Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Winding down a crooked path

Hello all! It's been a very trying several months since we last wrote. Let's see if I can sum up the homestead happenings.

We were very happy to have food in the greenhouse all winter this year. It was a very warm and strange winter, but we can't complain when beets, carrots, greens, even a few tomatoes and eggplant were with us until January. We tried covering the greenhouse with plastic this year - just gave her a blanket of 6mil over the roof and secured with 1x4s along the sides. We have to think this and the additional water barrels (total of 3 now) helped, but it's hard to tell when Mother Nature is being so cooperative.

In contrast, the cold spring, and several medical issues, have kept us from getting the summer gardens completely in this year. We finally do have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, some squash, and melons in - not where we had planned, but they are doing okay. Raised beds are going in to make the gardens a little easier to manage with the limitations now faced. Oh, and how can I forget, the zucchini was started early this year in the greenhouse - so the Zucchini Times are coming sooner than usual!

We are still working on the house - added four new windows and will be beefing up insulation on half the house this summer. We are adding a woodstove this year to see if we can get enough heat to keep the geothermal down. We are selling our Harman Pellet Stove if anyone needs one - just send us an email. It's a good stove, we just want to reduce the electric draw in winter.

The dogs are all doing well - Bella will always be the 'baby.' She cries anytime one of us takes Jet or Oskar (her mom and dad) away somewhere. What ever would she have done if we had sold her? I promise to follow with some pictures soon. I do have to say - for those of you who do not know - the name of our homestead, Dharma Dogs Farm, came from our first German Shepherd Danny and I had together. His name was Storm, and our world revolved around him. So, when we decided to name this little half acre homestead, Dharma Dogs reflected the movement we were trying to make (the right path) and our love of our dog :) Little did we know then, that we would end up with a whole pack! Even so, we don't sell the dogs, only a few puppies from an unexpected litter. As much as we would love to do German Shepherd rescue, we don't have the land we would need to be fair to the dogs. We're just trying to live a peaceful existence, providing for ourselves as best we can, and sharing with all of you to build a community of like-minded friends - just like many of you :)

We hope you all are healthy, safe, happy, and excited to have the Zucchini Times so near! :)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The December Greenhouse

Thankful for the sun ten days from Winter Solstice, I took the annual pictures of the December greenhouse. We are very lucky this year to have had eggplant and habanero peppers right until Thanksgiving. We pulled those that weekend and seeded some Radicchio and Peas to see what they would do. Here is the roundup:

We had not been able to grow Lettuce all year this year (we only used seeds we had from previous years and germination was not good this year), but finally it is growing in the greenhouse.

We have Swiss Chard,


Red Beets,



and Leeks.

The Chives have been cut back inside the greenhouse. There are still harvestable Chives outside - these will grow throughout the winter.

Italian Parsley has germinated and should grow the rest of the winter.

and my prize every December - my Greek Oregano is doing fine.

Outside, there are still onions, radishes, leeks, and broccoli.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Peace from Dharma Dogs Farm

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preserving the Harvest - Step by Step Crushed Tomatoes

We use a lot of tomatoes - Italian is our favorite cuisine, so our tomatoes are used in everything from pizza and sauce to rustic stews and soups. We have never yet grown enough to meet our need, even though the tomato garden usually looks like this:
The Tomato Forest

Okay - down to it. Our favorite way to preserve the tomato harvest is to make crushed tomatoes and can them. These are perfect to throw into a soup or stew, easy to cook down into sauce, and easy enough to make.

Step 1 - Pick your tomatoes.

Pick your tomatoes nice and ripe - this is a mixture of Roma, Pompeii, San Marzano, Pompadoro, Beefsteak, and Brandywine. We mix every ripe tomato into these. Wash your tomatoes well and drain on a towel.

Step 2 - Ready the tomatoes for skinning and seeding. With a sharp paring knife, carefully remove the core from each tomato, then cut a small x on the bottom. This is to aid in removing the skins. Also remove any insect damage, disease, or soft parts of the tomato.

Step 3 - Skin and Seed the Tomatoes. For this you will need:
  • large pot of boiling water
  • bowl of ice water
  • container for refuse (which we put into the compost)
  • very large bowl for the tomatoes
  • sharp knife
  • slotted spoon
Put several tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, or until you see the skins beginning to slip. You will not need to keep the water at a boil for this, but it must be very hot.

