Thursday, July 28, 2011

Home Discovery Canning Set Giveaway

I first became interested in canning when my "green" journey began - back in 2007 or so.  I remember wandering the aisles of Target, Safeway, and even Whole Foods asking anyone who looked like they worked there where the canning supplies were.  Nowhere was the answer.  I eventually ordered some of my supplies online and acquired the rest from a small, independently owned hardware store 20 minutes away.

I taught myself to can jam, pickles, relish with a Ball Canning Cookbook, the instructions on the pectin box and  I then hosted a canning party at my house, another that I offered up for silent auction at my son's school, and finally one at a friend's house.  It turns out that everyone wanted to learn to preserve jams, fruits and more.

Today, you can find canners, jars and pectin in nearly every retail outlet that sells food.  More and more of my friends and family have dipped their toes into water bath canning and even pressure canning.  Last summer, my canner made the rounds to no less than 5 friends.  Now they can have their own.  And so can you.

The maker of Ball brand canning supplies contacted me last month to ask if I'd like to do a giveaway of their Home Discovery Canning Kit and I was all for it.  I almost never do giveaways because I think we all have enough stuff.  Canning equipment though?  That we can use and share with our friends?  To preserve our own harvest and that of our farmers' markets and CSAs?  That is something I can get behind.

I have TWO kits to giveaway.  The introductory home canning kit is designed for even the most novice canner and makes use of existing kitchenware.  It includes an illustrated simplified instruction book with recipes, a polypropylene rack with separate, fitted lifter that works in standard stockpots and three pint canning jars.  You'll also get coupons for additional jars.

There are three ways to win and you can use them all!

1) Leave a comment regarding your home canning experience or what you'd like to can if you won the kit.

2) "Like" the Green Bean Chronicles Facebook page and leave a comment letting me know.  If you already "like" me, fabulous!  Just leave a comment saying so.

3) Visit the Can It Forward page on the Ball Brand "Fresh Preserving" site to learn more about the first annual National Can It Forward Day.   Then come back and leave a comment.

Giveaway closes on Thursday, August 4th at midnight.  The two winners will be announced on Monday, August 8th.

Now let the canning begin!!

Disclaimer: The folks from Ball brand jars offered me my own Home Discovery Canning Kit when they suggested the giveaway.  I declined because I already own almost all of their products for home canning!  They then offered and sent me some pectin, pickling and salsa mixes as well as a cookbook and jar grabber (or whatever those thingies are called).  Their gift did not affect my thoughts on their products or my interest in doing a giveaway.  I agreed to it because I love canning and I know you do too.

The Ball brand is teaming up with Canning Across America, a nationwide collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers to spread the word on canning this summer with National Can-It-Forward day on August 13th.  A free, live webcast hosted a will feature a day of instructional canning videos as well as cooking demos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Say It, Don't Spray It

From an organic winery in Napa County.  I need one of these signs for my mini farm!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yes, I Can!

The first home that I can remember was an acre carved out of the Southern California hillside.  My parents scrimped and saved and worked every weekend on the sprawling homestead.  There was a mini orchard, brambles full of blackberries, rows of strawberries, and the old peach tree out by the driveway.

Every summer, my grandmother would come over and she and my mother would can.  The canning itself is a hazy memory.  A big pot.  Sweet sweet jam smeared over toast.  My grandmother has since passed on but a few weeks ago, my mother and I did what so many generations of women have done before us.  We pulled out the big black canning pot.  Sterilized jars.  Smushed strawberries.  Added pectin.  And water bathed our way into family history. 

We only do this once a summer, usually.  The rest of the summer is a blur of visits, summer camps, and canning in the quiet of my own kitchen.  But canning with my mother, just as she canned with her mother, is something that should be savored at least once a year.  

This morning, popping open a jar of Bean woman strawberry jam, I smiled.  Thanks mom for passing on the tradition.  Yes, we can!


August 13th is the first annual National Can It Forward Day! It is co-hosted the makers of Ball canning jars and Canning Across America.  In celebration of the resurgence of canning (I literally could not find pectin or canning equipment in any brick and mortar 4 years ago!) and the deliciousness that is home-canned goodness, here are a few of my favorite past posts on the subject:

- Quick Berry, Quack Berry: I host a canning party and we make more than just jam.

- Jammin: I indulge in the peace that is canning.

- There's More Than One Way to Skin . . .: My favorite ways to savor the harvest, topped by canning.

