Drying Herbs

My basil was getting away from me, and the spearmint has been a monster from the beginning of the season. Drying herbs seemed simple enough, but I consulted a few other garden blogs to brain storm. Here is what I settled with.

The best time to harvest herbs is right before they flower. Not only will you see the buds forming, but the leaves will appear more oily with deepened colour. This will give the dried herbs more flavour.

I harvested about half of the basil in the garden. I cut down majority of each plant, leaving the last row of leaves, incase it decides to make an end-of-season comeback.

I washed the spearmint and basil with cool hose water. Using about 2 paper towels for each bundle (4 total) I semi-dried the leaves. I then spread them on baking sheets to sit in the sun for the remainder of the afternoon. Although hang drying does just that (dry them), sun-drying beforehand helps to maintain quality and prevent musk or mould.

Hang somewhere with good air flow indoors. I chose to make my own herb drying rack to hang from an existing hook in the corner of our living room, beside a window. I had extra wire fencing from earlier this summer when I built the fence for my garden plot.

Hopefully I will have flavourful, organic dried herbs, preferably without creating a mess in the living room. We will see.

How do you dry your herbs? I always love new ideas.

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Pest Solutions: Aphids, Flea Beetles, and Slugs

Flea beetles chew tiny holes in soft-leaved plants, in my case, tomatoes. You might catch them jumping as you move through your garden. Yellow aphids attacked my pepper plants. The leaves were yellowish and very sick looking, curling at the edges. Looking closely I could see the aphids. Slugs, you may catch skulking through the garden, or you may see wide holes chewed in leaves. 

Aphid solution: trim some tomato leaves, about 2 cups (packed). I trimmed mine from the suckers or bottom levels of leaves. This encourages the tomato plants to grow up. Blend the leaves with 2 cups of water and leave over night. The next day, strain the pulp, and waterdown the green solution in a 1:1 ratio. Put into a spray bottle and spray the plants suffering from aphids. Tomato leaves contain alkaloids which are deadly to aphids. 

Flea beetle solution: make a smoothie of everything flea beetles hate, including but not limited to: raw onions, garlic, chilli peppers (I used sriracha sauce), and fresh mint leaves. Leave overnight, strain the pulp, put into a spray bottle, water down slightly, spray affected plants. 

Spray when the plants are dry but not before watering. For aphids, do not rinse off the treatment, water at the base of the plant to avoid this. Reapply daily until you run out of spray. Keep an eye out for future aphids. For flea beetles, I found spraying the tomatoes and chard on a wide mist, allowing the spray to get all over the place (including a strange perfume on my skin), deterred them immediately. Note that flea beetles are not life-threatening to established plants. 

Slug solution: save the shells from eggs. I leave mine in an open plastic container on the counter. This way the eggy part can dry. Crush them and sprinkle around the base of plants. Slugs don’t like slugging over jagged egg shells, for obvious reasons, and the shells also feed the soil. 

Crochet your own dog hair duster

Our pup is beautiful, but you can imagine the hair this coat leaves on the laminate flooring.
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I used this tutorial to figure out how to do a loop stitch. You really don’t need a pattern for the rest. Just keep comparing your work to the size of your mop head as you go. I would recommend making it slightly short, as the crochet work stretches out once you put it on. This style of sweeper works beautifully to collect long dog hair.  

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The Harvest, and what to do with it

Chard and chard and chard and chard. And basil, pounds of it. 

