Backyard Birds – Red Bellied Woodpecker

Image-Redbelly-Woodpecker1

It’s getting cold in my area, so I decided to fill the bird feeders this week-end and do a little bird watching.  In the summer, I don’t fill the feeders as often.  Most of my backyard birds feast on the sunflowers in my garden. I thought it would take a few days for the birds to find the seed since I hadn’t filled them for months, but it only took a few hours.  Check out my other backyard bird posts before you leave. 

 

backyard birds, feeding wildlife, woodpeckers

 

Within a few hours, I was jumping for joy when I saw this fellow at the feeder. This is a male Red Bellied Woodpecker. Isn’t it beautiful. If you’re wondering where the red is on his belly, I was too.  I do know they love the black oil sunflower seeds that I place in the feeder.  But, they love pecking on this tree and my gutters.  Apparently, the sound resonates and a potential mate will hear the call.  They also hide seed for later consumption in the crevices of trees, which is what he’s doing in the picture below. This winter I will set out a suet feeder.  They love any kind of suet.

backyard birds, feeding wildlife, woodpeckers

 

Furthermore, if you want to attract Red Bellied Woodpeckers to your backyard, purchase or build a platform feeder and add black oil sunflowers or safflower seeds.  Red bellied woodpeckers love peanut butter and cracked corn too.  I add peanut butter to pine cones during the winter.  You can find my post on peanut butter pine corns here.  Peanuts are a favorite too.

Are you a bird watcher?  What are some of your favorite backyard birds?

How To Make Homemade Tomato Sauce

how to make homemade tomato sauce
It’s homemade tomato sauce making time!  Last week-end I made my first batch of tomato sauce for the season. It was delicious I must admit.  I canned 7 quarts of the best homemade tomato sauce on the east coast.  My sauce is versatile, I use for pasta dishes in as chili sauce. The chili was my best pot to date.
I was able to use my garlic and fresh herbs from the garden.  See those white pieces in the sauce below, that’s my home grown garlic.  I used the following ingredients to make 8 quarts of the homemade tomato sauce:
  • 30 lbs of tomatoes (I used a combination of Roma and regular beefsteak)
  • 15 gloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of white onions  (2 medium onions)
  • fresh basil, parsley, and other seasonings to taste
  • 2 cups of sugar or more to taste
  • 2 small cans of tomato paste to help thicken the sauce

 

homemade tomato sauce

 

Step 1 – First, remove the skin from the tomatoes. If you have a sauce maker, now is the time to use it.  I don’t have a sauce maker, so I make my sauce like my grandmother. I remove the skin from the tomatoes by blanching them, and immediately placing them in a large bowl of ice water.  Click here for instructions on how to Blanche Tomatoes.

Step 2 – Next, place the skinless tomatoes into a large bowl.  Squeeze the tomatoes into small pieces. Seeds and all. Yep, that’s my clean hands in the bowl (below) squeezing those tomatoes into pieces.  Most importantly, wear gloves if you’re allergic or feel more comfortable.  However, I mix my sauce and potato salad in this manner.

Breaking the tomatoes into pieces helps the sauce to cook down faster.  Secondly, it keeps the sauce from getting too thick. I like a little movement with my sauce. I can always thicken it later with paste depending on what dish I am preparing.  I’ll show you how to make your own paste in a later post.

Step 3 If you have a sauce maker, you can skip these steps.  The sauce maker removes the skin and seeds from the tomatoes.  If you don’t have a sauce maker, you can follow my steps and remove them by hand. In my opinion, they’re really not that noticeable once the sauce cooks down.

Place a colander into a large bowl or pan.  Place cups of the sauce mixture into the colander and press the sauce down with a spoon until the seeds and juice run out into the bowl.  The holes in the colander will be large enough for it to pass through.

To remove the seeds from the juice you will need a fine wire strainer or sieve. The strainer should allow the juice to run through, but small enough to hold the seeds.  Pour the juice into the strainer to remove the seeds.  Once you get a rhyme going, it doesn’t take long.

