Practical projects and crafts

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 2)

A different world

So….

The last update was in 2019, and now it’s 2023. Still summer though! I guess summer makes sense for putting in a new post. There are (usually) fewer things to keep track of and worry about. And late summer also tends to be a transition time.

And wow, have there been a lot of changes between 2019 and now. Some were already in progress, some were surprises (I’m looking at you, the MANY world changing events of 2020…), but it is definitely, completely, absolutely, a whole new world. And not one I would have been able to predict. And the changes are likely to keep right on rolling! So in order to have my own sense of that, and what I’m doing and where I’m going and what I plan to do with and about all of this, writing updates on my blog seems like one good thing to add back to my life.

Of course the world of the Internet has changed too. So, how to format my blog, how much to let it connect (or not) to the outside world is an open question. But for now, it’s here, and I’m here, and having a place to talk that is mine is nice.

My projects are pretty similar by theme, though a lot of the details have changed!

For one I’m now back in the Upper Midwest instead of the Mid-Atlantic which is a big change, for another given my health constraints and the choices the world at large has made, I am basically at home all the time now, with all the pros and cons that entails, and only see my family in terms of in person stuff. At least I love my family a lot and my home is a place I love and it’s surrounded by trees, so that helps.

Gardening

It’s been a tough summer for gardening! First we had a cold wet spring and now we have a hot and super dry summer. Lots of soaker hoses have been deployed as a results. There are some happy spots though.

In the front ‘kitchen garden’ our slicing and cherry tomatoes are doing great! So that’s a big improvement! Next year I’m going to run a row of basil down the front of that bed. The lettuce and radishes kind of worked and kind of didn’t. Mostly because of the weather, and the wildfire smoke, and so on…. I am going to do some fall planting there though. Probably radishes and some cold weather greens.

And in front of the ‘kitchen garden’ (which is 3 3’x5′ raised beds) things are doing pretty good too. I planted a rugosa rose there last year and it’s growing! Also my tiny baby coneflowers have bloomed some, so hopefully they keep expanding! My herbs, the sage, lavender and our original chives plant (carried all the way from Maryland in the car!) are all looking good.

Some of the existing landscaping plants are having a tough time with the weather. I’m hoping to replace the ones that don’t like the weather with some native flowers and grasses: asters, coneflowers, rudbeckia, prairie blazing star for flowers and some native grasses. That’s a next year plan though…

The other goal is to make some space for the cold frames in front of the porch. I’m hoping to use the moveable cold frames there this fall/winter and then if it works well build permanent ones next spring/summer. I have to move some landscaping plants and probably add some compost to plant this fall (the soil is rock hard with the current weather). I want to see how long I can keep things like parsley and mustard greens and cold weather lettuce and carrots going in there.

The other garden on the opposite side of the porch is my garden. It has my rocking chair and a table and my bird feeder and a bird bath. It has most of our herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, mint, tarragon, catnip, etc) and some coneflowers, grasses, coreopsis and a rose bush that was a present from P and the kids. It’s surrounded by my northern cherry bushes (romeo, juliet and jubilee) and some older lilac bushes.

Eventually I want it to be full of herbs, and flowers and native plants that birds like so it’s a sanctuary kind of place, for me and the birds.

I’m planning to make the space in front of it into a second garden for the more well behaved heat loving vegetables, specifically peppers and hopefully some salad ingredients (colorful lettuce, cucumber vines, etc). That will make an arc with longer narrower raised beds without sides (layers of sticks and leaves topped with compost). This will all be behind the deer fence!

And then around that will be a wide border of native flowers and grasses, this time a pollinator mix, which I think will look really cool.

The other bit in the front is a landscaping spot that buckthorn tried to consume and the deer have also tried to eat. It’s really shaded so the plan is to fence it and then plant deer resistant shade plants (ferns, spring plants, some grasses) and let them get established, plus some smaller trees like hazelnuts and witch hazel.

To the side is the two big apple trees, the baby apple and hazel nuts and the giant logs from my old tree (it came down when I was a teenager but it was huge and so it’s sort of like a log based art piece). I want to plant hazel nuts, wild strawberries and some fun plants there to make it a fun spot to be.

The back landscaping garden by the patio I’m hoping to add more flowers and berries (strawberries, blueberries, currants, cranberries, blackberries).

The orchard needs a few peach trees yet and some pollinator plants but it’s off to a good start now that the deer can’t ‘prune’ the trees.

The way back garden for the big vegetables is all in place but my plans got derailed by the smoke and the weather. It’s still producing good vegetables if not as many as I hoped though! I want this one to be surrounded by flowers (native and annuals) and have all the bulk vegetables (squash, asparagus, green beans, potatoes, canning tomatoes, etc.).

Sewing

Sewing has happened a little! H has her Christmas stocking. And I have fabric to make the kids fun shirts and me a dress and Christmas presents for H (a soft book and a blanket). Just have to find the time.

I did get the patterns for the shirts cut out at least and I’m using a favorite dress pattern so I’m inching towards actual sewing…

I really want to sew clothes again. Buying clothes is even worse than it used to be and I’d rather sew my own.

Knitting

Since knitting can happen while other things are going on and even when I’m tired (as long as the arthritis doesn’t get my fingers!) there’s been a decent amount of knitting!

I’ve got W’s sweater for this year all done and I’ve got a bunch done on small P’s too.

After I finish those I want to make hats and mittens for my parents, P and the kids for Christmas.

There’s also a pattern for a wool blanket with holiday color work patterns I really want to knit but I think I have more than enough to keep me busy. Someday!

I should also knit myself more sweaters, this is the Upper Midwest, sweaters are needed!

Food Preservation

So food preservation is a long term hobby and one that can be a challenge with three tiny people, but an increasingly useful and important one these days!