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What to do with all this chard? I got sick of roasting it (which is delicious), but was looking for a way to use up multiple pounds of chard at a time. There’s a traditional souther recipe, usually made in winter (apparently I grew chard at the non-traditional time of year), called Gumbo Z’Herbs, that I used as inspiration for my gumbo. I used this recipe as a guideline. Although, being a mother who is always dreaming up things to cook last minute, and also refusing to run to the store for other expensive ingredients, I made it my own. The most important elements of the recipe are the greens and the meats. I used pastured pork in the form of smoked bacon, smoked sausage, and ground chorizo cooked in a cast-iron-ceramic pan. I didn’t need to add salt to my soup because smoked meats are so salty already. You may need to add unrefined sea salt if you choose unsalted meats. It’s important that you keep the fat, no matter what your instincts tell you. Put all of this beautiful, slightly charred meat, and all of it’s fat, into the soup. Sauté your onions first, forget the steps about sautéing your greens and then removing them. Forget the part about flour. Just cook the onions, add water and all the other veggies, herbs, and spices. When the root vegetables are about cooked, add handfuls upon handfuls of what ever greens you have, and the meats. When the greens are a vibrant, deep green, but not overcooked and dead-looking, scoop out as much of it as you can, blend it, and pour it back in. I added potatoes to my soup and blended almost all of them to serve as a thickener, allowing me to avoid the flour business. For spices and herbs, just use which ever ones you have. For the cajun seasoning, look up a recipe on how to make your own and add what ever of the spices you have. For spices, I go 50% instinct and 50% taste, so best of luck to those inexperienced with spices, but there’s only one way to learn. Here’s a photo of the result, with grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh garden parsley. I’d been having a time getting my husband to eat all the chard I’d been serving, but he devoured this.
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Root vegetables and greens sautéed or roasted with good fats and balsamic vinegar make a wonderful, hearty side to a beautiful grass-fed steak. I cook my steak on a shallow roasting pan, as close as I can get the top shelf to the burners, set to broil on high. I pre-marinade in Worcestershire sauce and Montreal steak spice, and cook this way for 3 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other. Perfect medium-rare steaks every time, no grill or barbecue required.
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Pesto is the most obvious and delicious way to use up copious amounts of basil. My recipe is simple. In the small magic bullet: a small handful of pine nuts, 2 glugs of grape seed oil, generous grinding of unrefined sea salt and pepper, 2 tbsp of diced garlic from a jar (or less if fresh), jam the bullet full with basil. Blend and shake, blend and shake. Add liquid if necessary. Taste, adjust, stir in ~1/4 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano. Enjoy on bow ties.
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Calendula has amazing skin-soothing properties, and is also edible. I used this blog post as a guideline. The only thing I’d like to add, is that the flowers have loads of nearly microscopic bugs inside of them. When trimming, cut at the first or second leaf, leaving yourself several inches of stem (this way of trimming is healthier for the plant, prevents stem rot). Hold the end of the trimmed end and bang the head on the side of your kitchen sink. Watch all those tiny critters scurry in the sink. They’re seriously tiny, so those afraid of bugs need not be deterred. Dry them like so, flip them daily.
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You can also put fresh calendula heads directly in the bath. 
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For more traditional cooking inspiration, I recommend The Real Food Cookbook, by Nina Planck. 
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Stay tuned for more tutorials and ideas on drying herbs and flowers. 

Early August Garden

A brief photo-spread of the garden progress:

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Parsley, beets

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L to R: Basil, Marigold, Beets, Radishes, Chard
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Giant Sunflowers. The ants are in love. 
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Very sad heirloom tomatoes and tumbling tom tomatoes. The t-toms are producing some delicious baby tomatoes. The heirloom is producing sparse, soggy tomatoes. Not sure why they are so upset. I don’t think they like the plastic planter. 

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A sad roma tomato plant, and two even sadder pepper plants – jalapeño and orange pepper. They were invaded by yellow aphids. More on the solution for this in another post.  

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These tomato plants are at the back of the garden plot. I planted them here as more of a funeral, as the seedlings I sprouted were nearly dead, only 2 inches tall in June. They are absolutely thriving here, so much so that I had to cage them all! At least these tomatoes are happy. 

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My Calendula is absolutely thriving. I can barely keep up with trimming the heads for drying. More about uses for, and drying calendula in another post. 

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My very sad, neglected marigolds. When I’m away for work (4 days at a time, weekly), my husband always forgets to water these guys. The irony of this is, they sit right on top of the rain barrel. 

