Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Getting involved with my local community, and come thoughts on Rancho "Going Green"

The widget you see to the right is for the Meetup group I started specifically to help other local gardeners. My friend Mandi was generous enough to 'sponsor' us by giving me one of her subscription slots, which is why shes listed as the organizer and I'm the assistant. But in reality I rule with an absolute iron will.....HAHA just kidding. I do post alot of info tho, everything I come across on blogs, UC cooperative extension articles, other states extension articles, forums, etc. I know not everyone has as much time ( or passion) to search the world wide web as I do on nights like this when I can't sleep.

Master Gardening classes are going wonderfully. Monday nights are now my "ME" night. Chris gets home early, I have my 20 minute ( not much traffic thank GOD) drive to Loma Linda, then I get to sit in the beautiful Loma Linda East Campus' new tranquility garden and relax and read a bit before class. I love my kids but man I've missed having an activity that doesn't revolve around them. Last week we learned about the basics of soil ( types, composition, water holding capacity) and water ( its structure, how plantsuse it, its relation to soil type, irrigation) and this week we learned all about irrigation. An expert who works for Rainbird ( and also a master gardener) came and spoke to us about different types of irrigation systems, sprinklers, drip systems, timers, controllers, planning an efficient irrigation system, upcoming legislation regarding residential water, theres alot more to watering then the ole' thumb over the hose thats for sure. Some of it I knew from designing my garden's drip system, but now I can see where theres tons of room for improvement.

I've also been approached to do a talk on organic gardening a a local library, hooray! I'm in the process of getting those details from the library and checking if I can get community service hours for it ( since I need 50 hours for the Master Gardener certification). Its exciting to think in March I could be speaking to the public about something I love with a name tag saying I'm a trained Master Gardener. It gives me goosebumps.

Being the overacheiver that I am ( or was in my life before kids...) I'm also planning on God willing taking the county's Master Composting seminar later this month to become a Master Composter- and hopefully be able then to give classes in my city about it. Sadly my city is a little slow on that part of green living...but they are building and promoting some huge LEED Platinum building (aka build up to the strictest 'green' building codes) as an office building. Interesting...but eh. In contrast the Sam J. Racadio Highland Library and Environmental Learning Center that just opened up in Highland a few months ago is only a Gold LEED building but is more then just a 'green' library building. It also has a rooftop garden and many programs designed to provide and promote environmental education .

woot, thank you Green Valley Initiative! I think....hopefully its not just another cleverly disguised lobbying group.

At least theres finally some atttention to the issue. San Bernardino county is pushing for all of their cities to become more "green". I am proud that my city is trying to become "green" certified, but theres more to it then putting in fancy buildings with nifty soar panels and recycled materials. We have NO community garden, NO composting program, and NO recycled green waste availible to the public. Tsk Tsk. I think responsible horticulture ( xeriscaping, organic gardening, green waste recycling,sustainable agriculture) are also very important issues community members should be encouraged to learn more about. How can you be "green" without growing PLANTS? hmm?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Late Summer Update

Hey everyone, sorry for the big hiatus again. One thing I didnt quite realize was just how much time I needed to dedicate to my garden weeding, watering, and of course, harvestng and preserving. Literally figs "not quite ripe" one day will be mushy and too ripe within a few days so I have to be checking every day to catch them when they are perfect. Tomatos are a big more forgiving but a few times I waited too long ( trying to let them develop maximum sun kissed flavor) and they has soft rotten spots on them or bugs found them.

Cantaloupes are the worst with this- you have to pick them at "full slip" when you lift the fruit it readily deattatches from its vine- that means its ripe. Sometimes I don't see them nestled in all the tangle of leaves and vines and by the time I find them little bugs have chewed holes into the soft spot where the melon is resting on he ground and the melon rots to the center before I find it. Its quite frustrating to be searching for melons, finding one thats already off the vine, pick it off and have it dissintegrate into a pile of emptyskin, goo, and seeds in my hand. Sometimes this happens in the house to, I set my picked fruit on the table and forget to put them in the fridge/eat them right away and with how warm its been they rot sitting on the table. Thankfully I've only lost a few melons, I had harvested 12, yes TWELVE of them in one day some weeks ago and had ot usily chop them all and freeze them, no way I could eat all of them and even if they are mushy when thawed should make a decent cereal or fruit salad addition in winter. I'm still finding 1 or 2 ripe melons a week, and the vines are still flowering. They taste INCREDIBLE, I've never ever had such sweet wonderful melons in the stores.

Ironically, these plants were a result of store bought melon I had thrown the seeds in the composter, and they all sprouted. The seedlings I had tried to start in trays died, and the ones planted in ground were eaten by a bug, so I tried planting some of these random seedlings to see how they'd fare in the garden. So I have no idea what the name of the variety is, but they taste amazing.

Of course my Husband wanted pics of my melons. And I wanted to post them on the internet. Original huh? ( Even more ironic that I'm trying to look sexy and not laugh at myself when I look like crap after working outside all morning)

I also finally broke down and bought a pressure canner. I have processed a ton of strawberry jam, raspberry jam, fig jam, tomatos, tomatillos, salsa and dilly beans (picled green beans) but I really wanted to be able to can this bumper crop of butternut squash, and for that I can't use a boiling water canner. I sold my brand new, in the box, singer sewing machine I got 2 years ago and still had never used ( and had no clue how). I needed a pressure canner. So I used the funds from the sewing machine to buy a 23 quart Presto Pressure Canner off Amazon.

Heres a pic of it next to my boiling water canner for comparison. Please excuse the grungy stove, after a long afternoon of canning a stove will not look clean no matter how many spills you try and wipe up LOL.

I have been quite enjoying my expanded canning possibilities. I had 7 quarts of homemade chicken stock frozen in various tupperwards in my chest freezer and needed the space for freezing meat and bread. Plus sometimes its a pain to wait for the 'brick' of stock to melt when making soup. So I asked around on some forums and found out its perfectly safe to thaw, boil, and can previously frozen chicken stock. The boiling water canner minus the canning rack makes an excellent large pot for boiling stock. The pressure canner was very easy to use, I was scared it would blow up but it really was easy once I read the directions and followed them step by step. I even used it as a pressure cooker to make a pork roast. Usually I cook it slowly overnight in the slow cooker, but I was able to cook a very fork tender, flavorful roast in about 2 hours. My local market had a crazy manager special on some organic rainbow carrots, 20 cents per 2 pound bag ( 5 bags for $1). Apparently people we'rent buying them since they weren't all that "traditional" orange, its a mix of heirloom varieties. Their loss was my gain and I happily practiced pressure canning with 10 pounds of carrots. Alton Brown had a show where he made chicken stock in a pressure in hours rather then how I do it simmering slowly for 2 days. I may try it one day for comparison, but I'm cusiour of the pressure cooker extracts as much minerals and collegen from the bones into the stock. But first I needed to can some butternit squash....quite a bit of it.

Canning the squash was an all day project. Apparently you cannot can mashed or pureed winter squash for safty reasons, you can only can them in cubes with a pressure canner. I realized by accident that by canning the butternut squash the same day as I pick them the skin isnt hard and much easier to peel with an ordinary kitchen knife. I didn't even have to soften the squash by baking or steaming it. Thankfully Walthum butternut doesnt have much in the way of seeds, so I didnt waste much squash in peeling and seeding. The result is some very gorgeous looking canned squash. I keep opening the pantry door just to admire my handywork!

Heres my other pantry shelf stuffed with home canned goodness: