Jury Summons and Gardening

I spent most of Monday in a court room.  Jury summons.  I had to sit there an entire day while my fate was decided. They ask a menagerie of questions.  Gun control.  Immigration. Family violence.  I believe in the constitution and the right to a trial by jury, but there has to be a better way than stuffing seventy strangers into a room, smattering them with questions when really jurors 1-14 have already been chosen.  

I walked out beyond frustrated.  We live in a country that preaches democracy.  Other countries envy our system, but I feel like our system is broken and corrupt.  Just watch House of Cards on Netflix to understand what I mean.  As I sat there, wasting my time, I couldn't help but think, our democracy is a farce.  When we were released people clapped in the hall for not being chosen.  Disrespectful, yes, but did they feel frustrated because it was a waste of time, or because they too feel like the system is fixed?

By late afternoon I was free and with the thermometer pushing mid 70's I decided to work my frustration out with my hands in the garden with the last few hours of daylight.

No day in the garden is complete without my helper.  You know how it goes.  I plant the potatoes. She digs them up.  Annie enjoys being outside as much as I do.  In this moment she was listening to the neighbor kids walk by and wondering why I wouldn't let her out of the gate to greet them. 

We sowed lettuce in the raised bed, and started tomatoes, kale, spinach, and herbs in seed pots that will sprout in the warmth of the garage until April.  I am very thankful I have a garage with heat/AC so I don't have to worry about cat paws digging through seed pots in the house! 

It didn't take long to get over being discouraged.  A little sunshine, hands deep in the dirt, and dog kisses are good for the soul.  And sadly, I probably won't think about jury summons until next time I'm called to duty.

BYG: Ordering Seeds

I can't believe I am already thinking about my summer garden!  It is actually time to start a few seeds indoors and begin working the soil to prepare the beds for spring.   

Before all that begins, however, I have to start with the foundation.  The seeds.  Where I purchase seeds is vital.  I always choose seeds from seed savers exchange.  They are a little pricey, but they are safe seeds.  Meaning they are not genetically modified or owned in any way by Monsanto. 

I haven't been outspoken a lot in this space about Monsanto, but I do have a disdain for the company.  I believe they are destroying America one seed at a time.  Below are four tips and resources to help you find a safe seed company that fits your needs.

taken from The Healthy Home Economist blog 
  1. Avoid buying from the seed companies affiliated with Monsanto.  The link is a list of these seed companies
  2. Buy from this list of companies Monsanto HASN’T bought and are not affiliated or do business with Seminis  
  3. Avoid certain heirloom varieties because Monsanto now apparently owns the names. This article lists the seed varieties to avoid
  4. Ask seed companies if they have taken the Safe Seed Pledge.  The link lists companies that have done so
I plan to do things a little differently in my garden this year.  I'm only going to plant what I really want to eat as well as one wild card.  I used to think I should plant everything and give away the excess or what I didn't really want. Gardening became more of a chore, so I've decided that I'll buy the vegetables from the farmers market that I like to eat on occasion and grow what we consume most of the time.

What are your plans for your garden this year?

DIY Tomato Sauce

Canning is easier than you think and with the abundance of tomatoes coming out of the garden right now, this recipe will let you savor them all winter.  This sauce can be used in soups and stews, or as pizza and pasta sauce.  It is a great staple for your pantry.

My mom taught me the short cut method to canning, which makes the process a lot easier, but the timing has to be right.  You can also use a traditional water bath.  I will explain both methods.

Makes 4 pint jars

4 pint jars with new lids and rings
Large pot
Sauce pan
Tongs or other utensil
Cutting Board

4 lbs fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp dried basil or 1TBS of fresh basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
optional: thyme or other herbs, onions, jalpenos, green peppers, etc.


SHORTCUT METHOD || Use the dishwasher on the hottest cycle with heated dry to heat the glass canning jars.  If you are only making this recipe, be sure to fill the rest of your dishwasher with dishes or do more than one recipe and add more jars.  Load the dishwasher with only the jars, no lids.  It is also good to know how long the cycle takes.  My dishwasher takes approximately 40 minutes to run through a cycle.  After the first 10-15 minutes, I start with the instructions below.

1.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the tomatoes whole (including skins) and blanch for one minute or until their skins begin to curl back a little.  Strain the tomatoes out of the boiling water and dump in cold water immediately.  I usually fill my sink with ice water.  Peel and coursely chop the tomatoes and set aside.  Follow this process until all of your tomatoes are blanched and peeled.  Ensure that your blanching water is always boiling and your refresh water is ice cold.  Add ice as necessary.