Now, add the juice back into the tomato meat and repeat until you have the majority of the seeds removed from the juice and meat of the tomatoes.  You won’t be able to remove 100% of the seeds, but that’s okay,  The seeds enhance the flavor and you won’t even know they’re in the sauce. That’s why I don’t have a sauce maker, I am the sauce maker as grandma used to say!


Step 4 –  Your next step, chop the garlic and onion into fine pieces. If you have a chopper use it, it will save you time. (You can also prepare the garlic and onion ahead of time.)  Cover the bottom of the stock pot with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and heat until it’s hot.  Add the garlic and onion, cook until tender, 2 -3 minutes.  Be careful not to burn it, it will ruin your sauce. Stir it constantly.  In my opinion, homemade sauce is about the garlic, onions and fresh herbs. Besides the love that goes into it.  These ingredients are what separates it from the grocery store sauces.

Step 5 – Pour in the tomato mixture and bring to a boil.

Once it reaching the boiling point, lower the heat.  Next, gradually add in your paste.  I only add 1.5 cans of paste to my sauce with 2 cups of sugar.  You may like the taste of 2 cans and less sugar.  Add your ingredients gradually until you reach desired taste.  Add lots of fresh basil.

Finally, cover your pot and simmer for 5 hours. Be sure to stir it constantly.  You want to make sure the tomato pieces, garlic and herbs don’t fall to the bottom of the pot and stick. The longer you cook it, the thicker the sauce will become. You will want to taste the sauce throughout the cooking process to determine if you want to add more herbs, sugar or additional paste to thicken it.

Also, you can freeze the sauce or can it.  Because I don’t have room in my freezer I choose to can my sauce. I prepared my jars and can the sauce according the directions included with my canner.  I placed 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of Himalayan pink or canning salt in the bottom of my quart jars.

Next, I hot pack quart jars with the sauce and water bath them for 45 minutes.  Or, you can freeze the sauce in quart size freezer bag.  Allow the jar to sit overnight to ensure the jars seal. Once they are sealed, they are ready for the pantry.

Last, save money by freezing or canning homemade tomato sauce for the winter.  Noteworthy,  the sauce takes time so enjoy a glass of wine or play with the kids while you’re preparing.  It’s worth the work and wait.  As a result, the sauce is kid approved.  My grandchildren love it.  Do you make home made sauces?  What’s your favorite sauce?

 

How To Shuck Corn In Your Microwave

how to shuck corn
I spent the day making tomato sauce and preparing fresh corn for the freezer.  I decided to use the microwave to shuck corn, remove the silk and husk, while I prepared the sauce for the water bath canner.  This method is heaven sent and I wanted to share it with you.  It’s great way to prepare it for dinner when you’re short on time too or when you’re trying to juggle canning activities at the same time.
microwave corn husking
I husked 4 dozen ears today for the freezer.  Using fresh corn in chowder, mixing it with my fresh green beans, or in soup in the winter is big in my home.  So, I pack it in quart size bags, which is just right for my dishes.
 
Step 1 – Place 5 – 6 ears of corn in your microwave, depending on size you may be able to only fit 4 – 5.  I had 6 ears here, but I had to remove 1.  The ears were pretty large.
 
Step 2 – Heat the ears on high for 4 – 5 minutes.  If you’re going to eat it immediately, the rule is 4 minutes for each ear, so it would be 16 – 20 minutes.  Again, depending on how many ears you place in the microwave.  When I’m preserving, I use 4 minutes for the entire batch so I don’t over cook.
gardening, preserving garden food, shucking corn

Step 3 – Remove the ears from the microwave carefully.  They will be hot.  Cut the stalk end about 2 inches from the end of the corn with a chef’s knife or whatever large, sharp knife you have on hand.  You’ll lose a few rolls of corn, but it’s a time saver.

 

Step 4 – Squeeze the corn through the husk from the top, silk end.  The corn should slide out of the husk virtually silk free.

I packaged 4 quarts today and will probably put up another 4 quarts this week.  This is a combination of white and yellow grown by a local farmer and it is so good.  I had to stop myself from eating it so I could have enough for the freezer. Did I mention that it’s great fried with a little butter and red peppers.  Yummy!  My grandchildren love fresh corn.

