Monday, August 27, 2012

First (small) Grape Harvest

We've been keeping a close eye on our first Chambourcin harvest.  Since this is only the second year for the grape vines, we removed all grape clusters, except one, from each vine during early spring.  The grapes have been growing beautifully and we've been testing the sugar content every couple of days.  Our plan was to wait at least until Labor Day weekend....but our plans did not work out.

A huge flock of migrating black birds attacked our grape vines this morning - Jeff thinks there were thousands of them, he said they were sitting on the telephone wires as far as the eye could see, and every tree was full of them as well.  They pretty much demolished our grapes...probably ate 2/3 of what we had. 

So this evening, Jens came over and we picked the remaining grape clusters. We used our (sterilized) apple cider press to crush the grapes and then we manually "destemmed" them. We still ended up with about 17 gallons of "must", which we will be fermenting. The juice tasted great through, just a bit tart, but very flavorful and fruity.

Everyone used buckets

Got everything ready first

Crushing grapes
Buckets were dumped into tubs

Destemming close-up
Team destemming

Final (twilight) clean-up

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Garden Update August 18

  • Corn:
Still working on our sweet corn. Unfortunately we kind of lost track of our harvest numbers. But at least we know what we froze so far:
  • 180 quarts of corn for our family
  • 140 quarts we helped family/friends
We have also sold some corn and given more away to neighbors and friends - we just don't know how many dozen - or even wagonloads... Oh well, we do know that we are over half done with the corn.  Our Silver King variety is ripening now, and our best guesstimate is that we have at least 300+ dozen of this.  We actually put an add on Craigs List this morning, just to see what might happen.  We had 2 calls so far :)
  • Tomatoes:
We are on our 4th batch of spaghetti sauce, and there are still loads of tomatoes left.  We'll just keep plugging away at them.
  • Melons:
Never ever grew such nice melons before.  We think it may be the plastic that we used, as all our viney plants did much better this year (sweet potatoes and pumpkins are going nuts).  We have amazing cantaloupes and very tasty watermelons - every day! 
  • Grapes:
Our Chambourcin grapes are ripening nicely.  We took some sample grapes from different vines, smashed them, and then used our refractometer to figure out the sugar content:  It is currently 17% Brix, so definitely getting closer to picking time - we think about 2 weeks or so.

Shrub & Zucchini Bread

  • Blackberries:
Made one last batch of Jeff's Shrub recipe, with lots of lemon.  Turned out very tasty.
  • Other:
Still picking potatoes (did not harvest them yet, we just dig out what we need for dinner).  We have lots of onions, which we get for our spaghetti sauce, and as needed.  Have lots of herbs, especially basil, which we use for different recipes.  Started cleaning/weeding both blueberry patches  - nearly done with those and ready for mulching later on.  Also still grilling zucchini for dinner and using them for zucchini bread.

Friday, August 17, 2012


A few weeks ago we found a day old kitten in one of our sheds. It's mother had moved the rest of the litter but missed this little one- so we took it to the house, bought kitten formula and a bottle (all readily available at Tractor Supply) and started feeding it.

First it drank barely a teaspoon at a time, but the amount gradually increased. By the time it's eyes opened, it was drinking nearly 2 tablespoons of formula at a time. We had no problems getting it to pee, as long as we rubbed it with a wet paper towel before feeding, but for the first few weeks we had real issues getting the kitten to poop and its belly got horribly distended.     Nothing we tried worked until Jeff finally decided to give it an enema - we used a tiny disposable pipette (the kind that is used for sampling beer or wine) and a tiny amount of enema solution - and this worked!!! We kept this enema treatment up for nearly two weeks and then the kitten got over whatever issues it had and is now doing fine.

We found the rest of the litter two weeks ago in our garage and took one of them to keep ours company. They were about 6 weeks old at the time - so now we have two happy, active kittens living on our back porch.  They are such fun to watch and play with!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ag Progress Days 2012

 Every year we try to make it up to Penn State's Ag Progress Days - this year we went for the first day of the event.  The day started with rain, fog and overall miserable weather, but by the time we got close to State College, it cleared up and the sun came out.  We saw of lot of machinery, watched some demonstrations, visited most of the Ag Science exhibits and enjoyed the food.  Our favorite is still the honey ice cream (just like at the farm show).

Sprayer that resembled a bug
Some huge machines!
Obstacle course
Corn maze with clues

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Efficiently Processing Sweet Corn for Freezing

For years we have been processing our corn outside - from start to finish, keeping the sticky mess out of the house.  We save a lot of time and energy by setting up "stations" to move the corn through our "production cycle".

Our goal is to get the corn picked and blanched in the fasted time possible - the longer the corn sits around after picking, the more of its sugar content will turn to starch.  So while half the team goes out into the field to pick sweet corn, the other half gets the stations ready for processing in a shady spot in the back yard.

