the air.

The breath-taking blue skies provided a touch of fall in the air.

Quite the array of apple types.  I filled it until not a single other apple could balance without falling.

Quite the array of apple types. I filled it until not a single other apple could balance without falling.

We picked Jonathan, Gala, and Golden Delicious, among others.  While walking the apple tree isles, I decided that I wanted to make my grandmother’s apple sauce recipe with a good portion of our harvest.  This morning my helper and I did just that.  This recipe has been made in my family for over fifty years and today was the first time that I’d made it with my daughter.  I thought of my grandmother and of the many Thanksgivings and Christmas meals that I’d passed the bowl of homemade applesauce that my mom made each year.  It’s a simple, fun recipe that isn’t afraid to let the essential flavors shine.  And there’s no sugar added. (It’s also amazing on potato pancakes).

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Grandma Iris’ Applesauce

7 yellow apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
7 green apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
7 red apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
Cinnamon to taste

Put apples in a large pot with 1-2 inches of water.  Bring to a 
boil and then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes.  Don't cook to 
long to allow chunks of apples to remain.
Drain the water from the apples.  Add cranberries, raisins and 
cinnamon and stir.  Eat warm or cold.  Keep refrigerated.
Serves 4-6 people.

New Orchard Addition

I like to think of my small collection of fruit trees as my “mini orchard”.  I bought a struggling peach tree for dirt cheap (pun intended) from where I work.  It had been in a pot for a few years and needed to get in the ground and stretch it’s legs.  She is an Eva’s Pride, which harvests a full month before my Red Baron peach.  AND it requires even less chilling hours…only 100-200, great for areas like mine in coastal southern CA.

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Here's the Red Baron beginning to change from greenish/yellow to pink.

Here’s the Red Baron beginning to change from greenish/yellow to pink.

A fun lemon cucumber ready for picking.

A fun lemon cucumber ready for picking.

Indigo Rose is beginning to fruit and I swear I can already see that purple color.

Indigo Rose is beginning to fruit and I swear I can already see that purple color.

The Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato that I seem to grow every year is shaping up some nice fruit.

The Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato that I seem to grow every year is shaping up some nice fruit.

This evening's harvest!  Check out the Silkie trying to get a hand-out.

This evening’s harvest! Check out the Silkies trying to get a hand-out. HA!

Hornworm, Harvest, and Hen

It had become obvious in the last few days that hornworms had finally ascended into our vegetable garden.  And they grow.  Quickly.  One has to stay most vigilant or one morning you’ll wake up to completely bare tomato plants.  Most small ones go to the hens but the biggies they wont touch.  And I found one that gave even me the shivers.

Giving a little context.  This must be a delicacy in some country, right?

Many days I like to harvest a few things here and there as needed for the evening’s dinner.  Only when I have an impressive lot do I warrant it as a photo opportunity.  Today was one such day.

Peaches, lemon cukes, yellow cherry tomatoes and various beans.

Our beloved peach tree has pumped out what I believe to be the most peaches out of any other year.  (I probably say that every year).  This is just the tail end of the fruit, as many were beginning to fall and bruise, which told me an intervention must be made.  I even find joy when I see a bird or two nibbling.  What’s left of those just ends up going to the hens, which they seem to revere as hen candy.  My daughter’s cousins were over the other night playing croquet and badminton and in each of their hands was a warm, soft peach.  What a memory.

Speaking of hens, I must tell you that my music student’s mom is quite tricky.  She’s the backyard breeder who graciously gave us our 5 silkies last September.  At last week’s lesson she told me about her Swedish Flower Hens (could they have a better name?) that she was looking to re-home because she’s trying to downsize her flock.  She described them as medium sized birds, with a tan color and super friendly personality.  Oh, and then she mentioned their vibrant blue eggs.  Yup.  So I agreed to MEET one at today’s lesson.  Just as she handed her to me, she began walking back to her car.  I stuttered a bit and said, “But I have to talk to my husband, first!”  Her motto is, “Ask for forgiveness instead of permission.”  I requested that it be a week trial run and she agreed.  Sneaky!