Please come back on Thursday for a special canning giveaway!  Now, go get your can on.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sharing the Harvest

What are the veggies in my garden worth? How much could my chickens contribute to my children's education?  More than you might guess.

Two years ago I had the epiphany that my squash and eggs could help fund the boys' school when the government would not.  I, along with several gardener friends, banked on our garden dreams and auctioned off a CSA-form offerings at a school district silent auction.  We offered up six weeks worth of local - REALLY local - fruits, vegetables and eggs - grown in the back and front yards of our city.

Our produce yielded about $400 a person and we sold it to two families.  Plus, it gave me an idea of what our farmers think of every time they put together a box of deliciousness.

Above is last week's box of goodies: dahlias, eggs, apricots, lemons, summer squash, apples, blood oranges, carrots, beans, garlic, onions and a beautiful herb bouquet.  Not a bad haul for a cool spring and late summer.

I'm linking to the following parties for today's post:

- Homestead Barn Hop
- Harvest Monday

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tilting at Windmills

My dream farm, on the road to my parents' house.

My own mini windmill

* I'm linking to A Southern Daydreamer's OUTDOOR WEDNESDAYS for this post.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

How does my garden grow?  Despite the summer being fairly cool and after being here for less than one year, I'd say pretty darn good.

Welcome to my "micro farm."  Blackberries, flame seedless grapes, and nasturtiums soften the wall and attract pollinators and provide fruit!  Only a few blackberries this year, devoured right off the cane and no grapes yet as this is their first year but I couldn't be happier with the nasturtiums.

On the right is my "bird garden".  It is not much different from my pollinator garden except that it gets less sun so I had less hope.  The only edibles in this area are some dill and cilantro interplanted with the sunflowers, cosmos, foxglove and borage.  Oops! I guess the last counts as an edible too!  

There is a plum, or more likely prune, tree that was here when we moved in in front of the cottage.  It was in pretty bad shape but we've pruned, fertilized and watered it and it is no producing lots of teeny tiny fruit.  Any suggestions on making the fruit bigger?  Thin the fruit right after the tree flowers?

This is the path to the little red coop - where all the drama happens - and, on the left, my pollinator garden.  Hidden in there are baby lemon, lime,  mandarin orange and pomegranate trees, some summer squash which is doing well and some winter squash which is doing nothing.  Oh the right are my raised beds.  More on those to come.

A view from the cottage window - a mature black mission fig that came with the house is in the foreground.  You can just barely make out the Asian pear slightly to the left of the fig.  It is its first year and already has a ton of fruit!!  On the left, behind the sunflowers, is that mature apple tree that we found here.  I'm not sure of the variety but it is a summer apple that seems to be best for baking.  Apples should be ready in the next month so apple crumble here I come!

Directly in front of the cottage are my three raised beds.  The one furthest from the steps and closest to the cottage has mammoth sunflowers behind it.  I've got tomatoes, carrots and peppers in the back two beds with nasturtium and calendula interplanted for pollinators, to repel pests and to look pretty.

The front bed had peas and is currently in transition.  There are some carrots and basil and I'm planning to put in some broccoli, collards and lettuce.  

A giant pumpkin is finally blossoming in front of the chicken coop.  We'll see if it produces anything because everything is so late this year.  I have a native grape climbing this side of the coop and it is flanked by a native flowering shrub and a tree mallow on either side.  To the right is a four in one apple that went in in January and is already producing some fruit.

This is looking from the coop to the cottage.  You can see my baby 4-in-1 apple, a baby 3-in-1 pear and the mature apple. I also have a fenced off area where I planted zinnias, Mexican sunflowers and sunflowers.  I didn't want the kids to trounce them and erected this temporary fix that is looking like it will last all season long.

Finally, here's a peek at what is growing in the garden: crookneck squash, basil, carrots, and my first tomato - not pictured, just eaten!  Oh, and a random egg.

And now, feeling less contrary, I'm linking to the following parties for today's post:

- Homestead Barn Hop
- Harvest Monday
- Tuesday Garden Party
- Garden Tuesday
- Nosy Neighbor Virtual Homestead & Garden Tour

Join the Facebook page to keep the party going!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dirty Hands, Blissful Bank Account

My hands have been pretty dirty lately with garden projects galore.  Most of them are not that exciting.  Dead heading.  Pulling out spent peas.  Putting in more basil.

