Going to Have to Chop Down the Apple Tree

The part hanging down used to be above head level.  Now it is almost touching the ground.

The part hanging down used to be above head level. Now it is almost touching the ground.

I got home today to a nasty surprise: the apple tree had been crippled by a recent storm. So much of the tree is destroyed, in fact, that I will be cutting it down entirely after I harvest the few apples that are not the part that broke off.  The silver lining to this is that there is another apple tree growing right at the base of this one that should take off next year because this one will not be taking up as many nutrients or sunlight.

There is a somewhat pressing problem now.  There are a bunch or small, unripe apples on the tree that are going to die.  I would prefer to do something useful with them rather than just throw them on the ground and hope that some seeds matured enough to sprout.  I know that pectin can be extracted from slightly unripe apples, but I have never done it before and don’t know how much under ripe an apple can be and still work.

Thinned the Radishes

The radishes I "thinned" out.

The radishes I “thinned” out.

Today, I noticed the radishes are crowding each other again, so I took this as an opportunity to thin them out.  However, at this point, it more resembles harvesting than thining: when thinning out the radishes, I picked the larger of the radishes to remove.  This left me with a pile of radishes that are fit for eating and cooking with.  Still working out what to do with them; any suggestions are very welcome. The sprouts for the next round of radishes have sprouted already, so I don’t see the stream of radishes stopping anytime soon.  Hopefully the carrots catch up and I have more carrots than I know what to do with to deal with.

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Irises Bloom, Plantings Continue, and the Remaining Peaches

The first Iris to bloom in my garden.

The first Iris to bloom in my garden.

I went out to work weed the garden a couple of days ago to find that some of the Irises that I received from my Grandparents in Utah are starting to bloom.  I planted these about mid-summer last year and they grew through-out the year.  Now, some of the larger plants are starting to bloom.  The whole thing is rather exciting, because I have no idea what colors I am going to get.

A line planted with radishes.

A line planted with radishes right next to the surviving 16 garlic plants.

I still have quite a bit of space in the garden, so today I spent some time filling things in.  I planted several lines of radishes and lettuce.  The lettuce mainly went right next to the flowers where I don’t have to worry about pulling up a root crop disturbing the flowers.  The radishes went into places where digging them up is not going to be an issue.  I’m trying to fill up the garden as best I can so that I can get a good harvest and also so that I can crowd out weeds.  I would be very happy if the weeds had no space to grow.

One of the peaches that survived the late frost that killed the blossoms.

One of the peaches that survived the late frost that killed the blossoms.

A few of the peaches survived a late cold snap are now starting to get large enough to actually determine how much was lost.  I estimate that I will be getting about 20 to 40 times fewer fruit from the peach tree this year.  It remains to be seen if the fruit decide to grow larger this year to compensate.  I plan to skip thinning the tree of fruit like I did last year in an attempt to get larger fruit.

The weather this year has been very difficult.  We have had several late cold snaps that keep killing early plantings and flower blossoms.  I haven’t planted a lot of crops out of fear they will end up getting killed.  The tomatoes and the peppers are still in the greenhouse.  The cold has also ended up stunting the growth of plants along with germination rates.  About the only things that seem invulnerable to the cold are the perennials, the garlic and the peas.

Pea Sprouts and Flowering Cherries

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A honey bee on a cherry blossom. When I took this picture, the whole tree was buzzing with insects.

The last chance of frost is quickly approaching.  Already, one late frost hit the peach tree pretty hard and almost all of the blossoms died before starting to set fruit.  Compared to last year, only about one in ten or twenty flowers is setting fruit.  I hope the tree will compensate by making larger fruit, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy with whatever fruit I do get.  I still have several jars of canned peaches in the pantry to use.  The cherry trees and the apple tree missed that freeze and are in the process of blooming, and hopefully the soft freeze forecasted for next week does not affect fruit set.  At least this year, I know which tree is which.  Last year, I mistakenly though the cherry tree was actually an apple.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

About a week and a half ago, I started direct planting peas and beans in the garden. So far, the results have been rather mixed.  I have had five pea plants sprout and several of the beans also sprouted.  However, the beans don’t seem to be surviving the cold night temperatures, so it is just as well that the majority of the beans to sprout yet.  I have plans to plant the beans close enough that they basically form a blanket over the garden bed.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vines are just starting to put leaves on.  Last year, the grape vines had this happen almost a month earlier.  In general, this growing season seems to be taking its time to get going.  Not that I mind too much.  I just am anxious to start seeing the results of my work.  Last year, was not able to do very much with the grapes I harvested, and almost all of them went into the freezer. Because they are seeded grapes, they are not really useful for eating straight, so grape juice and wine are really the only uses for them and only the grape juice is really an option for me because I refuse to drink alcohol of any form.  The only way I could get juice out was to cook the grapes and then strain them thru cloth.  The resulting juice had oxidized and was not very good.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice.  This is the same style of juicer that my wife's grandmother used.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice. This is the same style of juicer that my wife’s grandmother used.

