Preserving the harvest: minted

Yesterday, I weeded mint out of the beet bed – one entire end was completely stunted because they were shaded out – then kept on going, harvesting mint from the path as well. The sump pump drains into here, and the growth is absolutely lush! By the time I was done, I had a huge arm full! This is all mint that was here before we moved in, so we have no idea what variety it is. I know it’s not spearmint. I don’t think it’s peppermint, either, but I really can’t say for sure.

Once inside, I took the best leaves off the stems and gave them a wash. Then I cleaned up and dragged in the old window screens we used last year for curing onions, drying spinach, etc. I covered the mesh with paper towels, then set out as many leaves as I could fit onto them to dry.

I didn’t even use half of what I’d gathered!

Yes, this is the drying mint!

I used small glasses and jars as spacers so we could stack the screens on top of each other, but the cats were incredibly interested in what was going on. So we put more little jars as spacers on the top and covered the whole thing with a cloth. We still caught them on top of the stack, but at least the cloth kept the leaves clean.

Then, some time later, my daughter got Cheddar out from under the cloth at one end. *sigh* We tucked the ends under the bottom screen as best we could.

When I lifted the cloth on one side this morning, however, I found the cats had still managed to get under it!

I salvaged what I could and set it up again on the old dishwasher that’s still waiting to be taken out to the junk pile. Since the leaves have shrunk, I was able to fit them closer together on the screens that needed to be redone. For now, we’re keeping the sheet off, so they can get more air circulation.

Drying things on screens like this can work quite well, but protecting it from the cats is a problem!

Meanwhile, I used fresh mint to make a big pot of strong mint tea this morning, and there is still lots left in the fridge. There is much more to harvest in the garden, as we want, too.

The chives are blooming right now and ready to harvest if we want to make infused chive blossom oil or vinegar again. We have the olive oil to do that now, but I won’t be picking up more of the white wine vinegar I like to use until we do our next city trip. I might just harvest the chives, anyway, and freeze the extra until we are ready to make the infusion.

I love that we can already start harvesting things and preserving them!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: first harvest!

Today, we harvested all three spinach beds!

Looking at them this morning, I thought we could just harvest the plants that had started to go to seed and leave the smaller ones, but when we were ready to start, we realized that the smaller ones were going to seed, too!

We ended up using our three biggest baskets to hold it all.

Yes, these are our Easter baskets, and one of them still has its decorations. The flower garland is woven through the basket, so it doesn’t come off. 😀

Each of those baskets is filled with a different variety of spinach, though to be honest, I can’t tell any difference. They were even supposed to mature at different rates, but between the deer, the heat and the lack of rain, they all matured at the same time.

Nutmeg was hanging around while we were working, and my daughter noticed he was playing “cat and mouse” with something. It turned out to be a frog!

She rescued it.

We see frogs fairly regularly in the garden beds. That makes me happy. More frogs means less bugs eating our produce! 🙂

We used shears to cut the spinach, so all the roots, along with the plants that weren’t suitable to harvest (like the teeny ones the deer got to), are still there. The beds will get a thorough clean up, probably tomorrow, so we can plant lettuces, next.

We dragged out the screen “door” that fits at the top of the old basement stairs, and covered it with the mosquito netting we’d been using to protect one of the beds. We also brought out a couple of our largest bowls. The spinach got washed in the bowls in batches, which also gave us a chance to start taking out any weeds that came along for a ride, and removing some of the yellowing or damaged leaves. After being washed, they got dumped on the mesh and got another rinse with the hose.

Then it was time to start picking over the spinach and destemming them. I set up the wagon to hold the screens I’d washed earlier, to dry spinach on.

My daughter and I then started going over the whole pile, picking out the best ones for dehydrating or into bowls, and dropping the rejects with the snipped stems for composting. We worked for about an hour, hour and a half, before my daughter went in with a filled bowl, to start supper while I kept working on the rest of the spinach.

The filled screens were left on the roof of the kibble house to drain for a while. They went into the sun room when it started to rain a bit, though we never got more than a smattering.

After about three hours, here are two of the three bowls that were filled. They are all really big bowls. Big enough to mix a 6 loaf batch of bread dough.

I’m hoping to be able to set up more batches to dehydrate out of this, but it depends on how well it works in the sun room. I’ve got the light I used to keep transplant trays warm on for the night, plus the ceiling fan. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get really hot, which means the sun room will be even hotter. I’m hoping that means they will dehydrate fairly quickly, and I can set up at least one more batch.

As for the rest, we might blanch some for freezing if we can’t use it up fast enough, but mostly, we plan to just eat it. 😀 The girls have been looking of recipes for things like spinach soup to try, or maybe make another batch of their modified palak paneer sauce. We don’t have paneer, though.

I’m rather happy with our first garden harvest – and with being able to have one so early in the season!

While it may have taken a long time to clean it all, we were most entertained.

By skunks.

We had a whole parade of them, coming and going, including the mama and her babies.

All SIX of them!

I don’t know where she’s getting them all from! She started coming by with two. Then we saw her carrying a third. Today, she showed up with five – or so we thought. I took some video and, after I uploaded it and watched it, I realized there was six.

If you wish to see the video, click here. 🙂

Gosh, they are so adorable! They came back several times, including just to run around an play.

As for the other skunks that showed up, I did end up stopping to take a hose to them. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see them in the kibble house, but I could hear them, and they were not getting along. It turned out that only one of the containers had kibble left in it, and they were all trying to get at it. Then there was the one greedy guts that just wouldn’t stop eating.