I’ve got pecans I ordered from a pecan farm in the freezer. Canning jars are pretty great for freezing dry stuff like nuts! And I found a place that sells buckwheat flour here too. It turns out fresh is pretty nice when it comes to buckwheat flour. Maybe I can grow my own someday…

We’ve also frozen our years supply of blueberries! All 70 qts of them (would have been 72 but have to save a few to eat fresh… ūüėÄ ).

Plus we got our 10 chickens from the farm north of us, probably should have gotten 15, but this year the chickens were small and last year they were huge. Next year we’ll get more, and maybe they’ll be huge and then I’ll have all the chicken I could ever want. ūüôā

Next up from the bulk farm order is beef and then the pig. Doing our meat buying this way has been nice (and beats the grocery prices overall!). Also it’s kind of terrifying how much meat (flavor, texture, all the rest) has changed since childhood, just wow. Going to be exciting figuring out how to fit a year’s supply in the freezer as the kids get bigger, but I like this method.

Oh and we froze peas, need to remember to count how many and write it down.

Corn is in progress (buy some fresh corn, cook some corn, cut off and freeze what we don’t eat with dinner).

Tomatoes will hopefully be canning. Lots and lots of canning. Probably from the farm (different farm, this one to the west of us) because between the cold spring and the super dry summer my paste tomatoes are alive and have produced but 50 lb of canning tomatoes it is not. At least the slicers and some of the cherry tomatoes in front are at least making nice fresh eating tomatoes! So that’s something!

We’re also going to buy a 50 lb sack of onions and one of potatoes. We’ve done that the last two years and it’s awesome. Doesn’t last us to the next year on potatoes but it came really close on onions! Garlic is producing super nicely so I’m really hopefully we’ll have plenty of our own garlic. Some is getting run through the dehydrator (it’s mostly hardneck so only lasts so long) and some is getting replanted (got to adapt our own types ūüôā ). But there’s still a lot. Plus all the occasional missed ones that will come up next year. I think my onion production this year also falls under “fresh eating”. Sigh.

I’m also hoping to bulk buy winter squash and stick it in the basement too. This will be a first try. Hopefully it works nice! (didn’t even plant my squash seeds this year it was so dry…)

Other than that, going to need to buy basil to freeze pesto. There’s some basil out there, but yeah, not much better than the tomato situation. The weather has not been great.

Oh, and apples, need to make applesauce, and then probably can it? The apple tree(s) have lots of apples, and there are a bunch orchards here. So probably some of each. We have 3 trees, 2 older ones and a baby tree. The older trees are a bit shaded so production varies… And the baby is a baby tree so no apples yet.

Writing/Reading

I really want to write again. This is more of a wish than a likely thing I can do right now given the number of other goals! I am reading again though and that is something that makes me happy. Being back where I have access to my favorite library helps! It’s a mix of science fiction, non-fiction and essays and things.

I’ve found a lot of great new books and learned some fun things so far.

My most recent books have been reading Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi and the Muderbot series by Martha Wells. Hard to go wrong with excellent science fiction. ūüôā

House Plans

And another example of things that are still on the list, house projects! We’ve made a lot of progress since moving, and this post-moving organizing has been faster and better than last time, which is a relief, but I’m still going to be glad when it’s done. Like last time, having a baby adds to the challenge, but being determined helps!

We’ve got most of the rooms set up now and the basement is almost all sorted out which is nice. Our next projects are setting up the little lean to greenhouse and making a shelf in the living room for books and movies (because all rooms should have shelves of books and fun things!).

It’s neat living in the house I grew up in. It’s layers of home, home from when I was small, home now with my family, it’s a good feeling.

Holiday Plans

The first holiday to work on right now is Halloween costumes. H will be a witch, W will be a ninja and P will be a Frankenstein monster. H has a little black dress and I’m making her a purple felt hat. W has a black sweatshirt and sweatpants and a purple silk scarf and I’m making him a bandoleer for ninja swords we can make out of tinfoil. P has a green PJ shirt and pants and bigger shorts and jacket to wear over them. And I’m making him a green hat with black ‘hair’ for his Frankenstein outfit.

We are going to knock on our neighbor’s door for trick-or-treat, plus do our Great Pumpkin scavenger hunt and visit their grandparents. Which is hopefully the right balance for Halloween.

Thanksgiving we’re going to have a week of family time. We’re going to cook a bunch of food on Wednesday, some for us and some to share. Then we’ll have Thanksgiving with my parents and then we’ll have our own Leftover Party on Friday with movies and board games and lots of food too. (And of course Die Hard 2 after the kids are asleep… ūüôā )

And I have plans for Christmas, this year’s goals are a trip to a Christmas tree farm (I’m going to find us a new one this year!) and a night time drive to look at the lights. And decorating together and lots of stories to read. The kids will make cookies with their grandparents (sometimes not being able to be around sugar and flour courtesy of the autoimmune things is really hard). And maybe we can make me safe cookies too. I’m hoping for making stollen I can have too, fingers crossed.

I have things to sew for Christmas for Helen, I want to make her quilt and soft book.

I like fall and winter holidays. There are lots of good ones to plan for.

There, that’s a list of fun things to work on and look forward to.

New Month, New Projects

And it’s August already…time goes quickly when you have lots to do! ¬†I’ve started the next round of the garden. ¬†I cleared out the cucumbers (the last plants were giving in to the beetles) and the New Zealand spinach (it was too much of a succulent for me, I wasn’t a fan) and started putting in the fall vegetables. ¬†So far I’ve got carrots, scallions and beets planted. ¬†I’m planning to add some turnips too and probably some fall radishes and lettuce. ¬†I think the yellow beans are winding down, so I’m probably going to plant some more over there too. ¬†The purple beans are almost ready though, so we’ll have those soon.

