I love the fall. It’s lovely to turn on the gas fireplace in my apartment and watch the flames. I love sitting with a book, making holiday treats, and watching holiday movies.
With the holidays and the New Year are on their way, it is also a good time to reassess what you did with the year just spent. Enjoy the success and hard work! Analyze the failure, and regroup for next year.
Unfortunately, I’m doing more of the latter, than the former.
This year did not work according to plan. In fact, this year began with a maniacal laugh at my plans (I had emergency surgery in January), and proceeded to run, screaming, in the opposite direction.
PLAN FOR THE YEAR: Grow some of my own food, using skills learned in my Master Gardening classes. Complete the Master Food Safety Advisor program, and put the training to use. Ferment pickles and cabbage. Can chicken, tomatoes, tomatillos, and green beans, among other things. Dry herbs and store. Begin making soap again. Begin knitting again. Begin making shampoo/facial cleaners/household cleaners again.
I might have cut off a bit more than I can chew.
Item The First: Grow my own food.
Originally, I expected to grow my own tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, cabbage, green beans, and an assortment of herbs. According to my plan, I would preserve the fruits of my gardening labors using methods learned in the Master Food Safety Advisors class. These methods include pressure canning, fermentation, and freezing.
And then reality hit.
My cabbage plants began wonderfully; it warmed up enough in March I could put them outside in grow bags I bought for that purpose, and I kept an eye on temperatures so they didn’t freeze. My patio is a nice little micro-climate, and doesn’t get as cold as some of the surrounding area, so I did not really need to cover them at all; merely water them once a week. I was thrilled when my raspberry plant, which I thought dead, appeared to come back. In May, when it warmed up even more, I planted tomatillos, green beans, and cucumbers. I found a thornless blackberry plant and a boysenberry plant. I bought organic potatoes and planted them in the potato grow bag I bought for them. I bought several different herbs and potted them in terra cotta pots outside my sliding glass doors. And it was good.
I checked my plants before Memorial day weekend, and watered them a couple of days before I went out of town for 2 days the first week of June. When I got back, my cabbages were full of holes from a visiting cabbage looper. They never recovered.
So, no cabbage for sauerkraut.
I did a pretty good job of keeping up with the other plants until July, when I had an extra-busy time at work. You would think a Master Gardener would remember to water the plants on her patio, but alas, it is not always so. By the time I remembered it, the cabbage was well and truly dead, the cucumbers (which had been looking pretty good!) were a dried out yellow, the beans had wilted to an unrecoverable state, and all my herbs were dried in their pots. Miraculously, the tomatillos were doing very well, and even had blooms! But they never got past the bloom stage. The boysenberry and blackberry all croaked, and I’m pretty sure the raspberries are completely dead. I’ll be cleaning out the detritus this week, into the bag I hope will be the beginnings of compost next season.
Outcome: foiled, but with a Back-up Plan.
Item the Second; ferment pickles and sauerkraut.
Though my cabbage died, I was not entirely discouraged. No big deal, right? The stores sell cabbage! So I bought 5 pounds of cabbage, spent an hour one Sunday evening cutting it up and putting it and the appropriate amount of brine into a 5-gallon glass jar, and attempted to weigh it down with a plastic bag filled with brine, as demonstrated in our fermenting class.
For the first few days, everything was lovely. It had a tart, sauerkraut-y smell. But it never *quite* got to what I needed; about 10 days after I set it to ferment, slightly black-red spots appeared when I looked at the jar in a particular light. Nothing *too* terrible-looking, but as I had never seen sauerkraut ferment, I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not.
It was not. Apparently, when they say you have to pound the air out of cabbage, they weren’t kidding. There was air all through it, and I’m sure that contributed to it’s final demise. So, two months later I tossed out my 5 gallons of cabbage and brine, bought another head of cabbage (just one this time), and tried again in a smaller container. I put some brine in the jar first, and dropped the cabbage in, pushing it down as I went. I was pretty sure I didn’t have a lot of air bubbles this time around; and I used the alkaline water from my new ionized water filter. I was so proud to use my new Kangen water machine; no dirty, chlorinated water for MY cabbage!
Such good water to drink!
SO bad for fermenting!
The extra ion aerates the water, and guess what?? Air is not a good thing for fermenting. So that got thrown out, too.
I have not tried sauerkraut again. But I will! I am determined to master it!
The death of my cucumbers (by my own hand, no less!) was especially discouraging; I adore a good pickle, and I was looking forward to fermenting kosher dill pickles I, personally, raised. But the Farmer’s Market came to my rescue! I bought several pounds of pickling cucumbers and the appropriate spices, and set them to ferment in a brine of the appropriate salinity. They did wonderfully for the first ten days! They looked pickled, they smelled pickled, and I was so excited! Technically, they were half-sours, which is good; but I prefer a full sour. So I determined to wait the rest of the time.