Tutorial: Fix your Own Sink

My mother, the boundless handy-lady, raised me to attempt to do everything myself, including the man’s jobs. Now, my husband and I had a problem with our sink for weeks. Something inside was clogged. My suspicion was that it was due to him rinsing caulking residue down the sink on multiple occasions. He promised for weeks he would fix it. Finally I got fed up waiting on him, and did it myself. The major difference between my mother and I, is that my mother does her due diligence and researches the how-to’s before attempting. I prefer to go in head strong and blind, convinced I will figure it out, and, usually, I do. To all the other mom’s out there who need to fix their sink, figure maybe they could do it, but are none-the-less worried about breaking something. Here’s all the confidence you need to carry out the task yourself. You will not, however, learn any plumbing terminology, what so ever. 

If you check out this first picture, or look under your own sink, you will notice right away that every joint twists on by hand, meaning, if you simply grab one of the gripped joints and twist it, it will easily come undone. I guess the ease of this part would depend on the strength of the last person who was under the sink. 

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Here are the pieces disassembled. The piece far-left attaches directly to the drain plug, and the u-shaped piece attaches below that one to the main plumbing. Important to note here is that the silver ring from the sink drain itself needs to be unscrewed. The piece far-right is part of the drain plug. Note that the plug portion of this piece has been removed (unscrewed) and is not shown in this photo. Every piece that you attach just needs to be unscrewed. Pay attention how they attach as you take them apart. 

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Here is your sink with all of those pieces removed: 

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When I removed the pieces, I did so with a bucket underneath, to catch water or crud falling down. I also used an Old Navy bag as a glove. 

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Important note on plumbing: do not rinse caulking down the sink when cleaning painting supplies! 

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Mike wasn’t completely to blame. There was a mildewie mass of thick, long, black hair from the Indian woman who occupied the home before us. Luckily for you, I can’t find photos of the hair glob. When cleaning these pieces, do so in a basement wash tub, or in the back yard on the grass as I did. 

To re-assemble, begin with this piece: 

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Notice above, the silver rod that goes into the grey piece. It’s important that this piece accurately placed into that hole, and also strung onto the bottom of the drain plug. In this photo I’ve lined them up so you can see what to aim for. Do not assemble any other pieces until you are sure you have got the rod in the right spot, otherwise your plug won’t work. 

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Don’t forget to put your sink ring back on before you put the plug in. 

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Our sink is filthy due to the clog, dirt and muck were constantly in standing water and draining slow as molasses. 

The other great thing about fixing your own sink, is you can clean all of the otherwise hidden nooks and crannies. 

Happy Plumbing! 

Garden Progress

My first blog post featured a bit of cleaning up I did in the yard in April. I know it’s been a long time since I wrote about our garden, but part of the reason is the bizarre weather in Lethbridge. Here’s an idea of what a fair amount of May looked like. 

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In early June I prepared the garden by manually turning over the soil with a shovel, dumping on manure and black earth and turning it in again. We also used old pallet wood and salvaged stucco wire to create a fence around the garden. Here’s what it looked like pre-planting. 

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Now it’s July 14 and there’s been much progress since. We purchased two planters for our tomatoes and peppers. This was more practical than planting in the garden since the soil was good within about 6 inches but tomatoes and peppers have very deep roots. 

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Orange bell peppers

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Roma tomatoes and Jalapeños

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Yellow tumbling tom tomatoes

Here’s what the garden looks like now! 

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Rainbow swiss charge on the left, beets on the right

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More young beets and parsley

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Basil

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Beets and Marigold

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Calendula flowers, almost ready to bloom!

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Roses, these were already in the garden.

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Monstrous Spearmint bush

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Marigolds in a blue bucket. Forgot to water over the weekend so they look a little sad. 

We made quite a bit of progress on the backyard in general. Here is our clothes line in action.

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We also got a rain barrel. We use the hose for the garden – the barrel doesn’t create enough pressure for the hose, so we fill a pail to water the tomato planters. 

