Friday, August 31, 2007


Not many people seem to can any longer, now that there are fully stocked grocery stores not far from most home. I honestly don't know many people even my own age who can, never mind a 30 or 20something. It's turning into a lost art, which is rather a sad statement about American self reliance........

I had no conception what canning really was just ten years ago. My ex's family (many moons ago) had a family garden in the county, and they split the harvest and canned for days. As a young wife, I was relegated to the chopping, cleaning, washing, and all round dogs' body for the project every year. I did not actually can, but I did enjoy the results.

I learned to can at the urging of my husband, and bought a book (Putting Food By) and just got started. I discovered that two people I knew did do some canning, and I asked questions. Lots of questions! That and courage got me going.

The first thing I canned was salsa as I, here I am, a decade down the road, and I have a room devoted to pressure canning which includes a slop sink, a dishwasher, and a gas stove that's been converted to propane. I have two pressure canners, and literally hundreds of jars (one can never ever have too many jars!!) and I am seriously thinking about having a cabinet built to hold the harvest put up each year. From this grew the smoked salmon so admired that we built a 4 x 3 x 6 foot cold smoker, with shelves that will take about 80 pounds of salmon at a whack. I get so many requests for my Atomic beans, that I spend a rather stupid amount of time and effort to make sure I have some every year. I'll can up everything I can get my hands on, if it can be safely canned, lol Heck I even can potatoes, which are actually pretty darned good. And if a legal moose should happen to wander through at the right time, you can bet a large portion would end up in pint jars too!

Come fall time, you will not find me at home often as I am out picking this and that....berries mostly. I already have 20 some pounds of high bush cranberries, plus about 14 cups of wild currants in the freezer, plus blueberries. Come October, I will be busy making jams and jellies.....and that's the time we make my hub's barbecue impossible combination of sweet/tart/spice that defies accurate description and is his recipe alone-I just provide the 30 something ingredients.

Next month I will be busy canning spuds and smoked salmon. I envision putting up at least another 250, 300 jars. Tonight I did up another 14 quarts of my Atomic pickled green beans, and tomorrow I will start pressure canning beans, and some cabbage. By the time I am I done, I am thoroughly sick of canning, but it's wonderful to see the rows of jars, just waiting for inspiration and appetite to prompt a hearty meal.

Rave of the Day

Just had to share a small brag, since I seldom get the opportunity.

I hadn't ever considered entering anything in the State Fair before, although I have surely enjoyed taking a look at the many exhibits every year. This year, I hadn't really given my garden the attention it deserves, being wrapped up in horses and hay. So it has pretty much been neglected and could double as a weed patch, lol But in the back I had planted some dill, since I do use it in pickling and cooking pretty regular. Sure enough, it got pretty danged tall, even began leaning due to the weight of the heads.

A friend offered to enter a stalk into the Fair for me, as she was going to enter a slew of her own stuff too. I thought, well what the heck, can only lose........right?


I won first place, hahaha! So there it is, towering over the giant cabbages!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rant on hay growers

Or, what passes for hay farmers up here.

I swear, most of these guys are clueless. It isn't that they don't know how to produce great hay, it's that they don't.

I recall once, years ago, standing out in a big field at the Point, chatting with the grower. I had asked why he chose that time to cut, and his answer was basically-the longer he left it go, the more bales he had. Every day of sunny weather equalled x number of extra bales. Seriously.

I know that the dairy farms understand that the better the hay, the better the milk-more pounds per day plus higher fat content, which means a better price (Current situation with Mat Maid notwithstanding) So why do they wait and wait and wait, before they chance a cutting?

When I was doing hay, I learned the basics: The optimum time (for nutritional content) is before the seed heads emerge from timothy. That to properly feed the grasses and get highest protein, you need to cut about 40 to 45 days from application (roughly). For most guys, they put the fertilizer down about the first week of May. This is when the fields have dried out and firmed enough to drive the equipment on it without damaging the surface. So why or why do they wait until the 4th of July? They should be cutting by mid June!

I have asked numerous people and all I can come up with is: Tradition.

