Fall Wrap Up

Although the temperatures are still ridiculously warm for this time of year, there’s no doubt that autumn is here and the gardening season is winding down and it’s time to look back at what worked, what didn’t, and start making plans for next year.

The tomatoes are pretty much done for the season. We’ll probably still get about 15 lbs or so off the last remaining plants and then we can clean out the raised beds. The tomatoes weren’t as good as I’d really have liked to see, but we still got more than enough to stock our shelves. There was a bit of blossom end rot at the start of the season, but we’d been doing calcium supplementation and that kept it from being a real problem.

One of two shelving units covered with canned stuff. A few of these are from last year but most were done in the last couple of weeks, plus almost as many on the other shelf. Gee, you might get the impression we like tomatoes around here…

The tomatoes all were canned in one way or another this year. We didn’t freeze any because the freezer is packed solid. We did pasta sauce, tomato soup and just plain canned tomatoes for use in things like chili. I didn’t keep track of how many pints and quarts we put up, but it was a hell of a lot. I think we used just about every jar we have. Our big canner can hold 16 pints in a batch, so it really doesn’t take long to do it. I’m writing this as I’m waiting for another batch of 14 pints to finish up.

Those dahlias I picked up for half price in June turned out way, way better than I could have hoped. Amazingly beautiful, long lasting flowers, and they’ve been in perpetual bloom since early July.

That stuff up there inside of those yellow buckets (the bottoms are cut out) is celery. The buckets protect them from critters and makes weed control easy. Works very well indeed and we’ve been growing celery like this for some time. We’ve been cutting celery off those plants since, oh, early August, I think. Cut a few stalks off and it just keeps regrowing. Incredible flavor, too. The thing with commercial celery is that it has little or no flavor. That’s not the case with the home grown stuff. The celery flavor is intense. Very intense. It kind of surprises people who’ve only ever had the commercially grown variety.

I talked before about the mild jalapeno pepper plants I planted in pots on the front porch as an experiment. That worked out beautifully as well. The two plants produced more than enough peppers to keep me satisisfied (I’m the only one who really likes jalapenos so just two plants were enough). And the flavor was very good indeed. They had the right flavor, but very little heat, just what I was looking for. The plants are pretty much done for the season, so I’ll pick the remaining peppers and the plants will go to the compost pile this weekend probably.

Two more successes were the wax beans and the bell peppers. The wax beans are in the front, the peppers behind them. We’d put in a row of green beans, but something ate all of the plants almost as soon as they sprouted, but whatever it was left the wax beans alone. The wax beans more than made up for it though. Great flavor, good texture, and ridiculously prolific. We’ve been picking beans every four or five days since early August and there’s no end in sight, they’re still in full blossom and producing beans.

The bell peppers seem to always do good in this location. We’ve been getting absolutely beautiful peppers off the plants this year. They’ve been well formed, growing to almost ridiculously large sizes, thick walls, firm texture, good flavor. A lot get eaten fresh but we’ve been dicing up and freezing some as well.

No pears this year.

Not everything was successful, though. We aren’t going to get any pears off our tree this year. The tree looks nice and healthy, but almost no fruit. The problem was the weather. When the tree was in full blossom the weather was still ridiculously cold and wet, so it didn’t get pollinated. In fact, I didn’t even start to see bees until two or three weeks after the three blossomed. Earlier in the year I counted about 20 or so pears on the entire tree. There are maybe fifteen up there now, and I saw today that something is eating them while they’re still on the tree. Birds, probably.

The other disappointment is the squash. It started out well but went nowhere fast. Only one plants looks reasonably healthy, but it’s much smaller than it should be and only has a couple of gourds on it. The other plants are much worse, with a few very undersized gourds that will probably end up in the compost. We get lots of blossoms, but very little fruit. I think this is the last year we’re going to try growing squash. It just doesn’t work out for us.

We need to start doing garden clean up much earlier than we normally wood. MrsGF is going in for knee replacement surgery in early October so we want to have everything done that we possibly can before then because after that, well, trying to get anything done outside is going to be awkward because I’m not going to want to leave her alone in the house with a bum leg while I’m out puttering in the gardens.

We’re already talking about putting in a third and maybe even a fourth raised bed for vegetables next spring. They just work amazingly well and are so much easier to take care of than a regular garden plot would be. We’ll probably keep putting veggies in the corner where the beans and peppers are, but the rest of our yard? The soil is so poor and gets so water logged in rainy conditions that it’s difficult, even impossible to grow much of anything except ornamentals.

That’s it for now. Time to pull the jars out of the canner and start cleaning things up.

