Making Dilly Beans July 15, 2011

In the spring, I was reading some gardening blogs and came across these beautiful canning jars made by Weck. They are European canning jars that have apparently been around forever yet I was unfamiliar with them and fell in love with their shapes and simplicity. They are pricey compared to the American classic Ball jars but I wanted a few of them so I bought a selection of them here and when they came I was excited to put some of my homegrown vegetables in them this summer. As I see my tomato vines becoming trees, full of fruit, I’m thinking tomatoes for the winter months in some of these beautiful jars. Maybe some salsa. I also have an abundance of cabbage that is really tasty that Herb has been looking into chow chow recipes that would also be pretty in these jars.

So when I had picked a larger mess of beans than we could eat, ( ever wonder where the phrase “mess of” vegetables came from?) I decided to look into putting some of them up in the Weck jars. After some internet searching, I discovered that I needed to do pressure cooking on the jars to properly can the green beans and to avoid botulism. We have a pressure cooker but not one large enough to do the jars in.  I also came across a forum about Weck jars stating they were uncomfortable doing pressure canning with these jars. This meant that I needed to find a recipe that involved the water bath sealing method of canning.

I located a dilly bean recipe and adjusted it to my needs given that I wasn’t using the Ball jar version of canning. So I have included the recipe in case you want to try out a bit of canning.

I didn’t get photos of the filling of the hot liquid into the jars because there was a bit of panic at that point in the kitchen but basically I used a ladle and funnel to get the liquid in there and then carefully centered the rubber rings ( they get put into a pan of hot water to soften them up) onto the glass lids, and clicked the clips onto the lids. Three clips per lid. I let the jars cool overnight and the next day took the clips off and tested to make sure the lids had sealed. Gladly, all of them had sealed but if they hadn’t, the directions say that you can put them back into the water bath and try again.

So now, I am just waiting on the tomatoes to ripen up and become plentiful so that I can put them into the round version of the jars. YUM!






Another site to purchase Weck jars is here.

Dilly Green Beans

Garden Party in September

Thomas and Belle are getting married in October of this year. So a few weeks ago they called to say they wanted to invite their friends from DC out to our house for a pot luck backyard picnic. Needless to say, Herb and I went into gardener mode and started working on the yard. We have been extremely lucky so far that we have had lots of regular rain so that the yard isn’t brown like it was this time last year. I have ordered seeds to plant flowers about and tried to look at the date and back up from there so that I would have things blooming by the September 24th date that they have given us. I’m not hopeful that I will have the look that I want but the yard being green is probably all I can really hope for. We have, over the years, had to deal with high water rates and using rain water for my flower beds to keep the perennials alive and so we are used to the additional care that goes into keeping things green. Having a cistern and rainbarrels really help.

At this point, I should back up and give a history of the yard. We have now lived here for 16 years and when we moved in the yard looked like a landing strip. Long straight and narrow. There are sidewalks almost all the way around the perimeter of the yard and there were three outbuildings, one of which we housed a rabbit for many years to use the poop as a fertilizer. That building finally got so bad that it had to come down and all that is left is a concrete foundation of sorts that I have put a simple patio area on and my makeshift greenhouse. After 16 years of labor, the yard is finally starting to look mature and is a real joy to spend time in so I am sure that is why the kids wanted to have a party in the backyard. The building you see in the photo was an old garage and is now called “man’s world”. (No real explanation needed). There is another building beside the patio up closer to the house that I hope to take down in the coming year and replace with a studio to get all the hobby stuff out of the house and into my own space.

Last September, I began a series of cold frame gardens that are now doing well, all things considered. The fact that I didn’t know if it would work and the experimentation of trying to grow greens through the winter has me excited to give it another try this coming winter. We have thoroughly enjoyed lots butterhead lettuce and arugula and now have carrots, celeriac, and tomatoes and green beans and berries coming on. Even a couple of cucumbers and I’ve planted some gourds for the fall for some color for our tables.

