Working on the old kitchen garden – and a kitten update

There are some things I wanted to try with the old kitchen garden, but kept getting distracted. So today I gave the girls a to-do list for the main garden beds, and got started.

This is the main area that I wanted to make changes to.

The areas surrounded by red lines are where we currently have stepping stones. The long red line on the bottom is the border outside of where my daughter planted her irises. You can see the one walking onion, now laying flat on the ground, that has been coming up every year since we moved here. This year, it actually produced a head that, hopefully, has planted itself now. To the right of the onion is where my daughter’s daffodils are planted. We currently have a couple of boards on the outside of this area, but we’ve had issues with people completely ignoring them and stepping on the onion. So one of the things we want to do is build some kind of low wall along that red line, with openings to the stepping stones, just to keep wayward feet out of there.

Where I wanted to work on today, though, is the area marked in orange. That is where we planted our bread seed poppies, using seed collected from last year. They never got to their full size, and the area was way too full of weeds. There was just no way to pull the weeds without damaging the poppies.

So I decided to make a low raised bed in that spot. The first thing that needed to be done, though, was to get rid of those weeds and their root systems, as best as possible.

That meant breaking out the wheel barrow and soil sifter.

For such a small area, it took a long time to remove the soil and sift out the roots and weeds.

Some of the roots, from the nearby ornamental apple trees, needed loppers to clear them out. I ended up digging out a lot more of the soil than expected.

The tarp has two wheel barrow loads of sifted soil on it. I didn’t want to go too deep, so I loosened the soil on the bottom to try and pull up more roots, but there’s no way to get them all out. At least I got the bulk of them out.

I hope.

While sifting the soil, I pulled most of the roots out and tossed them onto the grass for later clean up, then whatever was left on the screen after sifting got dumped near some trees behind the storage house, where it will be used to fill in and level some low spots.

We’ve been building up the soil in this garden since our first summer here, and it really showed. Unlike other areas, I never hit the sand and gravel that is so close to the surface in our area.

The soil was really, really dry, though, so my first amendment was a layer of wood chips, to act as moisture absorbing sponges as they break down. I’ll be adding other layers of organic material before putting the soil back, but first I wanted to build walls.

My initial thought was to drive strong stakes into the soil, then weave a wattle wall. I need to clear the suckers out from around the maples. Especially where the branch piles used to be. With those piles gone now, I can finally reach them. As I took a closer look at the suckers, though, I realized they were not straight enough, or long enough, to be suitable for weaving around the uprights, even for such a small bed.

There were, however, those lengths of wood that couldn’t be chipped, neatly stacked nearby.

So I went through the pile and chose a whole bunch of the straightest ones and loaded them on the wagon. As I was taking them to the old kitchen garden, I went through where one of the branch piles used to be. It’s just bare ground, which is why I was able to see something reflecting in the sunlight.

Something pointy looking, and very bright.

Oh, the things we find around here!

Why on earth would there be an old steak knife buried in the soil here? It’s been here long enough that most of the wooden handle rotted away and broke off.

I’m glad I spotted that, because just the point was sticking out, and it would have been a pretty nasty thing to step on!

I brought more logs than I thought I would need, including shorter ones for the ends of the bed. When I made our high raised bed, the wood was not debarked, but I have a draw knife now, so I wanted to do that with these.

Isn’t the leather cover my husband made for it awesome? It fits perfectly, and he made sure the stitching is super strong.

I measured the space I’d dug out, and it was almost exactly 2′ x 4′. Conveniently, the tree guys cut these log pieces to a maximum about 4′ in length. I used my baby chainsaw (pruner) to cut pieces to length. I’m glad I got that extra battery, because I went through both of them to get it done! I also used it to remove the nubs of branches on some of them. I’ll let the batteries recharge before I finish that part of the job.

I cut enough to make the bed three logs high. As the soil slopes and is quite a bit lower on the outside, I plan to use the thicker logs on the outside and try and level it off a bit. Or I might have three logs on the outside, and only two on the inside. We’ll see.

