Water Bath Canning: Part 1

I have,  for the longest time,  had a mental block of some kind regarding canning.  I’ve always intended on learing how to can,  I just thought,  for some reason,  that I needed someone to show me EXACTLY what to do,  or I wouldn’t be able to get it right.  This isn’t because I thought it was too hard,  or there was a special trick to be learned,  or anything like that,  it just seemed to me like something that needed to be learned from someone,  in person.  Like I said,  it was just a mental block about the whole thing. 

I had grand plans of going to South Dakota to visit a friend of my mother’s to learn everything there is to know about canning.  In retrospect this seems silly,  but at the time I was convinced it was the way to go about it.  The trip seemed to be a hazy plan “in the fall,  during canning season” about every year since I got serious about gardening several years ago.  Every year something came up and it just never seemed like “the right time. ”  

This spring,  came the tipping point. 

This year,  I have had an absolutely amazing crop from my rhubarb that I planted 4 years ago.  This is the biggest crop I’ve had from it yet.  I was determined that this would be the year that I finally managed to can something,  and I decided that that “something” was going to be shrawberry-rhubarb jelly.  I LOVE strawberry – rhubarb jelly.  Like,  can eat it straight out of the jar love it,  and boy is it be hard to find (especially organic),  and when you do (most of the time at a farmers market) it is usually very expensive.  Now,  I don’t begrudge the cost,  since I know organic produce is more expensive in general,  and organic strawberries even more so, but that just makes it a rare treat indeed. 

I was absolutely determined I would figure out this whole canning “thing.”   This year.  In fact,  this spring.  Right now,  while my rhubarb was producing a luscious crop and strawberries were in season. 

My first major hurdle was finding organic strawberries that actually smelled like strawberrys and weren’t rotting.  This actually proved to be harder then I expected.   Everywhere I went it seemed like their organic strawberries were in one of three categories: 1. Unripe 2. Rotting 3. Nonexistent.  Non organic strawberries were found by the billions everywhere I went,  however,  strawberries are one of the things I insist on buying organic since they are part of the dirty dozen.  Apple’s are another big one for me,  and man,  it’s getting ridiculously hard to find organic granny smith apples these days,  for any price!  I finally lucked out at Costco,  where they were selling 2 lb containers for $7, which,  although double the price of non organic,  is a good price for organic strawberries.  I bought 10 lbs since I wasn’t sure how many I would need for the amount of rhubarb I had.

Allright,  organic rhubarb? Check.  Organic strawberries? Check.  Organic sugar? Check (also from Costco, that’s the best price I’ve found on organic CANE sugar,  since I refuse to buy beet sugar.)  Organic lemons? Check.  Organic pectin? Che…… errrr,  what? I didn’t think this one through apparently.   I actually have no idea if you can get organic pectin or not,  sadly I just grabbed the first thing off the shelf I saw in the canning section at my local Ace Hardware,  which is where I got the canning lids I used as well.  I have since discovered they are almost half the price at the local big blue box store (which I absolutely loathe shopping at with a passion I can not even begin to describe),  which might be enough to get me to shop there if I start doing a whole bunch of canning in the future.  I do plan on investing in some of the Tattler reusable canning lids in the future,  however,  I didn’t want to make the investment until I was sure I was going to be comfortable canning in the future. 

I already had a whole bunch of canning jars that I’ve collected over the years in sizes ranging from 4 oz all the way up to 1 gallon,  in both the wide mouth variety and the regular ones.   For years now I have been using glass jars for storing food both in the fridge and in the cupboards.   Not canning things,  just using them as dry storage for beans,  lentils,  chips,  popcorn,  and things like that.   I’ve also discovered if you store things in glass in the fridge they both last longer AND taste better.   No funky refrigerator taste in the food and no food adding funky smells to the refrigerator.

This has gotten so long that I am just going to end the first installment here and continue on with part 2 in another post.  


Fate's 2013 New Years Resolutions

My 2012 resolutions all went downhill pretty quick.  So, here I am at the start of 2013 trying to figure out my list of ‘accomplishments’ for this year.  As usual, these will be more “goals” than resolutions, although a few of them are a bit cliched.