Oh, and a question I had was answered. In the mornings, when I would go to refresh the cats’ water bowls, I would find one of them with kibble half dissolved in the water. It was always the bowl closest to the kibble house, but they’re far enough away that it couldn’t fall in by accident, as I had assumed was how it got into the heated water bowl, when we were still using that. The skunks, of course, use the water bowls, too. This evening, I saw one of the skunks come up to a water bowl, drink some water, then basically pick its teeth with its claws before drinking some more.

The reason it isn’t good for skunks to eat kibble is because of how their jaws are hinged. But they’ve got that figured out. The skunk was getting kibble stuck in its teeth, and was using water to get it out. The kibble would then fall into the bowl it was drinking from, for me to find in the morning.

They’re smart little buggers!

They also made what could have been a long and dreary job quite fun. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Making things

Today has been another day of rain and high winds.

After today, we’re going to be back to high temperatures and sun. My Weather Network is forecasting 37C/99F on Wednesday! I think that must be some kind of typo, because I’m not seeing that anywhere else. The highest I’m finding is on my phone’s app, which is forecasting 27C/81F on the same day. Even so, it’s going to get hot again, and I am really, really glad we’re getting this rain right now!

In between rainfalls, we managed a trip into town, and I even got a bit of weeding done in the garden. We’re going to need to do a LOT of weeding once this rain passes. The weeds are loving the rain as much as the things we actually planted.

Speaking of which, while weeding among the corn earlier, I did find some radish sprouts. They are recent sprouts, not the ones that came up before the corn did, then disappeared. So we will have at least a couple of radishes. Unless these sprouts disappear, too!

Gosh, I’m just watching the trees outside my window as I write this. If a section of that big maple came down right now, it wouldn’t surprise me at all!

With this weather, our internet is seriously cutting out. It’s taken me more than an hour just to be able to start this post, and I still can’t get images to load. So this will be a quick one!

I wanted to share some of the new things we’re trying this year. The chives are blooming, and we decided to try making chive blossom vinegar.

I got a small bottle of white wine vinegar, and we’re simply putting clean, dry chive blossoms into it (after removing a bit of vinegar to make space. Some of the blossoms are left whole, while others had the bit at the bottom taken off, so all the individual flowerettes are loose. We’ve been adding to the bottle as more blossoms open up, then we’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks, in a cool, dark place, giving it a few turns every now and then. After that, the vinegar will be strained and re-bottled. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out!

I’ve also started to dehydrate spinach leaves.

I use our oven to dehydrate things, using the “warm” setting, reduced to it’s lowest temperature of 145F (default is 170F). For something as light and thin as spinach leaves, I shut it off and let the oven light on to stay warm. We can only fit two trays in the oven at a time, but after I went to turn the leaves and found they’d shrunk enough, I combined them into one pan and left it for the night. In the morning, I just crushed them lightly, and put them in an air tight canister. There’s maybe 1/3rd of a cup of dried, crushed leaves from the 2 trays. We’ll keep doing small batches like this and, eventually, we’ll reduce them to a powder instead of flakes. It kind of reminds me of dehydrating celery. You start off with what looks like so much, but by the time it’s completely dehydrated, it looks like there’s nothing there! 😀

Now it’s time to see if I have enough connection to publish this!

The Re-Farmer

Drying mushrooms – sort of

At our last Costco trip, we picked up large packages of three different types of mushrooms. After using as much fresh mushrooms as we wanted, I planned to dehydrate the rest. I really like the mushroom salt we’d made, but wanted to have mushroom powder, without the salt, to use. The powder is an excellent flavour enhancer.

We had used a dry “gourmet mushroom blend” we’d picked up at Costco to make the salt, but it looks like they don’t carry it anymore. So I decided to just dry our own mushrooms.

I had used a coffee grinder to made the mushroom powder for the salt. The mushroom blend had some very large pieces – large enough that I cut them with scissors before I could put them in the coffee grinder. Even so, some of the thicker, more leathery pieces would jam the blade.

With that in mind, I very deliberately sliced the mushroom pieces quite thin, before laying them out on baking sheets to dry. I had enough button mushrooms to fill one sheet, while the other was filled with shitake and crimini mushrooms. The “warm” setting on our new oven is 175F, but I put it at the lowest temperature it would go: 145F. Then I left the trays in the oven overnight.

This morning…

Well… they did dry very thoroughly!

This is the sheet of white button mushrooms. They had been quite crowded together, and I could barely fit all the pieces in. They are now about 1/3 – 1/2 the size before drying.

They are also thoroughly stuck to the pan.

The shitake mushrooms didn’t shrink anywhere near as much, and were easy to loosen.

These are the crimini mushrooms, which are also very stuck to the pan! I have been using a spatula to try and scrape them off. We’ll keep working at it, little by little, as we are able, throughout the day.

Well, I wanted powdered mushroom, and I’m getting powdered mushroom!

Normally when I dehydrate in the oven on pans, I like to use a cake rack to allow air circulation under whatever I’m drying. Some things are just too small for that, which is why I didn’t use any this time. I was thinking that it might have been better if I’d had a drying screen, but looking at how the pieces have adhered to the pans, I’m thinking they would have done the same to a screen. At least with a pan, I can scrape them off and still use them. If they had stuck to a screen, there probably would have been no way to get them unstuck without damaging the screen.

So in the future, I’ll know to cut crimini and white button mushrooms thicker! I know we should be able to leave them whole, or just cut them in half, but I don’t want big pieces. I’ll have to find that balance.

We’ll just have to get more mushrooms and try again.

Not that we need an excuse to get more mushrooms! 🙂

The Re-Farmer