It took me almost 3 hours to get to this point, and I was done for the day. Once all that was prepared, I cleaned up the log ends, bark pieces and the roots and weeds. Those went into the burn pile, where we also burn the sawdust from the used stove pellets in the litter boxes (sure beats hauling it all to the dump, like we did with the clay litter!), and our burnable garbage. The garden bed will have to wait until tomorrow to finish. There wasn’t much wind today, so I did a much needed burn.

While I was tending that, the girls headed out to the trellises to start salvaging the netting and bamboo stakes. It took them forever to free up the netting the pole beans were on! Those beans were well wrapped around it. They salvaged the netting and the bamboo stakes that joined the A frame supports across the bottoms. The A frame supports were left for now, as they are currently holding up the trellis frame! Those are going to all come down, eventually, but after it took so long to free up the netting, that got left for another day. Those trellises weren’t built to last more than a year, and we got two years out of them, so I’m impressed that they lasted as long as they did! The next ones we build will be much more permanent.

While they worked on that, and I was tending the fire, I started getting messages from the cat lady. She will be able to book three more spays and neuters for us soon. We pick which ones need to be done first. It’ll be in a town further out, so she will pick up the cats, keep them for their recovery period, then bring them back. There are still problems with too many surrendered cats in the adoption system, and she’s had virtually no progress with adopting any cats out at all, but she is still able to get donated spays and neuters at various vets around the area. Adoption will be easier with cats that are fixed.

We still have Big Rig and Tissue that need to be done, since they got into food while they should have been fasting and their previous appointments had to be cancelled. I was thinking we might want to start doing outside cats, though, as population control, but the kittens we’ve socialized enough may still be too young.

We have made socialization progress, though! Not with the black and white one in the back, looking at the camera. We still can’t touch that one. The three at the peak of the cat shelter roof are the most socialized – they LOVE attention! Those four are siblings from the same litter. The fuzzy grey tabby is a female.

The muted calico on the far left has been allowing us to pet it regularly now, though it’s not quite as socialized as the littler litter. It’s sibling, the brown tabby starting at the camera, is male. The girls have been able to pet him but today, for the first time, I was able to not only pet him, but even pick him up! He wasn’t too comfortable with the picking up thing, but loved the ear skritches, so after I put him down again, he came back for more!

If we are going to get the two indoor females fixed, we can also choose one male from among the outside cats. The girls were thinking one of the smaller ones. The thing is, once we’ve got an outside cat fixed, then being kept indoors with the cat lady during recovery before coming back to us, it’s not going to go back outside. Especially not with the weather changes right now. Plus, once fixed, chances of adoption are higher, and we’d have to made sure we can actually get at it, if a permanent home is found.

If all goes well, though, the cat lady will be able to find homes for several cats over the winter!

One can hope.

Right?

The Re-Farmer

So many kitties!

Here are some of my morning smiles!

I love that some of the youngest litters are now regularly showing up at the kibble house – but it sure does get crowded in there!

I think I counted 20 yard cats in total this morning, but they move around so much, it’s hard to keep track.

Broccoli’s babies tend to stay away – as does Broccoli.

Looks like one of them is going to have some pretty long fur!

I had to zoom in quite a bit to get a shot of this domestic scene without disturbing them! Rosencrantz was putting up with four of her babies nursing, while number five was deterred by the chain link fence. They can no longer fit through the holes, and aren’t used to that, yet!

As far away as I was, Rosencratnz didn’t like that I’d stopped to take pictures, so she got up and left. Her kittens were not impressed. ๐Ÿ˜„

It looks like we’re going to have a lovely day today, so I’m wanting to do as much as possible outside! I plan to be working in the old kitchen garden, which means I’ll likely be surrounded by kittens. ๐Ÿ˜ But first, I’ve got the floor boards on the water bowl shelter secured, so the base can finally get a scrubbing. It should be warm and sunny enough for it to dry relatively quickly. I want to get that painted as soon as possible. I’m not sure how we’re going to keep the kittens off the wet paint, though. They really like playing in that thing! ๐Ÿ˜‚

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: garlic planted, and topping up the high raised bed

Earlier today, I made a trip into town to hit the hardware store. I found the screws in the size I needed, though the cost was insane. A box with only 100 screws was $12.99 – about $4 more than the last time I got a 100 count box! Still, we’ll be able to finish the water bowl shelter now.

