Friday, February 21, 2014

The Mockingbird Moon

Last week was the Mockingbird Moon, but the blog post is a bit delayed because I was so busy working on the garden, I was too tired to blog about it!

Here's what I was working on.

We got a load of manure compost from Gardenville and topped off the raised beds in the front with it. Next I'd like to work on the pathways between. I plan on putting down landscape fabric and then cedar mulch on top of that. But right now they're ready to plant in, and that's good because I have these...

Pretty soon it will be time to start planting things like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It hasn't frozen again since we had that little bit of snow. In fact, it's been quite warm, with some days getting into the low 80's. I put all the seedlings outside and they seem to be loving this weather.

I'm afraid the peppers didn't make it through the winter. These peppers survived last winter, but this time they don't have any signs of life, despite my efforts at covering them with a frost blanket during each freeze. I'm going to give them some more time, just in case, but if they don't sprout back after we've had a bit more warm weather like this, I'm afraid it means I won't have any three-year old pepper plants.

The artichoke seems fine, though. I seem to remember that artichokes are supposed to flower during their second year, so that means maybe this year I'll get some buds.

When we got the compost, I went ahead and covered the potatoes over with a layer of it, and they're already poking through again. The ones that I planted later and weren't hurt by the last freeze are doing better than the ones I planted earlier that got frozen back. I'll have to see how that translates into yields once they're ready to harvest.

The multiplier leeks I transplanted are recovering nicely. It looks like almost all of them made it, and they perked right up.

The garlic also looks fine. I put some compost on them too, so they can get some more nutrients from it.

The peas in the back got a little damaged by frost, which surprised me a little. However, they're growing back already, so they should be fine.

The greens in the back are not doing as well. I just haven't had luck growing greens for a long time. I don't know if they're not getting enough water or it's too cold or what. They just seem to be growing very slowly, and it won't be much longer before it's warm enough for them to start getting eaten up by bugs again.

The fava beans are the best looking things in the back garden. The warm weather has encouraged them to put out more blooms. I hope this turns into a good harvest of beans.

Next month is March and time to plant warm-weather crops! I've already got what I'm going to plant all picked out.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Riding the February Weather Rollercoaster

Groundhog Day has come and gone, and I'm further reminded of how much sense a seemingly silly holiday would make to someone who has to live off the land. Because if you do the question, "is it spring yet?" is very important. Last Thursday, it looked like this outside:

Tonight it's supposed to freeze again, while tomorrow it's supposed to be in the high 70's.

This is February in Texas, and this year seems to have been particularly bad. Last year we only had one hard freeze where it got down into the 20's. Other than that, maybe only a few times where it dipped slightly below 32.

This year we've had several hard freezes, maybe about five or six, but with warm days in the 60's or 70's sandwiched between. It's hard to get used to such extreme swings in temperature. I'm getting tired of covering plants with frost blankets for a day or two, and then needing to uncover them so they won't bake underneath them when it turns 75 and sunny.

As you can see in the fourth picture above, I forgot to re-cover the potatoes I planted in fall during the last freeze. It killed all their top growth, so I guess I'll just have to see if they can recover. At least I have a second planting of potatoes I did in January that haven't poked up out of the soil yet. Those should be fine.

I'm disappointed by that, but otherwise I must admit it's exciting in a way. We don't get white stuff on the ground that often around these parts.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fermented Lemon Drop Hot Pepper Sauce

I finished the fermented hot sauce I started back in October in time to give a bottle away as a Yule gift and keep a bottle for myself. When I made my previous post, the peppers were still bubbling in their jars, and I was unsure of how long to wait.

It turned out that about a month after I first mixed up the chopped peppers, wine, and salt in the jar, the bubbling stopped. After waiting a couple of days to make sure it had really stopped, I decided that it must mean the peppers were done.

I drained the peppers, reserving the brine (to use to jump-start my next fermentation), and pureed them in the blender. Then I strained them with my food mill to get out the seeds and skins. I ended up with a nice smooth bright yellow pepper puree. I took a little taste, and the fruity taste of the Lemon Drop peppers had been preserved... along with a LOT of heat that hits you right afterward!

I finished off the sauce with some white wine vinegar, to give a little bit of bright acidity (and it will probably help the shelf life too), and some honey to take a little bit of the edge off. I put in about a quarter cup of vinegar and two tablespoons of honey for a little over a pint of pepper puree.
But these amounts are all "to taste" and I think they might need some tweaking. After refrigerating the sauce for a while (I'm not sure if it's acidic enough to be kept in the pantry, so I'm playing it safe), it got so thick I couldn't get it out of the bottle. It was like ketchup. I ended up adding some of the reserved brine back in, and some more vinegar until it was thin enough to pour out of the bottle, but not so thin that it pours out too fast.
By the way, I'm using reused bottles that held other sauces or vinegars. I just wash them in the dishwasher and peel the labels off. You can buy new hot sauce bottles, but this seems to work fine for the small amounts I've been making so far. Plus it's one of the three R's.
I'm pretty happy with the hot sauce I got, but I'll do some more experimenting with my next hot pepper crop. My Lemon Drop plants are covered in frost blanket, but I'm not sure if that's been enough, since we've had a colder winter this year than last year. They look pretty dead right now, but maybe they'll come back once it warms up out there.
I started some Habanero and Serrano pepper seeds to grow this year. Both should make good hot sauces.
I even found a recipe for making your own fermented Sriracha sauce that I'd like to try some time. You're supposed to use red jalapenos, which are hard to find unless you grow them yourself. I had a couple of jalapeno plants that I'm also trying to overwinter, but just like with the Lemon Drops next to them, I worry this winter was too hard for them.
I wonder if red Serranos or maybe even some other varieties would work too.
I wonder what Sriracha with Lemon Drops would be like.
A lot of fermented hot sauce recipes, including that Sriracha recipe, call for garlic. I didn't put any in my Lemon Drop sauce, but I'd like to try it in a future batch.
I hope my peppers do well in 2014 so I can try some more hot sauce variations!