But some of them made my bank account smile.


I spent all spring thoughtfully shading my girls from the hot summer sun.  After planting a native grape, a California native called Malacothamnus, and a tree mallow.  Everything is growing beautifully and would be providing plenty of shade - if that side of the coop actually got much sun!  Turns out the afternoon sun - and a lot of it - soaks in on the other side.  Oops!!

After brainstorming with the wonderful folks over at Take-Back Urban Homesteading(s) Facebook page about what plants would provide nice shade on the other side, I opted for sunflowers along the run.  I just so happened to have found a giant mason jar filled with seeds from last year's sunflowers!  Then, because sunflowers grow fast but not fast enough, my dad rigged up an old wooden shade that we found in the attic.  (Don't you just love dads!!).

I ended up with perfectly shaded pullets for not a penny spent!  I'll plant a mulberry or pomegranate this fall or winter (yay for bare root prices!) to provide more permanent shade next year.


A few months ago, as I started putting the garden together, I bemoaned having a perch somewhere to sit quietly and watch the finches dive into the sunflower leaves looking for dinner, the bees greedily massage the cosmos and calendula, and the hawk skim the clouds above.

My parents bought me this bench years and years ago.  Lately, it has slunk on the other side of the retaining wall - ignored and out of the way.  Once the plants started to grow, there was time to think about other things.  Like sitting.  We dragged the bench up and my dad made this cute little footpad out of used bricks that were lying about in random piles when we moved in.  (See, dads are really great!).  And now, I have the most perfect watching spot.  I just need to find the time to watch.

(Speaking of piles of bricks, those suckers have come in handy: as stairs for the cottage/playhouse, as a base for the toolshed, and as a border around my raised beds.  Everything was free but the labor.)


Dropping off some eggs at a neighbor's house, I ogled her beautiful garden filled with stepping stones, baby tears, and an iron urn crammed with succulents.  What a minute!! I had an iron urn.  Purchased at half off at a new defunct garden store years ago.

This urn has been lurking next to our trash cans since we moved here.  Mr. Green Bean hauled it up, I rounded up some potting soil and stuffed in a few succulents from the local nursery.  It makes me feel happy every time I walk up the steps.

And that is the beauty of dirty hands!

For more low cost ideas, check out Frugal Fridays at The Shabby Nest.  For in between post thoughts, photos, videos and links, join my Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Barn Raising

Visiting family over 4th of July weekend in California's wine country, I snapped these photos that remind me of just how much I love life away from the city.

* I'm linking to A Southern Daydreamer's OUTDOOR WEDNESDAYS for this post.

Join the Facebook page for more barn raisings.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Weathering the Garden

A month or so ago, I wrote about the impact of unpredictable weather and changing climates on growing food.  Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the biggest impact the last few years has been increasingly cool weather.  Turns out, we are in the minority though because at least our weather is fairly static.  In fact, this year, the "norm" seems to have been cold spells, then weather in the 90s and 100s.  People reported premature going to seed.  Cool weather crops never grew then suddenly bolted and a harvest was out of the question.

Big swings in weather surely will hit us all.  Likely some of us will also have times where the summers are very hot or have no heat at all.  That got me thinking and my fingers typing, researching and compiling lists of how to deal with changing weather in the edible garden.

1) Mulch helps stabilize temperature.  For cooler weather plants, it prevents soil from warmer too quickly and drying out.  For warm weather plants, mulch protects the plant from heat, drying winds and reduces weeds which compete with plants for water.  It also reduces need for water and minimize the effects of heavy rain.  I've only ever used organic mulches, though.  With bigger shifts in temperature, though, and as I become more serious about growing more of our own food, I'm thinking I might need to explore the world of black plastic mulch which is said to promote early growth.

2) Shade susceptible plants. Plant lettuce, spinach and other veggies particularly susceptible to premature bolting in containers that can be moved into the shade or look for a pop up canopy at a garage sale that could shade those beds

3) Choose carefully what you plant.  For instance, look for plants specifically designed to withstand temperature extremes - like Slow Bolt Cilantro.  I hate to say this but heirlooms are not always the way to go.  A while back, a local farmer told me to skip heirloom tomatoes and go with cherry and hybrids like  Early Girl because that is what does best in our area.  We have a lot of disease in our soil she said which the heirlooms are susceptible to.  She was right.  I've done much better with hybrids and cherries than any beautiful heirloom. 

