Sunday, July 25, 2010

Its almost August?!!!

Summer is going by fast. 
The garden is good, we've gotten some nice rains in the last week.  I have blanched, vac-packed and froze 4 pounds of green beans and 2 pounds of  summer squash.

I love my new Foodsaver.  It is so easy to use compared to my old one.  Now the old one wasn't bad, but it was like driving a stick-shift compared to driving an automatic with cruise control.  They both work fine, but one is way more comfortable to drive.
My new Foodsaver has settings that the other one didn't. It has a 'gentle' setting so it won't smash things like blanched summer squash, and it has a setting for 'wet' foods- also like blanched summer squash.  This means that it won't vacuum so hard that it sucks out the water and ruins itself.  Any water remaining in the blanched foods did not become a vacuuming issue even with the heat seal- which i noticed is almost 2x as wide on this machine as my old one.
I'm sure part of the difference in the way they work is because of the brand name bags.
I had been using the generic food storage bags that i could get for about $1 less at WalMart.  It had been so long since i had used real Foodsaver bags that i didn't notice there is a difference in them.  The new Foodsaver came with a roll of bags and a whole packet of pre-cut bags.  The brand name plastic has a different texture, almost rubbery. 
I had tried using the generic bags to store things like pet food and dehydrated apple rings, but those items had sharp edges that broke the bags so the air leaked back in after a few days.  I bet the brand name bags would work better if i try that again.

The reason i tried vacuum packing cat food was because my cat eats Solid Gold brand cat food.  Its not a cheap food and we normally buy it in 5# bags.  When i worked at the same pet store we bought the food at it was easy to buy 3 bags at a time and my employee discount made it a better value anyway.  After the accident and since i don't always feel up to a trip out to get pet supplies hubby took over most of  the grocery shopping duties. He thought we'd save a few dollars and a trip or two if we bought the big bag of Solid Gold.
Problem is that we have one cat.  By the time he eats the whole bag the last half is stale.  He also likes his dry food to be cold. I have always stored his food bag in the fridge, (one main reason for that is because we had ants that were attracted to the meaty smell and the fats that are in it) so he is used to a fresh bowl of food having a different temperature.
Anyway, you can't fit a 20# bag in the fridge.  So i tried measuring out and vac-packing 2 week portions in the generic bags.  I figured i could probably clean and reuse the bags on more cat food a few times if it worked.  But it didn't because the food punctured the bags.  Since the bags were ruined and could not be reused, what we saved on the bigger bag of cat food was lost in trying to keep it fresh until it was eaten. 
I don't know if i would ever bother trying to use it for cat food again (unless i think it may have some emergency food storage applications like a Bug Out Bag for natural disaster evacuations- which are almost unheard of around here- but you never know!), but i do think i will be trying the brand name bags for foods that are dried to a crisp.
Now that i can compare the bags side by side, i don't like the generics very much at all,  I'll pay the extra for the real ones.

I'm not sure why my apple slices dried so crispy though,  the slices i get at the health food store are leathery.  In my dehydrator, the apples were either too soft and obviously not done and then they became in between- or i missed it.  I have read books on dehydrating, but i don't remember what i read about apples...  maybe i need to borrow the book from the library again.

On to grapes...

The Frontenac has decided to wake up and show signs of life! It has just unfurled some small leaves.  Of course it would do this after i completely gave up on it and spoke to the company it came from.  They have a pending order to send me a new one in early April 2011.  So i feel weird now.  BUT both Burpee and Stark have unconditional guarantees- "if for any reason you are unsatisfied....refund or exchange will be granted".
I hate to complain,  i might do it a lot in some things but i don't enjoy it.  But i really was unsatisfied with the grapes from Burpee and this one from Stark's.  Everything else met or exceeded my expectations, so maybe i should stop feeling dishonest when i accept my refund/replacements.  Bottom line is that i don't know if these 3 grape plants will even make it through the winter considering how late they began above ground growth.  They may not have time to harden off this Summer's wood. If that is the case, i will be correct on two fronts.  I was shipped plants that not vigorous enough to grow well their first year, this could delay my years till harvest time frame.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and feeling bad for not being happy. I don't like to be ungrateful about anything, even little grape cuttings. I think i need to get off the guilt trip, stop feeling bad about being displeased and let the companies do their job and make it right.  Why is that so hard for me?
But i have decided to do it.  So i will.

My lilies bloomed a few days ago.  These were bought as Stargazers but i remember Stargazers as having more white along the edges.  Maybe its my growing conditions.  They are on the back side  of the house and you don't see them when they open, you smell them.  I planted 2 bulbs about 3 years ago, this year i got to pick them and bring them in the house before the bugs got to them too bad.  The three blooms perfume the whole house.

Yesterday my dad brought over 3 loads of topsoil for us

And then he spread it out with the big tractor.

Today he plans to stop by with the littler tractor and drag a weighted pallet over it to smooth it out better.  Hubby will put down some seed and with luck, we will have a nice lawn to enjoy next summer!

Update on the Koolickles.  They are delicious. Something like a bread and butter pickle but more tart. Not as sweet as a sweet gherkin but maybe its because i used a sugar-free mix.  I can't actually taste 'strawberry' flavor, but it has the tart/tangy/salty/sweet thing going on. I bet adding a hot pepper will make it even more interesting.  Anyway, the flavors don't clash at all like i thought they might. I plan to keep a supply of these going indefinitely. 

I need to update my harvest record on the side bar. I haven't done it in about a week, but the garden is really beginning to supply what i finally feel comfortable as calling a "harvest".  I have been able to give away some produce even.  The tomatoes are not red yet, but there are a lot of green fruit on all of the plants.  The tomatillo has even gotten a husk on it.

I have not done any further work on the flower bed, but the neighbor husband has picked out a few plants they wanted to have (my hubby told them to go ahead if they wanted or they could wait for me to save them some)  he replanted them in their back yard where it looks like they are creating a sort of pocketed terrace on the slope.  It looks like it will turn out pretty neat if they continue to enlarge the beds. I'm glad he felt free to come in and take what he wanted, that way i'm sure they can feel more in control of what they see out their window.

Hubby is now painting the door to the shed.  He has been doing the shed project gradually. It used to be a screenhouse, but we hardly ever used it. The screens let in dust and after a couple rainy summers things started to get moldy. We had a table set out there that got covered in dust and pine pollen, then in the damp it all grew mold. Took an hour to clean it up whenever we wanted to use it a few times a week.  So we stopped using it.  The screens were also disintegrating.  So we decided that we needed a shed more than a screenhouse and hubby got a few sheets of plywood and closed it in and painted it up nicely.  It was a few weeks longer before he could get the door made, but he did and now it needs a coat of paint to finish the job.  He's pretty pleased with himself since he really did it all on his own.  Its a good sort of manly ego boost. :o)

I plan to get more pictures of the garden, i have to keep a visual record so i can compare years against the others.
The pictures from this Spring compared to this Summer are always quite amazing.  I don't know why i forget every year how quickly and large the plants end up growing. Its funny.

I'm really tired today so i hope to spend much of it simply reading and picking away at small household tasks.