1. Restart “Dave Ramsey Plan”
While we haven’t gone crazy in our spending, Fin and I have relaxed after a couple years doing a really good job budgeting.  Mostly, this is my fault – feeling burned out looking at bills.  By most measures, we’ve taken a year off our financial plan, and need to get back onboard.  There’s some discussion at the office of bringing on personal financial advisors and such – might be interesting.

2. Make soap again.
I made enough soap to last us a long while, and then we switched over to left over fragments floating around.  We’re running low on all of the above, and I need to get my stuff together and go through with it.  Largely, it’s a bit of a pain with the cats (we wrangle them up into a room for a couple hours).

3. Build evil-project laboratory
I haven’t had space to work on electronics projects since I moved to the area – multiple small apartments, followed by a small house.  Working on audio wiring, I purchased a soldering iron, and find myself considering the possibilities of electronics tinkering again.  With any luck, Fin can have some space for her craft projects, and I’ll have space to tinker.

4. Learn a Bach Fugue
I’m hoping better than “learn a Beethoven Sonata”, and then playing Op. 49.  I still haven’t selected one, but I’ve started working on a 3-part invention to get my ready.

5. Time Lapse Garden Video
I’m still dismayed by the destruction of my previous camera for the time lapse project.  Tho, I do a significant collection of photos I could make something with (at least until mid-spring timeframe).  I’m not sure what sort of hardware investment I’ll make here, but there’s multiple options, and I do have a nice project enclosure to help things along.

6. Get back to writing
I haven’t written significantly for a year.  I’m hoping to improve my work/life balance and get this blog thing going well again.

7. Reorganize the office
This one would likely be #1 if Fin ordered the list, but the low place here is symptomatic of both of our desires to tackle the beast.  The office is the one area of the house that isn’t currently “awesome”.  Mostly on account of HUGE collections of “stuff” that needs unpacked and sorted, including the majority of boxes from before I moved in. 😮

And now, I’ll place the “standard” resolutions.  These are serious, but feel too cliched to take seriously.

8. Take longer/better vacation at some point in 2013.
9. Get to the gym / Y / etc…
10. Spend less time watching TV & playing video games.

I’m not going to justify these with explanations, and really, I debated putting them on the list.  Still, I hope to break trends and accomplish something there to write about. 🙂

That said, one of the important things (to me) about the “New Years Ritual”, is to recognize your accomplishments over the past year that might not have been “resolved”.  2012 saw a large number of “bucket list” items, and I suspect 2013 will as well.

— Fate

Fate's 2012 Resolutions Recap

I can save the vast majority of typing here with one word: FAIL.

My resolutions this past year went to hell pretty quick.  I could give a list of excuses, but I’ll save it.  Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking inward and have reached a few conclusions about moving forward again. 🙂  Fin and I both, I think, spent much of the year simply trying to recover from the previous whirlwinds of activity.  Isn’t that the way life goes?
The biggest wins according my resolution list where in music.  This year I played in several public recitals, as well as a few times in public.  While I didn’t complete 3 Chopin pieces, I mastered one, started a second, and move on to multiple other difficult pieces (mostly Bach).
My relationship with Fin continued growing over the past year.  Out of everything over the past year, I’m happiest that we have managed to get stronger as a couple.
Now, on toward 2013, and time to rethink goals now that the world didn’t end.

— Fate

Planning out the Garden and Shovels

This weekend was a super busy weekend but a whole lot of stuff got done!

I broke what I thought was my last shovel on Friday trying to get that tree stump out of the ground, which sucks, because I have a whole lot more stuff to do with a shovel before the season even begins this year. We went to several estate sales yesterday trying to find a new shovel with absolutely NO luck. Isn’t it usually the case that every time you’re not looking for something that they are all over the place but as soon as you go looking for it there is none to be found? That was the case with shovels yesterday. The only one we found was a really crappy short handled one and I really wanted a long handled shovel. I did end up getting a couple new large sized tomato cages tho, and when we opened the trunk of the car to stick the cages in there we found a shovel! Go figure. It must have been in my car when I hit the deer and gotten stuck in Fates car without me realizing it. Unfortunately it was a short handled one, which wasn’t what I wanted.

