Jamming and Jelling – no not like Dr. Scholl’s – that would be Gelling

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I have been catching up on the canning – two batches of my home grown blackberries, one batch of my strawberries and now a little treat.

I made a batch of Shiraz Rosemary jelly. What a wonderful pairing of flavors. I can't wait to try it over cream cheese as a dip and maybe on some lamb as a glaze while grilling. The last batch is a Port jelly with orange, cloves and cinnamon sticks blended, soaked and strained through cheese cloth to help keep the jelly clear and flavorful.

Hmmmm,. how about some Chardonnay Jelly with a little orange zest and a dash of cloves. Send me a suggestion…. I love to experiment. The best suggestion gets a jar and a surprise treat…. help me out.

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A How To Lesson – Compost Bin Basics

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This is my compost bin built primarily from remnants of my blown down fence after Hurricane Ike visited my neighborhood. It is about 75% recycled wood and wire screen, the remainder is store bought. Foot print dimensions are 30 X 36 inches and about 40 inches tall. On the left side you can see some wood slats drilled with holes for air circulation. The slats fit in a groove to allow access to the bin for turning and removal of material. At the base I installed access doors for removal of material – good idea but has not been real practical. I need to trim about an inch or so off the bottom edge to make it easier to swing the door open. I am still looking for a "round to it" to get pushed off center!

Why two bins? Well, originally I thought I would need two during the summer to keep up with the massive amounts of grass clippings we grass we generate in this God awful hot and humid climate. The nice surprise is that the grass heats up and decays so quickly that it never fills up. My son Joe came in the house one day after mowing and said the bin was too full. I suggested he look again in three days and see if it was too full. Three days later, plenty of room for the next week's mowing. I now use the other bin to hold the brown material needed to keep the ratio of green to brown material in a close to correct balance.

Training folks to use the bin – this is the tough part. I go back a few years to our Midland, Texas days. As always I had a bin in our Midland yard. I was coaching my wife to take the kitchen scraps, no meat, fat or bone – just veggies and bread, out to the bin or let me or one of the kids do it. Well we had a lesson learned experience. Kathy was making mashed potatoes and had a sink full of potato peelings. Instead of gettting them out to the bin she attempted to process them through the garbage disposal unit. Potatoes are very starchy and stick together – they plug up the disposal discharge line -SOLID! The repair is just some minor plumbing work easily enough done. I received a promise to never try that again. Well – the promise did not last long and I was under the sink again to remove the starch bound mass of peelings. The lesson has now been learned – that was probably 10 years ago and I have not been under the sink for that repair again.

What goes to the bin – most kitchen scraps over and above what goes to the worm bin, grass clippings (the green stuff), leaves (the brown stuff), mulched up yard waste (chopped up through the mower to increase surface area allowing quicker rotting) and anything that will decay.

A definitive guide is found in the book titled " Let it Rot" can't remember the author's name but it is a great source of composting info. I have misplaced my copy. My beds are healthier and more productive, the soil is easier to work and I have an abundance of large worms to take to the lake – cat fish love my worms!!! PS – not the little guys in my worm bin…… I need them doing their job of making wonderful worm poop.


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Worms Need a Reward

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I have not been very diligent with my worms this summer and was afraid they would succumb to the Houston heat. Jim's Worms, my supplier, indicates that they don't do well when the temperatures are above 85 degrees F. Well the garage, home for the worm bin, has been up near 100 deg F for a good chunk of the summer. I think I may be validating Darwin's work on natural selection( pushed a little by Alfred Russel Wallace) because I have a wiggling mass of red worms surviving/thanksgiving in this heat happily chomping away at the excess cucumber scraps, newspaper and an apple core or two.

These guys/gals – I think they are both – well read this clip "Although earthworms have both female and male sex organs, they still need to mate in order to reproduce." Probably more than you needed to know, but now you know! Their hard work has produced about 12 pounds of luscious and rich worm poop. The cantaloupes love it and they are the biggest I have ever seen -  7 to 8 pounds. We cut up a "Frankenmelon" tonight for us and the scraps went to the worms and compost bin.

Well I decided tonight that the little guys/gals deserved a treat so I tossed a mix of strawberry trimmings and cantaloupe scraps into the bin. I pulled back the newspaper litter covering the worms and tossed in the gourmet meal. The were dancing, twisting and wiggling all over. But, they tend to do that every time they are exposed to light. I think they will appreciate the change in diet…. they really do prefer fruits over other veggie scraps. They tend to congregate in those areas of the bin.

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About the last of the Summer Harvest

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Not really the last harvest but it will be a while!

It has been quiet on the blog for a little while. Kathy and I went off to Australia for a couple of weeks and a few days with family in California before coming back to lovely Houston. It was only 108 with the heat index today….. in the shade. We don’t need a sauna here – just step out and think about moving and the sweat glands shift into overtime.

I ripped out the fading cucumbers and tomato plants yesterday. That was a three t-shirt job! Found quite a few cucumbers hiding in the foliage.(see photo)  I made 8 jars of strawberry preserve tonight and made 7 jars of Blackberry preserves a couple of days ago. It is satisfying that all the berries came out of my yard!

I replanted some fall tomatoes hoping for a break in the weather. They look pretty good today so they may give me a good fall crop. I waited until the sun went down to plant and gave them plenty to drink.

I have a couple of monster cantaloupes that will be ready in a few days. My asparagus ferns are huge and I am looking forward to next year’s picking. The peppers are still fruiting and giving me some color for salads and roasted vegetables on the grill.

Let’s just hope it cools off soon.

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