I’ve got more beans to freeze too and lots of peppers. ¬†I might be canning tomatoes this weekend too! ¬†I figure it’s about 7 tomatoes per quart (more or less) so we’ll see… ¬†It’s tomatoes, so canning them is extra useful, but they’re definitely more work than pickles and hot peppers. ¬†Hopefully this time my jars don’t break (I guess I’m going to be sticking with boiling the heck out of them before filling them after all). ¬†I’m hoping we get enough tomatoes for me to can a bunch (ideally 10 to 15, but we’ll see). ¬†At least I’m definitely getting plenty of cherry tomatoes to dehydrate! ¬†I’ve done two batches already. ¬†I suppose I should also remember that they just started producing and with any luck will be going right up to Halloween, which is 3 more months of production, so I shouldn’t be too impatient…

My other projects are going well, I’m almost done with the first sleeve on the tiny Patrick’s green Bowline sweater and I’m very happy with how it looks so far. ¬†I think maybe I’ll be able to start his Campfire sweater this weekend.

I also want to finish sewing his Christmas stocking and also plan out some sewing for me and the tiny Patrick. ¬†Maybe the grown up Patrick too… I have the fall issues for Ottobre and I’d like to pick some projects from those.

I’d like to do some knit shirts and pants for the tiny Patrick and do a cardigan and a knit dress for me from the most recent Ottobre issue. ¬†I have fabric for shirts for the grown up Patrick too. ¬†And I’d like to make the tiny Patrick a Halloween costume (better to ¬†start planning now so I finish it in time!). ¬†I think it’s time to get a coverstitch machine too. ¬†They fill a similar role for knit fabrics that sergers do for wovens (more or less) and I think there’s a lot of knit fabrics in my future…

So I’m going to try and plan those projects out and then see if maybe I can start one. ¬†So goals for this weekend:

  • Freeze lots of peppers!
  • Freeze lots of beans!
  • Dehydrate (and then freeze!) lots of cherry tomatoes
  • Can larger tomatoes as crushed tomatoes?
  • Bake bread
  • Knit baby sweaters!
  • Finish Christmas stocking
  • Make sewing plans

Summer Weather Means Projects

Well, it’s been a week or two, so there’s been a lot of projects going on. The biggest ones are the garden projects but there’s been some knitting and sewing too.

For the garden there are the usual summer challenges related to living here (squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, etc.). If it eats vegetable plants it lives here. So the zucchini met its demise once again and the cucumbers have had a tough time, but it’s something to learn from for next year. Next time I’m going to plant the zucchini and then just pull the plant before the vine borers get going (end of June) which should be enough time to get some zucchini at least. And I’m going to plant County Fair cucumbers next year which will hopefully stand up to the beetles better (this year I tried ones the beetles aren’t supposed to like, turns out our beetles think they’re great).

Despite the challenges we’re getting lots of beans and peppers. I canned 18 pints of hot peppers. I would have also gotten 3 more quarts of pickles but my jars broke. I’m not sure if the cucumbers cooled them down too much or if they were old. It was definitely disappointing though. Still, 18 pints of hot peppers is pretty good!

We’ve also gotten a bunch of eggplants and it looks like we’re going to be getting some squash with any luck (I also planted mini-butternut squash and crookneck squash since the vine borers have a tough time with those). And maybe even some mini-pumpkins for the tiny Patrick…

It’s also time for switching over another section of the garden. I’m going to clear out the New Zealand spinach and switch it over to fall plants (scallions and beets to start, then more carrots, lettuce, radishes and mizuna). I wasn’t a fan of the New Zealand spinach, it looks like a weed to me and the fact that it’s a succulent is just weird. So the plan for next year is bush beans instead.

There should also be more cherry tomatoes and beans to pick this weekend, which should be fun.

I’m hoping to make a Christmas stocking for the tiny Patrick this weekend and maybe make some progress on his play mat. ¬†I’ve got it assembled, I just need to make some binding tape. ¬†I didn’t get any extra fabric for that so I’m going to look through the fabric I’ve got and see if I find anything I like.

And there’s knitting too. ¬†I’m up to the sleeves on the tiny Patrick’s sweater so I’d like to see if I can finish it so I can start his next sweater. ¬†I have my yarn for his Campfire sweater and for the Waffle blanket. ¬†I think I might save the blanket for when the weather cools off a little though…

I think I’m also going to have to knit a new hat, or maybe pull out the yarn and re-knit it? ¬†I was comparing pictures of my replacement hat to pictures of the original and while the original was shaped mostly like a square the replacement is more like a triangle, which is probably why it doesn’t stay on… ¬†Of course if I rip it out and redo it I may be without a hat if I’m not prompt about knitting a replacement… I’ll have to think about it.

Oh and I want to make bread this weekend.  Home made bread is always the best kind.

Summer Days

So it’s now very much summer, warm humid air, weeds and the garden growing like crazy, lots of projects to do, food preservation questions to consider… ¬†Yep, definitely summer. ¬†I have gotten a bunch of things done though! ¬†First, I finished the soft book from the fabric panel, which ended up turning out very nicely. ¬†It’s cute and using the fluffy batting made it really nice and cuddly. ¬†The tiny Patrick approves.

I also finished my 4th of July dress and it turned out great. ¬†The pockets fit in nicely and the fit is perfect (extra yay!). ¬†And I have officially decided that the answer is to sew the facing down under the collar (you can’t see the line of stitching that way). ¬†I was really careful to do everything right with the facing, even grading the seam allowances and using a pinking shears (which was tricky and annoying!) and it still wouldn’t lay flat. ¬†I think it’s just the result of the shape of my back/shoulders. ¬†So! ¬†It got sewn down and that’s what I’ll do in the future. ¬†It looks fine that way.

I also started the advent calendar. ¬†That’s been a fun project, just enough detail to be interesting without being fiddly. ¬†I would be working on that now, but there’s a fluffy white cat sleeping on it. ¬†Also, it looks like the dense cotton batting was the right choice for that one. ¬†It gives it more of a tapestry type weight that I think will help it hang nicely. ¬†I haven’t decided if I’m going to use a dowel or rings to hang it….Probably the dowel since I think that will make it straighter, the only downside is then I’ll have to store said dowel, but if I roll the advent calendar around it, that shouldn’t be too bad.