Let’s see, what else? I’m putting together an evaluation of a new transceiver I just picked up a couple of weeks ago, a Yaesu FT-450D. I hear so many people complaining about how expensive amateur radio is that I wanted to do an article proving that it really isn’t anywhere near as expensive as people think it is, and the 450 is at the core of that piece.

Moving all my equipment to the new location in the basement is about half done, but is now on hold because of MrsGF’s upcoming surgery. I can’t be hiding down in the basement while she’s recovering from knee replacement, so I’m going to be leaving the big equipment up here so I have something to play with while keeping an eye on her and making sure she isn’t trying to do something she shouldn’t. I know her, and I know damn well that she’s going to try pushing things too far, too fast.

And here’s a picture of a cat. Just because.

Catching Up: Ham Radio and Tomato Soup

I mentioned before that I wanted to move out of the office/library/radio shack area that I currently share with MrsGF, and into a new workshop in the basement. Things have been rather busy here (plus I’m probably one of the laziest people I know, which doesn’t help) but things have been slowly moving along. The goal is to get everything moved and set up before the snow flies.

It’s at the point where I can start moving some stuff in there. I have all my tools, most of my test equipment, soldering equipment and some of the electronics moved down there now. I’ll probably start moving some of the radio gear down there too this week but my primary station, the TS-990 and the Yaesu VHF/UHF gear will stay where it is for the time being. The VHF/UHF gear will probably remain up in the office because MrsGF is the one who uses it the most anyway.

It’s still a mess in the basement and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to lay stuff out. There is still a ton of junk out of the frame of that photo that needs to get moved before I can move everything, but it’s getting there. Most of the ‘heavy lifting’, as they say, is done. And I need to add about 3 or 4 electrical outlets on that wall, plus a 240V outlet for the amplifiers before I can get the rest of the radio gear set up.

It’s been taking a long time but, well, hey, it’s still summer (technically anyway) and I have a lot of other stuff going on, but it’ll get done. Maybe. I did get that GAP Titan antenna up, after all. Took me 4 years, true, but it got up finally…

One very inconvenient thing is that I’m at the point where I really, really need to get into my woodworking shop (that’s through the doorway on the far left) so I can build frames, shelving, etc. to make the new electronics/radio shop convenient to use, but the woodworking shop is packed full of computer junk belonging to my son that hasn’t been moved out yet. Oh well, we’ll get it figured out.

The Great QRP Project

(Definition – QRP is amateur radio jargon for low power communications, usually transmitting with 5 watts or less.)

I’ve had the Yaesu 818 and the mag-loop antenna for some time now and they’ve been fun to play with, but the ultimate goal was to put together a QRP (low power) digital communications package that I could throw into the back of the car and take along when I go fishing or out taking photos. My favorite modes of communications are PSK31, FT8 and JS8Call, so I picked up that refurbished Lenovo laptop you see in the photo of the workbench.

I made some changes in the overall configuration. I was going to use a SignaLink interface to connect the laptop to the Yaesu because A) I had one on the shelf, and B) because, well, because I had one. But then I found out I also had a Yaesu SCU-17 USB interface and, well, where the heck did that come from? So I’m going to go with that instead.

(Side note: Where the heck does some of this stuff come from? I swear I sometimes think people are breaking into the house and instead of stealing stuff, they’re leaving things here.)

The SCU-17 comes with about a zillion different cables to hook it up to just about every imaginable radio, computer, etc. Except, of course, the one that I actually needed. That required cable was, of course, an “optional accessory”. Sigh… Nor did I have the connectors I needed to make one myself. Besides, my history of making specialty cables myself is, well, a bit embarrassing and the less said about that, the better. So off I went to the GigaParts website to order one and that should be here today (he said keeping his fingers crossed). (It came!! Hooray!)

Anyway, with any luck I should finally have the whole thing up and running properly by this weekend. Maybe. I doubt it, but hell, one has to be optimistic, doesn’t one?

I wanted to have the whole thing up and running before Sept. 21, which is WIOPTA (Wisconsin Parks On The Air), an event where amateur radio operators lug their radio gear out to parks, endure bad weather (it’ll probably snow), mosquitoes and ticks which will give you several exotic diseases that you can’t pronounce, and probably get you arrested because anyone with all that weird electronic gear must be guilty of something.

But then I found out only state parks qualify for the event and, well, the heck with that. I thought they meant any park in Wisconsin so I’d planned on doing it at the local one here in town. State parks only? Hmph… They charge money just to get into those places. Yeah, sure I get in for free because I’m a “conservation patron”, but still

(Side note: I should point out that being a “conservation patron” in Wisconsin has absolutely nothing to do with actual conservation. Conservation patron is a combined hunting and fishing license. Basically if it is legal to kill some animal in Wisconsin, whether it swims, walks or flies, the Conservation Patron license lets you kill it. This is why we need words like “irony” in the language.)

