Aluminum roofing raised bed

As I get older I realize that my ability to rototill my garden is going to be harder and harder to do. So in an effort to make my future self not hurt as bad I decided to start making some raised beds that will replace my need to have to till the ground and also just be way easier to work with. After doing a quick measure of my garden I decided to make each bed three foot wide and eight foot long. I could have used the panels at their normal width of 26 inches but that is taller really then is needed. Using a carbide bit saw I cut the panels down to 18″

Step one complete. All of the metal has been cut to size and the 4″x4″ fir post has been cut as inside corner supports. In an ideal world I would have used cedar since it is a lot more rot resistant, but with the high price of cedar in our area I used fir instead.
Step two is to screw in the roofing into the corner supports. I had some left over metal screws from my trailer build that worked well to hold it in place.
Once the corners are in place I built the four outside support frames. The cross pieces are spaced every two feet. Once the frame is in place and all sides are screwed together this frame is strong enough to hold my weight. This should help with planting and harvesting it.
All completed and moved out of the way until I harvest my current years garden.
very very sturdy

Over all this build took right at about two hours from start to finish. I am going to need to make 7 more total and then fill them with soil before I can use them. This will be a good ongoing project and I should be able to have it all ready by next spring. The boards on the bottom are treated wood so they should last a good 10+ years. I made sure nothing on the inside had any chemicals that would leach into the soils and into the veggies. I don’t feel like shortening my life by using treated anything on the inside. With some of these beds I plan on experimenting with a couple different methods of mulch and water retention. But those will be a seperate blog. Below is a short video of the finished bed. I am going to make a video series of making some small beds for a friend entirely out of recycled materials.

Peppered beef jerky recipe

With all of the delicious recipes for Beef jerky that are floating around it is difficult to just stick with a single recipe to use.  Some are dried in the oven, some in a dehydrator, and some are smoked dried.  For this recipe I am going to do a side by side comparison and do half in my electric smoker and half in my dehydrator.  I tend to just do all of it in the dehydrator normally, and add a little smoke flavoring to the brine.  This is my all time favorite recipe for making jerky.  It does have some curing salt in it so anyone that is concerned about having nitrates they can leave it out.  It doesn’t change the flavor of the jerky but does make it last longer if you plan on multi-day trips.  The sodium nitrate in it helps prevent the growth of bacteria. This recipe is set for only one pound of meat but can easily be scaled up as needed.  The amount of curing salt will seem high to anyone that has experience in curing meats, but since this is a brine recipe more is needed.

Peppered jerky recipe
Kayla is ready with all the ingredients to make some jerky

Ingredients needed:

  • 1 lb of lean beef (any lean wild game can be used also)

Marinade:

  • 1 1/2 tsp of pickling salt (or any salt without added iodine)
  • 1/4 tsp Prague Powder #1 (I added a link here since I have never seen this sold locally)
  • 1/4 tsp ground Coriander
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke (mesquite or hickory work well)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground back pepper (if you would like a stronger kick feel free to add more)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water

how to put it all together for delicious jerky:

  1. Make sure you trim all visible fat from your meat. if anything goes bad first it meat with a high fat content that goes rancid.
  2. Mix ingredients for marinade together in a glass bowl or plastic container.  Most marinades are acidic and will start breaking down a metal bowl (and aluminum is a very bad thing to eat)
  3. Cut meat into strips going with the grain.  You can cut it against the grain but it tends to break and get very crumbly.  the strips should be about 1/4 inch thick.  any bigger and it takes longer to dry.
  4. Marinade for 6-24 hours in the refrigerator.  I normally just leave it in over night so around 12ish hours
  5. Finally dry for around 7 hours at 160 degrees in a dehydrator.  For the half I put into the smoker it took 10 hours to finish.
Dried beef jerky
Lay the thinly sliced beef out flat on the racks
Dried beef jerky
The two different ways to dry the jerky made for different texture and color. The top one is from the dehydrator and the bottom from the smoker. Both taste great but also not even close to the same taste or texture

