Friday, July 22, 2016

Refrigerator Pickles

One of my husband's most favorite things in life is pickles. Always with the pickles. He comes home from work and one of the first things he does, almost daily, is to get the jar of whole dill pickles out of the fridge and eat one.

Back before my gardening days when he learned that my grandmother made refrigerator pickles every summer, he started asking for them as a birthday gift from her. A few times when she has made traditional canned pickles, he received jars as Christmas presents, much to his delight.

So, it became imperative that I grow cucumbers and learn how to make our own pickles. I love cucumbers and the pickle recipe is super easy, so there was no objection here.

Refrigerator Pickles

I've played around with a few recipes over the past couple of years, but the apple cider vinegar recipe is our favorite. The rice wine vinegar was too mild. The regular white distilled vinegar is fine, it's good, but I can't have too much of it with my Celiac. Plus, the extra tanginess of the apple cider vinegar gives that recipe a little more umph.

Since I started making refrigerator pickles I've only ever used our home grown Boston Pickling cucumbers from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, discussed in this previous post. They're a great producer for us. You have to keep an eye on them, as a few 8" - 9" 'ers have snuck up on us, especially after a heavy rain. Ideally you want to pick them at 5-6".

Here's my recipe for 2 full quart size jars:
  • 2 to 2.5 lb pickling cucumbers, sliced or speared (whole cukes don't absorb the brine well enough when making quick refrigerator pickles)
  • 1 1/2 C. water
  • 1 1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. Kosher salt (regular salt is fine, but it may make the brine cloudy)
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • a dash of garlic powder (I used to pile on the minced garlic, but have to steer away from it these days)
  • 1 tsp. dill (dried)
  • Bring water, vinegar, salt, red pepper, black peppercorns and garlic to a boil.  After it reaches boiling, take it off the heat to cool a bit.
  • While bringing to a boil, slice up your cukes and add them to sterile mason jars. Pack in as many as you can.
  • Top the jars with the dill.
  • Once the liquid has cooled a bit, pour it into the jars over the cukes. If there is any space remaining at the top of the jar, you can add water.
  • Tap the bottom of the jar a few good times to release any air bubbles.
  • Close the lid tightly and let the jars sit on the counter until they are room temperature, then put them in the fridge.
  • Let sit for at least 12 hours, shake jars occasionally to stir up the brine.
  • Pickles will last up to two weeks in the fridge

Sliced cucumbers, before going into the brine

Next I need to try traditional water bath canning so we can keep our pickles on the shelf to enjoy year-round. I water bath canned tomatoes for the first time two years ago, but failed to post about it. Then last year we didn't have a garden at all since we were moving. I know acidity is very important when water bath canning, so I need to do some research for pickles.

Friday, July 15, 2016

First Home-Grown Produce of the Season

Earlier this week we harvested our first Swiss chard and cucumbers out of the new raised-bed garden.

The smooth, shiny guys on the left are Baker Creek Beit Alpha salad cucumbers. The 5 fatter, bumpy guys on the right are also Baker Creek, but they are the pickling variety, Boston Pickling, to be exact. I used leftover seeds from the same packet that I used at our old house in 2014 and they all germinated just fine!

The salad cucumbers are really delicious. I eat them skin and all, which I never do with bitter-skined store-bought cukes. I plan on making refrigerator pickles this weekend with the pickling variety. I'll post my recipe and photos soon.  (Update! Pickle recipe here!)

I started all of my vegetable seeds indoors, under lights in the basement on April 30th, then moved them to the raised bed garden on May 29th. Last frost date in our new area is May 10, so we were almost 3 weeks late getting the plants out into the new garden... but... we had to decide on a location, design, materials, and then build it. So, next year I have a better chance at getting the plants in early.

Seedlings - vegetables, annuals and perennials - started under florescent lights in the basement
while it was still too chilly outside

Cucumber seedling on May 19

Cucumber plants - in before the trellis was added to the back of the raised-bed garden

Teeny-tiny cucumber, the size of the tip of my finger, on June 27

Cucumber plants today, 6 total - 3 salad and 3 pickling

Raised Garden With Trellis

My Pinterest dream garden turned into a reality! I really love the end result of this back-breaking project. My husband put in a lot of hard work to not only build this from scratch, but then fill it with 7 cubic yards of garden soil!

With the plants raised 30" off the ground it is so much easier to see every detail, to find every cucumber! Weeding is a breeze. At least once a day I walk over to admire the plants, pulling tiny little weed spouts as I move down the bed.

As much as I wanted a 100% all-natural garden, I couldn't justify the cost of cedar boards. Instead, we used treated pine and secured plastic to the inside of the bed before filling it with soil. It ended up saving us thousands. Yes, thousands. As I mentioned in this post, the bed is 32' x 3' and rises about 30" off the ground. It's not small. The total cost of materials for this big DIY project, including the hand-made trellis but excluding soil, came in around $800. Still not cheap, but we think it is a great investment. It is a beautiful feature of our yard, is functional, enables participation in one of my favorite hobbies, and also serves as a privacy screen between the street and our back yard.

I planted four Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylia) on the back side to grow up the trellis in hopes that it will provide dense foliage to give us even more privacy from street traffic. It is a little slow to take off and the cucumber vines are really growing through the trellis, so I'm second guessing my decision. I'll just have to see how this plays out.

On Tuesday we harvested our first Swiss Chard and yesterday we harvested our first cucumbers. Read more about that here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

We've Moved!

For 7 years we lovingly labored over the yard and garden at our home in NW Indiana. That house will always hold special memories, as it was our first home with a yard and one which encouraged so many creative and challenging DIY projects, both outdoors and in. But now we're on to new challenges with big plans of turning this 1954 fixer-upper into our dream home!

Stay tuned for future posts from our new location in Plant Hardiness Zone 6a!

The yard here at our new house needs a lot of work, so it will take some time to get plants established. Construction of a raised garden is underway and I have vegetable, perennial and annual seeds started under lights in the basement.

Construction of raised garden bed with trellis

This bed is about 32 ft long and 3 ft wide, which gives me the same amount of square footage as at our last house when we had three 8' x 4' beds. This is raised about 30" from the ground with trellis poles topping out at 8 ft high. Once the trellis is added it will provide a climbing structure for plants, plus give additional privacy to the back yard.

We are big do-it-yourself-er's, which usually means the project takes longer to complete, but it is an extremely satisfying feeling once our custom design is finished and functional! We plan to have this bed ready for veggies by the end of the Memorial Day weekend.