If you’re a preserver or need to better utilize your time preparing dinner, this is the way to go. You may also like How To Freeze Corn.  What’s your favorite dish using corn?

 

How To Dry Kitchen Garden Herbs

garden herbs, vegetable gardens, preserving garden herbs

I pulled the remaining herbs from the garden today so I can dry them. I’m writing this post, so you can grow and dry your fresh garden herbs too. They’re really easy to grow and adds wonderful flavor to sauces and chili.  The top picture is Greek Basil. I actually dry and freeze my fresh basil.  

 I remove the leaves from my plants and wash them thoroughly.  I than place them on a paper towel to allow them to air dry.  I do the same with my parsley as shown in the picture below.

 

Image-Drying-Basil

 After the herbs have dried, I mark lunch bags with the names of the herbs as shown above. I place the herbs inside the bags and seal them with tape.  Any tape will do, as long as it will hold the bag closed.  I used scotch tape for these. Set the bags in a cool, dry place until they have dried and can be crumbled.  It will take several weeks for them to thoroughly dry, but you should check them to ensure they are drying as expected.  

This is dry dill (below) that has been removed from the bag. Be sure to remove all stems from the herbs before storing.  I use jelly jars from my canning stash to house my herbs.  You can use plastic containers, zip lock bags or any other container that is airtight. You want to keep them dry so they will remain fresh.  

how to dry dill. dill,

 

This is parsley that I have dried.  It’s great on potatoes. It is now airtight and stored in one of my jelly jars.  These are nice to give as gifts too. I add a label and place into a gift basket along with salsa, chips, jam, pickled peppers and cookies for Christmas gifts.

 

preserving gifts, garden gifts

I also freeze my basil. I leave the basil leaves whole so I can crush them into my dishes while cooking. I just grab the bag from the freezer, take out a handful of the leaves and crush them directly into my sauces and chili. Fresh basil smells wonderful and taste even better in dishes.   
Grow a few herbs next season.  You don’t need a large space, small pots in your kitchen window will suffice.  Grow what you use.  Basil, parsley and dill get plenty of use in my house. Happy Gardening!  

 

Home Grown Cantaloupes

 

cantaloupes


My second favorite item in the garden is home grown cantaloupes. My garden is winding down and I’m feeling a little sad.  So, I sooth myself when I’m closing the garden for the year by planning my garden for the next season.  I spend months deciding what I want to plant and that usually cheers me up. Yesterday, I pulled my last squash and cantaloupes. I have tons of tomatoes and green beans left.  As a result, I will can and freeze those next week-end.  I see tomato sauce and salsa on the horizon too.  Great way to use some of my garlic, basil and oregano too.  Check out my other backyard vegetable gardening tips before you leave.

Back to my harvest, this was my first year planting cantaloupes, and I’m so glad that I did.  These are Hale’s Best, which is an Heirloom seed, and they are delicious.  I’ll be having fresh cantaloupes for the next few days.  I started the cantaloupe plants under grow lights in mid-March and moved them into the garden in June.  However, you can direct the seeds when the soil warms up.  I mulched around the plants and left about 6 feet of space for them to spread. I harvested eight cantaloupe from 2 plants. Not bad for a pack of $1.00 seeds. I’ll be saving seed from these melons to plant next year.

 

I’m a frugal gardener, I put my garden in for pennies by purchasing Heirloom seeds and than saving the seed from year to year. Purchasing plants from garden centers can get expensive.  I choose what I want to splurge on, and groceries is not one of those things. If you plan to save seed from your garden, make sure you don’t purchase or use Hybrid seeds or plants.  You want the same characteristics of the parent plant versus inbreeding/cross breeding. Heirlooms are the way to go.

I planted Belle peppers, which performed nicely.  After picking them off the plants, I chop and freeze my peppers. I like to get them into freezer bags as soon as I pick them off the vines. The sooner you lock in the freshness the better. Did you know that orange, red, and yellow peppers are green before they turn into these beautiful colors.