(Side note: I should also point out that I don’t actually hunt. Or do much fishing. So why do I have the license? Mostly to irritate people.)

(Side note: I really need to stop this side note nonsense.)

Tomato Soup

The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen up and even as I write this we’re canning tomato soup. If you’ve never made your own tomato soup with home grown tomatoes, you have no idea what you’re missing. The only problem with this stuff is that once you’ve tasted it you’ll never be able to tolerate the commercial canned stuff again.

So, how do you make the stuff, you ask? Here’s the recipe. Note: This recipe is admittedly huge. This will turn out about 10 quarts of soup. We generally only make a half batch at a time. If you want to do that, just cut all of the quantities in half.

Ingredients

  • 14 quarts tomatoes
  • 7 medium onions
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 14 sprigs parsley (dried is OK)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 14 tablespoons flour
  • 14 tablespoons butter
  • 8 tablespoons canning salt
  • 12 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • *Vinegar (to taste but go easy because lemon juice will be added later)
  • Lemon juice as needed (see method)

Method

Wash tomatoes. Cut into large chunks. You do not need to peel or seed the tomatoes as it will be processed through a food mill. Peel onions and coarse chop. Dice celery and mince parsley (if fresh). Put in large pot with bay leaves. Cook until celery is tender.

Typical food mill. An angled blade inside forces the food being processed through a strainer in the bottom of the pan. There are hooks to rest it on top of a pot. The liquid and pulp is forced through the strainer into the pot, leaving seeds, skin, etc. behind.

Process everything through a food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, you can force the mixture through a sieve but that’s difficult to do and very time consuming. Food mills are fairly cheap and you can pick them up at any store that carries canning supplies or on line.

You put the food mill over a large pot or bowl. The soup mix is ladled into the mill. Turning the handle causes the mixture to be forced through the strainer in the bottom, leaving seeds, skin, etc behind. It’s a bit of work, yes, but it goes a lot faster than you’d think and the results are worth it. The seeds, skins, etc. that are left behind can be composted.

Put the strained soup back in the pot and bring to a gentle boil.

Take the flour and butter and blend together to make a smooth paste. Add a bit of tomato juice. Add the butter/flour mixture to the soup and whisk vigorously to blend it in thoroughly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Add salt, sugar and pepper.

Note – the original recipe called for 12 tbl of salt which I think is way too much. I cut that down to 8. and you could go even less if you like. Seasoning can always be adjusted when you heat the soup before serving

Note about vinegar: There are a lot of different varieties of tomatoes with different flavor profiles. Depending on how sweet your tomatoes are, you might want to add a bit of vinegar to give the soup a bit more of a ‘bite’, so to speak. You can also add some red pepper as well. The thing to remember is this is your soup, so you can season it any way you like.

Canning

You can use either quart or pint jars. I prefer pints, but it’s up to you.

We sterilize everything when we get started with this. Jars are not only washed but are rinsed with boiling water and the jar lids are put in boiling water. Is that necessary? Maybe? Why take a chance, though.

Fill jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Add one teaspoon of lemon juice to each jar. This is not just for flavor, it’s for food safety reasons to make sure the soup has enough acid.

Wipe off rims of the jars. Put on lids and then screw on the rings and tighten snuggly.

Actual canning is going to depend on the type of canner you’re using. I strongly recommend using a pressure canner for this stuff. I know some people say you can just use a water bath, but pressure canning is actually faster and safer, so that’s what we do here, use a pressure canner.

pressure canner

Read the instructions that came with your canner to make sure you are setting it up right.

Put the jars in your canner and start the process. We follow current recommendations which is to process it at 11 pounds pressure for 15 minutes. If the pressure goes a bit higher than that it’s perfectly fine, but it shouldn’t drop below 11 pounds for the entire 15 minutes.

Here’s a batch I just pulled out of the canner a few minutes ago.

I think I’ve been babbling along for too long already here, so I’m off to irritate the cats for a while, fiddling with radios, etc.

Garden Catch Up, Storms and Stuff

If you want photos of the storm damage, go look on news sites in this area. There are enough of those out there already. The gardens made it through the storms with little or no damage, somehow, so I can still take photos like this.

Northeast Wisconsin got absolutely hammered by severe storms, some of the strongest we’ve ever seen around here. The training I’ve had for SkyWarn taught me how to estimate wind speed fairly accurately, and I guessed we had wind gusts of up to 75 MPH here, and the NWS reports later confirmed that. It was scary here for a while. We were lucky, though. The worst of it seems to have skipped around this area. Other areas, especially just to the north and west of us got hit hard. There were three tornadoes. NWS reported winds of up to 120 MPH in Wrightstown, about 10 miles north of here. Outagame, Brown and Winnebago counties all are reporting very serious damage. Thousands of people are still without power around us, and the utilities are saying conditions in those areas are so bad from downed trees, broken power poles, etc. that it could be days before everyone has their power restored.

