DIY Blog

The last few years I've grown between 40-50 heirloom tomato plants and a variety of vegetables.

2016 was my largest canning year. I kept a decent log of the weight of the harvested tomatoes and it was in excess of 150 pounds.

I spent far too many nights after work that year harvesting boxes and boxes of tomatoes from the garden and processing them into spaghetti sauce until 2 or 3 in the morning.I had tomatoes covering every inch of my kitchen space, on top of the refrigerator, and anywhere I could stash them until canning night during each week. Many weeks, I canned two or three nights in the week. This wasn't simply canning tomatoes because that wasn't worth it to me. This was spaghetti sauce with all the goodies like mushrooms and bell peppers.

About half the spaghetti sauce batches were meatless because I personally think hamburger is better added when making the meal. The other half I did add sausage because in that case I think the sausage tastes better when added in at canning stage. It should be noted that I used pressure canning in both cases because it was easier to have just one set of equipment out of the cupboards.

2018 wasn't a great year for tomatoes and I went lazy thinking - I'm not dealing with a garden this year! That lasted until mid-June when I totally kicked myself for even thinking I wouldn't want crops for the year. By then it was a bit late. Live and learn. The only tomatoes that really produced that year were cherry varieties and I'm not a big fan of small tomatoes - even homegrown they aren't that tasty.

Black Krim and other rock-star heirlooms can spoil you rotten with flavor. They make you one of those snooty types about tomatoes.

Surprisingly, the bell pepper and winter squash performed like rock stars. Until that season, I thought I was absolutely unable to successfully grow peppers. They just never gave me enough to be worth the trouble.

This year I have scaled back and only growing:

Tomatoes

Black Krim (my favorite!)
Early Girl
Romas (heavy producer and excellent meaty tomato for canning)
Brandywine

Watermelon

Cream of Saskatchewan (see below)
Golden Midget

Other Edibles

Italian Yellow Flat Bean
Wisconsin 58 Cucumbers
Dill (smells better than any flower)
Bull's Blood Beets
Fordhook Swiss Chard
Garlic
Gooseberries (super jam)
Yugoslavian Red Lettuce
Buttercrunch Lettuce
Raspberries

I planted some chili pepper varieties but this cool year doesn't suit their lifestyle.

Any variety that is self-sustaining, meaning heirloom, is going to be a top-choice. That way I can harvest the seeds for the next year. If you've looked at seed pricing, you'll see why this is a money-saver and it's very easy to be a successful seed saver.

Another bonus to look for when choosing plants is the heirlooms that come from northern climates. In my opinion, for Colorado's short growing season, north heirlooms are naturally suited to our environment. It's also well worth it to invest in protection tunnels to allow for quick protection from hail and to extend the season into frosty nights. A couple years ago, I kept my tomatoes growing into December.

Spotlight on heirloom watermelons

One of the highlights I hope to have from this year's crop is the Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons. I grew these successfully in 2017 and WOW yummy. Don't let the pale flesh fool you. This is a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth fruit. You can NOT buy this in a store. Bonus as they are heirloom and easy to save the seeds. I think I originally paid $3 for the starter seeds and that was only about (15-20) count.

The squirrels (and now rabbits due to Lakewood development driving them out of their natural habitat) are the enemy. Since I have tons of chicken wire fencing, I'll be building protection cages for the temptations. 

Pickled Beets - I ran out!

Beets are an odd seed and require more space than one would think. When you plant the seed it actually results in multiple plants and they must be gently separated and replanted. Besides the transplanting, they are an easy grow. Canning them isn't hard as pickled beets only require a hot-bath canning process.

On top of a salad or as a easy side to take to potlucks, pickled beets are one of my favorites.

Great pantry stock


How Many Pounds of Tomatoes to make a Quart of Tomato Paste

I started with 8 pounds of paste variety tomatoes, mostly Roma and Amish Paste.  Half the batch was prepped by washing (of course - ok first and last time I will say that) then blanched for a few minutes in boiling water.  The other half was roasted in the oven.  Then both batches were run thru my KitchenAid vegetable strainer to remove the skins and seeds, so I yielded 12 cups of smooth tomato sauce.  Since the recipe was paste it had to be reduced which took a long time. I didn't note the total time cooking at low heat but it was close to 12 hours.  After simmering on the stove for a long time I got irritated and poured the sauce into shallow pans - cookie sheets, and then heated it on the lowest setting I could in my oven, this still required some periodic stirring.

Net result was 8 pounds of tomatoes = 1 quart of rich paste that didn't have that bitter taste that's present in store bought paste.  Was it worth it? For the experience, yes.  Time-wise was questionable but the paste will last me for months.

How to store it?  After reading up, I decided to do it the old fashioned way.  I put the paste in sterilized mason jar and covered it with olive oil.  When I need a couple scoops I dish it out and replenish the layer of oil.  It could be frozen in ice cube trays and then transferred to plastic containers but I'm saving my freezer space for meat.

 


Chickens and Ducks

 

I went through one of those periods where I thought how lovely it would be to have fresh eggs.

Plus, excellent additions for my compost pile.

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, all I remember is coming home to chickens ripped apart by evil raccoons; going out EVERY freezing morning during winter to dump frozen water and replace it with fresh, only to have the water freeze again; and when the eggs were coming in - I had them everywhere. The fridge was stuffed full. I realized I don't eat that many eggs.

Because I couldn't stop myself, after the chickens all got eaten by predators, I took off one winter and then promptly decided I would get ducks.

Why ducks? Too much reading can get you in trouble. While chickens only lay about 2.5-3 years during their 6-8 year lifespan, assuming predators don't take them for lunch or dinner, ducks lay for 6-7 years. Varieties like the ones in the picture also produce about 250 eggs per year, chickens are more like 150 eggs per year. Just forget you read that and think strongly about whether you like hearing quack-quack-quack every day.

After that homesteading expedition, it took a good 6 months before I stopped hearing ghost quacks.

I still can't get the picture of the duck penis out of my head. Google a video and you'll see what I mean.

Ironically, one of the reasons I chose ducks was because I wouldn't have to face problems like you do when you realize a young chicken is actually a rooster. You could actually be sustainable by having fertilized eggs! OK, here's the rest of the story....

Male ducks are highly sexually active. It's not a kiss-kiss scenario. The male will viciously grab the female by the head or neck and pin her down. Wam-bam and it's over. I'll tell you a sad story. With ducks you want a big bucket of water for them to drink and they need a lot of water. They need the bucket because they dip their head to clear their nostrils. I had one female duck who was fond of jumping in the bucket, though it was a tight squeeze. One day I came home to find her dead in the bucket with fresh mating marks on her neck. It didn't take long to figure out that she had gotten in the bucket as usual and the male had jumped in on top of her to mate and drowned her. It was quite sad.

Think really hard before you decide to raise chickens or ducks. In summer, it's dandy. In winter, it's brutal.

 

Predators are all around, even in a suburban area.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Project Pictures

4 cords from local source!  

We had a chicken costume contest. The top prize went to a lady who made a Lucy and Ethel
costume based upon the Chocolate Factory episode.


Another picture just for html cross-posting.