Then, I came downstairs one morning and saw snow on my pickles.
Literally, it looked like it had snowed in my pickle jar. I was heartbroken! All those lovely pickles, now obviously bacteria-fied.
Still, I was not going to give up. I picked up MORE pickling cukes at the Farmer’s Market, and repeated the process. It didn’t even get 10 days before things started looking fishy.
Outcome: No pickles. No sauerkraut.
I shall conquer this. I SHALL!
Item The Third: pressure can assorted low-acid foods.
Most of the items I wished to can were low-acid foods, thus requiring a pressure canner. As I have not used a pressure-canner unsupervised, this was a bit daunting, as was the fact I did not *actually* have a pressure canner. I solved this by mentioning to my mother that I wanted to look at her pressure canner, which sits unused in the garage, and has for thirty years. My mother does not pressure can because she thought she’d blow up the house. Since she was going out of town, she allowed me to borrow it and have the gauge checked.
The gauge was perfect.
I found instructions from the manufacturer, and read them over several times. I was so excited to get started!
I prepped several jars of cold-pack chicken, put them in the canner, tightened the lid as per the instructions, vented, put on the weight to begin building pressure, and began to watch the pressure gauge.
It stopped at 8 pounds.
I waited 45 minutes, and it never got over it. The canner vented steam out one side the entire time, and I never did get it to seal.
So. All that chicken got thrown into the fridge. I took the canner back to my mother and determined to try it again.
At a later date.
With my own canner.
Outcome: pressure canning is a bust. At least I didn’t blow up the house!
I’ll have to try it with my own pressure canner; I am going to chalk that up to user error brought on by parental equipment. With my OWN canner, I’m sure it will be perfect.
Item the Fourth: Grow and preserve my own herbs. Herbs died with the garden. However, I do have a lovely new dehydrator, purchased especially for this, which I used to dry several leeks. I have a half-gallon jar filled with dried leeks now.
I also dried dill seed from the dill I didn’t use in pickling. I dried that successfully, and while attempting to separate the seed from the stems, got dill seed stuck in my flour sifter.
Apparently that wasn’t one of my brighter ideas. But I have a lot of dill seed now!
Outcome: slightly successful, and something I can continue to work on through the winter, as herbs can be grown indoors.
Item the Fifth: make soap again. This was successful! At least, I made soap once. On Memorial Day, I made a lovely lemongrass Castile soap using a cold-process method. I got 12 bars out of it, and it smelled divine. The soap cured all summer, and I began using it in September. It was heavenly, and I am dying to make soap again. Perhaps over Thanksgiving; I want to do a batch of hot process I can use immediately, and cold process I can use over the winter.
Outcome: Soap successfully made!!
Item the Sixth: begin knitting again. I have started a new project. However, I’ve only knitted about 16 rows on it. Still, it will be a cute tea cozy. If I can ever get it done.
Outcome: Slightly successful, with a new project on the needles.
Item the Seventh: begin making homemade facial/beauty products, and shampoo/conditioner. This has been slightly successful. I have found a good facial cleanser recipe that works pretty well, but I have not found a recipe for a moisturizer that will work. I have one I’d like to try, but I haven’t had time recently to make it up- lotion requires a couple of hours to do it properly, and I haven’t been able to focus.
I found a good shampoo recipe, but it requires Castile soap, which I do not like using. However, I found shampoo soap bars, which not only work beautifully, but are something I can easily make at home with my soap-making supplies. I have found several recipes to try, and think it will work well when I can process it.
The best conditioners, surprisingly enough, are a bit of diluted vinegar. I’ve been using apple cider vinegar, and I discovered a few weeks ago I wasn’t diluting it enough; it should be 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water, rather than 1-1, as I was doing. I hope this cuts down the vinegar smell on my hair. However, it leaves my hair soft, wavy, and very clean. I’m only washing it every other day now- it doesn’t really need it any more than that.
Outcome: successful, in unexpected ways.
Well, not the year I had planned, but not entirely unsuccessful, either. Hopefully, I will have my own property next year in time for the growing season, and that will help things tremendously; it’s hard to homestead in a small apartment.
My biggest problem has been time management; working from home, it is hard to drag myself away from students and grading and the computer. So I think next year I will focus on bringing the balance I want in my life into my work and computer time.
Maybe that’s the lesson from this year; balance and planning will make me successful!
Onward and upward. The New Year awaits!