Monday, August 26, 2013

How to keep tomatoes from rotting

This summer has been wet. The tomato crop this season has not been good.
Most people we've talked to say their tomatoes look like -

our heirloom tomatoes last week. 
Hopefully future summer weather will return to normal. In the meantime, we just learned how we can best plant our tomatoes in anticipation for summer rain next year. 

Our friend messaged us how he achieved a successful tomato crop, "My tomato beds are done in hugelkultur. 2 feet deep, filled with hardwood logs, and pile the dirt back on top to be about 2 feet tall. The tomatoes have good drainage now. They're up off the ground so the breeze can keep the plants drier than they would be planted at ground level. Constant water supply and they don't have wet feet. I haven't had a problem with bottom rot or moisture splitting despite all the rain."

They are pretty cool. The photo below is from this place and they have more information on this genius garden bed. 

With less rotting garden tomatoes - the more fresh food we can harvest to preserve for the winter! Read this expert canning supply post about making Salsa from Red Hill's tomatoes, green peppers and hot peppers!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Preserving Apricots

Apricots are in season in much of the country right now. So how can you get these delicious little beauties ready for preserving?

Making Apricot Jam:

Make your own apricot jam.

You will need:
8 cups of apricots, diced
6 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of lemon juice
5 pint jars or 10 half pint jars

Get out your water bath canner and sterilize your canning jars by boiling for 10 minutes.
Get out a stock pot, combine all your ingredients and bring to a boil over med-high heat. Stir occasionally until your sugar is dissolved.
Once the sugar is dissolved bring to a rolling boil and boil for 30 minutes being sure to stir frequently to avoid your mixture from sticking to the stock pot.
Remove pot from the heat and begin filling your jars. Your headspace will be 1/4". (a good canning funnel will help to fill your jars with minimal mess.)
Wipe the jar rims clean and put your canning lids and rings into place. Screw on the rings to finger tightness.
Process jars in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Dried Apricots

Dried apricots make a great snack anytime.

How to Dry your own Apricots:
Using a food dehydrator:
Split each apricot and place them in a single layer onto your dehydrator's trays.
If your dehydrator has a thermostat set it to 135 degrees. Allow the apricots to dry until their skin is leathery. This will typically take about 12 hours.
Check your apricots, they should be pliable and leathery with no juice.
Store your apricots until they are needed.

What is your favorite method for preserving your apricots?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Set your Sundial

The best time and day to set your sundial for most accurate reading for the summer is on June 15th at 12:00. The next date that you will be able to set your sundial for accurate reading will be September 1st at 12:00.

To Set your Sundial
  • Make sure the spot that your sundial is in is level and has full sun.
  • The shadow arm (gnomon) needs to be pointed toward celestial north if you are in the northern hemisphere. This is different than the magnetic north that a compass will show you. To find celestial north you will need to set your sundial at noon. Turn the sundial so the gnomon's shadow falls directly on the sundial's mark that shows where noon is.
  • This is known as SUN TIME.
For the most accurate sundial set it on one of the following days:
April 15, June 15, September 1, December 24.

Keep in mind that to your sundial noon is always going to be when the sun is highest in the sky.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Harvest the Rain

Rainy days remind me of the value of water. I took this photo today as I was walking, thinking about how I wish I could collect these drops of rain and save them for the dryer days of summer to water my plants. When the rain returns to earth, it brings with it the things of the air. The air is clean and sweet in the mountains, so it is not surprising that it makes the fruits of our labor sweeter, too.

Harvesting rainwater is a simple best management practice for gardeners that has the dual purpose of saving money and water resources. At Red Hill, they sit their buckets outside to capture the rain, then use it to water their flowers. Better yet, you can connect a rain barrel to your existing gutter system to store the free, fresh water to keep your gardens, flowers, and lawns fecund all summer long. Here is a lovely picture of Red Hill's dusty miller and geranium flowers glistening with rain today in Hillsville.

Want to learn more? Check out this fact sheet from the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension on the sustainable benefits of harvesting rainwater to treat stormwater runoff.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Window Boxes - A Little Info

We've talked a lot about container gardens in the past and we always mention window boxes, but we've never truly delved into explaining how to get a window box set up properly.

Choosing your window box:
You will need a box that spans the width of your window frame.

How to support your window box:
You will need stout steel angle brackets. The bracket ends need to be bent up in order to hold the box in place. You should then secure the box even further by attaching nooks to the box ends and using short lengths of metal chain or wire, connect to hooks that are screwed into the wall or window frame.

Now, if you have a wide flat window sill that can hold the box then you should still use the hooks and chain, this helps to stabilize the box during wind or bad weather. If your window sill is not horizontal, you will need to get wedge shaped pieces of wood to fit beneath the box and be sure that they are thick enough and spaced far apart enough for your box to be able to have a drip tray.

How to choose your brackets:
The brackets come in a variety of sizes and designs. Choose ones that suit your home's exterior, but are also strong enough to support your window box.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Using 5 Gallon Buckets in a Container Garden

We've noticed that our container gardening blogs are a big hit with you guys. Which is great! Container gardens are an easy way to break into gardening or to be able to maintain a garden with a busy schedule. When you have a container garden your work is cut nearly in half (if not more so) as it is easier to keep your plants healthy by keeping weeds at bay and being able to more easily amend the soil. Bucket Outlet featured a blog recently on how to use 5 gallon buckets in your garden and we thought we would share it here as well:
Vegetable gardening can seem like a huge chore to undertake, but if you create a container garden for your vegetables, you can maintain your plants much easier. All you need are some 5 gallon buckets. If you want to mix things up a little, you can also use galvanized tubs or even camouflage buckets. If you have some plants that don't need as much space, you can add smaller plastic buckets to the mix for a stepping stone effect to your container garden.

First step is to prep your buckets:
Be sure that your bucket is either new, or if it is a recycled bucket that it was never used to hold any type of chemical since you will be growing foods for consumption in them.
Using a drill, make drainage holes in the bottom of your bucket, they should be about 5/8". You will need about 10 or so holes for good drainage.
To keep the holes from getting stopped up with soil, add about 1-2" of gravel to the bottom of you bucket.
Fill with a good potting soil, fill to within 1.5" from the top of the bucket.

Plant your Vegetables:
Choose your vegetables that you want to plant, be sure you read how much space each plant needs, how much sun, and water.
Plant your plants according to their needs. Try not to plant too close to the sides of the bucket or you risk your plants getting too hot. Keep them at least 1.75" from the edge of the bucket.
If you have plants that are small enough to plant near one another, keep in mind which plants make good companions to each other.
Place your buckets in your yard for the best sunlight, and easy access for watering. You will need to check container plants daily for whether they need water or not as container plants tend to dry out more quickly.

Be sure to harvest fruits and vegetables as they ripen, this will help your plants continue to produce throughout the season.
We hope this information helps you in getting started on your very own container garden! If you have tips or questions don't hesitate to leave them for us in the comments. 

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