Yep, they start out green.  Patience is a must if you want then to reach the red, yellow or orange stage.  Additionally, there are also male and female peppers.  Check out how to determine and use male and female peppers here.

10 Reasons I Preserve My Garden Vegetables

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preserving garden vegetables

 

There’s nothing like fresh veggies and fruits that have been preserved for winter use.  Gardening is hard work, but oh so worth it.  I just chopped 2 quarts of belle peppers for the freezer.  Yes, you can freeze peppers.  Here’s how:

  • Wash peppers thoroughly and dry.
  • Remove the core and seeds.
  • Place peppers in a quart freezer bag. Be sure to remove the air from the bag.  To keep the peppers from freezer burn, double bag the peppers.
  • Write the date on the bag with a permanent marker.

I love using fresh belle peppers in my dishes.  The best way to preserve vegetables and fruits is to freeze them. I just place the peppers on a cookie sheet.  Place the sheet in the freezer so the pieces can freeze before placing them in the freezer bag.  However, you can just place them in a freezer bag as shown.  Just give them a good whack with a kitchen mallet to break them apart when I needed.  Check out my other backyard vegetable gardening tips too.

To prevent freezer burn, I double bag them.  You can place them in a quart size bag, and than place the quart size bag in a gallon size freezer bag.  Make sure you get all of the air out of the bag.  Most importantly, make sure your peppers are dry before you freeze them.

Gardening gives me a sense of fulfillment.  Being able to serve organic, fresh veggies and fruits to my family is a blessing.  Each year I preserve herbs, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, corn, green beans, peaches, apples, jams, applesauce, and cobbler filling.  Here’s why I preserve my harvest:

  1. Fresh vegetables and fruits are more flavorful than grocery store purchases.
  2. I use fresh tomatoes in chili, pasta sauce and salsa during the winter.
  3. Fresh peppers are available for omelets, meatloaves, spaghetti sauces and casseroles etc.
  4. I have fresh garlic available for spaghetti sauce and other dishes.
  5. Fresh apples and peaches available for warm cobblers during the winter.
  6. My vegetables and fruits are all organic.  I don’t know what’s on the vegetables and fruits in the grocery store or where they were grown.
  7. I save hundreds of dollars on my grocery bill.
  8. My family raves about my dishes. It’s the herbs and other fresh vegetables and fruits, but don’t tell them it’s a secret.
  9. Fresh vegetables and tomatoes make the best soups on those cold winter days.
  10. Nothing like fresh herbs to toss in dishes during the winter.

Finally, preserve garden vegetables and fruits too. Planting a tomato plant on your deck or patio, and you will be able to freeze them for winter use.  Not interested in vegetables, how fruits or sunflowers.  So, preserve garden vegetables and fruits for a welcome winter treat.

 

How To Blanch Tomatoes Before Freezing

 

It’s one of my favorite times of the year.  Harvesting the garden and canning/freezing tomatoes for chili and soup this winter.  Most of the tomatoes that I grow are Heirlooms.  They’re not the best looking tomatoes, but they have a great variety and the best taste.  So Heirloom it is.   My favorites are Cherokee Purple and Paul Robeson.  Yum.  I love slicing them and spreading a little mayo over them with a little pepper.  It just doesn’t get any better than a fresh tomato from the garden.

 

When I harvest enough veggies, I get the blanching basket and my Ball Canner out.  The tomatoes taste as good during the winter as they do when I pick them from the vine.  I freeze some of the tomatoes and can others.

I purchased a basket for blanching tomatoes that fits perfectly into my stockpot.  It’s great for blanching tomatoes, green beans and squash before freezing.  Blanching tomatoes is easy and a necessary step to remove the skin before freezing or canning.  It locks in the flavor and here’s the steps:

1.  Choose tomatoes that are not bruised or cracked and rinse them thoroughly to remove any dirt.

2.  Full your stockpot half-way and bring to a roaring boil.  Do not fill completely, immersing the basket will cause the water to rise.