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Smelly cabbage aka Sauerkraut

Fresh veggies from the garden to make into Kraut
Fresh veggies from the garden to make into Kraut

This one of the few things it seems like I have never made.  So since i had some cauliflower that ended up being purple cabbage I am going to trade some cheese to my sis for the use of her Crock and some help making the kraut.  The main things you need for Sauerkraut is cabbage, salt and a place to let it ferment.  You can use a normal crock or just a mason jar.  Homemade kraut taste a lot different then store-bought (which is true of almost every thing home-made).

Nikki the kraut queen
Nikki the kraut queen

I got this recipe from an old Mother earth news article but I am also adding a head of garlic to it.

Simple Sauerkraut:

2 large heads of cabbage (about 5 pounds)
2 to 3 tbsp noniodized salt

Grate 1 cabbage and place in a crock or plastic bucket. Sprinkle half the salt over the cabbage. Grate the second cabbage, then add it to the crock along with the rest of the salt. Crush the mixture with your hands until liquid comes out of the cabbage freely. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then a weight on top of the plate. Cover the container and check after 2 days. Scoop the scum off the top, repack and check every 3 days. After 2 weeks, sample the kraut to see if it tastes ready to eat. The flavor will continue to mature for the next several weeks. Canning or refrigerating the sauerkraut will extend its shelf life. Yields about 2 quarts.

salted, shredded, and spiced in the crock.  Now the waiting begins
salted, shredded, and spiced in the crock. Now the waiting begins

Varying the Ingredients:

As a food preservation technique, fermentation is not an exact science — unlike canning, which requires specific techniques for safety reasons. The proportions in these sauerkraut recipes can be adjusted to taste, including the amount of salt. Salt is a preservative, so using more of it creates a crunchier, longer-lasting sauerkraut. Less salt produces a softer sauerkraut that may not keep as long. Many recipes call for 3 tablespoons salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage, but this can be reduced. No-salt sauerkraut is theoretically possible, but not recommended.

Homemade tomato sauce

And the harvest begins!  First batch of tomatoes are picked and it is time to make some tomato sauce.  Making tomato sauce is a long time-consuming process, but it is a great feeling knowing that everything that is in it is something that I grew out of the garden. Except the onion….my onions have been horrible the last couple years.  This is a canning recipe so after you have it completed you can water bath can it.  Then enjoy it until next tomato season. This recipe is from the Ball blue book of canning.  I usually add extra garlic and the thyme to my sauce.

ingredients:

  • 20 lb tomatoes (about 60 medium)
  • 3 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1 large)
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced, fresh basil
  • ¼ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice per hot jar
  • 7 (16 oz) pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

First picking of tomatoes
First picking of tomatoes

Directions:

1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
2.) WASH tomatoes; drain. Remove core and blossom ends. Cut into quarters. Set aside.
3.) SAUTE onion and garlic in olive oil until transparent. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.) PUREE tomato mixture in a food processor or blender, working in batches. Strain puree to remove seeds and peel.  (I use an immersion blender and just puree seeds and peels.  It takes too much time to remove the seeds and peels.  And I have never noticed a taste difference.)
5.) COMBINE tomato puree and basil in large sauce pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until volume is reduced by half, stirring to prevent sticking.
6.) ADD ¼ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice to each hot jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
7.) PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check for seal after 24 hours. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

sliced tomatoes stewing and cooking down.
sliced tomatoes stewing and cooking down.

 

Pureed tomato sauce reducing down the rest of the of the way.
Pureed tomato sauce reducing down the rest of the of the way.

 

Homemade Hummus

I don’t know why anyone would ever buy hummus considering how easy it is to make.  I made up this batch in less than 5 minutes and most of that was opening a can of garbonzo beans and cutting up the two peppers.