The only good thing about it is that the cold front that triggered the storms has finally brought relief from the extended streak of heat and humidity we were going through. My thermometer here recorded high temps well up into the 90s, with humidity of 95% or higher. The highest temp we hit was 97 according to the recorder. The heat index was well up in the 100s. I’m going to hate to see what our electric bill looks like. Our air conditioner was running full blast for days struggling to keep the temperatures in the house down to a reasonable level. I’m very surprised it’s managed to keep going at all.

While the extreme temperatures haven’t been good for people, the plants around here seem to have been loving it. Everything is lush and green and growing like crazy. Unfortunately we also seem to have a bumper crop of mosquitoes this year as well because of all the rain we’ve gotten. So here are some pictures of what’s growing around here.

The sunflowers are just barely starting to come into bloom. This is the first one that’s popped out.
this is a new one for us. MrsGF put this climbing rose in at the start of the season and it’s decided that it really likes it here. It’s tripled in size and and has been flowering almost continuously for the last three weeks.

Ah, our poor pear tree. It looks more lush and wild than it really is because you’re seeing the canopy of the tree immediately behind it as well. It’s reasonably healthy, but almost no pears at all this year. I’ve counted less than a dozen young pears on the entire tree, and I’m surprised we have those. When it was in flower it was extremely cold and wet, and there were no bees around at all, so it didn’t get pollinated.

MrsGF and I are both enormously fond of mountain ash trees (they’re actually not an ash, they’re part of the rose family, so the emerald ash borer doesn’t attack them). We have one in the backyard and we see seedlings popping up all the time, so we transplanted one into a corner of the hosta bed where it seemed to fit in, and it likes it there. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s really been thriving there. It’s more than doubled in size in the last month or so.
We tucked onions into the edges of the raised beds around the tomatoes this year as an experiment and it’s worked way better than we ever hoped. They’re absolutely beautiful. It’s a mixed variety of red, yellow and white onions, and they’re all doing well. Bulbs are about 2 inches thick and they taste amazing.
This is one of two jalapeno plants we have in pots on the front porch. They’re an experiment. It’s a new variety I found that claimed it had all the flavor of a jalapeno but without the heat. Now I love jalapeno peppers, but sometimes the heat gets a bit much for me. I’ve had mixed results growing them in the past, with a wide variation in the amount of heat they produce, even in fruit from the same plant. These have lived up to their billing. All the bright, crisp flavor but with very little heat. Just enough to remind me it’s a jalapeno. I dice ’em up and throw them in omelets, mac and cheese, anywhere I want to turn something bland into something a bit more interesting. I’ve been picking these little guys on a regular basis for the last, oh, two or three weeks. Even MrsGF has been using them. Definitely a success. I’ll probably be putting about 4 of these plants in next year. That should be enough to freeze to supply us through the winter.

The tomatoes have been going crazy. We planted way too many of them last year so we still have shelves full of canned tomatoes in the basement, so we only put in half as many plants as last year, and now that seems it may have been too many. They’re in full flower right now, and if they produce as prolifically as it seems right now, I don’t know what we’ll do with all of them. But that’s a good thing. I’d rather have too many. We can always give them away to friends and family if we can’t deal with all of them. We’ve managed to avoid blossom end rot once we switched to using the raised beds, but there were some signs last year we might be heading for a problem, so we’ve been using a calcium supplement to try to fend that off.
Wax beans and bell peppers in the background. The wax beans are amazing. We’ve been picking those for about a week now. They’re young and tender and delicious. We aren’t sure what happened to the green beans we planted. Something ate them off, leaving only the stems, almost as soon as they emerged, but left the wax beans alone. This area is fenced to keep the rabbits out so it wasn’t them. We aren’t sure what got them, and why they left the wax beans alone. Well, at least they left us those.

The raspberries are behind the garage where they get shade all morning and part sun all afternoon, and they really seem to like that. They’ve taken over that entire end of the garden and they’re loaded with fruit. I’m not supposed to eat raspberries or anything with small seeds, but I have to admit that I watch those plants like a hawk when they’re starting to fruit and it’s very rare that a berry escapes me and makes it into the house.

Garden Stuff

The hostas loved the cool, wet spring. They’re wonderfully lush this year.

Despite all the water we’ve been getting the gardens have been doing pretty good. We’re still a bit behind schedule because of the cool weather we had up until now, but the gardens at the house are definitely doing better than what the farmers around here have been experiencing.