When the skins begin to separate from the tomato, carefully lift it from the hot water and plunge into ice water. The tomato will cool quickly.

Slip the skin from the tomato and cut the tomato in halves or quarters, depending on the size. Remove all seeds into your refuse container (along with the skins). If you find any additional blemishes after blanching, cut these out as well. 

Put your cleaned tomato halves and quarters into the big bowl. If you want to keep the tomatoes as liquid free as possible, place a colander in the big bowl and put the tomatoes in this. The bowl will then catch any extra moisture, which you can pour away before adding the tomatoes.

Step 4 - Making the Crushed Tomatoes. Put a large soup/sauce pot on the stove over medium high heat. Add about 2 cups of your tomato pieces and mash them with a potato masher.

When these begin to boil, start adding your tomatoes, about a cup at a time. There is no need to mash these, they will break up as the tomatoes boil. When all of your tomatoes (or as many as fit in the pot) are  in the pot, allow them to boil for about 5 minutes.

Step 5 - Canning your scrumptious crushed tomatoes. For this you will need:
  • Water bath canner (or pressure canner with the plug removed from the lid)
  • Canning jars
  • Lids and Rings for the jars
  • Jar lifter
  • Magnetic lid lifter (nice to have)
  • Small pot
  • Ladle
  • Clean damp cloth
  • Jar funnel
Fill your canner about halfway with water and set on the burner at about medium high heat.

Put your lids into the small pot and cover with boiling water, set the burner on low to keep them hot.

Place 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice in each pint jar, 2 Tablespoons in each quart. (You can also use 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, 1/2 teaspoon per quart)

Begin filling your jars. A jar funnel will really help in this process. Fill each jar to within 1/2 inch of the top. Carefully wipe the top of the jar with the damp cloth. Lift a lid from the pot and center on the jar, then add a ring and twist finger-tight.

Carefully lower the jars into the canner.

Add boiling water as necessary to 2 inches above jars. Add canner lid and bring to a boil.

Step 6 - The Waiting. Process according to instructions for your canner - here's what we do:
When the water boils in the canner, we turn the heat down just a bit to maintain a moderate boil (medium high on our stove). Process pints for 35 minutes, quarts for 45 minutes.

Step 7 - You've Got Tomatoes! When the time is up - immediately turn off the stove and remove the canner from the stove. Take the lid off and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars to a towel and allow to cool. You should hear popping - one for each jar you filled.

This is the first year we tried the Italian way - Basil leaves in the jars. We did two jars this way and we'll let you know how they turned out :)

From the tomatoes pictured at the top, we got 10 pints of crushed tomatoes - PLUS, the following:

We removed the little San Marzanos from the mix before the de-skinning process, cut them in half and seeded them, and put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. We drizzled them with olive oil and salted lightly. 

We put these in a 375 degree oven for about an hour - and got these:

ALSO, we added several minced cloves of garlic and some oregano and crushed red pepper to the remaining tomatoes in the pot (rather than processing another canner full) and cooked it down further into a quart of yummy sauce (that will likely be on our pizza tonight and pasta one day this week).

There you have it - three options for preserving that yummy organic tomato harvest you worked so hard to achieve.

Dharma Dogs Farm

My Vacation

Every year, my vacation days from work are spread out to care for the garden. In the early spring, days are spent cleaning up the garden and planting the early vegetables (peas, radish, lettuce, beets, onions, carrots, spinach, broccoli, rapini, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, cucumbers). Late spring is for early harvest and preserving, and planting the summer vegetables. Late summer finds me in the busiest harvest of the year - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squashes, beets, beans, corn, summer greens. It's also time to plant the fall vegetables (2nd round of tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce and greens, beets) and the greenhouse veggies for winter. Autumn will be time to put away apples, peanuts, and potatoes, onions, winter squash, and any second sowings of summer veggies. Winter is not only time to plan the garden, but also to tend to the greenhouse garden.

So, here I am with four days of vacation. The first day was spent in the garden, harvesting and planting the autumn sowing.

The second day, we were canning. Here's the take:

This is 7 jars of No Sugar Blueberry Jam - something I sort of made up from reading no sugar jars of fruit. It's pretty good, I opened a jar for breakfast.

