Iron Gallery Cast Iron Cleaner Review #spon

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cast iron is the best - on so many levels! kind of loses on maintenance. It's sometimes hard to clean, soap can make the iron hold the "scent and taste" and it can rust. Even still, I think it's a great tool in your kitchen and your camping/emergency supplies.

You just have to learn to take care of it!

Part of taking care of it correctly, is using a stainless steel cloth. I spent a lot of hours scrubbing our cast iron pot after maple syrup season and I wish I had the Iron Gallery Cast iron cleaner back then!

It's kind of like a wash cloth - made of stainless steel! It's amply sized at 8x6inches.  The stainless steel rings are solid and should hold up to years of use. It's super easy to use and super easy to clean.

I would definitely recommend this cleaner for anyone with cast iron.

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received

Lanier portable hand pruning saw Review #spon

For some reason, people forget how important blades are when you are in a survival situation. Whether you pack a knife, a machete, or a saw, you want to be sure and pack something that is lightweight, strong, durable, and safe to carry.

I recently had the opportunity to review the Lanier portable hand pruning saw.
This is a nice compact/portable saw. I used this in a number of "backyard" scenarios. I used it on shrubs, brambles, trees, and bushes. It's a very light weight saw and I love that it's portable. I think that is the number one asset of this saw.

It locks in place and is sturdy during use. It also folds down easily and safely. However, I would not use this for anything but branches in the future unless I was in an emergency situation

I am adding it to my car's emergency kit where it could be infinitely useful. It is not great for cutting shrubs, brambles, or fibrous plants. It will cut just fine, but does leave jagged edges and is less convenient than a hand pruners.

It does do a nice job on tree branches or woody shrubbery. I would hate to have to saw an entire tree trunk with this but if you were in an emergency it could certainly be helpful.

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

State Fair Apples Make the pinkest applesauce!

This year, I tried State Fair apples for the first time. An older couple was selling their apples on craigslist, and I decided to check them out. They sold me a bushel of apples for $20. They gave me a free tour of their apricot and plum orchard and sent me home with a bag of cucumbers.
They promised to call in the fall when their plums are ripe. I'm going to ask for a few apricot pits....

Anyway, State Fair apples ripen in the middle of August - which is early for apples. They are red with really white flesh. They are crisp, sweet, and sort of tart. They make the pinkest applesauce of all time.  Check it out.
I made quite a few pints of applesauce and I cut up many quarts of apples and froze them for apple crisps and other desserts.

We kept a few big bowls of apples for fresh eating. Summer is all about the's my favorite time of year.

Eating Aronia Berries and Making Aronia Jelly

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Have you ever eaten Aronia berries? According to Dr. Google - they are one of the healthiest berries - with the highest ORAC value of all known berries.

I have been growing Aronia ornamentally for 8 years. I tried the berries twice over that time and found them to be quite unpleasant. But reading more about the berries, I decided to give it another try.
Here's a look at our Aronia bushes. We grow the Viking aronia shrubs. They grow in a very shady spot on the north side of our house. We have 3 bushes stuffed together. They do not get watered or fertilized. I trim them down every fall - which may or may not limit their berry production.

They are shaded by the house and a very large River Birch tree.

I went out to sample the berries in the middle of August and they seemed ripe. They were juicy and full size. The juice tastes sort of pleasant, with a very dry red wine mouth feel. The berry pulp is mealy and the skin is tough.

On August 20th, I went out to gather the berries from our shrubs.
I ended up picking about a 1/2 gallon of berries. After I removed the stems and any icky berries, I wound up with this much.
And I wound up with this much "waste."
Birds and bugs do eat aronia berries, so not all of them will be up to eating standards.

Beware that your hands will get very stained.
I cooked the berries and mashed them for juice.

Then I let the mash drain in a jelly bag.
This was a very "bloody" project. Kind of like working with beets, but way more intense. The colors are quite vibrant.
In the end, we wound up with a small bowl of juice that I let settle in the fridge over night. In the morning, I scooped off some of the precipitate. This was a mistake as I later learned this was the natural pectin - well, some of it.

I think you need to see the hands again.
My  hands looked gangrenous or like I was severely low on oxygen. It lasted for one day. FYI - aronia juice/jelly/berries will also stain your teeth. It brushes right off, but be aware of it in case you interact with other people right afterwards.

If you want to drink the juice - I recommend a very small amount. I drank a bit out of a mini-cup:
It's good like a dark cherry juice, but not something you drink quickly or in excess. It's sort of like a really dry red wine.

