Friday, August 25, 2017

Small Batch Canning - Fall Recipes

Fall Canning Recipes
For canning instructions and more recipes, visit Ball Canning’s website and
the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website


Hot Peppers
Makes about 5 pints
2-3/4 lbs banana, jalapeno, or serrano peppers (or combination of these varieties)
6 cups vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Ball® Pickle Crisp (optional)
LEAVE peppers whole or cut into 1-inch pieces. Mix peppers together if using multiple varieties.
COMBINE vinegar, water, and garlic in a large saucepot. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Discard garlic.
PACK peppers into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add Ball® Pickle Crisp to each jar, if desired.
LADLE hot liquid over peppers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
REMOVE air bubbles, wipe rim, apply lids/bands and tighten fingertip tight.
PROCESS 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.


Green Tomato Salsa Verde
Makes about 6 (8 oz) half pints or 3 (16 oz) pints
7 cups green tomatoes, chopped cored peeled (about 12 medium)
5 to 10 jalapeno, HabaƱero or Scotch bonnet peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 cups chopped red onion (about 2 large)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro, loosely packed finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
COMBINE tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and lime juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir in cilantro, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
LADLE hot salsa into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. REMOVE air bubbles, wipe rim, apply lids/bands and tighten fingertip tight.
PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Quick Tip: Use from 5 to 10 hot peppers to reach the level of heat you desire.


Summer Squash Relish          
Makes about 5 pint jars
4 pounds fresh, firm yellow and/or zucchini summer squash (as purchased)
½ cup diced sweet onion (about 2.4 ounces prepared)
2 cups cider vinegar (5%)
2¼ cups white sugar
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
4 teaspoons mustard seed

Rinse squash well, remove blossom and stem ends and shred in a food processor.  Peel onions and remove root and stem ends. Rinse well and dice, or shred in a food processor.
Combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Carefully add squash and onions.  Return combined ingredients to a boil; boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Pack hot vegetables with liquid into sterilized, hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.  Make sure liquid covers the top of the food pieces, wipe rims, and apply and adjust prepared canning lids.
Process in a boiling water canner for fifteen minutes, adjusting for altitude.


Canned Tomatoes

2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lb ripe tomatoes (about 8 to 11 medium) per quart
1/4-1/2 tsp Ball® Citric Acid or bottled lemon juice
Salt, optional
Ball® Glass preserving jars with lids and bands

PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
WASH tomatoes. Dip in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately dip in cold water. Slip off skins. Trim away any green areas and cut out core. Leave tomatoes whole or cut into halves or quarters.
PREPARE tomatoes according to raw or hot pack recipe.
ADD ½ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice to each hot quart jar. ADD ¼ tsp Ball® Citric Acid or 1 Tbsp bottled lemon juice to each hot pint jar.

PACK tomatoes into hot jars according to raw or hot pack recipe. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired.
REMOVE air bubbles, wipe rim, apply lids/bands and tighten fingertip tight.
PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner 40 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude.

Raw Pack
PACK tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1 inch headspace.
LADLE hot water over tomatoes leaving 1 inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired.
Hot Pack
PLACE tomatoes in a large saucepot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil gently 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.
PACK hot tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1 inch headspace.
LADLE hot cooking liquid over tomatoes leaving 1 inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired.


Dilly Beans
Makes about 6 (16 oz) pints
3 3/4 cups vinegar
3 3/4 cups water
1/3 cup Ball® Preserving & Pickling Salt
6 cloves garlic
6 springs of dill
3 lbs green and/or yellow wax beans, trimmed and cut into jar-length pieces
PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
TRIM off ends of green beans and discard. Wash.
COMBINE vinegar, water and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve salt.
PACK beans, dill and garlic in jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top.
LADLE hot liquid over bean, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
REMOVE air bubbles, wipe rim, apply lids/bands and tighten fingertip tight.
PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude


Pickled Okra
Makes about 3 (32 oz) quart jars or 6 (16oz) pint jars
3 pounds okra
3 medium hot chilies (small ones, like cherry peppers), seeded and sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves
3 sprigs fresh dill
1 quart cider vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon mustard seed
BRING the vinegar, 1 ½ cups water, salt, and mustard seed to a boil in a small pot. Turn off heat. In 3 clean, pre-warmed Ball® quart jars, divide the okra, chilies, garlic, and dill.
PACK tightly leaving ¼ inch headspace. Pour the hot brine into the jars making sure to leave ¼ inch headspace. Cap with a clean Ball® lid and tighten canning band to fingertip tight. Place jar in boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
PROCESS jars for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Food Preservation Class Notes

Preserving the Harvest
For an online copy of this handout and others, go to and click on the “Tutorials” tab.