I also picked up a glass cutter. We have one somewhere, but I have no idea what happened to it. While I was in the city yesterday, the girls worked on clearing the broken glass from the inner pane of one of the sun room windows. There are still pieces that are firmly attached at the sides. Until that’s done, we can’t let the cats into the sun room. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get that cleaned up soon.

I was really happy to find the lever type door handle I was looking for. Just a simple, inexpensive handle for an interior door. It was easy to install, and it now no longer hurts to open my door!

Later on, my older daughter and I headed out to do some work in the garden, including planting these.

The Nootka Rose garlic on the left are a soft neck garlic. On the right, above the cloves, you can see the hard necks from the middle of the bulbs. They do make it easier to break the cloves apart! The cloves are larger, and there are fewer of them. Of the four bulbs, one of them had only three cloves!

The soft neck garlic has nothing like that in the middle. Just smaller and smaller cloves. I’ve never planted soft neck garlic before. While the hard neck garlic should be planted in the fall, in our climate zone, we can plant soft neck garlic in the spring – but we’re planting both now.

We moved the mulch aside and planted them the same way as the first row we planted a few days ago. The row in the middle of the bed got the hard neck Music variety, because there are fewer of them. Less reaching needed when it’s time to harvest!

After laying out the cloves to see how to space them, the kittens absolutely would not leave them alone! They also really, really wanted to dig in those freshly uncovered rows!

After planting, the rows were lightly covered to reduce compaction while watering – and protect from kitties.

Which didn’t work very well. Several of them started digging in to them to poop! One wouldn’t stop even while being directly spayed with the hose!

*sigh*

We did eventually persuade them to go elsewhere.

With the Nootka Rose garlic, there were enough that we planted only the largest cloves.

The remaining smaller cloves are now in the kitchen for us to taste test. ๐Ÿ˜Š

That done, my daughter did some other clean up and gathering of support poles, while I turned my attention to the high raised bed.

The chard remains were pulled. They’re actually looking better after several frosts then they have all summer, now that there are no longer grasshoppers eating them. We were never able to eat any of it!

As expected, the soil level has dropped a fair bit, as the organic material buried in layers below, settle. It looks like some mice may have been trying to tunnel in one corner.

I have no doubt Rolando Moon has taken care of that problem for us already.

The last of the vines from the squash patch were added for more organic material – then smashed as flat as I could get it before adding fresh soil. The remaining soil sifted from what is now the garlic bed came in quite handy!

It had settled enough that it took three large wheelbarrows full of soil to top it up! I probably could have gotten away with two and a half, but it’s going to continue to settle, so a little extra is fine.

It then got a light, thin mulch of grass clippings before I gave the whole thing a thorough watering. I just want to protect the soil surface, not insulate it. In the spring, the mulch will be removed so the soil can warm up and thaw out faster.

We haven’t decided what to plant here next year, yet, but I think we should give it at least one more year for the upper layers to break down before we try to plant any deep root vegetables in it.

I feel like I’m really behind on preparing the beds for the winter. The girls aren’t able to help as much as usual, either. My younger daughter has been having knee issues to the point that she’s now using a cane to get around the house. She did try to go to a doctor about it, about 2 years ago, but it wasn’t taken seriously because she’s so young. It was already a battle to get her to see a doctor in the first place, so that certainly didn’t help. Anyhow, she does the best she can but, right now I’m actually the most able bodied person in our household. Which is kinda scary, considering how much I’m hurting this year! I didn’t expect my hands to be the main problem, though. Usually it’s my wrecked knees and feet. They’ve actually been relatively good, lately. Either that or the pain in my hands is making it seem like they are better.

Ah, well. We do what we can. It won’t be the end of the world if some beds don’t get weeded before winter and need to be done in the spring. There are other things that are higher on the necessity list.

Little by little, it’ll get done.

