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.

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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.

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.