Most foods can be frozen easily preserving the texture more than canning. 
Before freezing, most vegetables must be blanched using either boiling water or steam.
Water Blanching: dunking the vegetables in boiling water for a few seconds or a few minutes. 
Steam Blanching: steaming the vegetables in a single layer held over boiling water.
What vegetable you are preserving will determine the best method and time - consult the table on the “Freezing” page on NCHFP’s website (url below). 
Once the time is up, remove the vegetables from the boiling water and dunk them immediately in either cold or ice water.
Pack into freezer bags, label with contents and date, and freeze. 
Whole: There are a lot of vegetables that are almost designed to be stored by simply drying them once they are mature: winter squash, garlic, onions, soup beans, soup peas, cowpeas, and hot peppers.  Simply let them mature completely on the vine/plant, then store indoors or out of the weather.  Beans and peas will need winnowing to remove the husks.
Sliced: Other vegetables take a bit more work to dry.  Tomatoes, green beans, peaches, apples, apricots, and many more can be washed, sliced, and dried on racks, then stored in vacuum-sealed jars or frozen.  In less humid climates, people can simply put the food on covered racks and leave them outside where there’s a good air flow.  It’s quite humid here, so using an electric dehydrator or your oven is wise.
Oven-Dried Tomatoes: Best done with small, cherry types.  Slice them in half or thirds, lay in a single layer in a baking pan or cookie sheet, and bake in the oven on it’s lowest setting until dry and leathery (Some gas stoves have a pilot light that alone will dry tomatoes overnight.).  Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, or freeze. 
Leather Britches: Green beans strung on a string, ends and "strings" removed, then hung to dry until leathery.  

There are two canning processes - which type of process to use and why:
  • Water-bath canning = to preserve very acidic foods (at least 4.6pH) - heating sealed jars of food in boiling water for a specified time. Kills all bacteria and toxins except botulinum spores, so only food that is 4.6pH or more acidic should be preserved this way (that level of acidity keeps those spores dormant). 
  • Pressure canning = to preserve foods more alkaline than 4.6pH - heating sealed jars of food under pressure which raises temperatures above 212 degrees, so kills even the botulinum toxin spores. 
  • Both processes are exactly the same in their methods until you do the actual cooking/boiling. 
    Then the only differences are the type of canning pot, the amount of water in those canning pots (only 2 to 3 inches in pressure canning – completely covering the jars in water-bath canning), the application of pressure, and possibly the amount of time to process. 
Basic equipment for water bath canning
  • Ball Blue Book.
  • Large pot with lid and rack, large enough to hold jars  along with enough water to cover them well.  A pasta pot with colander insert works well for small batches, or soup pot with vegetable steamer in the bottom. 
  • Canning jars - Only use jars made and sold for canning.  
  • Rings and NEW lids - Rings can be re-used, but lids cannot (unless they are Tattler re-usables).
  • Cooking pot - Anything big enough to prepare the food you are going to put in the jars.
  • Clean kitchen towels and hot pads, spoons, measuring cups, butter knife for “bubbling” jars (working air bubbles out of filled jars)
  • Tongs for removing jars, rings, and lids from hot water - Special canning tongs are recommended for this, but you can use anything that will allow you to safely and firmly grasp and lift hot jars and lids from boiling water.
  • Stove or other heat source capable of boiling water.  Glass-top stoves are not recommended. 
  • Labeling supplies
  • Timer
  • And, of course, food to be canned
Extra equipment that is recommended but not essential
  • Canning tool kit: Magnetic lid “lifter”, canning jar funnel, canning jar tongs
  • Food mill, food processor, tomato mill, etc.
  • Water-bath canner with rack