I also did my lavender packets! ¬† I picked some lavender flowers (a nice little mini bouquet) which was enough for 3 layers in the dehydrator without crowding them. ¬†I set it to 95 degrees for about 2 hours and they came out nice and dry. ¬†It also made the house smell pretty nice! ¬†Then I cut up some of the smaller bits of fabric from my grandma and made 4 little ‘pillows’ each about the size of my hand. ¬†I thought about adding stuffing too, but I decided flat packets would do a better job at letting the scent into the surrounding area and not take up as much space in the closet/drawer/etc. ¬†I also only used the flowers and not the stems. ¬†The stems also have scent but a lot less and the flowers were enough to give each packet plenty of lavender. ¬†They’re also crazy strong. ¬†They’re sitting on our kitchen table now and you can smell them from the next room over. ¬†So maybe that will be enough to defeat the closet that’s permeated with 50+ years of shampoo and fabric softener…

I also finished knitting the tiny Patrick’s new fall/winter hat. ¬†I did “Bumble” by Tin Can Knits. ¬†It’s very cute but I think the stitch work is a little open for being a nice heavy duty winter hat. ¬†Then again a toddler probably isn’t going to be outside outside much in really cold weather so maybe this is the best way to do it? ¬†The best part is the pompom. ¬†I remember making one at some point (I don’t know when, like childhood sometime) and it turning out sad and not fluffy so I got a proper pompom maker (they’re like $5) and put a ton of yarn (as much as I could fit!) into it and it turned out great! ¬†It’s super soft and fluffy. ¬†So I’m really happy about that. ¬†Also I did extra repeats so it covers his ears properly!

I’m still working on re-knitting the top of my Apple Pie hat. ¬†I think I did an extra repeat the first time but didn’t write it down, so when I made my replacement I just did the recommended length. ¬†It spent all winter sliding off my head, which was massively annoying. ¬†So! ¬†I cut the yarn at the top and ripped back to wear the decreases started (since there’s only 1 spot in the pattern with purl stitches and the first decrease is purl-two-together this was easier than expected…). ¬†So I dug out the tiny ball of extra yarn and am now knitting an extra repeat before doing the decreases. ¬†Hopefully it will stay on this time around!

The garden has also been busy. ¬†We’ve picked lots and lots of beans so far (and I have lots more to pick today!). ¬†These are yellow beans (my favorite) and Romano beans (Patrick’s favorite). ¬†I think I might also plant some purple beans so we have some regular green beans around too. ¬†Pole beans was definitely the way to go with the Romano beans, they produce so much better than the bush bean version.

We’ve also got our first round of peppers. ¬†I don’t think the bell peppers liked their proximity to the cucumbers or the weather but we’re still getting some. ¬†The jalapenos are doing great. ¬†I’m hoping to freeze a bunch of those and then start pickling them.

We’ve also gotten cucumbers! ¬†Yay! ¬†I’ve made two jars of fridge pickles and I’ll still have plenty for cucumber sandwiches this week! ¬†Hopefully they’ll keep going and I’ll be able to can pickles too.

We’ve gotten the first couple tomatoes (the cherry ones) too and there are lots that are almost ready. ¬†I’m planning to dehydrate the cherry ones (I got an egg slicer to hopefully make that more manageable). ¬†I’m also hoping if the full sized ones come through for me this year I can can small batches of crushed tomatoes. ¬†We’ll see…

We might even get a few blackberries to try this year if I manage to beat the birds to them… ¬† (fruit + birds is a challenge I have yet to fully resolve, bird netting has some serious downsides after all)

I also want to make jam, but I’m going to need to get the fruit to do that I think. ¬†Our strawberries are producing enough for snacks (even with squirrel theft) but not jam and we won’t get more than a couple from the rest of the fruit for a year or three. ¬†So jam requires a Costco or farmer’s market visit. ¬†So we’ll see…

Oh and I cleared out the bolting lettuce (and 4 wheelbarrows of weeds from around the yard…) and planted pumpkins and yellow squash. ¬†Hopefully those work out, that would make me happy.

Still though, plenty to do.  Next goals:

  • Finish Apple Pie hat
  • Finish Advent calendar
  • Start USA play mat
  • Start blue dress (Hawthorn again? ¬†Something new?)
  • Start baby clothes (probably from Ottobre)
  • Start grown up Patrick shirts
  • Freeze/Can/Dry peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans
  • Plant purple beans?
  • Clear out garden bed by the shed
  • Finish attaching tomato cage tops
  • Hang reflective anti-bird tape
  • Continue cleaning/organizing the house (my room, the closet of doom, the basement, etc…)
  • Stick to goal of one slow cooker meal a week

On we go

So my projects are making progress in various ways. I’ve made progress on my knitting, the garden (luckily!) is making progress with little intervention and I’ve gotten to try some new cooking adventures out too.

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Ta Da!¬† Actual knitting progress!¬† Knitting (while not very fast) has been very useful with my new sleep schedule.¬† It’s a lot harder to space out and start to fall asleep if your hands are busy.¬† And since I’m into the cable pattern now, it’s really obvious if I’m not focused enough!¬† I want to start my Beatnik sweater too, but I think I’m going to stick to finishing my hat first.¬† For one, this gives me the chance to get used to knitting again after a few months off; and for another I want my hat back!¬† I don’t really need a fuzzy hat in July, but if I don’t stick with it, I won’t have one when it starts to get cold again so there are good reasons for sticking with it.¬† Speaking of hats, maybe I should make a hat as a Christmas present for my brother-in-law this year.¬† He likes to critique the hat I made him a few years ago…which in my defense was an early knitting project…giving him a newer fancier one would require him to up his game in terms of critiques, which would be fun.¬† We’ll see though since I don’t think I’ll be doing any projects quickly this year.¬† If not this year, maybe next year.

