Happy Monday everyone!
I hope that you all had a great weekend, and that the weather was favourable to do all of your outdoor and indoor activities! We had a beautiful weekend, so we took advantage of it, as much as we could, and hammered out some activities around the yard and house that we wanted to do.
First off, Friday afternoon was the day we went and picked up our 15 new girls! There is something to be said about having new chickens that just makes the heart sing. After cleaning the coop, giving them a new layer of pine shavings, filling the feeders, and petting them all, they seem to have adjusted to coop life successfully. Even the old girls have adjusted to these ones better, and everyone is living in one harmonious, egg laying, trouble causing, flock out in the yard.
Yes, I said it.
The chickens are hell raisers. 110%. If you are looking to have chickens, and are looking to let them outside to free range around your yard, don’t expect to have a picture perfect landscape at the end of the summer. Everything is a potential dust bath, they love digging holes, and any gardens that you have NEED to be protected! And, if you have a creek like we do, they do like to wade around in it. I know, it’s weird, but they do it.
**Please note that I will write a future post about our girls, issue we have, and how we deal with predators. For now, I will just say that we don’t let the girls free-range unless we are home and are actively out in the yard, and our dog is out keeping guard of them!**
Saturday was a super sunny day, spent gardening and cutting the grass. We have worked on building new garden areas, that I think are PERFECT for what we need! And hopefully, the weeds will stay (mostly) away!
So, I am a HUGE lover of container gardening. We do our lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and both kinds of peppers in containers, and they work out really well for us. Plus, it keeps them out of our valuable garden space.
As you can see from the pictures (you can click and they will get bigger), that we decided to try pallet gardening this year (in addition to our raised beds). Jim works at a furniture manufacturing facility that tends to get rid of broken pallets quite frequently, so we started to have a big hoard of them. We had originally got these guys to keep things up off our garage floor (as it sweats), but we saw this idea on Pinterest and thought we would give it a go.
All we did was lay out the pallets in a nice order, and filled them with old manure/composted straw from my parent’s farm (thanks Dad for bringing us over a couple loads!). Free nutritious dirt + free pallets = free garden! Now… In these gardens we planted things that could be grown in the spaces between the pallets. We have 3 pallets of bush beans, 2 pallets (with bigger gaps) of beets, and one pallet of garlic. We kept everything that we wanted to get massive underground in our other raised beds (carrots and cooking onions).
I will report back on how well this worked, including our yields, towards the end of summer!
And finally, yesterday was a BIG day. We brought out Big Betty and did some pressure canning. I won’t lie to you. This was potentially the most stressful 4 hours of my recent life. The tick-tick-tick of the regulator, the increasing pressure gauge, the HUGE bursts of steam… The first round was almost too much for me to handle. I spent a full 70 minutes looking at this thing on the stove (from a safe distance), ensuring that everything was OK.
Fast forward to the second batch, and although we were still cautious, we weren’t so scared. The All American brand of pressure canners really does have a ton of safety features, so you can process jars without worrying that you are going to blow your house up. The hardest parts of the process was finding that sweet spot on the element dial that kept it consistent but not too hot, and waiting the one hour + for the process to be done.
So… You might ask (and I have mentioned this in a previous post), why would you go through the big process of pressure canning? And I have to say, that’s an AWESOME question!
A couple months ago, when I was out of town on business, Jim had made a batch of spaghetti sauce and had “canned” it. Essentially, he hot water bath canned it, the jars sealed, and he was going to call it a day. When I got home, I had mentioned to him that you can’t really hot water bath can meat (a caution given to me by my Grandma Nuhn), and I cautioned him against eating what he had put in the jars.
We ended up throwing his sauce out, for the following rationale (which can be found anywhere online that explains the why of pressure canning). Regular boiling water only gets up to 212 degrees F before it evaporates into steam and floats away. It is impossible to get water to hotter than 212 degrees F using a regular boiling pot. Unfortunately, the Clostridium botulinum virus (i.e. the thing that gives you botulism… you know, that disease that hasn’t been around in modern times?) can live in 212 degree F canned goods. To get rid of it, you need to get the water you are canning in to above 240 degrees F. Insert the beauty of the pressure cooker here. (Please note that I do know that he might have eaten the sauce and lived to tell the tale, I totally understand that! Caution takes the cake though, when you are looking at the health of your family!)
Essentially, the pressure cooker stops the steam from leaving the canner until the canner is above 240 degrees F, keeping your jars and the contents over 240 degrees for a sustained amount of time. If the canner reaches too high above 240, it will spurt out steam, dropping the temperature with it, to maintain that 240 degrees F. This ensures that the Clostridium botulinum bacteria is killed and won’t grow inside your jars.
Now, hot water bath canning works great where your foods are acidic, super sugary, or where you are canning in a vinegar solution, as the Clostridium botulinum can’t survive in these things. For foods like meat spaghetti sauce, which although has acidic tomatoes (which a tomato sauce could be hot water bath canned) the meat is basic and will breed bacteria. Other foods that are low acid (think: carrots!), we will pressure can in the fall, and have jars full on our shelves without having to worry about getting sick. I know you have the look of being impressed on your face. I had the same one when I first learned about pressure canning (and botulism) too!
Busy weekend, busy week ahead. I hope that life is treating all of our readers well. If you have any questions, feel free to give us a shout!
Sending tons of sunny vibes,
Laurie & Jim