We went to Ace Hardware on the way home thinking to maybe pick up a new handle so I could replace the handle that I broke. Man, those things are expensive! They wanted like $15 for a new one. I started looking at the shovels on the wall and saw a all steel one for $29, with a lifetime warranty! Considering I’ve broken about 5 shovels or more in the last 3 years I figured the lifetime warranty was the way to go. I ended up getting this Fiskars long handled shovel. The wider base for stepping on and the life time warranty were the major attractions for me. Its a bit heavier then the other shovels I have used but I guess that works out well in the goal of I have of building more muscle! I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but will be sure to post a review when I do.

Today was spent sorting out our massive seed order. 172 different varieties! I think we might be a bit insane. We have 4 different places we are planting. My parents house, my brothers girlfriends friends farm (in three different places), my brothers house, and my house. Seeing the amount of seeds we have I am having trouble believing that we have ENOUGH seeds. Then the other part of me wonders where in the hell we are going to even put everything. Its crazy.

We started a google document that listed out all the starting times for getting things started indoors, transplanting, and direct seeding for both the spring and fall time. I am super excited to get everything going. We should be starting out the first of our seeds here very soon as our last expected frost date is April 15th. I’m really wondering how that is going to go this year since we don’t seem to have had a winter around here. Knowing this area tho, even tho the winter has been super mild, I can see our last frost happening the end of May. A freak June snow storm isn’t out of the question either.

My brother took a bunch of the salvaged wood I brought home and made out quite a few of the boxes for the garden for me. I’m happy about that as it will save me a ton of work. There are quite a few to go, but he made a whole lot of progress on them today. I will be concentrating on getting those into the garden this week along with getting the rest of the hugelkulture beds in the front yard dug out and filled up. I have the wood now to get those going, and the new shovel to get them dug out! I need to get that little tree moved and then I am in business.

Things are really coming along around here!


Ding dong the tree is gone!

Or at least the tree stump is gone now! We took the tree down about 3 years ago and I’ve been waiting for the stump to rot enough to get out since. I decided to take it out this week so I wouldn’t have to now around it anymore. Instead I will have to now around the new tree I am putting in there.

The tree we took out was some kind of pine tree that died about 5 years ago due to some kind of bug infestation. Mine was one of the first in the area to go, but it seems to be attacking pretty much every other pine I see these days. It was a hard loss, since that provided late day shade to my biggest windows in the house. It has made a real difference on how hot the living room gets in the summer.

I already have the tree I am planning on putting in there, I just need to move it from where I decided to put it last year. Hopefully moving it doesn’t kill it, I grew it from a seedling.

– Fin


These beds are the ones that I put in recently in the front yard.  One finished, one started, and one to go!  Need to move a tree before I can do the last one. 


2012 New Year's Resolutions

Well, it’s that time again.  2012 is here, and I’m doing my usual “New Year’s Resolutions”.  Fin noted that my resolutions are really more goals – and I’m ok with that.  I’d rather have goals to accomplish than vague notions of things I’d like to do.

Anyway, here goes.

1. Pay-off 2 more major debts
Continuing with the “Dave Ramsey” plan here.  At some point, I’ll chronicle the travails of Fin and I working our way out of debt.  It’s been a long road, but the end, while a ways off, is finally coming into view across the horizon.

2. Make liquid soap and write some tutorials on Soaping
Mostly, this will be a challenge in obtaining potassium hydroxide.  Sodium hydroxide is fairly available at a few local hardware stores.  I’ll also need to do a little bit of research into the differences between the saponification processes. I’d also like to write some tutorials on how to make soap, for other curious people.

3. Perfect 3 Chopin pieces
Right now, I’m considering Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4, Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6, and Nocturne in Eb Major Op. 9 No. 2.  I’m also experimenting with a webcam and mic setup, hopefully I’ll be able to record and post some playing. We’ll see how that goes.

4. Make Time-Lapse Garden Video
I’ve been discussing this one substantially with Fin.  The idea is to record a video of the garden over the course of a year, and post it to online.  Hopefully, with a soundtrack I’ve create myself as well.  This is going to be a rather involved project.  I’ve begun looking for materials / equipment / camera angles and ideas.

5. Play in a recital or public forum
Not entirely sure where / when this will happen, but I hope to work more on playing in public for 2012.  Since the start of 2011, I’ve gotten a lot better about dealing with performance anxiety and public playing. Hoping to continue this progress into 2012 and hopefully start looking at doing gigs the year after.