2.  In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the garlic (onions, peppers, etc) for 3 minutes or until softened.  Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thick.  You are simmering out the extra water from the tomatoes.

3.  While the sauce is simmering, bring water to boil in small sauce pan.  This will be be for your lids.

4.  By now, the jars should be done washing and in the heat dry cycle.  Pull one jar out at a time.  Put one lid and ring into the boiling water in the sauce pan.  Pack the hot tomato sauce into the hot jar, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Wipe around the mouth of the jar with a towel to clean up any excess.  Remove the lid and ring from the boiling water and place the lid on top of the jar, and then screw on the ring, but not too tight.  Set aside on a towel.  Repeat this process until all sauce has been canned.  As the jars cool, the lids will start to pop to secure the vacuum seal.

TRADITIONAL METHOD ||  Follow through with steps 1 and 2.  Skip step 3 and start with sterilized jars, lids and rings at room temperature for step 4.  Bring a fresh pot of water to boil.  Pack the hot tomato sauce into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Wipe around the mouth of the jar with a towel to clean up any excess.  Attach the lids and rings and tighten.  Place the filled and sealed jars into the boiling water and let process for 35 minutes.  Carefully remove the jars and place them on a kitchen towel.  As they begin to cool, the lids will pop.

The sauce can be stored in the pantry for up to a year.  One important thing to note:  If the tops of the lids don't pop, they are NOT vacuum sealed.  You'll have to refrigerate any jars that haven't sealed or bacteria will take over.


BYG: Beat the Heat with Mint Tea

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I've never been a fan of mint.  I love the smell, I love the color, but I don't love the taste.  I found a reason to get over it when I took a homesteading class.  I was standing in the middle of a sweltering herb class when we were offered a glass of mint tea.  Minding my manners like my mother taught me, I took the glass of tea and drank it despite my dislike for mint.  Five minutes later the air felt as if the temperature had dropped ten degrees.  My body felt cool.  I could breath deeper.  I asked our instructor what was in the tea and her answer was simply peppermint leaves.
She said during the heat months our bodies, especially the digestive system actually heat up, and not because of the season.  It's important to cool our systems during this cycle because excessive heat in the system can burn out the adrenal glands and trigger inflammation.  All culprits that make us irritable.  Herbs have healing properties and mint in particular has a calming effect on our system as well as cooling agents.

She went on to tell us that peppermint tea was the best drink in the summer because it will actually cool us from the inside out.  After having experienced what she was saying, I prefer mint tea that is slightly chilled on a hot day to a glass of ice water.

Mint is making its way up my list of favorites (i.e. vinegar, honey, baking soda, etc).  As a bonus, growing mint to harvest for tea also has an impact in your yard.  It's a great insect repellent. 


Yield: 2 cups

1 handful of fresh mint (any variety)
2 cups of boiling water

First, wash the mint leaves in a little white vinegar and water to clean them. Roughly cut or tear the mint leaves and add to a pot of boiling water and cover or use a coffee press. Allow to steep for about 3-7 minutes, depending on how strong you want your tea.  There really is no particular recipe, and adding honey or other herbs adds a nice touch. 
Enjoy and stay cool. 

What to Do When You Want to Give Up

There are some days I wake up and wonder why I garden.  To my amazement, something always grows even when I'm neglectful.  Gardening is work.  Not that I'm afraid of work, but I can't help but ask what it's all for occasionally. 

The mockingbirds are eating my tomatoes, the ants have annihilated my strawberries, and the cabbage loopers, well, they are an annual problem.  Not to mention all the weeds that keep finding their way into my delicious soil.

But then, there are the rare moments when it all comes together.  When halfway through eating supper it hits me that all but two of the ingredients on my plate came out of my garden.  As if eating the food my very hands grew was almost rote.  I blossomed with excitement.  This is the pinnacle I've been trying to reach.  I am far from feeding my family 100%, but the idea that eating what we have available takes me one step closer to reaching my goal.  Plus there is the fact that I didn't even think about it.  

However hard the process is, I can assure you it is all worth it.  Just knowing what I'm feeding my body isn't full of pesticides or other chemicals, genetically modified, or is processed seriously makes me giddy.  I'm slowly learning it's about trial and error.  To be cliche, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm coming to terms with the fact that the perfect (to me) homestead cannot be built in a season.  I needed the reminder too, and it tasted like real food. 

So my advice to you is - keep moving - keep growing.  If one tomato is all you end up with, so be it.  It's about the journey, not the destination.

By the way, the meal was...
sausage* and sauteed onions
steamed purple carrots
roasted rosemary potatoes
tomato & basil salad with vinaigrette*
strawberries, peaches, and blackberries for dessert

*not from the garden