Garden fresh hummus recipe

  • 1 12 oz can of garbonzo beans with liquid
  • 2 banana peppers
  • 1 flower head of garlic (i have fresh but 4 cloves of garlic work just as well
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp of tahini (roasted and ground sesame seeds.  Tastes good even if you don’t add it)

Add all ingredients including liquid from can of beans into a small food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.  And these you have a quick batch of hummus as a dip or I use mine as a spread on sandwiches.

This is the flowering top of a head of italian garlic.  They are just tiny cloves of garlic that you can plant or eat.  usually they are a bit milder then the cloves
This is the flowering top of a head of italian garlic. They are just tiny cloves of garlic that you can plant or eat. usually they are a bit milder then the cloves

Two peppers fresh out of the garden
Two peppers fresh out of the garden

 

Garden as the summer heat hits

As we hit mid July and the heat in the Willamette valley starts to go up we look at my little garden.  Some has done surprisingly well for how early it is still.  The corn is mammoth for how early it is.  I always remember my Grandfather saying that knee high by the 4th of July was the goal.  Mine was 6 feet tall by then.  The only thing that is not doing well is my cannary melon.  It is barely growning.  But it looks nice and healthy just very small.

Dinnerplate Dahlia
Dinnerplate Dahlia

Pole bean pyramid.  Great way for large amounts of beans in a small area
Pole bean pyramid. Great way for large amounts of beans in a small area

Brandywine tomatoes are  getting bigger slowly.  Lots of them growing
Brandywine tomatoes are getting bigger slowly. Lots of them growing

Banana peppers looking good.  large enough for a stir fry now
Banana peppers looking good. large enough for a stir fry now

Mulch growing potatoes look great.  already big enough to start harvesting for dinner
Mulch growing potatoes look great. already big enough to start harvesting for dinner

Yellow pom pom dahalia
Yellow pom-pom dahlia

One of Staci's purple coneflowers
One of Staci’s purple coneflower

My freakshly big corn.  Some are almost 12 feet tall.  Last year they were maybe 8 feet tall at the most.
My freakishly big corn. Some are almost 12 feet tall. Last year they were maybe 8 feet tall at the most.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove growing along Wildcat creek
Foxglove growing along Wildcat creek

One of the most beautiful plants of early summer is also one of the ones that you need to keep children and animals from eating.  Due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are all poisonous to humans and some animals and can be fatal if eaten.  Extracted from the leaves, this same compound, whose clinical use was pioneered as digitalis by William Withering, is used as a medication for heart failure. He recognized it “reduced dropsy”, increased urine flow and had a powerful effect on the heart. Unlike the purified pharmacological forms, extracts of this plant did not frequently cause intoxication because they induced nausea and vomiting within minutes of ingestion, preventing the patient from consuming more.

two different wild color variations.  Purple is the most common color but there are some light purple to white that show up
two different wild color variations. Purple is the most common color but there are some light purple to white that show up.

Since children tend to put things into their mouth without any restraint it is not something I can grow.  Which is unfortunate since it is a beautiful plant.  It is a low water plant making it a good one to keep in a garden if you are working on making a low water garden.  Foxglove is a biennial plant so it only produces a leafy rosette the first year and flowers in the second year (carrots are the same way).

the flowers are almost the perfect size to fit fingers into like organic thimbuls
The flowers are almost the perfect size to fit fingers into like organic thimbles.

 

Foxglove species thrive in acidic soils, in partial sunlight to deep shade, in a range of habitats, including open woods, woodland clearings, moorland and heath margins, sea-cliffs, rocky mountain slopes and hedge banks.  It is commonly found on sites where the ground has been disturbed, such as recently cleared woodland, or where the vegetation has been burnt.