The Re-Farmer

Morning fog

We had quite a fog roll in last night, and it was still quite dense when I went out to do my morning rounds.

Starting with feeding the kitties, of course.

Rosencrantz’s five were together, but no sign of Rosencrantz.

We can’t get at the one with the orange head to check it’s eye. ๐Ÿ˜”

Then I aw a white and grey kitten come out from under the cat’s house, see me, and go hiding again. With these ones still under the shrine, that meant it was one of the pump shack kittens! I don’t know how many of them are coming to the house. I still drop kibble off in a tray in front of the door, but I don’t go in. I do hear noises from inside, so at least some of them are still using the pump shack.

It was so beautiful with the fog this morning!

While checking the gate and switching out the trail cam memory card, I had a whole bunch of kitties following me. Five of them started playing around the “bridge” over the little drainage ditch leading to the culvert, and at least one more had gone the other way and was playing in the hold hay yard.

Then there was this guy.

He much prefers to be on a human!

He is so very tiny. ๐Ÿงก

The Re-Farmer

Stock up shopping: this is $300

I finally made my second trip to the city to do another stock up shop. After going over our list, I decided it was just a Walmart trip.

Then I got a message from my brother, we chatted a bit, and ended up arranging for me to visit! It’s been ages since I’ve been to their place. My brother has come here a few times, but I haven’t seen my SIL since the beginning of summer. She’s allergic to cats, so she can’t really come here. ๐Ÿ˜”

We had an excellent visit. Gosh, I love those two so much! ๐Ÿ’–

Then I headed to the Walmart to get what I needed.

Well. Most of it.

This came out to just over $300. Almost half of that is cat related. I got four 10kg bags – the largest they had – of dry kibble. We now have enough to last us the month. I also finally picked up a covered litter box. Nosencrantz and Butterscotch still refuse to leave my office, but Nosencrantz has litter issues. She will go to the litter box to scratch away at the litter, the sides, the bottom, and the removable top part that is supposed to keep the litter inside the pan. She still manages to get the litter out. There have been times she’s almost ripped the top part off completely, and every now and then, she tips the whole thing onto its side!

What she isn’t necessarily doing is using the litter box. In fact, there are times when she’ll go to the litter several times, scratching away, then go into my closest and take a dump. Then, after I’ve chased her out and cleaned up her mess, she’ll go right back to the litter box and start scratching again.

So I now have a covered litter box, with a filter, in my closet, right where she keeps trying to do her business.

I did have another extra purchase that isn’t normally part of our budget. I picked up some artificial flowers. My younger daughter and I will be going to my MIL’s grave to tidy it up and leave some flowers, then take pictures to send to my FIL. He’s not physically able to get out there anymore. I’ve actually never been to the cemetery. My husband flew out for the funeral, with our daughter as his mobility assistant. The problem is, she was feeling quite ill during the funeral, and doesn’t have a clear memory of any of it. Still, I know where the cemetery is, though I’ve never been there, and hopefully she’ll remember enough that we won’t have to search too long to find the grave.

One other unusual purchase was a request from my husband: nacho fixings. Actually, only the chips are an unusual purchase. The cheese is something we regularly pick up; there’s just more of it this time. I got more Old cheddar, havarti, gouda and mozzarella.

We like cheese.

While I don’t pick up a large jar of olives every month, it’s still something we get fairly regularly. My husband loves green olives, just as a snack. As for the chips, I got 4 big bags, and hopefully we’ll get one batch of nachos out of them. They tend to be pretty broken up. When we make nachos, it’s in my big roasting pan. Enough for the four of us, and usually some left over for the next day. ๐Ÿ˜