About a week ago, I got a steam juicer in and was able to easily turn the grapes into very good tasting grape juice, along with the peach peals and apple peelings and cores.  The juices will probably need to be mixed to get a good final product, particularly with the peach as it is quite tart, but overall, they taste quite good.  The grapes in particular were quite good because the juicer keeps the grapes from oxidizing and giving the juice an off taste.

A Break in the Heat for the Start of the Apple Harvest

The heat in Oklahoma appears to have broken.  I’m glad this has happen as all the plants in my garden have stopped fruiting.  No beans.  No tomatoes.  Now that we are back down into the high 90s, the tomatoes are starting to flower again.  We even got a quarter inch of rain yesterday.

Half a bucket of apples. Like just about everything else that came with the house, don’t know variety. McIntosh, perhaps?

Also, this week, the apples are ripening, which means harvest time and a scramble to preserve as much as I can for when the harvest is over.  I’ve been a bit confused as to when the apples are ready, mainly because this is the first time I’ve dealt with apples that I’ve picked off a tree and partly because I don’t know what they are supposed to look like when they are ready to pick.  I am already starting to preserve some of the apples by drying them into apple chips.  I also intend to try making apple sauce and apple butter.  I’m also saving the peals and cores to attempt extracting pectin so that I don’t have to buy pre-packaged pectin when making jellies.

Peach Harvest in Full Swing, and Grape Harvest Finished

The peaches a week ago. I got the first round of peaches on Monday.

I’ve been working like crazy over the past two weeks because the grapes decided to ripen last week and the peaches decided it was time to ripen this week.  I ended up not being in the mood to post anything last week because I managed to cut the tip of one of my fingers.  Two weeks and a preventative Tetanus shot later, my just about completely healed. I’ve hurt myself more in the eight months since I’ve moved here and started gardening than the previous two or three years.

Two bags of grapes and a bunch of tomatoes.

For the most part, the grapes ended up being frozen.  This was the simplest way and while they wouldn’t do very well with a power outage, they will otherwise be fine and it gave me time to take care of other things.  A portion of the grapes I turned into grape juice that I later used for canning peaches.

The first batch of peaches filled four five-gallon buckets full.  And that ended up being only about half of the harvest.  Tuesday and Wednesday were spent busy pealing, pitting, heating and canning all the peaches I could.  Not all of the peaches were good.  A number of them were partially eaten by some large ants while they were still on the tree and several were partially rotten or otherwise bad and had to be discarded.

One shelf in my small pantry is nearly completely filled with peaches. Tomorrow, there will be even more here.

Even after throwing away a lot of the peaches, I ended up with four and a half gallons of canned peaches.  As of now, I have six quarts and twenty-two pints of peaches canned.  I am definitely going to need to start making peach cobbler and start looking for other peach recipes.  It is not much use to can so many peaches and have them go bad before they can be eaten.

My second batch of the peach harvest.

I got another three five-gallon buckets full of peaches again today.  I plan on spending a large portion of Saturday pealing, pitting, heating and canning peaches.  I am not sure how much this will end up as, but the majority of this will be going into quart-sized  jars.

The Tomatoes Ripen

Three of the tomatoes are turning red. This is one of them.

I’ve been awaiting this moment all year: I have my first tomatoes ripening.  I’m not quite sure when this variety of tomato is best picked, so I am trying a few different times to get a feel for the timing.  The remaining tomato plants have more tomatoes that I am willing to count right now, and several of them will probably start ripening soon.  I suspect that I will have a nice continuous tomato harvest from now until the frost kills the plants.  Once I start processing the tomatoes, I am going to attempt to save seed for use next year.  I’ve seen a few tutorials on how to save tomato seeds, but like everything else I’ve learned, there is a fairly big difference between watching somebody doing what you want and actually doing it.

The peaches have started turning color.

It has been a while since I posted anything on the peaches, mainly because nothing interesting has been happening with the peaches. They have just slowly, but steadily, grown in size. Now, they have finally started changing color. This signals that they are getting close to being ready to harvest. I am guessing that harvest will be between two weeks and a month and a half. I really don’t know how long they take and when exactly they are ripe.  As soon as they are ready, though, they will all be harvested, pitted and canned for use later.

The garden is pretty much full now.

My mother came over today and brough seventy strawberry plants, numerous irises, day lilies, and assorted other flowers. Because I don’t really have anywhere else to put them at the moment, they went into the garden plot. Many of them will be remaining in the garden for as long as I can keep them alive and I will be dividing them for the plants that will go into the front flower beds. Those beds need some work to get ready and I won’t be doing that until next spring at the earliest.  The space in the garden plot that was remaining after the flowers went in, I planted out with more pinto beans. This is for fertilizing the ground thru nitrogen-fixing bacteria, experimenting with planting methods and if I am lucky, some more beans.