I have had problems with ground hogs coming into the yard from my neighbors yard and, together with that neighbor, we have trapped about 6 total and given them the heave ho. I also went to Lowes and purchased some chicken wire fencing, which will come down before the backyard party to try and keep the greens that are still surviving the heat from getting eaten up by “someone” besides us.

On the first day of Christmas…

letter to Santa from John

My true love gave me the idea to take the next 12 days and turn them into a series of eco friendly Christmas tips. So in keeping with the song, I don’t have a partridge or a pear tree but I am thinking of the Christmas trees today.

2009 artificial tree w/ natural elements combined

Real Tree  VS  Artificial Trees

I think of myself as a “natural” person. Whenever I can, I try to use natural products. So naturally, I love real Christmas trees. For years we found a local place to go and cut a tree. They were usually tree farms that were growing the trees just for that purpose. John and I would go and get the tree and enjoyed the smell of cutting it ourselves, tying it in the truck and bringing it home. Then a few years ago, Herb was trying to put some holiday spirit into the schools, because they aren’t really allowed to celebrate Christmas, and he had the idea to ask for donations of old artificial trees to put throughout the school so have the kids decorate them in the Standards of Learning (SOLs). He got about 8 trees donated from people that were updated their worn out trees or wanted a different style. The project was only the one year and we inherited the trees. A couple of them were really nice trees and a couple were pretty nasty (and are still out in our building). That is when I started putting up an artificial tree. A recycled tree, of sorts. (They haven’t made it to the landfill yet.) I usually go out into my neighborhood and gather pine, boxwood, pinecones, holly  and evergreens and cut them and place them on the branches so that the tree has natural items that smell wonderful and gives the tree a completely different look.

So lets look at the facts a little closer.

Real Tree Facts

The Virginia Tree Growers association has some really great information here

For those with a real Christmas tree, try an organic potted tree from your local nursery that can be replanted after the holidays. A single tree can absorb more than one ton of CO2 over its lifetime, so imagine the impact if we all replanted our trees! My yard is too small to allow for many years of real trees being planted in it so that isn’t an option for me but if you have a large yard and have the space to allow for a full grown pine tree, by all means, plant away. Go to a local tree farm and cut your own tree. This is much better than getting one that has travelled from North Carolina or some far away place. The less miles your tree has travelled the better.

If you have a cut tree, be sure to look into local recycling options. Our county landfill will definitely take your tree. Read an article from last year in the NV Daily or you can use the tree after Christmas to put in the garden so the birds have cover and then, in the spring, add it to your compost bin. Many municipalities and some organizations collect the trees to use for mulch and erosion control. This is much better than having  your tree end up in a sealed landfill.

Decorate naturally. Head out to your yard and find tree branches, bush stems loaded with berries, flowers whose seed heads have dried on the stem and flowering grasses to fill tall vases or baskets. It’s more sustainable than buying a plant or flower that may be flown in from South America. You can also create a natural tablescape with natural elements or fresh fruit like pomegranates, pears, and apples.

Artificial Tree Facts

For years, many considered the purchase of an artificial tree to be the environmentally friendly choice. However, most artificial trees are made from mainly non-renewable plastics, often containing PVC. They are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable.

According to  the site Science 2.0 artificial trees are manufactured using a polyvinyl chloride (or PVC), which is a petroleum-derived plastic. The raw material for fake Christmas trees is both non-renewable and polluting. Furthermore, PVC production results in the unhealthy emission of a number of carcinogens, such as dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride.

Additionally, in order to make the PVC needles on artificial trees more malleable, the manufacturers use lead and other additives that have been linked to liver, kidney, neurological, and reproductive system damage in lab studies on animals. Healthy warns fake trees “may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree.”