 

bush beans

Continuing on my heirloom planting now that I have the corn close to a foot tall is my companion planting of bush beans to go with them.  I have two types of beans that i grew last year and saved for planting this year. Bush beans are great for planting with corn because they will not grow all the way to the top of the plant like a pole bean will.  I did this once with pole beans and they ended up suffocating the corn.  Both varieties of bush beans that I have only get 2-3 feet tall at the most.

the first one is a wonderful bean called the Calypso bean.

a beautiful and unique been
a beautiful and unique bean

One of the all time best for baking and soups! Calypso produces a dependable and early yield of 4–5 beans per pod on sturdy 15” tall plants. Also known as Orca or Ying Yang for its contrasting black and white colors with a dotted eye. Flavor is mild, texture is smooth. When cooked, beans double in size and retain their distinctive coloring. It takes 90 days to come to full maturity.  Dry them on the bush then harvest and store in an air tight container.

 

And the second bean is the tongue of fire bean.  It looks like a pinto bean when dry.  The pod is what gives it its distinctive name. Deep umber and burgundy with light mocha-colored markings, which resemble fire flames, Tongues of Fire beans originated at the tip of South America. Popular in Italy, Tongues of Fire have a fresh flavor and absorbent nature. Serve with savory spices and aromatic herbs in soups, stews and bean salads.

Shelled tongue of fire beans
Shelled tongue of fire beans
nice stripped tongue of fire pods
nice stripped tongue of fire pods

 

 

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is one of those great multi purpose herbs.  My favorite use is to add it to breakfast sausage.  There are multiple cultivars of sage that you can get from any garden center.  Lemon sage, mint sage, ect.  Way to many varieties to list.  But which ever variety you pick you will find that they are very easy to grow. Sage is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use, and in modern times as an ornamental garden plant. The common name “sage” is also used for a number of related and unrelated species.

My single sage plant has grown huge in the last year.
My single sage plant has grown huge in the last year.

Sage is an easy herb to grow, putting up with conditions far from optimum. However, the closer you can imitate its native habitat, the happier it will be. Ideal conditions are full sun, good drainage, a soil pH of 5 to 8, and moderate fertility. You don’t want to plant it in a heavy clay soil.  The lack of drainage will water log the roots and tend to kill the plant. Mine is in a raised bed so it almost drains to well and tends to get very dry during summer months.  Luckily it loves that and grows and grows and grows.

Now some of you may be wondering what you can do with sage. Generally, it is the plain narrow-leafed varieties and the non-flowering broad-leafed varieties of sage that are used as cooking herbs. It is a common condiment for Mediterranean dishes, specifically Italian foods. It is generally used in marinades for meat, fish, pork sausage, lamb and even vegetables like peas, eggplants, lima beans and carrots. It is the perfect seasoning for poultry. Interestingly enough, sage is used in the preparation of English Sage Derby cheese and other soft cheeses. It is also used as a flavoring in certain biscuits, scones, breads and other baked foods. I should try to make a Sage Derby style cheese one of these days.

Sage herb can be used both internally and externally to counteract various health problems in humans. It curbs excessive sweating, treats depression, nervous anxiety and liver disorders and is also a great cure for several skin conditions. It is also used for treating painful jellyfish stings and spider bites. Sage herb is the perfect antiseptic wash for dirty wounds and forms a part of most concoctions that treat persistent and recurrent coughs (adding it to horehound tea works best for me). The mixture of sage, white vinegar and water forms a good astringent for oily skin. It is also one of the best herbal remedies for indigestion.

Sage is known to contain natural estrogens, and hence, is used in most homeopathic medicines that improve circulation and treat menopausal problems. It is also used to relieve suppressed menstruation problems in women, as well as in the regulation of abnormal flow. Sage acts as a central nervous system stimulant and is also used in the treatment of varicose veins. This herb is also used in gargling solutions used to ease laryngitis and tonsillitis. The July 2003 issue of the ‘Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior’ claims that sage has the power to improve memory. Sage is an all-in-one herb. It is also an antifungal antiseptic. This estrogenic agent works miracles in women. It is also a hypoglycemic astringent and is a good antispasmodic agent. Sage is one of those herbs that tastes great and is very good for you.