4 jars of Dill Relish

5 jars of Dill Pickle Chips

8 jars of Dill Sandwich Stackers - including two with a hot pepper (see jar on left)

9 jars of Pickled Beets

4 jars of plain Red Beets

5 jars of Salsa (yes, that really was 5 jars - we ate 1 already and opened number 2 :)

There is only one problem - 

There is nowhere left for Vacation Day 3 

THE TOMATOES, oh my!  :)  Read on for step-by-step crushed tomato instructions!

Dharma Dogs Farm

Sunday, July 31, 2011


My three week Vegan trial is over - and here is the result:

I'm not Vegan.

I have learned over the last several weeks what it means to be Vegan. It's so much more than a way to eat. Animal rights figure into every single decision. I admire the Vegans I have met - while I do believe in most of what they do, I don't necessarily agree with it all. It's a hard balance for me - growing up in a way that taught me reverence for every living being did not mean to not eat meat, but to raise the animal humanely and use every bit of it for something when killed for the family table. I did not like meat - and most of our dinners had names - it was a pretty easy jump for me to become Vegetarian almost as soon as I left my parent's home. What made me every stray, I really don't know - but I am very happy to be back to full-fledged Vegetarianism.

Here is the real result of my experiment - I have found enough information in the last three weeks to make me realize the health benefits of avoiding dairy and eggs. Honey is a gift from the bees to me and is very healthful. I make many of my herbal preparations with organic, local honey, and will continue to. I will still eat dairy and eggs on occasion, particularly when it appeases family members during holiday meals, etc. When I do, however, I will be sure the animals have been treated well. I am in the process of finding additional sources for small organic humane farm products.

Most of the Vegan options I have found, I will continue to use and like more than the dairy. These include Earth Balance butter replacement - Coconut or Soy milk replacement for half n half - Tofutti sour cream replacer - Tofutti cream cheese replacer - Coconut and Soy ice creams - Daiya cheese replacements. I am still experimenting with cheese replacements and will be posting a comparison soon.

I expect to eat this way at least 98% of the time, but I am not ready to call myself Vegan. Perhaps in the future, maybe even the near future, this will be true.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Zucchini Times - Vegan Stuffed Zucchini

You just can't have the Zucchini Times without at least one stuffed zucchini :) This was a very good stuffing mixture and since I am in my three week vegan living trial, this is completely vegan (which is why the cheese is not melted).

1 gorgeous, yes we still love them, fresh zucchini - size is a matter of preference
1 Italian vegan sausage (mine was homemade, recipe will be posted in the future)
2 Tablespoons quinoa, color does not matter
1/4 cup veggie stock
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 large basil leaves, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of crushed red pepper if your sausage doesn't have it
fresh tomato sauce
mozzarella cheese - I used Vegan Gourmet

Toast the quinoa in a dry pot over medium heat just until you hear it begin to pop, shaking frequently. It will get slightly darker and smell a bit nutty. Add the veggie broth, turn the heat to med-low and cover tightly. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.

Meanwhile, crumble the veggie sausage into a bowl and add the onion, garlic, and basil. Toss in the cooked quinoa and breadcrumbs. Season to taste - yum.

Halve your zucchini lengthwise - I'd say get a medium, but that can mean a lot of different sizes when you are dealing with zucchinis. If you are growing your own, I'll say it's a 5-7 day old one :)

Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and drop a few drops of olive oil in each. Give it a good massage - inside and out and season with salt and pepper. Stuff the zucchini halves each with half the stuffing. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a bit of the tomato sauce (how much is your preference). Carefully set the stuffed zucchini in and cover with foil, being careful not to touch your lovely stuffing with the foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes (more or less, depending on the size of your zucc). Uncover and add your cheese. Back into the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Plate and enjoy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Zucchini Times - Chick Pea Salad

Yea, I know - there's no zucchini in chick pea salad. There is when you're eating your harvest and the cukes aren't ripe yet!  - and it's actually pretty darned good :)

Chick Pea Salad with Zucchini
1 15 oz can chick peas (garbanzo beans - organic if you can)
1 small onion, diced
1 small tomato, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
4 basil leaves, torn
1 lemon, juice and zest
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 chive, diced (if you have it)
1 pinch crushed red pepper
salt and black pepper to taste

Put first 6 ingredients in a bowl. Mix next 5 ingredients in a jar and shake to mix. Pour jar into bowl and add salt & pepper as needed.

Great side dish or lunch :)