Decorations for the Tree

Make recycled holiday ornaments from natural materials in the yard or material you find around the house. Not the crafty type? Many stores now offer ornaments made of recycled materials for sale. Another simple option is to string popcorn and cranberries or use hardened gingerbread cookies. Old cards make some wonderful ornaments too.

paper ornaments

The past few years my tree has had a snowy winter theme and I have paper ornaments. Martha Stewart has some beautifully easy paper ornaments that make up quickly to give you a tree full of ornaments.

So, as you are decorating for the holidays, consider what impact you are having on the environment. Spend some time reading this article and getting the facts. I have chosen to use a recycled artificial tree if for no other reason than to keep it out of the landfill. I believe that live trees are definitely the best choice by far but I have inherited these trees and choose to use them for now. At least until I can take the holidays to travel and not deal with decorating. That is, of course another topic altogether.

6 Easy Earth Friendly Thanksgiving Ideas

Herb carving the bird, circa 1988

As the holidays are fast approaching, I thought I would share 6 things that I have done for years, not just at the holidays, but simple practices that will help save resources. (and maybe a little $$$ too)

  1. Cloth Napkins are something that we have used for as long as we have been married. We have an old farm table with a drawer in the side and we have always kept the cloth napkins there. They get thrown in the wash and put back into the drawer.  We have never bought paper napkins and, over the years, I’d say the only occasions I have ever bought paper napkins were for a party that I wanted to have a theme and found some that matched the theme.
  2. Don’t make too much food. Try to plan for your meal so that you don’t make too much food. The extra energy that is consumed in doing so is wasted and even though leftovers are awesome for a few days, you will still end up throwing out some food which is wasteful and takes up landfill space. If you have a compost bin, you can compost everything except dairy and meat products. Those are the items that could end up in the landfill.  And even in the landfill, because they don’t receive any air, they never decompose.
  3. Buy Local…This one can be tough. We try to do this but some things you just can’t find. Local pumpkins and apples, of course, my greens are out in my cold frames, but we will probably purchase a Butterball turkey, which I know isn’t local. Reading a food magazine from work yesterday, there was an article where they  had a contest for winter strawberry recipes. What bothers me about this is,the fact that the magazine was promoting an out of season item for areas such as Nebraska due to the strawberries having to travel from Florida. So, my goal is to try to find food that hasn’t had to travel far to get to my table. This is where eating foods that are “in season” is the important goal. If something isn’t grown in your area, bananas or pineapple or lemons for example, then maybe you look for a different recipe that is something “in season” and is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of your house.
  4. Real Dishes, no paper plates or plastic. Break out the good stuff. Don’t use paper or plastic plates. Yes, there will be dishes to wash but it is a holiday and you want it to be festive anyway, so be kind to the earth and use a reusable item instead of a throwaway item. Try to use aluminum foil as opposed to plastic wrap to cover your leftover dishes if you don’t have lids. The aluminum foil is recyclable and the plastic wrap isn’t. Here is a video about the effects of plastics on the oceans.
  5. Watch your water usage when washing dishes. A pet peeve of mine is when I see people who have dishwashers, but insist on washing their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher. Dishwashers today are so efficient that they will usually take all the food off of your dishes so that you don’t have to waste water by washing your dishes twice. If you are concerned about a dish that may have had something baked on then, by all means, pre-scrub that dish before loading it into the dishwasher but turn the water off while you scrub. This is not to say that some things may need some additional cleaning but you will be saving a very valuable resource if you try to do more with less. You might take a pitcher and catch the water that you are rinsing and use that on your houseplants. Every drop is valuable and if it goes down the drain and not being used remember that you are still paying for it. Watch this 2 minute video on Youtube Also, remember to only run the dishwasher when it is full. Dishwashers actually save more water than washing dishes by hand. Another tip is to not allow your dishwasher to go through the drying cycle and just open the door and stop the process.
  6. And finally, use reusable bags when you go shopping. We keep them in all our cars and so they are readily available. Get in the habit of taking them with you even if it means putting a note on your door to remind you to take them with you. And another note on the dashboard of your car to take them into the store. You will eventually remember them all the time.