Things are actually looking pretty good in the garden.¬† There’s plenty of lettuce and radishes out there and there’s a bunch of beans that should get picked.¬† Also, the mystery squash hasn’t been killed off yet by squash vine borers!¬† It even looks like we’re going to get tomatoes this year and the peppers have recovered pretty well from the insanely cold/wet May we had.¬† I haven’t checked the cucumbers recently, but they were alive and trying to make cucumbers last time I looked, so I consider that doing well.¬† The potatoes look a little sad, but that’s because they’d like to be watered more, and well, there’s a lot to do right now.¬† Still, all things considered I think it’s doing petty well.¬† And since the goal was “whatever we get, if anything, is awesome” I consider things a success so far!

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The new cooking adventure is our shiny new crock pot.¬† Our old crock pot which was an older one from family no longer maintains high enough temperatures (which is a problem!) so it was time to get a new one.¬† After a lot of research we picked this one since it’s bigger (6 qts!) it’s oval (yay meat cooking!) and it’s programmable (not burning the house down!).¬† As for why we’re interested, the hope is that with the crock pot we can prepare a meal early in the day when we have a little more time and then there’s no rushing around in the evening when we’re tired and trying to get things done so we can get as much sleep as possible.¬† The other idea is making a nice big meal that produces lots of useful leftovers and doesn’t generate a lot of dirty dishes to deal with.¬† And since the lid and stoneware insert go in the dishwasher… there are some definite benefits.

So last night was it’s maiden voyage/cooking attempt.¬† I think it did well, everything fit in there, it cooked it well, the timer worked, it was easy to clean, etc.¬† Our first attempt was a nice simple pot roast (I was tempted to do the fancy recipe, but since this was our first try with this crock pot and since things are busy I went with the straightforward one).¬† I think next week I’ll try the beef and dumplings recipe I have.

So, all in all, that’s a nice bit of progress on my projects I think!

Welcome to Summer

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Well, it’s been awhile, largely because I had another big project that didn’t leave much time for my usual smaller projects…¬† But the start of summer is a good time to start working on my regular projects again.¬† And even if it’s a little late it’s not a bad time to work on figuring out what kinds of projects I want to do this year.¬† I have a couple categories of projects I want to work on: the garden, food preservation, knitting and sewing.¬† I also have a minor side project for physical fitness since I want to improve how far I can bike (makes it easier to get to some of those slightly too distant craft stores…).

Garden

Garden 2016

Patrick got everything started this year so we have a garden!¬† Like the map shows, the goal this year was to come up with a garden plan that would be easy to maintain since we’re going to be busy.¬† Overall I think it’s been successful so far (the squash is a bonus from the compost we added to the garden).¬† It looks like we might even get tomatoes from the garden this year!¬† I have hopes anyway…¬† No matter what I think I’m going to consider anything we get out of the garden to be a nice bonus.¬† I have hopes for at least some beans and some good salads at least though.¬† And if our peppers survive the nasty experience that was May’s weather (it rained at least 19 days in May!) hopefully we’ll get some nice peppers too.

If we have happy tomato plants I’m hoping to be able to can some small batches of tomatoes too.¬† I’m going to see if that’s a nice easy option.¬† I got a stand alone canner that doesn’t need to go on the stove, so I’m hoping doing small batches will be reasonable.

I’m also hoping that this garden will keep producing as is from now through frost.¬† The tricky parts will be getting the lettuce to produce in July and August and getting the beans to produce in September and October.¬† It’s worth a shot though.¬† And when the potatoes are done that row can be either more beans or more lettuce in theory.

The front flower bed is a mix of flowers, and it’s kind of weedy.¬† Luckily I got enough volunteers that it looks nice (mostly Jonny Jump Ups and Love in the Mist).¬† I also got 3 volunteer tomatoes growing in the half barrel in the middle.¬† I was hoping that would be full of Dahlias and petunias, so I need to decide if I’m going to leave the tomatoes, pull them up or replant them.¬† Technically replanting them would be the best choice, but that would also take a lot of work and at least a decent chunk of time.¬† I think for the moment they’re staying where they are and hopefully they won’t get too out of control.

Food Preservation

 

I want to do a mix of canning, freezing and dehydrating.¬† Hopefully most of it will come from the garden.¬† Some of it will probably come from the farmers market.¬† A few things might come from the Costco.¬† I’d like to do another couple of bulk buys from the farmers market or from the pick your own place, but this year’s probably got too much going on for that.¬† (it’s very much going to be a year of choosing my battles…) My goals include:

  • Canning

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    • Raspberry Jam – If I can find raspberries that is.¬† I love raspberry jam but buying raspberries in a reasonable volume is tough and I can’t really grow my own until we have our house.¬† Maybe I’ll just buy some packs at the Costco this summer.¬† The prices aren’t amazing but making my own jam is still cheaper than buying it (at least cheaper than buying it if I want decent jam).
    • Peach Jam – These I can get at the farmer’s market, and I think little Patrick is almost big enough I can escape for an hour or so to pick some up.¬† And if not, the grocery store will definitely have enough peaches that I can make these from grocery peaches if I need to.¬† And I found my grandma’s recipe so the spices will be right this year!
    • Plum Jam – If we get some plums from Patrick’s dad in Erie I’m definitely making this again, it turned out awesome last year.¬† If we don’t get plums from Patrick’s dad (for the same reasons as before) I think I can get plums from the grocery store or Costco.¬† They have some plums at the farmer’s market, but the prices aren’t great.
    • Tomatoes – I’m hoping our garden comes through for these so I can make a bunch of small batches of tomatoes (I like quart jars of whole tomatoes since they’re perfect for spaghetti (after a trip through the blender) or Eat More or a bunch of other things.¬† Technically a big batch from bulk tomatoes from the farmer’s market is probably the most effective in terms of time and the prices are very reasonable, but I think it’s much more likely I’ll manage small chunks of time for small batches than it is that I’ll manage a big chunk of time.¬† And hey anything that comes our of the garden will have a really great price!
    • Salsa – Last years salsa recipe turned out pretty good.¬† This year I’d like to make individual jars (and just put them in the fridge) of a couple types to try them out, as well as can the type I made last year.¬† Pint jars worked pretty well overall.
    • Hot peppers – Canned jalapenos were great, canned wax peppers were ok.¬† So the plan is to make jalapenos if I can at all manage it.¬† They were really easy to do so if I can do even a couple jars at a time it’s worth it.¬† These are mostly dependent on what I can get out of the garden, but maybe if I watch for a sale at the store, it would be worth doing some from grocery peppers?
    • Pickles – My grandma’s fridge pickle recipe remains awesome.¬† My canned pickles were incredibly salty.¬† Like insanely salty.¬† So I’m going to try something else this year if I can pickles.¬† I’m probably also not going to bother trying to get pickle cucumbers.¬† There’s only one farmer’s market that had them, they were expensive, and I’m still not very good at growing my own.¬† And research on the Internet suggests that if I use Ball’s PickleCrisp I can get away with regular cucumbers which are cheap and available anywhere.¬† Hopefully I can get down to the farmer’s market for these since the grocery store tends to have gross ones that are covered in epic amounts of wax.
  • Freeze