Getting to know our new visitor.

And let me just say….she’s beautiful!  She’s almost at laying age.  A bit bigger than my silkies, but not much.  In my time with her so far, she likes being near people.  She stood next to my chair for a good 15 minutes.  Then I came in the house for a few minutes and my eye caught her walking through the door and under the dining room table!

I promised myself not to name her and really see how the interaction goes with our original 5.  We’ll see how the next week goes!

Things Are Heating UP!

Now that Summer is officially here and has brought with her consistently high 70’s daytime temps and low 60’s nighttime temps, my veggies (and I) are thanking her.  The tomatoes are starting to really set fruit, whereas for the past month the flowers were just falling off before swelling into fruit.  The Moon and Stars Watermelon is starting to actually look like a vine instead of a little seedling.  The peaches on the no-name peach tree are nearing full ripeness.  Cucumbers are happily weighing down my trellis.  Baby pumpkins are peeking their little selves out of the vines and all is right with the world.  Or at least in my garden, anyway.

Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato on it’s way to ripening.

The Moon and Stars Heirloom watermelon has started to take off in recent days.

Peaches giving a rosy “Hello! Here I am!”

This Cherokee Purple Heirloom tomato is growing in a grow bag! This is my healthiest tomato plant and has set more fruit than any other Cherokee Purples around the garden. GO Grow Bags!

Case in point.

And more from the same grow bag tomato plant.

Lemon Cukes are ready for munching!

And I’ll leave you with a photo of my most recent harvest. Long Live Homegrown!

Golden Beet Harvest

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WIth the cupboards and fridge bare in anticipation of leaving on vacation, I knew I could lean on my garden to help out.

The illustrious golden beet. Tonight will be the first time I’ve tasted them and I’m curious how they will differ from their red counterpart.

The lettuce and Persian cukes helped build a salad for lunch.

The basket it a newly acquired find from an antique store.  I love it’s rustic look.  I wanted a basket to help with harvesting.  As I wash off my bounty, the holes on the bottom allow the dirt to escape before I bring it in the kitchen.

Earth-Friendly Produce Bags

I sure was a spoiled mommy on Sunday.  Breakfast in bed, flowers, time with family.  I received a wonderful gift from my parents that appeals to my environmentally conscious mind.

I bring washable canvas bags to the grocery store to pack up my food in for the drive home.  Something I usually feel bad about are the numerous plastic produce bags that I use to put my fruits and veggies in.  You know the ones!  I do re-use them for such tasks as picking up chicken poo or storing veggies from the garden in the fridge.  However, they always end up one way or another in the trash.  Now with my new  mesh produce bags, I can treat Mother Earth a little kinder.

As you can see, I have two kinds of bags.  One kind is made by ChicoBag, called rePETe Mesh Produce Bags from the Produce Stand Collection.  These little cuties allow ethylene gas, nature’s ripening agent, the opportunity to escape – making these bags perfect for apples, avocados, pears, oranges, onions and potatoes.  Since the mesh allows the gas to escape, the fruit will “keep” longer.  This company also makes bags to lock in moisture for other veggies like squash, broccoli, carrots and celery and Hemp-Cotton bags to absorb excess moisture and restrict airflow for green beans, nuts and grains.

The other 6 canvas looking bags are to completely replace those plastic produce bags provided by the grocery store.  They are made by Simple Ecology, 100% organic cotton (yes!) and even include the weight to deduct by the cashier, so you’re not paying for the weight of the bag every time you check out at the register.  They really have thought of everything!

This is a small step that can extend a long way for the earth.

Purple Carrot Heaven

My first attempt at growing carrots was with red cored chantenays.  I imagined long, cylindrical beauties and ended up with short, stubby beauties.  Lots of work for not a lot to eat.  Last fall I asked my husband if there was anything in particular that he’d like me to grow in the veggie garden.  To my surprise, he requested purple carrots.  He also requested basil, but that’s not the title of this post!  So, late fall the carrots went into the ground with high hopes.

Yesterday my daughter and I pulled together a harvest for our dinner salad.