4) Fertilize with thought.  Apparently, you are not supposed to apply high nitrogen fertilizer in late summer or when hot weather is on the horizon.  You should, however, fertilize when there is a lot of rain as heavy rainfall washes away soil nutrients.

5) Invest in some material fixes.  Greenhouses and cold frames can get things moving during a prolonged winter or a cold spring.  A hoop house or row cover is another idea - more scalable than a greenhouse.  All of these things protect against excessive rain and wind and are more appropriately used in cooler weather.  Once it gets too hot, you can remove the plastic from a hoop house or lift the cold frame or cloche.  The greenhouse, by contrast, is pretty static.  To keep things cooler in a greenhouse, ensure that it has vents to expel hot air on hot days.  

6) Adding a water feature in the garden regulates temperatures in the vicinity of that feature.  It can be as expansive as a pond or fountain or as simple as a pot filled with water and some water plants.  Of course, water plants do not tolerate frost so this is more of something that can help with extreme heat.

7) Planting sun traps and windbreaks to regulate the temperature is another handy idea.  Gaia's Garden, my absolute gardening bible, suggests planting in a U-shape to soak that opens in the south but protects from wind with plants in a semi-circle.  It further recommends planting evergreens along the north for a year-round windbreak.  Check Gaia's Garden out from your library for more information about using plants to stabilize temperature in the garden.

I'm anxious to incorporate these ideas in my own micro farm.  What have you tried?  What works for you?

This post is my submission to the Homestead Barn Hop, the Tuesday Garden Party and Garden Tuesday.

Join the Facebook page for updates, photos, video and more.

Friday, July 8, 2011

If You've Got It, Flaunt It!

Gardeners are not a shy lot.  For all that garden parties and garden tours bring up image of demur ladies, begloved and wearing oversized hats, the fact is that we are an earthy people.  We like to get our hands dirty.  We like to dig and fertilize and then dig some more.

Even off-season, while our gardens sleep, we sit, huddled under a blanket, vigorously thumbing through colorful photos of what can only be described as garden porn.  (Or seed catalogues.)

It should come as no surprise that gardeners will do what they've got to do to raise some tomatoes from seed, to fill their yard with bodacious butternuts, and to transform a small, squiggly plant into a groping cucumber vine.  We are sun-worshipers, the lot of us, and where the sun goes, we plant!


Yes, we are that bold.  We will plant where we need to.  Where there is sun and space.  We will grow healthy food for our families.  We will harvest to our heart's content.  We will do it out in public if we have to.  And we will go to jail for it.

Wait?  What?  Go to jail for planting vegetables in the front yard?  Or you out of your raised bed?

The criminal vegetable gardens!  Photo from Oak Park Hates Veggies.

That's crazy talk but apparently that is what is happening in Oak Park, Michigan.  Julie Bass had the gall to grow vegetables in her front yard and now is facing potential jail time for trying to grow her own.
She has been documenting the whole incredible journey on her blog, Oak Park Hates Veggies, or on the Oak Park Hates Veggies Facebook page.  She is facing 93 days in the SLAMMER for having a few raised beds in her front yard.

And the urban homestead and gardening communities are fighting back!  If you care about personal freedom, if you care about growing your own food, if you care about keeping food costs down or knowing what you eat, please stand up for a gardener's right to do it in the front yard.

Join the Oak Park Letter Writing Campaign.  Sign the Petition.  Send physical letters (emails are apparently bouncing since the campaign started) to the following folks trying to lock up a gardener for gardening in public.  Fight for your right to garden!

City Planner:
Kevin Rulkowski

City Manager (Mr. Rulkowski's boss):
Rick Fox
Gerald E. Naftaly

Mayor Pro Tem:
Michael M. Seligson

City Council:
all phone calls go to 248.691.7410

Angela Diggs Jackson

Paul Levine

Emily Duplessis

All snail mail goes to the person you are mailing it to
c/o City of Oak Park
13600 Oak Park Blvd
Oak Park, MI 48237

Full disclosure - I am a former front yard vegetable gardener.  I now do it in the back.  Not because I am ashamed.  I moved and am just following the sun!  Check out the following links for my former posts on front yard edibles.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Just Another Day at the Farm

I recently came across a TV news report about more and more children spending summers on the farm - at farm camps.  The idea is to reconnect children with nature, the source of our food, and hopefully build the farmers - or at least informed eaters - of the future.