When we bought this place some twenty or so years ago the front of the house was a mess. The space between the front of the house and the sidewalk was a nasty little border type flower bed mulched with small stones, sort of curved and indented, with some of the worst grass I’d ever seen between that and the sidewalk. It was a maintenance nightmare. The plants up there were some of the worst you could possibly select for a border, and because of the stones it was impossible to properly weed or do anything to improve the horrible soil.

We finally got fed up, went in with the tractor and ripped everything out, scooped up the stones with the front end loader and hauled them to a friend’s farm where he used them for fill, and we put in the cedar rail fence and the hostas. No bushes to trim any more, the fence has weathered to look like it’s been there for generations, and the only maintenance is to go in with a hoe and knock the few weeds growing in the mulch down once in a while. There are a couple of spots where I want a bit better coverage so I might throw in a few more hostas.

The tomatoes are looking pretty good. We put in a lot less of them than last year because we were nearly overwhelmed by them last year. We still have enough canned tomatoes to last us probably through 2019, although all of the soup and pasta sauce got used up.

With fewer tomatoes we had some extra room in the raised beds so we put onions in along the edge and they’re doing beautifully. We tried raising them in a different spot but they never got enough light and didn’t do well. They’re looking fantastic in this new location. They’re big enough now that I can run outside and pull a couple whenever I need onions for anything. I love green onions so they may never reach maturity, but that’s okay.

Every year I have to put in something different, this year it’s this, something that the label says is a “hot salsa pepper”. And that is literally all it says. I don’t know what variety or anything else about it. It is starting to produce pretty little yellow peppers, so that’s something. I picked one yesterday and tried it and it is most definitely not hot. Not by any standards. I’m not one of those people who loves peppers that make your face turn red and your eyes bug out and necessitate a trip to the ER because they’re so bad, but I do like a pepper that bites back at least a little. Jalapenos are about the limit of what I can handle for heat. But these, well, there’s just nothing there at all. Hopefully they’ll get better as they mature.

Speaking of jalapenos, I got another experiment going in pots on the front steps, a “mild” jalapenos. The two plants are doing quite well, both are in flower now and one is starting to develop fruits. The blurb on the tag was “all of the flavor without the heat”. I’ve tried variations of peppers like this before that claimed they still had flavor without heat, and they were disappointing. Usually when they breed out the heat, they also breed out the flavor, alas. But we’ll see what happens with these. They certainly are looking healthy.

And then, of course, there’s the water. Oh brother… The ground is still so saturated that you can audibly hear it squishing when you walk through the grass. And the whole area back by the raised vegetable beds still had standing water under the grass as you can see in that photo. If we didn’t have the raised beds nothing would be growing back there this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than three days in a row without significant rainfall since April.

Let’s wrap this up with this one:

I end up with dozens of photos of that lily every year because I love the color, the shape of the flowers, and just about everything about that plant. It certainly didn’t disappoint this year.

Fall, Pears, Water, Cold (the sneezing kind) and Stuff

Alas, that photo up there was an all too common sight around here as we got bombarded with rain for a two or three week period. Things are finally starting to dry out, but a lot of rivers are still at flood stage, there’s still a lot of standing water, and that one storm spawned something like 17 tornadoes across the state. Damage estimates are still being made, but I wouldn’t be surprised in if they hit $200+ million between the flooding and the wind.

Here in Calumet County we got lucky. Things could have been a lot worse. Aside from soaked and flooded farm fields, damage here was fairly minor. Most of the more serious storms went to the north or south of us. Mostly south. The southern half of the state really got hammered.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.37.28 AMWe weren’t entirely unscathed, though. Our poor pear tree suffered major damage one night when two of the main branches came down. I’m going to wait until the pears are picked before I go up there to see how bad it really is. We’re hoping that the tree can recover from this, but I don’t know. It’s hard to tell right now how badly it was damaged because the foliage is so thick.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.03 AM.png
Nice weather at last!

Still, the weather had gotten much better, with sunny conditions and temperatures more typical of early September in Wisconsin. Daytime highs have been in the low 70s and night time temps have been in the 48 – 55 degree range. It’s been really quite pleasant after the extraordinarily hot and muggy weather we had all through August.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 5.38.25 AM.pngThe bees have certainly been enjoying themselves. We’re seeing them all over the place. Just about every flower at the house is covered in bees, mostly bumble bees and native bees, which is really nice to see.

Just as conditions change so I can finally get off the allergy meds, of course I come down with a nasty cold. At first I thought the symptoms were from going off the allergy meds. I’ll often get a rebound effect when I stop taking it. But no, definitely a cold. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, sore throat from the coughing and congestion will be the norm for the next few days, it seems. I can’t take decongestants because I have high blood pressure, and the so-called cough remedies, well, they’re virtually useless anyway. So all I can do is wait.