I also froze cubes of the juice for smoothies:
With the rest of the juice, I made jelly. I added some lemon juice and sugar. Sorry, I don't measure. But I'd guess a Tbsp of lemon juice and half as much sugar as juice.
The jelly set up beautifully. Aronia is naturally high in pectin. I could have made jam and kept the skins and pulp, but I wanted to isolate the juice flavor to get a feel for the berry's true taste. The mealy pulp and skin really ruin the fresh berry eating.

I ate the jelly on pancakes and with almond butter in sandwiches. It's best mixed with something like almond butter because the jelly (like the juice and berries) is very mouth drying - like red wine.
In fact, I bet you could trick almost anyone into believing you made red wine jelly. It has a good taste and a very limiting taste. I was done after one mini-pancake.

One harvest of aronia berries made enough juice to last all winter. Keep in mind that I would not eat this everyday and will add it in very small quantities. I may or may not harvest them again, but am glad to have the experience if I need to eat them in the future. We'll see how I end up using it all this fall/winter.

This is the year of experimentation. I have grown things I've never grown before and eaten more "new foods" than at any other time in my life. I think the running tally of new (and mostly wild) foods is almost 20  as of August 2015.

I've cataloged 80 edible wild plant foods that grow within a one mile radius of my home. I am working on trying all of these plants and finding a way to economically incorporate them into our lives in case of emergency. Many require a ton of water and/or processing to be palatable/edible. I'm working out the kinks while we still have access to inexpensive water/electricity.

Rumiano Organic Grass Fed Cheese Review #spon

Saturday, August 22, 2015

People are starting to wake up to the fact that not all food is created equal. I've been exploring this topic for years, and have come to the conclusion that it just makes sense to seek out the most nutrient rich food possible. The costs work out in the end. 

When it comes to animal products, grass fed and pastured animals provide the most nutritious and most humanely raised products. I have been buying grass fed beef for years, but made the leap into grass fed butter for the first time this year. And just tried my first grass fed cheese! I was lucky enough to receive free samples of Rumiano grass fed cheese. In my area, it's sold at Whole Foods.

My one and only complaint about this cheese was the fact that my Whole Foods only carried one variety (monterey jack). I wanted to sample a few different types of cheeses to get an accurate sense of the quality. But they only had one type, so that's the type I tried. And let me tell you.... it was delicious. Super delicious! 

I'm not a cheese person. Actually, I only cook with it. My other family members eat it plain, on crackers, in sandwiches, on everything... I just can't do it. Cheese is something I don't eat very often at all. But I loved this cheese. I ate it plain. I even ate it on crackers (and I hate crackers!)

It was just that good. Plus the fact that grass fed cheeses contain more omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K2, and more CLA. 

To be honest, when cows eat grass (as opposed to corn or animal byproducts!) they are eating the way nature intended. The end result is bound to be healthier - it's bound to be "right."

I will definitely buy this cheese again. And I'll probably complain at Whole Foods. It's great cheese, and I'd love to be able to buy more varieties. 

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.

Careful Gardener Brand Garden Hose Spray Gun Review #spon

We go through garden hose nozzles like crazy. Actually, that means we have 4 hoses on our property and every year or so, two of the nozzles break down. We are not hard on them, but we do use them regularly. They get knocked around a bit, they get wet, and they go through freezing winters. Metal rusts, parts break, plastic wears out.

So it was with pleasure that I reviewed the garden hose spray gun from the Careful Gardener Brand. I am always looking for a more heavy duty spray nozzle - one that will last.

This nozzle has 9 water spray patterns and I recommend you never buy a cheapo nozzle with only a few options. You'll destroy your plants and make a mess if you aren't using the right spray pattern for the job. It's made of plastic so I expect it to eventually wear out - but probably after years of use.

It was easy to use and comfortable in my hands.

All-in-all, I would recommend it to other and would buy it again.

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and this article does NOT contain affiliate links. No compensation was received.


How to Grow Ground Cherries (aka husk cherry)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ground cherries are a rare treat. You probably won't find them in your local grocery store, and not many people even know what they are! But they are something you should consider growing at least once.