This is mostly why we have what amounts to greenish looking straw with little or no leaf. The only time we have better hay is when we have a cool, cloudy early summer-the grasses don't bolt as quickly. And too, any stress on the plants elevates sugar content, and heaven knows we surely have our share of metabolic disorders in our horses up here. And we won't go there on the vitamin E deficiences either....they go hand in hand with current haying & horsekeeping practises.

I was talking with a friend just yesterday, lamenting that we can't find anyone to put up organic hay. And it's true-nearly everyone uses chemicals. When they could really feed the soils with properly composted steer manure, lime, and fish meal instead. I have a hunch it's probably cheaper to apply than the chemicals, but I don't know for sure. It does, however, take different equipment to apply, and some investment in soils testing in detail. What's really dumb about this is that they could easily charge a premium for it!

And then we have so many horse people who think that any weed or anything in the hay, means it isn't good forage, blech! How would they like to eat rice for umpteen years? I prefer hay from different sources and with different grasses-some canary grass never hurt any I have fed. I feed the best imported hay around, and add in the cleanest local I can find too. Actually, I would prefer hay that was not fertilized at all, because that is what horses evolved on-but I am sure that's asking a bit much.

So that's a partial lament from a consumer-not tilting at windmills (yet!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Harvest time!

Today I was able to squeak out a long lunch hour and run over to Pyrah's U Pick. Oh my goodness I love being on that place! Acres and acres of veggies, all kinds. I didn't have time to walk the whole place, I was after green beans. They are fairly close to the corn patch, so just a 100 yards or so away from the weigh and pay booth. I got seven pounds in about 15, 20 minutes. If they hadn't been flagging on the PeeDub and doing the same on the Old Glenn by the NAPA store, I would have had at least twice that length of time to pick, grrr! Not to mention every idiot heading to the Fair is driving a whopping 37 mph......

If you haven't been, it's worth the drive and hiking around the farm. Not sure of acreage, but likely at least a 320. There's about two acres of just bush beans, if you can imagine that. I am glad I waited a week to go pick, I need to go back if at all possible.

I only have 12 quarts of Atomic beans put up so far, aiming for 24 to 30, plus this year I would like to do some regular beans in pint jars for a change.

Sigh. This means another trip to the grocery store for habenero's, serrano's, and jalapeno's. I *knew* I should have just grown the darn things myself, lol At least I have fresh dill up the wazoo!

Hay hay hay

I am not sure that any other location in the US, is such an ulcer-provoking, stressful, and worrisome place. At least in the Lower 48, there is hay to be found. Might have to travel a few states, but it's available somewhere!

Up here, the situation is pretty grim. With our economic boom continuing, more and more hay fields are converted to cookie cutter starter home subdivisions. This is particularly true in the Matanuska Valley, I get to all the new subs every year. Not many folks are putting lands into hay production-a few farms are going in up towards Talkeetna, but not nearly enough to satisfy the demand for horse hay. I figured out once, years ago, that it takes roughly 2 to 4 acres of hay to provide for just one horse-120 bales over the course of a winter until the next cutting. Of course there are tons of variables-density of crop, weather, fertilization, size of bales, etc, but most importantly-whether or not a second cutting is put up.

This is why people are bringing in 100s of tons of imported hay-not enough produced locally to meet the demand. It's also why feed stores do a land slide biz in hay, year round.

Folks guard their hay supply jealously here, and I am one of them. I have a really good connection to one farmer and I adore his stuff-love to have a bunch in my barn. And this, despite the fact I bring in up to 50 tons a month of imported, lol! This year, if I was buying strictly local hay, I would be guzzling Pepto and likely grey haired and on sedatives...this is the second poor year in a row for local farmers and it's going to be a bad winter for a lot of horses owned by folks on the edge of financial disaster. Even though it's been a long time since I put up hay myself, I am getting real nervous about what this winter will bring.

Which leads me to this: If the cost of hay is through the roof, WHY aren't horse prices reflecting this? WHY are horse prices so artificially high?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A new day begins

For myself at least in blogosphere, as I allow the "creative muse" to take me where it leads.....

No subject taboo, no person shunned, and all voices heard!