I’ve taken to sleeping in the recliner to keep from bothering MrsGF otherwise I keep her up at night too. And in any case, when I lay down all the garbage from my head seems to drain down into my throat and makes the coughing all the worse. Still, it seems to be getting better. Only woke up once during the night last night and managed to sleep six hours. Would have been seven if the dopey siamese hadn’t started demanding breakfast at 5 AM.

The good news is the tomato plants are finally giving up the ghost and we can put the canning equipment away. MrsGF finished off the last of the tomatoes yesterday, putting up about 22 pints of chili sauce.

Well, we call it chili sauce but there is no actual chili in it. It’s a mixture of tomatoes, onions and bell and banana peppers with a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. It tastes utterly amazing and we use it in almost any kind of dish that calls for tomatoes, either as  a base for the sauce, or as a flavor enhancer.

The Wisconsin 55 tomato variety we tried this year was a bitter disappointment. Very few fruit, and the ones we did get were soft, often discolored and not a very good flavor. The Early Girl variety, on the other hand, were absolutely spectacular.

We put in 3 cucumber plants this year and, well, we might as well have not even bothered. I don’t think we got more than 6 cucumbers off them all season long and a lot were misshapen. They were disappointing as well.

The squash look pretty good. We’re going to get several nice sized butternut squash and I noticed that there are some acorn out there. But the acorn are very late this year and I’m not sure if they’re going to amount to much.

Let’s see, what else… I had to get new tires put on the bike. I have to admit I know pretty much nothing about bicycle tires. I got about 1,500 miles out of these and I don’t know if that’s about average or not. I ran it up to the bike shop to get them replaced. I could do it myself but I’m terrible with bicycle tires. I always end up wrecking the inner tubes when I’m installing them. Took the guy at the shop all of 45 minutes to change both tires, adjust the derailleur, adjust the brakes, lube it, etc. Would have taken me half a day to do all of that, and it would have involved the use of much foul language, I suspect.

That’s it for now. It’s 6:30 AM, the sun is finally up and I’m thinking of taking the bike out for a few miles despite the cold.

 

Stuff. And Nonsense. And Rain

Tariff Relief Plan Announced At Last. But Only If You Grow Soybeans

USDA finally announced some of the details of the tariff aid package and as a lot of people expected, for a lot of farmers they might as well not even bother. While soybean growers will get a pretty good deal, getting back $1.64 of the estimated $2.00 per bushel they’re losing, for a lot of others, the so called relief is almost an insult. Dairy producers are losing an estimated $1.10 per hundredweight because of the tariffs. They’re going to get a whopping $0.12/cwt. Yeah, that’s right, twelve cents. Corn growers are going to get $0.01 per bushel. That’s not a typo. They’re going to get one cent per bushel.

Why are soybean farmers getting almost all of the “tariff relief” while dairy farmers and corn growers get almost nothing? I have no idea.

Rain

IMG_1015Wow, have we been getting hammered! It’s been raining almost non-stop for days now, with one storm front after another rolling through here. That 5 1/2 inches showing in the gauge there was from just Monday evening. I haven’t heard yet what the grand total is for this whole event, but I imagine it’s going to be in excess of 25 inches for this area over the last few days.

They got hit even harder in the southern part of the state. One town down there reported 11 inches in less than 8 hours. Flooding all over, one person dead after getting swept away when trying to get out of a submerged car. Damage estimates were in excess of $100 million and I’m sure that number is going to grow dramatically because that was from two days ago.

IMG_1014.jpg
The town has good drainage, except for my backyard. It’s about 3 feet deep back there this morning.

We have pretty good drainage here because they re-did the entire town’s storm water system back in the late 1980s after we had a massive flood here that damaged just about every building in town, blew manholes covers off the sewers, and flooded every basement in town. The revised system obviously works or we’d be up to our necks in water by now.

Fortunately we’re looking at a dry spell now.

Tomato Stuff

Meanwhile I’m staring at about 30 lbs of tomatoes I have to deal with today… Not sure yet what I’m going to do with them. I’m thinking tomato soup? I’d better make up my mind soon because there are probably another 30 lbs to deal with out on the plants.

Still, it’s becoming obvious the season is coming to an end. The plants are starting to look like they’re coming to the end of their life span which, I have to admit, is something of a relief.

We put in two plants of a variety called Wisconsin 55, and they’ve been disappointing. Very little fruit from those two despite the fact the plants themselves are ridiculously healthy.