I remembered to get hot dog buns. I also picked up some rye bread, and some garlic naan. It’s cheap turkey season, but I only got one turkey. Looking at the other meats, none of them appealed to me, so that was it for meat. I wasn’t too impressed with the fruits and vegetables, but the cabbage looked good, so I got a head of cabbage. The Stove Top Stuffing was on sale for only 88 cents a box, so I got two. Thanksgiving is next weekend, and we’ve got a good start on what we’ll have for dinner. I also got a couple of 18 count cartons of eggs, and a couple of bottles of coffee creamer – pumpkin spice and maple flavours – for my daughters. I remembered to look for alcohol swabs for our first aid kit, but couldn’t find them. I asked a staff member and found out they now sell them from behind the counter! I even had to pay for it there. When I mentioned this to my daughters, my younger daughter, who was working at a pharmacy when the “15 days to flatten the curve” started, told me that they had to do that, too. People went nuts, and didn’t stop to read directions, so things like alcohol swabs, sanitizing gel, etc. all had to be hidden away to keep people from stealing them, or snagging them all for themselves. I know the other stuff is out and easy to get at, so I do wonder why the alcohol swabs would still be a behind the counter.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I think that’s all that I got today. Oh! I remember now. I got a 4L of milk, too. Usually we get 2L cartons, but we’ll be doing more baking over the next while. I also picked up a case of chicken flavoured ramen noodles for the stash.

What I didn’t get:

Butter. We still have some in the freezer, but with more baking on the horizon, I wanted to get a few more, but even their cheaper house brand is now more expensive than I could justify. Not when we still have a few pounds in the freezer, and a big bucket of ghee on hand.

The wood screws I needed. Not only did they not have the kind I wanted, but the small boxes of screws were insanely expensive.

I also did not get a new door knob. The knob on my door is probably about 45 years old, is missing a screw, starting to get stuck and generally becoming a problem. Worse, though, is that I’m starting to have problems opening my door – and we have to keep it closed, because when Fenrir and Turmeric come in, they both immediately start hunting down and attacking Nosencrantz and Butterscotch! Cheddar comes in and out, and now Leyendecker is accepted by the ladies.

Yes, Layendecker is doing all right! In fact, he seems fully recovered. Tonight, he gets his last dose of medication. We need to book him for follow up blood tests with the vet, but they are closed until they complete their move to a new, larger, location. They’ll even have their own parking lot now! So we will call to book the appointment on Monday (the day after tomorrow), when they are open again.

Cheddar and Leyendecker go in and out rather frequently, which means having to get up and open the door for them when they start scratching at the mat we have under the door to keep them from scratching the carpet. The problem is, my hands are hurting so much, I’m starting to have trouble turning the knob. There have been times when I couldn’t grasp the knob with my right hand at all because of the pain. Even today, while shopping, I’d reach to pick up a jar or something with my right hand, and would get shooting pains in my phalanges and simply couldn’t grip it.

Because of this, rather than trying to fix my door knob, I want to replace it with a lever style door handle. Something I can open even if my hands hurt.

The only ones they had were the heavier duty ones for exterior doors, complete with a deadbolt. Which, of course, is more expensive. There were no simple, cheap, lever handles for interior doors.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to find some at the hardware store when I pick up the screws I need.

Which I could have done today, but completely forgot when I had the chance. When I was done at the Walmart, I decided to check out a nearby Canadian Tire to see if they had any seed garlic (the only garlic at Walmart was imported soft neck garlic, which might be treated with something to keep them from growing).

It took a while, but I did find the display!

There were only two bulbs per bag, so I got two bags of two different types. The Nootka Rose (long storing variety) is a new one for us. The other is Music. The garlic we’ve already planted from our own harvest are Porcelain Music. Previously, we ordered our garlic from Veseys, which were packaged by weight, so it felt strange to be paying $6.99 for only two heads of garlic.

We will plant these tomorrow, in the same bed as the ones we’ve already planted.

And there we have it. We’re stocked up for most of the month, with a few extras added. The few things we didn’t get today, we should be able to get locally later on.

It feels especially good to have so much kibble on hand. If I can pick up extra later on, I will. When winter hits, the outside cats are going to be eating a lot more to keep their winter fat, and there are going to be more outside cats than before, too!

Hopefully, it will be mild winter, but we’re not going to be counting on that!

The Re-Farmer

I got to pet!

While putting the kibble out this morning, Rosencrantz was actually letting me pet her, and not attacking me at the same time. I think that made a big difference, because this little guy seemed more relaxed beside her.