My sage plant blooming in late May
My sage plant blooming in late May

 

 

Corn planting time

My taste in corn have changed over the years.  No more of eating funky GMO corn for me.  Home grown is always better, and having a variety of heirloom corn to grow makes it even better.  Last year I got a pack of a variety called Abenaki.  This corn is an open-pollinated flint corn originally cultivated by the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people in Vermont, and subsequently grown and maintained by pioneer farmers.  It comes in three colors with the entire cob being a single color.  The red color is a recessive gene so you need to plant a higher proportion of it to keep it coming back.  For those of you who do not have any biology back ground that means there are three possible gene combinations possible responsable for color.  It takes two recessive genes to give red color, one of each pair for orange, and both dominate genes will give yellow.  There is a lot of statistics that go into figuring out what percentage will come out any one color.  First studied by a monk named Gregor Mendel if you are interested in more information on it.

Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two
Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two

Last years planting was in a spot that was so windy that it kept knocking the plants over.  It looked like it also prevented some pollination of the ears that developed.  I rotated out the location to put them in a more sheltered section.  Hopefully this will make a large different in my final harvest.  Off of roughly 100 plants I harvested about 1 1/2 gallons of kernels.  Which is still not a bad quantity, but if all the ears were fully developed it would have been close to triple that.  To prep the soil i added in one cubic yard of composed barnyard manure to the garden spot, and then tilled it into the soil.  Total seeds planted was around 200 this year.  The nice thing about flint corn is that after you dry it on the cob you will have a storage life of over 10 years if stored in an airtight container.

Now for a little history and background on this wonderful corn:

The strain is somewhat variable, but plants typically grow 6 to 7 feet tall and bear 8 to 12-inch-long ears with eight rows of kernels that vary in color from golden-yellow to dark maroon red. The red gene is recessive, and a higher percentage of red kernels must be planted to maintain the color variation.

In taste evaluations of different corns conducted by Fedco Seeds, the cornmeal ground from Abenaki flint corn has proven superior in terms of taste and nutritional quality. A little sticky it can be eaten as a sweet corn, but is mostly used for posole or hominy. Its protein content is significantly higher than most flint corns (11% to 12% instead of 9%). It is rendered more nutritious through the process of nixtamalization, which involves soaking the seeds overnight in water and a small amount of fine wood ashes or hydrated lime, then slow-cooking in the same way as soaked dried beans. The resulting hominy (posole) is rich in niacin and complex protein, and it can be used in many dishes (soups and stews, polenta) and as masa flour for tortillas or tamales. The corn has a buttery aroma and a rich, creamy flavor.

The history and cultural significance of this corn is great. Bands of the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people grew corn and other crops (including beans and squash) for centuries, and it is estimated that some 250 acres of land east of Lake Champlain was under cultivation at one time.

This flint corn, or some closely related variety, was the only type to survive and produce a crop in Vermont during the infamous Year Without a Summer (1816), when snow fell in June and killing frosts struck in every summer month. The unusually cold weather resulted from the ash cloud that filled the upper atmosphere and blanketed the Northern Hemisphere following the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora—located halfway around the globe, on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies.

You can see why I have fallen in love with this variety of corn.  It is extremely hardy and has a very short growing period.  Both of these qualities make it a great corn for the unpredictable spring and early summer weather that we have in Oregon.  I was able to get the entire garden area worked up and planted while we had the strange dry weather this spring.  After my corn gets to be about a foot tall I am going to plant bush beans at the base of the plants.  Correct companion plantings to get the highest yield of a section while still replenishing the soil with nitrogen fixed by the beans into the soil.

My short little rows of corn.  all of them about 4 ft long
My short little rows of corn. all of them about 4 ft long