    • Spaghetti sauce – Using canned tomatoes and putting them through the blender is a great way to get a start on spaghetti sauce, but it’d be really nice to have some pre-made.¬† I’m not ready to figure out pressure canning with everything else that’s going on this year, so this will probably be frozen.¬† I’d also like to do pre-made taco filling and some other stuff along these lines.¬† We’ll see what we can do…
    • Zucchini – At least for the moment I’ve given up on growing zucchini (curse you squash vine borers!) but luckily the farmer’s market has lots of cheap zucchini and I can freeze as much of it as I want.¬† I usually grate them up and freeze 1 cup portions in sandwich bags that way they’re ready to go in zucchini bread if I want, and otherwise they can go in pasta sauce.¬† Grated zucchini is a great way to fill out a pasta sauce and make it more substantial, with an added flavor and vitamin bonus.
    • Peppers – Hopefully the endless rain and cold in May won’t prevent us from getting peppers this year.¬† The last few years we’ve been really good at it.¬† This year we planted a lot more green peppers, so hopefully we’ll manage a full year’s supply.¬† I’d like to try freezing some as half peppers this year so we can make stuffed peppers this winter.
    • Hot peppers – This year we planted fewer hot peppers since we still have a lot of these from last year (which is impressive given how many hot peppers we go through…).¬† Hopefully we’ll manage a decent year’s supply of jalapenos this year.¬† We stuck with jalapenos since we haven’t used the wax peppers fast enough and we always end up with way more habaneros than we need.
    • Green beans – Here’s hoping this is the year where I actually manage to freeze lots of green beans.¬† Growing green beans is easy.¬† Harvesting, replanting and freezing the green beans is hard.¬† I can always get a bunch at the farmer’s market for ok prices, or at the grocery store (for ok to expensive prices) but I should be able to grow and process these from the garden.¬† Hopefully this year’s the year…
    • Pesto – I like to grow basil and freeze my own pesto.¬† Patrick banned the basil this year since sometimes it’s a hassle, so we’ll see if I manage this.¬† It’ll depend on whether or not I can find a reasonable source of basil.¬† Maybe the farmer’s market?¬† The grocery store isn’t too reliable for basil.
  • Dehydrate

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  • Cherry tomatoes – This will depend on whether I get cherry tomatoes!¬† My cherry tomato plant is the saddest looking tomato plant…¬† I suppose I can always do slices of full sized tomatoes if my cherry plant fails me.¬† These were super useful last year so hopefully I can do them again.¬† I suppose if my plants fail me there’s always the Costco.¬† Having these on hand would probably make processing Costco tomatoes worth it…
  • Catnip – I have an entire Catnip hedge.¬† All I need to do is cut some down and stick it in the dehydrator.¬† This produces really awesome catnip that the cats love. So…I just need to see if I can manage that…

So those are most of my food and garden plans.¬† I’ll save my sewing and knitting plans for next time…

Welcome to Autumn

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We may actually get a rainy day today!¬† Well, so far it’s pretty dry, just a few sprinkles, but the weather has promised us rain…¬† I made sure to water the garden this morning to encourage it!¬† It’s been about two months since we’ve had any real rain, so it would be really nice if it managed it.¬† I’ve got a bunch of fall veggies in the garden now (broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips) and they would enjoy some more rain.¬† It’s funny, you’d think the harvesting part of gardening would be the easy fun part, but it can also be a challenge.¬† I’ve picked the peppers, eggplants and zucchini, but it’s tough. ¬†Sadly that’s it for this year’s zucchini, it will be replaced by lettuce and carrots. ¬†Overall though gardening has gone pretty well this year. ¬†Next year I’m going to actually manage some squash though!

We got plums and apples from my father-in-law’s trees when we went up to visit him, so there¬†is now lots of applesauce (15 quarts) and lots of plum jam (9 half-pints). ¬†I’m really happy to have some more fruit stored for this winter! ¬†It also makes me really look forward to when we have fruit trees of our own since the fruit we brought back was only a tiny part of what the trees were producing. ¬†Someday! ¬†(I have plans for two apple trees, a pear tree, a peach tree and a cherry tree, maybe plums or figs if I get ambitious).

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We also canned a whole bunch of pickled hot peppers (10 pints of jalapenos and wax peppers) too. ¬†It’s awesome to go down and see our awesome stockpile in the basement. It really brings home how effective the garden can be. ¬†We’ve got a lot of food in the basement now, and if we’re smart in planning our meals it will have a pretty awesome influence on the grocery budget. ¬†I could do a lot of math to try and figure out my exact return on investment, but for me, my gardening spending comes out of money I’ve allocated for personal stuff/hobbies, so the vegetables are effectively ‘free’.