As luck would have it, my boys just finished up a week at "farm camp".  They came home dirtier than I have ever seen them and with quite a few scrapes and bruises.  I worried about lack of structure and/or supervision through out the week and bemoaned the 30 minute commute to and from the camp.  At the end of the week, though, I realized "farm camp" was one of the best things I've ever done for my children.

Sure, I have my own micro farm at home but it is not quite the same.  It is run by Mom, instead of Farmer Tom.  It has chickens but no ducks, no duck pond, no pig named Olivia or goat named Lady and, well, the list continues.  It is not adjacent to open space.  There are not mature trees here from which ropes hang or a grove where forts are built from found sticks - though we're working on the last one.

For my child who struggles in school and with the constraints of suburban life, it was a week of freedom.  A week where deficits became strengths.  For my child who thrives in the life of densely populated, he grew, learned to explore and get dirty.  And for me, I felt the joy in watching my kids have just another day at the farm.

Treasures brought home from farm camp.

We'll see you again next summer.  (Unless we're doing a Farm Stay or a dude ranch, which technically qualifies as Agritourism!).

** Click here for the CBS News Report on summers at the farm.

Join the Facebook page for updates, links, photos and more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Can I Get a Do-Over

There isn't a gardener out there who doesn't, at some point during the season, think "can I get a do-over" here!  And the beauty is that you can get a do-over.  Next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that.

I've been gardening for little over a decade and every year I learn something new and I come across something (often some things) that I would do differently.

This year, I am gardening in a new place.  While I watched the sun over the 9 months we were here before I started planting, and while I thought through the irrigation layout, there is still a lot I'd like to do over.

1) The Peas.  It is time for me to finally work out my peas situation.  The cool, wrought iron "vanity cages" just are not cutting it.  Exhibit A - the teetering trellis full of peas at the end of pea season.  Next year, I will invest in a trellis more worthy of my exploding and delicious peas.

You can just barely see the top of the tipping trellis (in front of red coop).

2) The Tomatoes.  Speaking of cages, these pretty vanity cages cannot begin to contain my bursting tomato plants.  And neither can the sassy colored tomato cages the sell at the garden stores these days.  You cannot even see the nice orange colored ones in there.  Frankly, even the old school tomato cages are outdone.  I'm thinking one of those heavy duty cages for next year but I've also seen people trellis and the like.  How do you contain your tomato plants?  Do you ever trim them?

Yes, those are tomatoes leaning out of the beds and touching the ground.

3) Lettuce.  Let us think of a better way to grow my lettuce.  This year, I tucked it in between the three cages of peas.  It looked great and the peas gave the lettuce plenty of shade to prevent it from bolting.  Too much shade as it turned out because the peas soon overwhelmed the lettuce such that I couldn't reach the leaves to harvest and the sun couldn't reach the leaves to keep them a healthy green.  The lettuce died an untimely death after that.

4) The Pumpkins.  What pumpkins?  That is my point.  I'd once read of a citrus guild that contained pumpkins.  It seemed a brilliant idea.  Plus, I'd envisioned a swelling pumpkin patch at the front of my garden ever since we bought the house.  Never mind that the area didn't get quite enough shade.  Never mind that I decided to plant a whole meadow of ginormous wildflowers and sunflowers at the front of the bed, thereby exterminating whatever sunlight there might otherwise have sifted through.  Next year, my pumpkins will be strewn in truly sunny patches throughout the yard - or, at the very least in the front of the bed.

The tiny, non-blooming pumpkin plants are in the back.  You know, behind all the cosmos and sunflowers!

5) The Irrigation.  It is always a good idea to water what you are trying to grow.  Gardening 101.  This year, after going around and around with the guy who put in my irrigation, I let myself be talked out of micro-sprinklers that are close to the ground and can be moved, turned on and off as needed.  Oh no, I let myself be convinced that sprinklers on the outer edges of the beds were the way to go.  That way, when plants grew in front of them, the plants could block all the water and prevent it from getting to the pesky competitors behind them.

Ah well, fool me once shame on me.  But, mother nature, there is no fooling me twice! (Well, there might be but we won't talk about that).  Anyway, I'll be getting a do-over on this garden . . . next year.

*I'm linking to the Tuesday Garden PartyGarden Tuesday and Harvest Monday.

Please join the Facebook page to see what is growing in between posts!


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