Calabrese broccoli side shoots, lettuce and purple carrots!

It can be difficult for me to tell when carrots are ready, so the best way I’ve found is to just pull one out of the earth!  To my amazement the first purple carrot I chose just kept going and going and was fatter than I could have imagined!

We even had a little chuckle when we pulled the one on the right. Must have been a rock in it's way! And there's a lot more where these came from.

Cosmic purple carrots have orange centers. Makes for a lovely presentation.

So that's it, I'm hooked. Today you could see me skipping all over the yard planting new purple carrot seeds in any nook or crevice I could find.

Late January Happy Harvest

A nice harvest for our dinner!

Calabrese broccoli

This broccoli harvest is exclusively made up of side shoots, grown just by leaving the plant after the main head is harvested. The heirloom Stupice tomatoes are STILL producing, along with the hearty snap peas. I bought that package of snap pea seeds for $1 and have been harvesting them twice a week for over a month. (Most of them don't make it to their photo op and are our garden snack). There are still two other sets of snaps that I planted in succession that will each produce just as much as the first, which is just about petered out. All for $1.

Christmas week harvest

I’d planted a few watermelon seeds in mid summer (probably a bit late) and this was the only one that somewhat matured.  Had it been planted earlier in the season, it may have had a chance to ripen, but the light frosts killed the vine and thus the melon had to be picked.  I cut it open and it was just the tiniest bit pink.  Oh well, a good lesson.

I’m also seeing now that I need to amend the soil a bit deeper to allow the carrots to grow longer.  They still tasted great!

The green tomatoes that I placed in a bowl on my kitchen counter are slowly but surely ripening.  It really works!  It’s giving us a steady flow of tomatoes even as our cold-weather Stupice tomatoes are winding down.

Stealing a few nibbles of the freshly cut broccoli. Our first meal with this steamed broccoli on the side really impressed us with it's wonderful taste.

More broccoli, tomatoes and two hen eggs!!!

As I recently posted, on December 28th our first egg was laid.  I wondered how long it would be until we saw another and lo and behold the very next day there was another just sitting in the nesting box.  It was a little lighter in color than the first and without the tiny brown speckles.  I’m guessing it was laid by another hen, but I’m not sure.  Wouldn’t that be something if two of these sister silkies started laying within 1 day of each other?

I used both in a banana nut muffin recipe that my daughter and I made today. They are the small ones on the bottom. 2:1 is about how I figure these little eggs.

All in all this week’s harvest has been the most exciting out of any other in the last 6 months of my first veggie garden.  Our first broccoli and chicken eggs.  This is what suburban farming is all about.

Early December Garden

My sprouting calabrese broccoli is on the verge of harvest. This being my first time growing this veggie, I'm pleased with how hardy and frost resistant it has proven to be. After I harvest the center shoot, I will continue to care for the rest of the plant and hope that they will then produce side shoots.

The broccoli forest.

Over the last week there have been quite a few nights in the mid 30's. Happily my Stupice tomatoes have fared well, but my work-horse cherry tomatoes from the middle of the summer bit the dust. I harvested all of the tomatoes and have read that many of the green ones will still ripen up. It was amazing how many tomatoes two bushes were still cranking out in December. I just have them out on the counter hoping to see red!

The following photos consist of a few harvests over the past 2 weeks.

Mommy's little helper.

Sugar snap peas, a few beets, Stupice tomatoes and one red cored chantenay carrot.

More backyard bounty showcased in my new birthday Le Creuset pan.

A note about seeds:

A true blessing of southern California weather is the ability to have a year-round vegetable garden and even direct-sow seeds in the middle of December.  Today I planted more seeds as other crops have finished up.  I planted more broccoli, yellow and red beets and lettuce.  I subscribe to the idea of successive planting:

  1. Same Vegetable, Staggered Plantings: Space out plantings of the same crop every 2-4 weeks. Many vegetables fade after producing their initial crop, setting a heavy crop initially.  Rather than planting your entire row all at once and having feast or famine, you can plant part of the row at the beginning of the season and then plant more in about 2-4 weeks. A new crop will be continually coming in.