For those who wonder what the actual cost would be and whether gardening is secretly super expensive it’s about $5 for a ‘market pack’of 6 plants at the local nursery or about $5 annually to grow about 10 plants from seed (assuming you have the equipment, buy nice pre-made potting soil and buy nice¬†seeds). ¬†At that point (assuming your garden is made up) just put the plants in the ground and you’re set. ¬†There are some start up costs for gardening, but you can get good results with pretty minimal annual costs. ¬†Of course there is a steep learning curve like sewing. ¬†And making mistakes means losing plants and starting over or trying something else, but this year I feel like I’m finally starting to get it. ¬†Also even in a bad year, your plants generally still produce a little (even my poor squash…*sigh*) and that return is enough to offset the minimal annual costs. ¬†And when you win? ¬†You have at minimum a year’s supply of that food, which is amazing and awesome.

Of course you’re paying for that with time, but at least for me gardening is something I enjoy, so it’s worthwhile. ¬†Like sewing and knitting!

Speaking of which, I have sewing and knitting projects to work on too. ¬†Since the season has definitely started ¬†to change I’m sewing some new clothes for work (some shirts for me and Patrick and a new skirt too) and I made some fall decorations for fun. ¬†I’m also knitting a new winter sweater. ¬†Having unpacked my fall/winter clothes, I’ve been doing really well and knitting sweaters and cardigans. ¬†It’s nice to know this winter will be warm!

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August, Summer and Fall

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August is an odd month (and a busy one). ¬†It’s still definitely summer, but you can start to see the first tiny signs of fall. ¬†We’ve got hot humid weather in the 90s, but some of the trees are starting to show the first yellow leaves and it’s time to plant the fall garden. ¬†It’s also time for some big canning projects. ¬†Peaches are available starting in July, but they don’t separate from the pits until August and we got lots of cucumbers and tomatoes too for pickles, salsa and whole tomatoes. ¬†That just leaves apple sauce, apple butter, raspberry jam and pears for September (and marmalade for winter).

So far the canning projects have gone well. ¬†The salsa in particular worked out really well (yay for the ‘Zesty Salsa’ recipe from Ball!). ¬†It’ll be interesting to see how long these last/how fast we eat them. ¬†The goal is to eventually keep about a year’s supply so that’s the other half of this experiment. ¬†We’ve got about 8 pints of salsa, 18 quarts of tomatoes, 6 quarts of pickles and 9 pints of peaches.

Christmas in July

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July has gone by crazy fast. ¬†There was getting back from vacation, working on the garden, work projects and all sorts of things going on. ¬†And of course various projects and craft things and goals to be achieved! ¬†July is also a planning month for me. ¬†It’s when I start to think about what I want to get or make friends and family for Christmas. ¬†It may seem a little weird to start so early, but some craft projects take a long time. ¬†And it’s much nicer to be able to do them a little at a time rather than a rush at the end. ¬†It’s never good to end up frustrated and sick of presents when you want to feel happy about giving them to people you care about.

So! ¬†July is my holiday planning month. ¬†ūüôā

I have several different gifts I’m planning to make this year. ¬†My father-in-law has requested more wool socks, like the pair I made him two years ago. ¬†Or as he put it, “who gets¬†only one pair of socks?” ¬†So my goals is to make at least two, hopefully three more pairs of socks this year. ¬†I have about one and a half socks (out of a potential six) done already, so that’s off to a good start. ¬†And this is worthwhile, it’s nice to make things for people who enjoy them. ¬†He’s also told me that the pair I already made are the warmest and most comfortable socks he’s ever had, so more of them should make for a good gift.

The biggest holiday project for this year is another quilt. ¬†I’ve made four quilts so far, so at least I know what I’m getting into! ¬†The pattern I’m going with is a flexible one, and I’m able to take advantage of some pre-cuts for part of it, so hopefully it will go well. ¬†By which I mean I will be able to finish it in a sane amount of time! ¬†I’m really happy with the fabric I found. ¬†I picked bright colors with themes that remind me of the person the quilt is for. ¬†It looks like I’ll also have some extra to make something fun. ¬†Maybe I’ll make a pillow cover to go with? ¬†We’ll see. ¬†I have the first round of pieces cut out, so next is to sew them together into strips, and then cut those strips into other strips and sew them together again to make blocks, and then sew those¬†together again. ¬†And then of course make and add the border, make the backing and then assemble it and hand sew the edging to the back. ¬†I’m going to tie the quilt the old fashioned way. ¬†Or at least the way I was taught to make quilts. ¬†I think tying the quilt rather than ‘quilting’ it makes for a fluffier quilt which in my opinion is the best sort of quilt. ¬†And I got some nice wool batting from Nancy’s Notions so fluffy is the way to go!

Quilts are funny things. ¬†They’re amazing once they’re finished, and working on them can be relaxing (there’s a sort of zen state when you’re tying a quilt or sewing together endless squares) but they’re probably the most challenging craft project I’ve worked on. ¬†They take a lot of materials that have to be matched for fabric content, quality, weight and color (as much as possible). ¬†The cutting and assembly portions take a¬†high level of precision. ¬†And unlike knitting you have to be paying attention while wielding a sewing machine or very very sharp rotary cutter. ¬†And then there’s the fact that when you assemble it, there’s the need to move all the living room furniture to get a space just barely big enough, so assembly and tying the quilt had better be done fast. ¬†Still, despite the challenges, making a quilt is a lot of fun, and with any luck you end up with something warm and awesome that¬†can last for years.¬† So as presents go, quilts are up there on the list of things I like to be able to give.

I’m also planning to try making some things for Patrick, but I need to finalize those yet. ¬†So that should give my plenty of holiday projects, while still leaving enough time for other non-holiday projects, which seems like a good balance to me. ¬†ūüôā

For the non-holiday projects it will be a mix of sewing, knitting, gardening and preserving (like usual).