How to water-bath can high-acid foods, step by step:
  1. Bring lids, rings, and jars just to a simmer in your canning pot, then turn off heat.  To avoid lime deposits on jars, add a cup vinegar per gallon of water.
  2. While jars are heating, prepare food to be canned according to your recipe or method:
·         Use ONLY lab-tested recipes to ensure acidity stays in the safe range, and follow them exactly.  Even something as simple as substituting “whole” for “sliced” can adjust the pH to dangerous levels later.
·         Be sure to use vinegar of the exact percentage of acidity your recipe calls for.  
·         A note about tomatoes: Some tomatoes aren’t really as acidic as commonly thought, so need acidity added to make them safe to water-bath can.  Refer to your recipe or the Ball Blue Book for specifics. 
  1.  Remove jars, lids, and rings onto clean kitchen towel laid out on counter.  Immediately fill jars, being careful to keep rims clean, leaving at least half an inch of headspace (empty space between top of food and rim of jar).  
  2. “Bubble” them, ie insert a thin utensil to work out air bubbles.  Wipe rims with clean kitchen towel.
  3. Working quickly, put lids and rings on jars, not tightening, just applying ‘til snug.  The lids and
    rings are designed to form a one-way valve, allowing pressure that builds up inside the jar to exhaust during processing (also called venting).  If you tighten the rings too tight, the jars may break or explode.  Venting is also why you leave the half-inch of headspace - so your food doesn’t get pushed out of the jars as they vent, dirtying the rim and possibly getting in the way of a safe seal forming between the lid and the jar rim.
  4. Place jars back in canning pot, making sure water is covering top of jars by an inch.  If you stack jars, don’t stack directly on top of each other: instead, place one jar “staggered” over two below so they can vent.  
  5. Cover pot, bring back to a boil and start timing.  Process (boil) for the time recommended by your recipe.  If canning in altitudes higher than 1000 feet above sea level, consult the link below about adjustments.
  6. When time is up, remove the jars from the canner to a towel on the counter.  Using towels as hot pads, tighten lids.  
  7. Let cool slowly, keeping them out of drafts (if they cool too quickly, the jars make break).  
  8. Smile as you hear the pings of the jars sealing while you’re drinking that well-earned beer to celebrate your first canning success.  
  9. Next day, test every seal (see below, under “Problems you may encounter”), then label and date all jars and store in a cool, dark place.    

Problems you may encounter
  • Jars not “pinging” when sealing -  Wait ‘til jars are completely cool (next day is good) and feel the center of the lid.  If it’s convex (“caved in/down”), your jar is sealed.  I double-check by removing the ring and trying to pick up the jar by the lid; if it holds, I’ve got a good seal.  If the jar fails any of these tests, I refrigerate and eat promptly.
  • Lime deposits on jars - Add one cup vinegar per gallon of water to canner pot before boiling jars.
  • Jars breaking - This doesn’t happen often, but it’s usually because the rings were tightened too much before processing or they were exposed to drafts or cold while still hot from the canner.  

Helpful links:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Organic Weed Control Class Notes

When Ben Franklin said, “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes,” he revealed that he was not a gardener. Gardeners know that weeds should be added to that list.

Sadly, there is no magic bullet.  There is not a product alive that does what Roundup promises.  Not even Roundup does what Roundup promises.  So, unless you want to pave your entire yard, you will have to deal with weeds. 

First, Know Thy Enemy:  what kind of weed are you dealing with?  This will dictate how you will control them. 

Types of weeds:
v  Annuals ~ Weeds that complete their entire life cycle in one season. Easiest to get rid of physically, but quickest to reseed.  Examples: Cleavers, Chickweed, Henbit, Hedge Parsley (Torilis), Annual bluegrass,
v  Biennials ~ Plants that complete their life cycle in two years. Easier than perennials to get rid of, but harder than annuals. Examples: Wild carrot and it's incredibly toxic lookalike Poison Hemlock.  (Note: LEARN about poison hemlock, then always use gloves when eradicating it. It really IS as toxic as they say.)
v  Perennials ~ Weeds that live for years, going dormant in winter (usually) and sprouting again to grow in spring/summer/fall.  This includes many types including creeping, rhizomatous, and bulbous.  Examples: Bermuda grass, Nut grass (Nutsedge), Sheep Sorrel, Johnson grass, Dallisgrass, and Crabgrass.

Basic ways to control weeds:
v  Annuals ~ Cut them off at ground level or just below the soil surface.  Don’t let them go to seed.
v  Biennials ~ Same as annual control when they’re young, more like perennial control when they’re older.
v  Perennials ~ Dig them out, sheet mulch, repeated vinegar/orange oil sprayings, repeated pruning to ground.
Some Tips
v  First, avoid weeds.  One year of seeds means seven years of weeds, so don’t let any go to seed if they get away from you. 
v  Don’t put those that have gone to seed in the compost pile or they will come back to haunt you.
v  Increasing soil fertility and organic matter content discourages many weeds. 
v  Damp soil is easier to pull weeds from.  Not wet – you never want to work wet soil as it can cause clods that take forever to “melt”.  And not dry – dry soil can be rock hard, and harder to pull weed roots from. 