6. Take a few days off this Summer for some local vacationing
This is largely dependent on 2012 not sucking like 2011.  In 2011, many of my vacation days were used visiting sick family.  Still, I have a fairly good balance at the end of the year, even after taking several days off to see a wedding across country.  In the ‘vacation time is meant to be used’ vein, I’m hoping to actually take some time off this spring/summer to do local stuff in KC.   Current ideas:  Apple/Berry picking, helping Fin do garden stuff, Lake trail biking, maybe finally visit local museums.

7. Take a trip to CA. 
Fin isn’t the only one that wants to see friends in CA – so if she goes I go (provided we can afford the tickets).  I’ll be keeping an eye out for deals through the year, and hopefully we can figure out how to swing it without spending boatloads of cash.

8. Responsibly add meat back into my diet
After some considerable discussion, Fin and I have decided that we’ll be moving away from a vegetarian diet.  The reasons and thoughts behind this will likely involve an entire dedicated blog post, but the summation is that being vegetarian doesn’t fit well with our goals of being self-sufficient and sustainable. Fin will likely start before me, as I’ve decided to get a couple blood panels done before and after to see the effects of changing on my blood chemistry.

9. Eat out lunch only 1x a week and on special occasions
I must admit to a bit of an addiction to fast-food and eating out for lunch.  I think a lot of this has to do with being vegetarian and having difficulty packing decent, non-repetitive lunches.  Usually, Fin helps keep frozen lunches in the freezer, quiet often pastas and rice-heavy dishes.  At lunch, I generally look at these and find them relatively unappetizing – wanting something heavier / different.

10. Martial Arts / Gym / Park?
Maybe I’m kidding myself about this.  There’s a lot I’m trying to figure out in what this meant to me earlier, what it means now, and why I haven’t gone back.  I think the reality is basically the 45 minute drive across the city is too much for a class I can’t afford financially anyway.  I do know there’s some Tai Chi and Yoga classes about that are free/cheap.  There’s also a few other martial arts studios much closer to home.  I’m also considering perhaps other forms of exercise now.  I do know there was a spiritual component to MA that was important to me.

I would add an “honorary” 11th, but that didn’t make it in the list.  This year, I’d like to actually write about how these goals progress a little bit more.  However, I’m striving to make this list realistic and writing on this blog generally happens when I feel a need to broadcast something versus everyday events.

Happy New Year everyone and may your resolutions end up working out. 🙂

Blogging from my phone and some new years goals

Mostly I’m far too lazy to go find the laptop, set it up, log in, post, balh blah blah blah from the computer.  Usually by the time I do all that I’ve forgotten what I wanted to post anyway.  I downloaded the google Blogger app for my Android phone…so we will see how this works out for me.  Hopefully it will lead to me posting more, especially since I originaly intended to keep track of progress in the garden and with other things urban sustainability like….and that has been a complete and utter fail all around.  My total of posts has been completely lame in the last couple years now(!) This blog has been up. 

There’s been a lot going on. A lot.  I expanded the garden after the season ended this year…and considering expanding it further before the ground freezes.  I learned a lot this year from it.  Built a pond….expanding that this spring now.  Built a solar heater….planning on v2 now that I’ve seen v1 in action.  Haven’t used my dryer since spring….and not planning on using it any time soon.  Much more I can’t think of right off the top of my head, which sucks because its all stuff that would be awesome on the blog. 

I don’t do new years resolutions, however, I do have some goals for this coming new year (in no particular order):

1.  Actually blog
2.  Start eating a more paleo diet while still applying the ethics of why I went vegetarian in the first place.
3.  Actually harvest and eat what I grow in the garden
4.  Obtain chickens
5.  Talk fate into rabbits
6.  Build v2 of solar heater
7.  Minimize watering in the garden
8.  Year round use of the clothes line
9.  Better note keeping of garden progress
10.  Get the greenhouse up and running
11.  Grow all annuals for the garden from seeds
12. Get healthy through food, not drugs
13.  Buy local for what I can’t produce myself
14.  Visit my bff in california at least once this year

I think that’s a good start…I know there are a bunch more things I’ve been kicking around but most of them fall under those kind of general goals for the year. 

Merry (late) Christmas

– Fin