For sewing, I’m still determined to make myself some sleeveless button down shirts this summer. ¬†Since we’re in the hottest part of summer I should get on that… ¬†I have the fabric and everything ¬†ready to go after all. ¬†And there are plans for shirts for Patrick. ¬†Again the fabric is out and waiting, so I just need to get started. ¬†I also have some pretty fall fabric to make a new pillow cover (awesome though my Halloween cats are, it’s a little weird to start using them in September…). ¬†And in other required sewing there are two work shirts and a skirt waiting for me. ¬†And in fun sewing I’m hoping to make a wool Anna dress for wearing this winter. ¬†I think the Anna dress is probably my go to pattern now. ¬†It’s pretty, comfortable, and is very easy to add pockets to (yay insulin pump storage!). ¬†I’ll probably need to line a wool dress which is a consideration…but the pattern itself is pretty straightforward so I should be able to manage this. ¬†And I have¬†two pieces of nice wool fabric waiting to be used. ¬†Oh, and I need to make my second pair of winter PJs. ¬†For those I’ll need to track down some fabric though.

So upcoming sewing includes:

  • Summer tank tops (B5526, have seersucker fabric already)
  • Patrick work shirts (Kwik Sew pattern, have shirting fabric already)
  • Pillow cover (envelope style, have fall fabric already)
  • My work shirts (B5526, have shirting fabric already)
  • My work skirts (self drafted, have wool suiting and rayon lining already)
  • Wool dresses (Anna, have wool fabric, need to consider lining options…)
  • Winter PJs (KW3553 + Tofinio, need to find some flannel)

Knitting is less decided. ¬†I have the Christmas socks, which will be my commuter pattern for the foreseeable future. ¬†But I just finished my holiday cardigan, so I need to decide if a shawl or a sweater is up next. ¬† On the one hand, a shawl is easier to knit in summer since it’s not bulky (hot humid summers around here…) on the other hand, sweaters have lots of stockinette which is relaxing and I have several sweaters worth of yarn that needs to get used up. ¬†We’ll see. ¬†It’ll probably be either a grey tweed Rook sweater or a very dark navy lace shawl.

So knitting is:

  • Commuter project – Christmas socks and more Christmas socks
  • Home project – Rook sweater or navy shawl

And then there’s gardening/preserving. ¬†We’re headed into the end of July, which is always when my gardening challenges show up. ¬†I’ve decided though that as long as my garden gives my enough for fresh eating I’m not going to get worked up about it. ¬†I’ve had the usual squash casualties (some from vine borers, some from what seems like some sort of squash disease). ¬†But my back up zucchini’s are just getting going and look healthy and I’m probably going to get at least¬†some winter squash. ¬†Maybe I’ll pull the rest and plant some more beans or something over there this weekend.

My tomatoes are making tomatoes, but the slicers just can’t overcome the tree shade (I didn’t realize that corner got as much shade as it does). ¬†So far I’m getting enough for fresh eating though, so we’ll see how it goes. ¬†And there’s always the farmer’s market if they fail, and the pick your own place for canning.

 

I do have some canning I want to do yet this year though, and some more dehydrating too.

  • Can peach jam and¬†peaches
  • Can raspberry jam
  • Can pears
  • Can pickles
  • Can salsa
  • Can tomatoes
  • Can applesauce and apple butter
  • Dry herbs (oregano, mint, catnip, sage)
  • Dry cherry tomatoes

I’m also going to try making sauerkraut this weekend. ¬†I’m excited about this one since it’s tough to find good sauerkraut around here and if I get good at it, hopefully I’ll be able to do a big batch and can it later. ¬†(Though I’ll have to convince Patrick to let me ferment 25 lb of cabbage…)

Oh, and one more fun garden thing. ¬†We aren’t the only ones who have been enjoying the garden (see below). ¬†The cats are also super pleased about our visitors.

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Visiting the Sea Shore

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We have successfully visited the ocean! That may not sound very big to many people, but for us it’s a major life goal accomplished. And more than that, we had the chance to spend an entire week just being happy. ¬†So it was also a mission accomplished in terms of going on a vacation. ¬†It’s been a long time since we had something work out well (and moreover to do something without anything horrible happening), so I’m still a little bit stunned that everything went so well.

We were at Cape May for a week, so we rented a cottage.  The people we rented from were very nice, and the cottage was awesome.  It had a tiny 1950s kitchen (with original stove!) that I wish I could recreate at home and you could hear the ocean with the windows open.  They even had a tiny pond with koi fish in it.  Patrick figured out how to hook the laptop up to the TV (yay HDMI cables!) and we had our movie back ups with us so we could watch movies in the evening and play board games.  And the cottage was only a few blocks from the ocean so we could walk down whenever we wanted.

It was also only about a mile from the little pedestrian shopping area. ¬†That was fun because the entire town was only about 10 miles in diameter so we were able to walk everywhere. ¬†Next year hopefully we can bring bikes since there are lots of bike paths too. ¬†Most of the houses near the town center are very old, with the gingerbread/Victorian style, so it was fun to just walk around and see all the neat architecture (and pretty flower gardens…).

They also have a lighthouse and several protected beaches for wildlife so we saw lots of interesting ocean birds, and dolphins catching fish only 30 or 40 feet off the beach.

Luckily the garden behaved itself while we were gone. ¬†When I got back the zucchini were still reasonable size and the beans hadn’t gone crazy. ¬†If I’m lucky I will get to pick zucchini this weekend. ¬†I’m also going to be trimming back some of the ‘bush’ beans that are now about 5 ft tall and climbing the tomato trellis. ¬†I need to trim them back to keep them from taking over the poor tomatoes. ¬†Amusingly enough the happiest tomatoes are the volunteers in the compost bin and the cherry tomatoes by the back door…

Still the garden is doing well this year. ¬†I’ve already frozen about a gallon of green and yellow beans and a whole bunch of wax and jalapeno peppers. ¬†We’ve even got three tiny ripe tomatoes. ¬†I’ve also got some lettuce that’s still going despite the heat. ¬†Hopefully there will be zucchini and cucumbers soon. ¬†And hopefully when we pull the garlic this week we’ll have good results!

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