The Early Girl variety have been amazing. The fruit is small, about the size of a baseball, dense, brilliant color, not an excessive amount of seeds, and wonderful flavor and texture that’s been great for making into sauces and soups, which is exactly what we want them for. I’d say the texture is similar to that of a Roma tomato. And they’ve been incredibly prolific. I’ve never seen tomato plants produce quite this much fruit before.

The Early Girl variety is going to be on our “must plant” list for next spring.

Hmm, I’m also going to need to deal with about 20 pounds of banana peppers here in the next few days. I don’t remember what the variety is right now, but wow, they’ve been ridiculous too. The plants are 4 1/2 feet tall and they just keep producing more and more and more.

Most of those are going into the tomato sauces or are being diced up and frozen for future use. But we have so many now that I’m not sure what to do with them. We have more than enough in the freezer for use over the winter.

Amateur Radio Stuff

Not much going on there. I’m still playing with the FT8 mode. Well, I pretty much have to use it because my antenna isn’t very good and with band conditions the way they are it’s about the only way I can make contacts.

I’m closing in on the WAS (Worked All States) and while I claim I don’t really care, I find myself a bit excited by the prospect of having worked all 50 states. I’m only missing 7 states and I find myself keeping an eye out now for the ones I still need when I’m on the air. What do I get if and when I do it? Well, nothing, really. Just the satisfaction of having done it.

I really, really need to get that new vertical antenna up before the winter weather closes in…

 

What To Do With 20 Pounds of Tomatoes

We’ve been very fortunate in the tomato department this season, especially with the Early Girl variety that we planted. They’ve been ridiculously prolific. MrsGF already did plain canned tomtoes, chili sauce and we froze a lot for use later. But they’re coming on fast now and it’s getting hard to keep up. So Thursday I dealt with this:

That’s about 28 pounds of tomatoes in those two boxes,IMG_1003.jpg

So while MrsGF was at work I dealt with this situation. I made spaghetti sauce because, well, good lord this stuff is good. Once you’ve made your own you’ll never want to go back to the stuff you get at the grocery store. It’s fairly easy, although it does take some time.

Start with about 20 pounds of ripe tomatoes. If there are some that aren’t quite ripe yet, don’t worry about it, throw them in too. Wash them, then cut them in quarters. You don’t need to core or peel them, but do remove the stems.

Now get a big stainless steel stock pot with a thick, heavy bottom. Big because it has to hold at least 20 pounds of cut up tomatoes. You can’t use one of those cheap, thin bottomed stamped metal ones from the discount store because you will almost certainly scorch the tomatoes during the cooking process and ruin the whole batch. It must have a thick bottom, and must be stainless steel, not aluminum. The acid in tomatoes reacts with aluminum, and not only will it affect the flavor, it will stain the aluminum and even leach aluminum into the food, something you do not want. Aluminum, when ingested, has some serious health concerns.

Yes, a good, big stainless steel stockpot is expensive, but you can get good deals if you watch for sales and it’s worth it if you do a lot of this kind of thing.

And yes, you can do this in smaller batches if you can’t handle this much at one time. Nothing wrong with just doing 10 pounds and adjusting the recipe accordingly.

Dice up two whole onions and about a pound of green peppers or sweet banana peppers. No need to remove the seeds, they’ll be taken care of later.

Put about a quarter cup of olive oil (no, it doesn’t need to be the expensive stuff) in the bottom of the pot, put it on the stove, turn the heat up to about medium and put in the diced peppers and onions. Add about 6 nice sized cloves of garlic, crushed or finely minced. Cook them until they just start to soften a bit.

IMG_1004.jpgNow dump your tomatoes in. Yes, all of them at once. Bring the heat up to medium high. You’re going to have to bring this whole mess to a boil. You’re going to need a very sturdy, very long handled spoon or spatula so you can stir it up from time to time.

Bringing this amount of material to a boil is going to take time so be patient. And no, you don’t need to add any liquid. More than enough juice will come off of the tomatoes to turn it into, well, turn it into this:

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This rather nasty looking mess is going to turn into spaghetti sauce. Be patient. I know it looks like something the cat threw up at this point. Don’t worry and instead of thinking of how nasty it looks, concentrate on how good it smells.

You need to keep this mash boiling for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning on. The long boiling process is necessary to make it easier to deal with the next step, putting it through a food mill.

IMG_1006.jpgThis is a food mill in case you’ve never seen one before. It is a heavy duty strainer with a crank handle, an angled plate that fits over the strainer part, and a nut on the bottom side with a scraper, usually a long, springy piece of wire, that holds the plate and handle in place.

It’s a simple tool that works quite well. The mash is put into the strainer basket, the handle is turned, and the plate presses the mash against the strainer forcing the juice and pulp through the holes while leaving the seeds and skins behind. to be discarded.