What a little cutie! He (she?) even let me pet him when he wasn’t eating. Not only that, but his tortie sibling came closer than ever before, without running away. Not close enough to touch, but still progress.

This entire litter is getting more exploratory and bold. I’m seeing them at the kibble house, and even inside the cat shelter. I think the pump shack kittens are starting to come closer to the house, too, but they run off so fast, I can’t tell for sure.

We still don’t know how many yard cats we now have in total! ๐Ÿ˜

The Re-Farmer

Some evening clean up

My original plan for the day had been to go into the city for our second stock up trip, but that just didn’t happen. Not only was I very tired from being up so late making and canning the tomato paste, I was in a load of pain. Arthritis sucks at the best of times, but everything else was hurting, too!

By the afternoon, I was feeling a bit better, so I went outside to do some clean up. I figured I would give the water bowl shelter a quick scrub down, and tomorrow we could start painting it.

Ha!

That worked out well enough until I went to flip it upside down to scrub the bottom.

The first time I flipped it on its roof, two floor boards fell off.

Most of the boards are nailed in place, but this salvaged wood is pretty warped and starting to dry rot, so they don’t hold well. I did have 1 3/4 inch screws in a few of them, and those ones held, so I flipped it back again, nailed the boards that fell off back in place, then added some screws.

Then I flipped it upside down, and a different board fell off. And that one did have screws already!

I fixed that and added more screws, flipped it back and…

That board has several screws in it, and it still fell off. It’s basically too warped for the screws to hold. I need longer screws, but the next size up I’ve got are 3 inch screws, and those are just too long. Especially since I’m doing this by hand.

So tomorrow, I’ll pick up some 2 inch wood screws and get those back on. It only has to hold long enough for us to paint it. After that, it won’t matter.

I let the girls know the status of things, including that I was unable to scrub the inside back wall, because I couldn’t reach it, then moved on to something else.

I did some chop and drop around the haskap berries, now that my mother’s flowers are past their prime. I’ve never bothered to do this before, leaving the stems to clean up in the spring, but this year they got SO tall, the completely covered the haskap berries. So now they will be a mulch, and the haskap are finally getting some sunlight.

I had lots of company while I worked.

I like this baby. He spends most of his time just hanging out nearby.

We had haskap

We had no berries at all this year. The male plant bloomed, but I never saw flowers on the females. Hopefully, next year will be better, but I think I just need to move these to a better location.

While I was working on that, one of my daughters came out and worked on the water bowl shelter.

She tacked the floorboard back on, crawled in and got that back wall scrubbed.

If we’d had the paint earlier, we would have scrubbed and painted all the parts and pieces first. That would have made things much easier!

Ah, well. We’ll manage.

That tuxedo really likes the water bowl shelter. He’s always hanging around in or under it!

Once the shelter is dry, it’s going to need another brush down to get the stuff currently stuck in place because it’s damp. With the condition of the wood, we don’t want to use a hose on it any more than we absolutely have to. It’ll be good to finally have it painted and set up in its spot by the kibble house and cat shelter. We’ll be creating a sort of U shape with them, which should help reduce drifting, too.

Little by little, it’s getting done!

The Re-Farmer

Making and canning tomato paste

What a long, long day!

I knew making the tomato paste would take a long time, but my goodness, it did drag on!

The girls and I had a sort of assembly line set up. At one end of the kitchen counter we had the electric kettle going, then space for the container used to bring batches of frozen tomatoes. Then there was the giant bowl we used to blanch them, a bowl with a colander for the skins, a cutting board and compost bag for final prep, a kettle on the stove to boil more water, and finally my giant stock pot.

I even remembered to check what size that thing is.

This thing was an excellent investment. We originally got it for when we were making tourtierre regularly, and would be browning more than 30 pounds of ground meat at a time – then adding the rest of the filling ingredients. That was once a year, though. We’ve used it more often just this summer than we have since we bought it!

We did the tomatoes in fairly small batches. The electric kettle and the stove top kettle took very different lengths of time to boil, which worked out.