The pumpkin continues to grow larger.

If I want to grow more food next year, I will end up needing to expand the garden plot.  I have already expanded the plot by about a foot on one side already, and it is a lot of work with a garden hoe.  The two biggest problems with doing this is hard, dry Oklahoma soil and grass.  The first limits how much time I have to work the soil and the second makes it a lot more difficult.  Especially when it tries to take back the area already cleared. I know that machinery would make it take a lot less time, but I enjoy the exercise I get doing it by hand, especially since I end up sitting at work so often.

My First Zucchini!

My first zucchini. This is the heirloom “Black Beauty” variety.

This morning, I was out in the garden checking on things.  The tomatoes are still growing and at last count there was thirty-seven tomatoes visible without looking up into the withering flowers, but none of the tomatoes are turning red yet.  The big surprise today was that I finally have a zucchini growing.  I’ve been awaiting this for the past month or so, especially after the tomatoes and beans started coming in.  I have a few more zucchini other than the obvious one.  A little bit disconcerting was that one of the other zucchini plants was pretty much covered in small stink bugs.  I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes removing them from existence.  I am glad that I have yet to use any synthetic chemicals on my garden.  I can’t claim I haven’t used any chemicals at all, because even water is a “chemical”.  But I know I haven’t used any industrially manufactured chemicals.

Apricots in syrup before being placed in the hot water bath for canning.

I got a handful of apricots from my neighbor a couple of days ago and I was starting to worry that I would not be eating them before they went bad, so I canned them.  I definitely see an apricot tree in my future.  They were a dream to prepare for canning compared to the cherries.  Add to that the fact they taste pretty good, and it makes for a good fruit to can and eat.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had almost two inches of rain here.  I am very grateful for the rain.  Hopefully the rain continues to come regularly and keeps us out of drought this year.  It makes me happy to have full rain barrels and being able to skip manually watering the plants.

Preserving The Cherries

Drying cherries completely makes them shelf stable. And incredibly sour.

I have started to preserve the cherries I have harvested so I can eat them during the rest of the year. I have been drying and canning cherries.  A gallon-sized bag has been run thru the dehydrator I got from my mother.  The first batch sort of work, but still had too much water in them, so they had the consistency of raisins. The second batch was right with a consistency closer to corn flakes.  The low water content makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow in it and hence it takes much longer for it to go bad. I may be drying some more cherries, but now that the canning stuff I had ordered has arrived, that is how most of the remaining cherries will be preserved.

Four jars of cherries. Would have looked better if they weren’t frozen for two weeks before being canned.

These cherries will eventually be turned into cherry pie, tarts or some other confection that I have yet to discover.  The cherries aren’t much to look at and definitely would not do well in a competition.  Not that I would even attempt to enter these.  These were all pitted by hand by squashing out the put thru the hole where the stem joined the fruit.  The result is a quite misshapen fruit.  Good thing the shape of cherries are not at all important to the taste of cherry pies.

Sweetened cherry syrup. Goes wonderfully on ice cream.

The other side effect of this method of pitting the cherries is that I get a lot of cherry juice.  Rather than just throw away this juice, I decided that I wanted to try making cherry syrup.  Add a bit of sugar, in this case white sugar as I haven’t had a honey harvest yet, and boil the sugar-juice mixture down until thick.  The resulting syrup is quite sweet and nowhere near as tart as the original cherries.

First Harvest of the Year

My mother came down to my home Saturday to bring tools and help with some mechanical troubles the lawn mower was having.  Anyways, while giving her the grand tour of the place to show the progress the plants were making, she told me that the cherries were ripe and needed to be picked.  Soon.  So I spent the rest of the day picking cherries.

The bucket about a quarter full of cherries.

Picking the cherries took quite a bit longer that I thought it would.  I have a tendency to under-estimate how long things will take. It ended up taking about six hours to harvest all the cherries I could from the tree.  There were a few in the very top of the tree that I was unable to reach.  I had the exact same problem when I thinned the peach tree.  Both will have that section of the tree pruned off for next year.

Anyways, the process I used when picking the cherries was: remove as many cherries as I can hold in my hand before I started dropping cherries on the ground and then toss them into a bucket filled with water.  Having the water in the bucket served two purposes for me.  First, it kept the cherries moderately cool until I could get them inside for long-term storage.  Second, it allowed me to drop cherries from the top of a ladder into the bucket without having to climb down.  If I had not done that, it would likely have taken twice as long as it did.

Bagging cherries to freeze and testing dehydrating cherries.

All told, I harvested nearly enough cherries to fill a five gallon bucket.  I am not sure how much that is exactly as I don’t have a scale that I can use to weigh the haul.  After I finished harvesting, I put them all in the freezer so they don’t go bad before my wife and I can do something with them.  I am on a business trip until Thursday this week and will be unable to do anything useful on the homestead during that time.