As you can see on the lower right, there are hooks on the side of the mill so you can set it on top of a pot to catch the juices and pulp that come out.

Put the mill over a clean, empty pot. Put about a cup of the tomato mash into the mill and rotate the handle. The good stuff that you want to keep will be squeezed out into the pot below, and the skins and other debris will remain on top. Once the juice and pulp is squeezed out, rotate the handle backwards to scrape the skins and debris off the strainer, and discard.

IMG_1008.jpgYes, it’s a rather messy and labor intensive process, and it’s going to take some time to deal with that entire pot full of mash.

Is there an easier way to do it? I suppose there is but we haven’t really found one. I suppose you could try running the mash through a blender to grind up the seeds and skins, but I’d think that might alter the taste.

It doesn’t really take that long to do it this way. Think of it this way, it’s a good opportunity to build up your arm muscles.

Once you’re done you’ll have a large amount of what is basically tomato juice and pulp. Bring out that big stock pot you used to cook up the tomatoes originally. Rinse it out, dump your juice into it, and put it back on the stove and crank the heat up to about medium high or high because you’re going to have to bring this back to a boil.

Now we add the spices. Everyone has different tastes, but this is what we use for this amount of juice: 2 tbl basil, 2 tbl oregano, 1-2 table thyme, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 – 1/2 cup of brown sugar. The amount of sugar depends on your tastes and on how acidic the tomatoes are. You can adjust that after the cooking process is done.

Now comes the part everyone hates most, cooking it down. You need to bring it to a full boil, then reduce the heat until it’s at a nice, gentle rolling boil. You want it bubbling nicely, but not so hot that it scorches on the bottom. This part takes a long time. You want to reduce this down by at least half until it gets to the consistency you want for your sauce. You need to stir it every 15 -20 minutes, making sure it isn’t scorching on the bottom. If you find it’s building up a sludge on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down a bit or stir it more often.IMG_1009.jpg

Everyone gets impatient during this process but there isn’t much you can do to hurry things along. Just keep it at a nice, gentle boil, stir it once in a while. You’re going to have to reduce it down by about half to get the right thickness.

Once you get it cooked down to about the right thickness, we’re not done quite yet. We add two small cans of tomato paste, not so much for flavor but to help with the texture. It gives it a thicker, more pleasing texture. You can skip this part if you like, but we think it helps. Once the tomato paste is thoroughly incorporated (it takes a lot of stirring, tomato paste is difficult to get to dissolve completely sometimes) give it a taste. This is where you can add more sugar or a bit more salt to compensate for the tomato paste.

Now I’m looking at about 5 quarts of delicious sauce, so it’s time to can it.

I pressure can sauces like this. I do not recommend water bath canning for this kind of sauce. I have a big Presto canner that can hold up to 12 quarts. It was fairly expensive, I think it was about $120 when I got it a few years ago, but it was worth it because we use it a lot.

Follow the usual recommended procedures for prepping the jars and lids (i.e. wash the jars, sterilize them and the lids, etc.). Put the recommended amount of water in  your canner, put it on the stove and bring up the heat.

You want to “hot pack” the jars. That means the sauce is still very hot, just off the boil, when you fill the jars. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in each quart. This isn’t for flavor, it’s an added safety measure to increase the acidity of the product. Put on the lids and rings (use hotpads or heat proof gloves because they will be hot!) and tighten down. Place the jars in the canner and attach the lid according to its instructions.

IMG_1010.jpgI did these at 11-12 lbs pressure for 25 minutes.  I should point out that how you process depends on the canner you are using, the product you are canning, and currently recommended processing techniques. Canning your own produce is a great way to preserve your fruits and vegetables, but safety is the most important thing to consider when canning. Please be sure to follow all of the instructions and safety recommendations. Don’t just rely on some recipe you find in an old cookbook because a lot of those techniques are now considered unsafe.

The University of Wisconsin Extension system has a good website for information about how to safely can foods. You can find it by clicking the link above.’

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And this is what we end up with.

A lot of work, yes, but consider this. When you can your own, you know exactly what is in that product. There are no strange chemicals with names you can’t pronounce, no corn syrup, no “flavor enhancers”, just your tomatoes, peppers, onions, spices, salt and sugar. You can adjust the flavor to suit your own tastes, you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you’re on a salt restricted diet, you can add additional spices or leave some out if you don’t like one. And there is something enormously satisfying about pulling out that jar of your own sauce during a blizzard in January and allowing that amazing flavor to take you back to those hot, humid days of late summer when everything was growing, tomatoes were glowing red in the sun, and letting that aroma from that sauce transport you back in time.