Ways to control weeds:
About weed barrier fabric – I’m not a big fan.  It stops natural cycles (leaves falling on soil and breaking down, and soil moisture level fluctuations) and many times don’t work anyway, leaving a mess of plastic threads you have to pull up (which isn’t always easy if Bermuda has clambered across it and pinned it to the ground).  If you do use it, try to use a thick paper one so it will eventually break down and not leave you with that mess to clean up.  In extreme circumstances, when sheet mulching hasn’t worked, use heavy black contractor’s plastic covered with mulch, then pull up in a year or two. 

In the lawn:
v  Keep the grass as healthy as you can so it can choke out most weeds.  Also, increasing soil fertility and organic matter content discourages many weeds while encouraging turf grass. 
v  Corn gluten – A pre-emergent weed killer used at least twice a year just before the two main weed-sprouting times: at the change of cool weather to warm weather and warm back to cool. 
v  Hand digging/hand removal – There are a number of hand tools that will help you with this.  Check into Lawn Jaws, Cobra tool, hori hori knife, Cape Cod weeder, rockery trowel, radius weeder, ball weeder, cork screw weeding tool, daisy grubber and weed jack type tools. You can also use a knife or screwdriver for some things, and a regular dinner fork and/or longer-handled barbecue fork.
v  Weed popper for clumping weeds and those with large taproot systems.
v  In extreme cases, use a spading fork to loosen the area in and around the weeds, pull them up roots and all, then carefully replace the grass.  Care will need to be taken for the grass after this as you’ve effectively just transplanted it.  Seaweed and extra watering will be needed.

In planted beds:
v  Mulching – A good, thick layer of mulch will shade out most weed seeds and make any others easier to pull since they won’t be as well-rooted.
v  Hoes – stirrup hoe (aka oscillating hoe) is my favorite.
v  20% Vinegar – This extra-strong vinegar can be sprayed as is, or mixed with orange oil and soap. 
v  In extreme cases, use a spading fork to loosen the area in and around the weeds, pull them up roots and all, then carefully replace the grass.  Care will need to be taken to avoid roots of established plants if possible.  If not, seaweed will help them get over it.

In veggie beds:
v  Intensive planting – Planting crops so close together that they act as a living mulch.
v  No-Till, or minimizing soil disturbance – Some weed seeds can lay dormant for decades and only need the briefest light exposure to germinate, so tilling actually increases weed seed germination.  It’s best to avoid if you can. 
v  Cover cropping – Cover crops shade out the newly sprouted weeds and add organic matter to the soil, increasing its organic matter content and nitrogen content (when using legumes as a cover crop), discouraging weeds in the process.  Cool season cover crops good for our area are crimson clover, Australian winter pea, elbon rye, perennial rye, and annual rye.  Warm season cover crops are buckwheat and cowpeas (black eyed peas, purple hull peas, cream peas). 
v  In extreme cases, use a spading fork to loosen the area in and around the weeds, pull them up roots and all, then carefully replace the grass.  Care will need to be taken to avoid roots of established plants if possible.  If not, seaweed will help them get over it.

In new areas that will be planted beds or veggie beds or lawn:
v  Sheet mulching – Multiple layers of compost-newspaper-cardboard to shade out and rot weeds below.  It must be left in place for at least two seasons before planting through it, longer for certain hard-to-kill weeds.
v  Pre-Sprouting – Watering the area to encourage weed seeds to sprout, then tilling again or using a hoe to kill them while they’re still small.  You can do this for a month, hoeing once or more a week, and you will presprout and kill 90% of the weed seeds. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tom's Double Digging Class

At the double digging class last Saturday, Tom gave a link to the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California Santa Cruz.  I tried it, but it didn't come up for me.  I did a search for the center under it's full name and got this link:

Center for Agroecology

And here is the section he said to look at specifically:

Garden and Field Tillage and Cultivation

We'll be giving this class again in late spring or early summer, when we resume classes in May.  Keep an eye on the events calendar at the Natural Gardener website.  We'll post dates and times there.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Veggie Gardening 201 Class Notes

Got a year or two of veggie growing experience under your belt and now looking for a bit more of a challenge?  Come to one of my Vegetable Gardening 201 classes at The Natural Gardener.  These are the class notes, so if you need a hard copy to bring to class with you, copy the individual url to this blog post and go to

Veggie Gardening 201

Timing:  You already know planting times in Texas are different than the rest of the country.  But did you know you can tweak them even more?  Gambling a bit by planting things even earlier than the calendar says can really pay off.  We do it here at The Natural Gardener occasionally, I do it at home, and many market growers do it regularly.  But remember that sometimes, when there's a HARD frost later in the season or a week of 100+ temps later than you think, it's a complete bust.  