Station # 1:  Husking and Brushing
We set up several chairs (depending on how large our group is), a wheelbarrow and old clothes baskets for the husks, and  several buckets turned upside down for keeping sharp knifes and brushes.  (Knives for cutting out bad spots, soft brushes to remove extra silks.)  We also have a couple of large stainless steel bowls ready for the ears of corn. 

Station # 2:  Blanching and Cooling
For this station we have a patio table, a turkey fryer with propane (we use a heavy duty burner, like the kind you would use for making beer), a large pot with basket insert (usually comes with a turkey fryer), the gadget to lift out the basket from the pot and potholders.  We have stacks of dish-towels to cover up the husked corn bowls.  This station also has several large tubs and coolers, as well as a water hose with shut-off valve at the end, and several bags of ice on hand to help keep the water cool.  We also have colanders with bowls ready.

Station # 3:  Cutting Corn off the Cob
Another patio table that can easily be washed off with a water hose, covered with thick towels and another stack of dishtowels.  Several sharpened knives and a steel are on hand, as well as more stainless steel bowls or pots.  Also have empty buckets for the left-over cobs.

Station # 4:  Bagging
Depending on how many people are helping, we either set up another patio table or we use the table for the blanching station.  For bagging, we use quart size freezer bags, a measuring cup and a canning funnel - as well as broiler pans or trays for moving the bags to the freezer.

As soon as the first load of corn arrives (back of the four-wheeler  or on a small wagon), the first group starts husking.  At this point, we start filling the pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Meanwhile, all the tubs get filled with cold water as well. We move filled bowls of husked corn to the blanching station, where about a dozen ears of corn get blanched at a time.  As soon as the corn is blanched, it gets dumped into the first tub of water.  While the next batch is being blanched, we move the cooled ears of corn from tub to tub, adding ice to keep the water cold.  The faster we can cool down the corn after blanching, the better.  No corn leaves the cooling tubs until it sinks to the bottom and is very, very cold. We usually dump out the first tub and refill it frequently - while we may just add ice to the other tubs, making sure the water stays very cold. Then the corn gets moved into colanders, with bowls underneath and carried to the cutting table, where it sits to drain-covered with a dishtowel.  Once the corn drains off, we just lay them on the towel covered table - again covering our piles with dishtowels to keep flies and falling leaves off.  The corn is cut off the cob into large bowls.  As soon as we have a bowl full, it goes to the bagging station - where we usually use 4 cups of corn per quart size bag.  We use actual measuring cups to fill each bag - and we use a canning funnel (the kind that has a large bottom opening to fit on a quart jar) to get the corn into each bag without making a mess.  We squeeze out any extra air and zip the bag shut.  As soon as we have 10 bags filled, we carry them to one of our freezers.  (that way we can kind of keep track of how many bags we filled).  We spread out the filled bags across different freezer shelves - and several freezers, never more than 2 bags high - to make sure that the corn freezes quickly.  If the corn is not cold when it is bagged, and too much new corn is placed in the freezer at the same time, there is a definite risk of spoiling - the corn will turn sour before freezing - which will be a sad surprise later on.

We froze over 50 quart sized bags this weekend, and sold an additional 75+ dozen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blackberry Wine Progress

This evening we syphoned the "Blackberry Batch #1" from the fermentor into 3 five-gallon carboys and 1 one-gallon carboy.  We added the airlocks and labeled each jug.  Now we can listen to the "bubbling" and watch the sediment slowly settle on the bottom of each jug.  The carboys will all be covered with dark bags to keep light out.

We also took out the nylon bags which held the blackberries for the "Blackberry Merlot" batch from the fermentor.  We hung each of them on a drywall screw from our beam that spans the kitchen, and let gravity do its job- we collected nearly a gallon of extra juice this way, without pressing the berries (afraid that pressing might crush the seeds and lead to bitterness).

Monday, August 6, 2012

August 6 Garden Update

  • Blackberry harvest is coming to an end, we picked over 500 pounds.  A few bushes are still bearing, but we are trimming out the old growth and tying up the shoots for next year.
  • Doing well with watermelons - we have yellow and red ones.  Both have amazing tastes!
  • Picked enough tomatoes and onions for a batch of sauce
  • Still making pesto dishes from all the basil
  • Made 2 batches of blackberry jam (with Anja and Anna)
  • Most importantly: Chambourcin grapes are ripening!!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Wine Making 2012 Started This Week!

Exciting things happening this week:  we started 3 "experimental" batches of wine.
yeast starting to bubble
in blackberry juice
  • July 28:  our first batch is a plain blackberry, made from frozen berries we picked earlier this season. 
  • July 29:  a small batch of strawberry wine, also from previously frozen berries
  • August 4:  another batch of blackberry, but with this one we are trying for a "Blackberry Merlot" kind of wine, used more berries per gallon and added wood chips already during fermentation.
For all batches, we kept the fruit secured in fermentation bags, which will make it easy to remove before racking into carboys.

We had to make a run for more wine-making supplies like yeast, pectic enzyme, campden tablets etc.,  and ended up buying a fermentation vat for future use.  It was a good deal...and we can always dream big :)