3.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  This step is important, it will stop the tomatoes from cooking and cool them down enough to remove the skin.

4.  While you’re waiting for the water to boil, remove any stems and make an x on the bottom of each tomato.  Making an x on the bottom of the tomato helps loosen the skin during the cooking process.  (This step is optional.  I have blanched tomatoes without the x).

5.  Once your water is boiling, place the basket inside the stockpot for approximately 30 seconds – 1 minute. Do not cook your tomatoes longer than the 1 minute time frame.  Some of the skins on the tomatoes may start slipping off the tomatoes during the boiling process and that’s fine.  You’re going to remove the skin from the tomatoes, this is the goal.

6.  Remove the basket from the stockpot after 1 minute and emerge the tomatoes into the ice water with a slotted spoon for about 5 minutes.  You can see the skin slipping off a few of the tomatoes in the picture below.

7.  Remove the skin from the tomatoes, the skin should easily slip off the tomatoes.

8. I recommend slicing large tomatoes before placing them in quart or gallon freezer bags.  Smaller tomatoes can be left whole.  If you have a sealer, now is the perfect time to bring it out.  I like to use quart bags for storage.  It’s a sufficient amount for my dishes down the road.

9.  Write the date on the freezer bag with a permanent marker and freeze until ready to use.

10.  If your bags are sealed properly, your tomatoes should not sustain freezer burn and should be good to use through out the winter.

 

Stay tuned for my canning session.  I usually put up 15 – 20 quart jars of tomatoes each season.  I use the canned jars in chili, soup, salsa and other recipes as well.   What are you harvesting from your garden?

 

Leaning Tower Of Pole Beans

green bean trellis support, how to support a green bean trellis

I stepped onto my deck to take a look at the garden and thought my eyes were deceiving me.  Was the pole bean teepee trellis was leaning?  Shielding my eyes, I squinted to get a better view.  I was still unsure, so I headed toward the garden.  I found the leaning tower of pole beans.  The weight of the vines was pushing the teepee trellis forward. It looked as if it could tumble anytime.  


I had to find a quick remedy, oh what to do.  I noticed the extra t-posts leaning on the wood fencing and ran to grab one and stuck it in the ground inside the teepee.  Now how do I tie this baby to the t-post.  I notice a lone tie on the gate of the garden and ran to grab it.  My strategy pays off, I leave a few ties scattered around the garden just in case I have to tie up a plant.  I pushed the teepee back praying that it wouldn’t fall apart and tied the t-post to the back of the teepee.  

 

It is saved, and now stands erect.  Thankfully, it looks just like it did when I imaged it being covered with the vines and beans exploding on the plants.   

The weather in my area has been quite cool for July.  If we don’t get hotter weather soon my garden may end up being a display of greenery with no produce.  We are barely getting into the 80’s here in zone 6B.  I have tons of tomatoes, but they’re not very big and ripening slowly.  I have only harvested 1 tomato, 1 cucumber, a few squash and that has been the extent of it.  

This time of year, I’m praying for somebody, anybody to take zucchini off my hands. I have tons of cukes for pickles and salads, but not this year.  I’m now praying for 100 degree days in August so I can produce tons of fresh veggies.  

Check out this post on how to build the pole bean teepee, and be sure to incorporate this remedy into your set-up before the vines add weigh.  

Sunflowers and Finches In The Garden

sunflowers

I love sunflowers.  They make me happy, look at their beauty faces.   They dance in the garden and add brilliant color among the greenery.  This is a my second year growing sunflowers, and I’m in love.  The first year, I didn’t have one seed germinate.  However, I changed my method of growing them, and bam!  I use bottle greenhouses to germinate my seeds now, and than transfer them to the garden.  I have had great success using this method.  Check out my other sunflower gardening tips too.

Below are some of my favorite sunflowers.  I plant them every year. The Gold Finches love them too.  I love sitting on my deck watching them feast on the seeds.  Unfortunately, the lens on my camera doesn’t capture the beauties in the garden.  I guess I shouldn’t blame the lens, I need to learn how to use it, lol.