Here's why -
  • They taste great (grow them once to see if you agree) - like a cross between a pineapple and a plum - with a little bit of cherry tomato mixed in. 
  • They grow easily and produce a ton of fruit.
  • They are not bothered by many pests.
  • They make endless seeds so you can always save seeds for next season.
  • They come in their own individual wrappers and keep well in their wrappers for weeks/months (depending on the storage conditions.
  • They can be eaten raw, made into jams/desserts, or dried.
  • They are rare and provide variety to your diet.
You can easily find seeds on ebay, through rare seed websites, or from seed swaps. I bought my seeds on ebay. I still have many seeds from that initial order and have saved 100s from this season of growing.

The seeds are tiny.
Ground Cherry seeds I saved from this year's harvest
And they grow into tiny seedlings. 

Ground Cherry Seedlings just days after germination
I found the germination and survival rate of the itty bitty seedlings to be quite low. I would recommend overseeding and thinning to get the number of plants you want.

The plants grow slowly at first. They are like tomatoes in that they need heat and are damaged by frost. I started these all outdoors in a small unheated greenhouse.

They grew very slowly:
Young Ground cherry seedlings
Once the weather warmed up, they took off:
Two ground cherry plants - mature

And started loading up with fruit:

When the fruit drops, it's ready to be harvested. Look inside before you eat though because it's important not to eat the fruit when it's green.
No worries if they drop while they are green. They will ripen up on the counter - just like a tomato.
They will not store as long out of their husk, but they will still last awhile and will ripen up just fine.

The seeds are easy to scrape out. You can either mash the whole fruit, add water, and let the pulp float out with the water. Or.... you can cut the fruit in half, squeeze it a bit and let most of the seeds come out. Then you can eat the fruit. That's my preferred method and while you don't capture 100% of the seeds, you don't waste any of the fruit.

Since they drop to the ground, there will be fruit that gets smooshed or stepped on. You can collect the seeds from these or if you live in a warm climate, just let them sprout and grow new plants for you. I live in zone 4, and ground cherries do not overwinter here. They also do not germinate fast enough to be a reliable re-seeder. They are much more productive if you start them inside (like a tomato) and plant when the risk of frost has passed.

Mysterious "Mulch Circles" Are No Longer a Mystery

For weeks, I have been finding mysterious "circles" in my mulch beds. I assumed it was an animal bedding down for the night. Or maybe using the mulch as a dust bath. appears the mystery has been solved.....

When life gives you tomatoes....

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When life gives you should really make some bruschetta.
It's super easy to make - chop some tomatoes and as much basil as you have, drizzle a bit of olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste.
Toast up some baguette slices. Buttery slices are best.
Then spoon some of your tomato on top and eat it.

Performing Squash Surgery to Kill the Squash Vine Borer

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yesterday I found yellow leaves on my yellow crookneck squash. I quickly pulled the leaves off and noticed a bunch of gooey frass near the nodes.

It had just rained and mosquitoes were everywhere so I quickly ran into the house, but I didn't forget about the squash. I consulted with Dr Google and found out my plants were infested with the squash vine borer. They needed surgery stat!

I dreamed about it all night long. 

In the morning I got all my gear ready and headed out to perform the operation. The surgery was both easy and complicated. It was easy enough to cut through the stem, find the maggot and skewer it. But it was much harder to work around the existing leaves, fruit and other plants than I expected.  

It was extremely difficult to try to take pictures of the action since I was holding back leaves cutting and welding a camera. Not a good mix, so the pictures are not great. Here we go.

First off the victim.

This is my yellow crookneck squash. 

There were three vines that were infested. Here's a look at one of the vines - pre-surgery.

This is one post-surgery.
Notice all the goopy cream colored frass? That is worm poop. Maggot poop actually. 

I cut through the stem (lengthwise only,) peeled it open, and stabbed the maggot with a knife.
 Here he is in all his juicyness:
Notice the creamy body and brown tipped face. That's a squash borer larva. After you kill the larva, its time to close the wound back up. I had intended to tape it closed to try and give it the best opportunity to regrow. Then I realized the maggot had eaten through all the inter layer so there was nothing to reseal.

I hope what was left was enough to keep the plant hydrated and connected to the roots. Just in case, I buried the stems in the garden soil so it's back up plan can be sending down new roots. Before I buried them, I covered the stems with diatomaceous earth. I'm hoping the DE will kill any remaining larva and protect the plant from slug attack at a time when it is trying to heal. 

I will update on the survival of this plant. There are squash still forming and ripening, so I hope this surgery saved the plant! 

According to Dr. Google, the squash vine borer adults is done laying eggs by the 4th of July, so there shouldn't be any new attacks going forward. 
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