One kettle was enough to cover one batch of tomatoes. After they had time to blanch, they’d be transferred to a colander over a bowl, where I would remove the skins, then cut them up (and remove the rest of the stem ends, if needed), and pop them into the stock pot. A daughter would get another batch of tomatoes from the freezer, and by the time we were ready to blanch those, the second kettle would be boiling and ready to go.

It took many batches. I figure there were maybe a couple hundred tomatoes, in a variety of sizes.

The cooking was started as soon as the first batch went in, which cut the time down quite a bit, I’m sure. By the time all the tomatoes were blanched and added, the stock pot was about half full – roughly 11 quarts or about 10L.

It took about 2 hours of cooking before I felt it was ready for straining through a sieve.

Our giant sieve has a very fine mesh. Great for straining out the seeds and any bits of skin that got left. Some of the tomatoes turned out to still be a bit green, so there were pieces that never got soft enough to be pushed through the mesh.

If we end up doing this regularly, it’ll be worth the investment to get a food mill.

The tomato sauce was strained a bit at a time, while the cooking continued. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot, it was getting pretty thick, and there was a lot less pulp left behind in the strainer.

This is all the seeds, cores, green bits and fibrous pulp that was strained out.

The strained puree was very thin. Can you imagine if we were not using a paste tomato for this! It would have been more like tomato juice, than tomato puree!

The stock pot I strained into has a very handy feature.

Measurements on the inside!

We went from roughly 11 quarts of blanched tomatoes, to just under 5 quarts of strained tomato puree. This was what I used to calculate how much lemon juice to use, later on. I had wanted to use citric acid, but couldn’t find any. Lemon juice will work, but does affect the flavour, too. If I were just canning the puree at this point, I could have added the lemon juice (and salt, if I wanted) directly to the jars, but that can’t work with tomato paste.

At this point, I took a break for a while.

For the rest of the cooking time, we set up the hot plate at the dining room table, to free up the kitchen, because I knew it would take hours to reduce this to a paste.

I could have cooked down the puree on its own, with just the lemon juice to increase the acidity. After looking at many different instructions for making and canning tomato paste, I decided to include a couple of large, crushed garlic cloves, a big bay leaf, and some canning salt.

The hot plate worked out really well. Once the puree was up to temperature, however, it stayed very hot and quick to splatter all over, even with the hot plate set quite low.

Another benefit to having a pot with measurements on the inside. I could see progress, even when it didn’t feel like any was being made!

As it reduced in volume, I also had to keep reducing the temperature. I only needed to stir it enough to keep it from bubbling and spattering. The more it reduced, the more often it needed to be stirred, and the lower the temperature needed to be turned. At first, I could just sit on a chair to stir every once in a while. After several hours, I was having to stand at the table, holding the pot to keep it from being knocked about as I stirred vigorously. Once it started getting quite thick, I removed the bay leaf. The garlic cloves were completely disintegrated by then.

I must say, towards the end, it was SO tempting to stop earlier because… it’s thick enough now, right? Right?

Not quite.

In the end, it took somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to get the puree into a good, thick paste.

When the spoon could scrape along the bottom, and the paste wouldn’t fill the gap right away, it was finally ready.

At this point, one of my daughters had taken over the stirring while I got the giant stock pot, which they had washed out for me while I stirred for hours, and sterilized the jars.

But how many jars would I need?

The measurement in the pot starts at 2 quarts and, at this point, the paste was well below that. I estimated around 1 quart, perhaps.

Because the paste is so thick, it has to be canned in small jars. The instructions I’d been reading were from the US and talked about “half pint” jars. I didn’t stop to convert that and was thinking the jars I had were probably half pints. Usually I get 750ml or 500ml wide mouth jars. Though the measurements don’t match, what sells as quart jars in the US are 1L jars here. A pint is 500ml so a half pint would be 250ml – or about 1 cup.

The jars I have are 125ml. So, a quarter pint, not a half pint! ๐Ÿ˜

Which meant that if there was about a quart of paste in the pot, I would need 8 jars. I had two cases of twelve, so I sterilized one case. With the jars being to tiny, I could use both canning racks and stack them.