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Here is our girl, Sophie! She’s our backyard guardian. She’s now six months old, part Maremma, part Great Pyrenees. 

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Life in Lethbridge Update

My one hope for this blog is that I do not abandon it. Here I am again after 3 and a half months.

Since arriving in Lethbridge, I landed a job working for the Alberta Government. I am an Aquatic Invasive Species Inspector for Alberta Parks. I am blessed to be able to see many of the parks in southern Alberta, travelling around to inspect watercraft for invasive species, i.e. zebra mussels, quagga mussels, and eurasian water milfoil, before they enter the water. 

We’ve been to most of the major parks already, here’s a few pictures of some of the parks.

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Lundbreck Falls

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Lake Newell @ Kinbrook Island PP

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Lower Kananaskis Lakes @ Peter Lougheed PP

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Cypress Hills PP

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Chain Lakes PP

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Westward drive towards Crowsnest Pass

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Beauvais Lake PP

This job requires me to be out of town a lot and work long hours while I’m at work. Thankfully I get 3 day weekends so I can prepare for the next trip and complete all of my domestic mama duties done! My partner has been unbelievably helpful around the house while I’ve been gone, which I’ve appreciated so much. Things are looking up for us financially since we’re both working great jobs right now. 

In other adventures, I’ve reignited my passion regarding the sunburst granny square blanket I’m working on. I decided on a new pattern to complete the remaining 120 squares, which is much more favourable than the one I was using prior. I have approximately 40 squares right now.

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Since coming to Lethbridge, we’ve been able to find affordable and fantastically ethical and traditional foods. I was able to locate pasture raised pork products. Our eggs are truly free-range from dusting, pecking, bug-eating hens. Our beef is grass fed without the use of antibiotics and hormones. I recently placed an order with Trail’s End Beef for a quarter cow, which will be ready in October. Their standards are outstanding and I am so excited to have found their ranch. The milk we found isn’t grass fed, but it is organic, low-temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized. I started making my own butter from their fabulously silky 52% heavy cream.

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 We’ve been improving steadily on the food budget, finding ways to meet our food goals in terms of nutrition, environment, and ethics – without breaking the bank. Costco is such a blessing and is always improving their options for natural and organic foods. We buy very few things at the traditional grocery store anymore. My garden is growing well and soon we will be harvesting plenty of vegetable fruits and greens. 

 On a final side-note, my partner is officially enrolled in college for the fall and is taking on a new trade. We are both really excited about this. In only 8 months he will embark on a completely new career making better money than before. Our 1 year old son is in a day-home and absolutely loving it. He is a social butterfly full of energy, and it’s a perfect outlet for his sweet, large personality. 

I know this would have been better in 4 separate blog posts between April and July, but here it is. Anyone have any advice on feeding a family a traditional diet on a frugal budget?

First Day of Spring

Not the official first day of spring. That day here it was snowing. Today is probably a teaser (plus 7 Celsius) but I decided to do some work in the yard. Our place has an apparently dead garden, with some shrubs probably surviving by the roots, a compost bin, and some grass. Here’s some photos of what it looked like when I headed out there this afternoon.

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I’ll be honest. I’m an idealist, and a little naive. I thought I was going to open the bottom of the compost to find dark, rich soil. Instead I was greeted by a mess of ultra-dry and dead shrubs and grass.

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The top of the compost was filled with dog poop – Thanks Mike.

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This is our garden… ahem… dirt patch. Lots of nearly dead shrubs.

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The remainder of the yard (you can see in this photo our Alaskan Malamute, Timber).

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This is an ‘after’ shot. I shoved down all the fibrous stuff and shovelled in the pine needles I swept from the patio. Then I added our first ‘real’ compost contribution from the kitchen. Here’s to decomposition!

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This is an ‘after’ shot of the patio, needles swept.

Next mission is to find out how to speed up composting. I’m assuming I need to correct the ratio of wet:dry compost, and maybe introduce some earth worms.