Season Extenders: Things to either warm up or cool down vegetable plants.
Frost Cloth – The one you may have already been using.
Shade Cloth – You may have already been using this as well.
Candle Warmers – Prayer candles in glass, buried partway and lit with a pot over it.
Christmas Lights (incandescent) – C7 or C9 type.
Cold Frames – “Mini greenhouses.”  Usually covered with glass, but sometimes row cover or plastic (sheeting or corrugated plastic panels).
Plastic Sheeting – Be sure to get UV resistant.  
Greenhouses - Traditional greenhouses aren't usually financially viable and certainly not needed

Lettuce and kale will wane and the tomatoes
will mature and take their place.
Interplanting: Planting two or more crops in the same area, close to and among each other.  Sometimes they can grow in the same season compatibly, other times one crop will wane as the other matures.  Some examples…
Sweet potatoes under peppers
Cole crops under tomatoes
Creeping herbs under other things
Strawberries under asparagus
Okra with artichokes    

Crop Rotation: Rotating planting spots around the garden each season so no type of vegetable is planted in the same spot two years in a row. 
To avoid disease buildup and mineral deficiencies over time
Vegetable Families

Cover Cropping: Growing plants for the express purpose of improving the soil.  They can be tilled into the soil when they are a few weeks or months old, or allowed to die and decompose in place naturally.  If tilled in, allow at least two weeks for decomposition before replanting the bed.
Warm season:
Cowpeas – This one’s a legume, so fixes nitrogen. 
Cool season:
Annual Rye
Perennial Rye
Crimson Clover – Another legume.
Australian Winter Pea – Another legume.
Hairy Vetch – Still another legume. 

Record Keeping is an important way of not losing what you've learned.  There are numerous ways to do it.  Pick one that works for you.  Some I've used are:  
Photos saved on your phone or computer in dated folders.
Good old fashioned paper and pen
Blog - combines photos and text, and it's fun!  

Using "cues" in photos: I planted THESE .....   THIS WAY ........................................... in THIS BED.  

Fertilizing and Soil Life
How pH affects nutrient availability.
Desertification - how the summer heat and dryness affects our garden and what to do about it.
Alkalinity and how it affects soil chemistry, making some nutrients unavailable. The average soil pH in our area that I see on customer's soil tests over and over again is 7.8.

Nutrient/Mineral Deficiencies: The most common we encounter are:
Nitrogen - Pale, stunted, yellow plant.  Fertilize with a food with a high first number.
Iron - Yellow leaves with bright green veins. Give Seaweed with iron or Copperas.
Magnesium – Yellow “halo-ed” edges on leaves (width dependent on plant and severity), green centers.
NOTE: If you attempt to correct the deficiency (for instance add Epsom salt for magnesium deficiency) and there is no change after two weeks, you can suspect a different deficiency or other cause as many things look alike.  For instance, these photos all depict iron deficiency:

And this is magnesium deficiency:

And these deficiencies are, from left, potassium, boron, and nitrogen.

Planting by the Phases of the Moon
Waxing (growing) moon: Time to sow and transplant things that grow above ground.
Waning (declining) moon: Time to sow and transplant things that grow below ground.
New moon: "Dark of the moon". Dormant period. Kill pests and weeds, turn soil.

Garden Experiments: You can learn a lot by experimenting with different products, methods, or varieties.  Be sure to do them side-by-side in the same year to evaluate them fairly.  If you simply try something one year and something else the next, there may be variables you don't notice that unfairly affect one or the other.  For instance, if you use one fertilizer in a year that is mild, then another in a year that got extra hot extra early, any negative effects are likely because of the differences in weather and not the fertilizer's fault.
Variety trials - Spend one year using all the extra space in your garden to try growing multiple varieties of the same vegetable.  I've found many of my favorite varieties during "The Year of the Bean" or "The Year of the Squash."  
Different fertilizers
Different watering regimens
Different soil additives such as sulphur or seaweed - use these on one bed, but not another
Mulch or no mulch


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