It still takes long time for the water to boil! I almost forgot to add vinegar to the water, to prevent the jars from clouding on the outside from our very hard well water.

Much to my surprise, I was able to fill every jar! Granted, for the last one, I was scraping the sides quite a bit, but I still got my half inch head space!

By the time I finished canning the tomato paste, it was well past 1am. I gotta say, I was quite happy to be able to finally leave them to cool for the night!

When I checked them this morning, I found 2 jars had not sealed properly. Which I’m just fine with! They went straight into the fridge to use right away.

I just love those adorable little jars.

We’ve been out of tomato paste for a while. I typically buy cases of them at Costco. The problem is that we usually only use a small amount at a time. Just adding a spoonful into a dish for extra flavour, for example, leaving us with aluminum cans partly filled with paste, that can’t be resealed well. Then we’d be rushing to use the rest up before it went bad. It will be much handier to have it in sealable jars!

I’ve already had some today, adding a spoonful to some leftover pasta I had for lunch, adding a bit of cream to make a bit of a sauce. As my daughter had mentioned when taste testing the fresh tomatoes for me, the Cup of Moldova tomatoes are very mild in flavour, so the resulting paste is not as strongly flavoured as the tinned paste we would buy. Which I don’t mind at all.

The question will be, is all the time end effort that goes into making and canning the paste worthwhile? There are lots of other ways to can tomatoes that take a lot less time. It’s the time that’s the kicker. I have seen some instructions that use the oven to make the paste – basically, dehydrating the puree – but while that might require less supervision, it means not being able to use the oven for anything else for a very long time.

That’s something we’ll have to talk about and decide after we’ve used this batch up, I think.

The Re-Farmer

David, the Magnificent

Y’know, when we first brought David into the house, because his eyes were so bad he needed so many treatments, he had a different title. We called him F’d Up David, because… well, he really was pretty f’d up!

Now look at him. Isn’t he just…

… magnificent!

We had been using these bins to carry around tomatoes or crab apples, with the shredded paper on the bottom to keep them from falling through the openings on the sides and bottoms, and to absorb any moisture after washing them. While working with the crab apples, I’d set one said on a shelf to get it out of the way until I finished, only to discover a cat in it.

It has become David’s favourite place to sleep. He can turn himself into a pretzel, and not fall off the shelf.

So we’ve left the bin on the shelf.

Because we’re sucks when it comes to the cats.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: planting garlic

No, that’s not a typo in the title. Today, I FINALLY planted our garlic for next year.

This morning I first headed out to get my mother checked out of her hotel room, then took her out for brunch – she hadn’t had a proper meal since our take out Chinese food lunch, yesterday! – before taking her home. She did not have the energy to do anything else. I stayed long enough to make her bed up again with fresh sheets and blankets, and push some of the stuff back against the walls, before my mother sent me home. She would not allow me to run any errands for her, even!

Which works out. As soon as could after I got home, I worked on the garlic. The first thing to do was break up the bulbs I’d set aside from our harvest this year.

Would you look at this giant clove!

I had set aside six of the biggest bulbs of garlic we harvested.

Out of those six bulbs, we got a whole 24 cloves.

Twentyfour big cloves, but still… we’re going to need a lot more garlic!

I used broken pieces of bamboo stakes to mark the ends of a row along one side of the prepared bed, then pushed aside the mulch. The soil is loose enough that I could just use a weeding tool to scrape a trough from one end to the other, then deepened it using the jet setting on the garden hose.

Which the kittens were absolutely fascinated by.

Once the garlic was planted evenly spaced down the row and covered, I pulled back a little bit of the mulch. Once things start to get colder, more mulch will be pulled over to cover it for the winter. For now, it’s just enough to protect the row.

From this guy.

This guy and several other little “helpers” that were so determined to dig in the fresh dirt, they ignored the hose I was watering with, until they got sprayed!

Silly things.

Anyhow. Our first garlic for our 2023 garden is in.

I am now going to start making tomato paste for canning, freeing up freezer space for our next stock-up shopping trip.

Little by little, it’s getting done!

The Re-Farmer