 

Autumn Beauty

 

sunflower varities

                                                                                           Mammoth

 

sunflower varieties

        Lemon Queen

 

So, my favorite sunflower is the Lemon Queen.  It’s smaller compared to the Mammoth, which grows 10 – 11 feet and the Autumn Beauty.  The Lemon Queen grows to about 5 feet. In a few weeks, the centers will be filled with sunflower seeds and the American Gold Finch will have a new feeder.  Right now they are enjoying the Nyjer Seed.

American Gold Finch

 

Furthermore, when the sunflowers mature, the finches will eat every seed on the stalk.  However, they’re so beautiful, I just let them eat until their heart is content.  Take a close look at the pictures, because there’s 2 males and a female in this picture.  Additionally, the female is the dull colored finch at the top.  However, the males turns the same dull color as the female in the fall/winter.  They color up in the spring and summer to the brilliant color shown.

Also, this feeding station is outside my bedroom window.  Unfortunately, the finch preferred the $1.99 sock.  Had I known, I could have saved my money on the tube feeder.  So, lesson learned.  They will feed from the tube feeder if the sock is completely occupied with feathered friends, so I guess it isn’t truly wasted.  I enjoy watching them feed upside on the tube feeder.

Finally, next year I hope to add additional varieties of sunflowers to the garden.  Do you grow sunflowers? What variety do you grow?

How to Create Garden Compost From Leaves

gardening, garden compost, vegetable gardens



Having rich soil is essential in vegetable and flower gardens.  I started composting several years ago.  I have 2 compost bins that I use for kitchen scraps, yard cuttings, grass etc.  The compost bins weren’t breaking down fast enough for me, so I started composting my neighbor’s leaves.  I’m not sure that I will return to the compost bins after seeing the results of the composted leaves. I love how the leaves break down.  They’re easier to compost and they don’t require any work unlike the compost bins.  Check out my other backyard vegetable gardening tips too.

Just leave the leaves in lawn bags and let them do their thing.  My neighbor brings me 15 – 20 bags each fall.  I use them to mulch the garden in the fall to keep the weeds down in the spring until I’m ready to till.  The top picture is a bag that I use around my garden plants as mulch.  This year I created paths in the garden to keep the weeds down with them. Normally I use straw, but I didn’t purchase any this year so I had to use my leaves.

 
Here’s a picture of a bag that has broken down into black gold.  Every gardener wishes for black gold. This bag is beautiful and full of worms. It took a year for the leaves to break down to this state, but it is so worth it. The compost in the bins isn’t close to being this rich after 3 years.  I must say that I have not given the bins the attention that they require.  Compost bins must be heated up by using a certain amount of greens and browns, such as cuttings from the lawn, leaves, kitchen scrapes, newspaper, etc. It also requires water and turning.  My bags of leaves just require storage space, and nature does its thing. The longer you leave them, the more they break down.
Because I have 5 – 10 bags of black gold for the next year’s garden, the other bags can sit and decompose this year.  You can have black gold too. Stop burning those leaves and find a spot for them to decompose.  It’s easy:
1.  Remove large sticks, pine cones etc. from the leaves.
2.  Use inexpensive lawn bags to house them.  I purchase cheap ones from the Dollar Store.
3.  Crumble the leaves as much as you can while placing them in the bag.  Because my neighbor gives me her leaves, I have to open the bags and crumble them myself.  If you have kids let them crumble them.  It gets them involved in gardening.
4.  Wet the crumbled leaves thoroughly, seal the bag and place it in a spot where they won’t be disturbed. I use a stick and punch a few holes in the bag so it will get water from the rain and snow during the winter months.
 
Finally, I hope that you found the post on garden compost beneficial.  So, just remember that composted leaves will enrich your soil and help produce nice flowers and vegetables. You can either till it into the garden or place a scoop into the hole before adding your plant. I’m going to add more of this compost around my established plants this week.  I use a small hand trowel to dig the compost into the soil around the plant. Finally, if you use this method make sure you don’t dig too deep.  Digging too deep may damage the roots or the plant.  Most importantly, the compost is organic and it’s free.